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Commentary on C2 (Sino-U.S. Cooperation)

Popularity 1Viewed 7107 times 2013-4-15 09:49 |System category:News

Huang Renguo
 
The fourth round of the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue was held in Beijing from May 3 to 4 in 2012. At around the same time, the third meeting of the China-U.S. High-Level Consultation on People-to-People Exchange and the second round of the China-U.S. Strategic Security Dialogue were also held. President Hu Jintao talked about creating mutually-beneficial relations and developing a new type of big powers relationship when he addressed the opening session of the fourth round of the China-U.S. Strategic and Economic Dialogue. He appealed to both China and the U.S. to confront new challenges, seize opportunities, remove obstacles and work together to build a new type of relationship between major countries. A relationship which should feature mutual respect and where both sides benefit. Mr. Hu pointed out that whatever changes may take place in the world and no matter how the domestic situations in the two countries may evolve, China and the U.S. should stay firmly committed to advancing their cooperative partnership and to building a new type of relationship that will be welcomed by the people of both nations and all countries. To do this he proposed five things: the importance of creative thought, mutual trust, the spirit of equality and mutual understanding, and actively nurturing friendship. During the dialogue, Chinese vice-minister of foreign affairs Dai Bingguo, suggested a C2 as a way to develop this new type of relationship between China and the U.S.. He said that neither China nor the U.S. were seeking a G2 or world domination, or wanted conflict.  Rather, they wanted a C2 to strengthen communications and cooperation and to try to explore a completely new model for peaceful coexistence, close cooperation and mutual development. On May 4, Dai Bingguo, added that that China and the U.S. have maintained close and effective communication and coordination on major regional and international issues for the past three years or so. Better cooperation between China and the U.S. would benefit the international community. He also put forward five tentative suggestions to improve cooperation. First, the two sides should respect each other’s core interests and key concerns—the precondition and foundation of bilateral cooperation. Second, the two nations should comply with the spirit of the United Nations’ Charter and the principle of noninterference in each other’s internal affairs. Third, the two countries should be patient in the face of crises. Fourth, the two nations should keep promises. Five, the two sides need to objectively understand each other’s capabilities and responsibilities. The obvious questions are why has China proposed the idea of a C2? What is the difference between a C2 and a G2? And is a C2 viable? This paper will seek to answer these questions.
 
I
 
The reality of a C2 is somewhat unexpected, but it does not defy reason. Firstly, the idea of a C2 is the conclusion and distillation of the expanding Sino-U.S. strategic and economic dialogue mechanism, which has been growing over the past few years. The Sino-U.S. strategic and economic dialogue mechanism began in 2009 incorporating former dialogue and consultative institutions. In 2010, the U.S.-China High-Level Consultation on People-to-People Exchange mechanism was launched and the following year, the U.S.-China Strategic Security Dialogue mechanism also began. During the fourth round of the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue in 2012, both parties decided to establish a U.S.-China Maritime Security Dialogue mechanism between the China Maritime Safety Administration and the U.S. Coastguard and to hold a special conference on issuing five-year multiple entry visas for business, tourism, study and other reasons.

The achievements accomplished by the strategic dialogue under the framework of the fourth round of the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue (in total there are 50 under six categories) are listed as follows: promoting high-level exchanges, bilateral dialogue and consultation, confronting regional and global challenges, enhancing cooperation in the fields of climate change, energy, environment, science, technology and counterpart consultation. Some 15 achievements are listed under bilateral dialogue and consultation (for more details refer to form 1). If we analyze this we find out that the earliest dialogue and consultation mechanisms were initiated in 1980, while most mechanisms were launched between 2008 and 2011. Secondly, some dialogue and consultation mechanisms were held simultaneously with the fourth round of the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue while some were held before, and most were planned to be held after. Thirdly, some dialogue mechanisms were discontinued. Finally, most of the delegations sent by China and the U.S. were of ministerial or vice-ministerial level. By an analysis of this category and the others, we can see the natural progression towards a C2. This shows that C2 could play an increasingly more important role not only in terms of bilateral relations but also in terms of regional and global issues. In other words, the role of a C2 in bilateral foreign policy will have great regional and global significance.
 
Secondly, the concept of a C2 is in line with China’s firm and flexible Sino-U.S. foreign policy. If we compare it to China-Russia relations—based on the comparatively stable and new type of international relations principle of no alliances, no conflict and no aggression against a third country as seen with the Sino-Russian Strategic and Cooperative Partnership—Sino-U.S. relations are much trickier. In this relationship, neither side can cling to rigid principles nor violate core principles. Striking a balance will not only test each nation and but it will also require much wisdom. China’s firm pursuit of independent peaceful diplomacy must be adhered to; there must be no conflict and no G2. Both countries should maintain the core principle of independence but be prepared to be flexible when the international and domestic situation demands it. China’s diplomacy has three strengths: first, it reviews the past and learns from history; second, it bases its diplomacy on changing reality; third, it makes plans for the future and takes all factors into consideration. Most Chinese historians frown on group politics and alliances in big power relations. From the current situation we can see that it is not just U.S.-China relations that are changing, but also the international order. Therefore it would be foolish to turn from multi-nation diplomacy to a G2. Thus C2 is the wise and practical choice for future China-U.S. relations.
 
Thirdly, the concept of a C2 reflects China’s concern for declining Sino-U.S. relations to some extent. The path to a C2 will not be smooth and there will be increasingly more difficulties in the future. Some Chinese scholars have pointed out that even though both nations have a growing area of common interest, and there is more and more scope for cooperation, mutual mistrust is still fairly considerable. Historically, the rise of big powers was often accompanied by conflict, including war. This leads some American and Chinese scholars to the conclusion that the two sides will not survive the tragedy of big power politics. After Barack Obama took the U.S. presidency, Washington shifted its key strategy from anti-terrorism (initiated by the former Bush Administration) to one which focused on returning American power to the Asia-Pacific region. It made political, economic and military efforts to escalate a conflict of interest between China and her neighbors and also encouraged some countries to adopt a group policy of containing China. This has caused China a lot of problems in terms of its relations with its neighbors and also domestically with a growing public call to adopt a tougher foreign policy. It is of key importance to Beijing to strengthen Sino-U.S. cooperation and also to resolve this bilateral strategic conflict.
 
Fourthly, C2 is still at the experimental stage. State Councilor Dai Bingguo brought up the idea of a C2 but he did not explain what the C referred to. China’s academic community believes that C refers to concepts such as coordination, conciliation, cooperation, complementary and community. Thus we have some room to feel out the real meaning of a C2, while the Chinese government has yet to formally elaborate on its details. Thus we can see that a C2 still has a long way to go before it can be accepted as the leading model in handling Sino-U.S. ties. We should not only be concerned with U.S.’ and the international community’s response, but we should also explore how the platform would work for the Sino-U.S. relationship. Besides, this model cannot be worked out overnight. It has to be reworked again and again or else it is just an empty concept.
 
Finally, the C2 is a kind of exploration for China to build this new type of big power relationship. Since the beginning of the 21st Century, the international situation has undergone significant change; there has been a multi-polarization of the world, economic globalization and extensive informatization. In such an era, variables influencing the development of international relations keep changing. New ideas in the field of international relations therefore keep being developed. Some marginal ideas become popular, new ideas appear and then disappear, and outdated theories stage a comeback. In such a situation, the big powers are struggling to clear up confusion and build new stable ties between themselves.
 
China is in the critical period of moving from a regional big power to a global one. The successful handling of complicated big power relationships is vital to China’s future development and is also key to the world’s future. The proposal of a C2 is proof that the Chinese government is making great efforts to adjust to changing realities and is actively exploring a new type of big power relationship while maintaining its principles of peace, development and cooperation.
 
II
 
Both a C2 and a G2 are based on the understanding that the U.S.-China relationship is a complicated and critical one that has an impact on global issues and is not just a simple bilateral one. Domestic scholars have already studied the origin and feasibility of a C2. They believe that it will significantly help to promote Sino-U.S. ties, but restrictions, such as different ideologies, economic unity and international rights are blocking its feasibility.After this, other scholars conducted historical studies on a C2 and made analyses of the G2 between the U.S. and Germany, the U.S. and Japan, the U.S. and Europe and the U.S. and China from the 1970s to now. It was the U.S. economist Fred Bergsten who first proposed the idea of a G2 in the economic field and then actively promoted it. His ideas are different to British political scholar, Ian Clark, who believes that the current international order is convincing evidence to back up the claim that China supports the existing order. However, Bergsten is particularly afraid that a rising China will challenge the existing order and is sensitive to China’s ever more open, severe and bold criticism of U.S. mistakes in handling the world economy. He believes that China is trying to control the global economic order via many different foreign economic exchange fields.  Bergsten’s idea of a G2, between two economic superpowers, China and the U.S., is one that should co-manage global issues, and it would mean that China would enjoy a new role as an accepted manager of the international economic order. Meanwhile, Clark anticipates a possible complicated group hegemonic order predominated by the U.S. and China.
 
In the 1950s, the leader of the former Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev, first proposed the idea of ruling the world along with the U.S.. Although this G2-type proposal helped to establish bilateral dialogue and consultation mechanisms, it was based on big power determinism, it exaggerated the role of summit diplomacy and it ignored other powers. The implication that the U.S. and the Soviet Union had the authority and the right to discuss and solve global issues no matter whether they were involved in them or not obviously had many negative results. During Khrushchev’s time, U.S.-Soviet relations made little headway and were marked by intense conflicts such as the Second Berlin Crisis and the Cuban Missile Crisis. Consequently, the Berlin Wall, blocking east-west exchanges, was built and the Cuban Missile Crisis ended with Khrushchev backing down and thus losing political power. His successor gradually moved to the stage where the Soviet Union openly contended for world hegemony against the U.S.
 
Bergsten’s idea of a G2 between the U.S. and China is along the same lines as the former Soviet Union’s big power determinism because it exaggerates the role and privileges of the big powers. However, it is different in several other regards. Bergsten’s first three G2 models were made up of the U.S. and its allies—Germany, Japan and the E.U.. It also largely focused on economic cooperation, which is obviously designed to share responsibilities among the allies and revive economies. The U.S. believes that China, while neither an enemy nor a friend, could possibly become a stakeholder in the international system. The G2 initiated by Khrushchev was a cooperation between two big powers that had no common ground and was just a step away from conflict. The G2 between China and the U.S., is based on common ground and is focused on a joint management of world affairs by gradually enhancing and widening economic cooperation. The Soviet G2 focused on power sharing while the U.S.-China G2 works on the basis of gradual power sharing. Obviously, the key difference is that the former is based on bilateral cooperation while the latter is based on what appears to be equal but is actually hierarchical cooperation.
 
Although Bergsten explained that his idea of a G2 is different from the political G2 initiated by Brzezinski,as his is a simple economic concept, his idea of economic hierarchy coincides with the concept of political hierarchy proposed by other U.S. scholars and politicians. One year after Bergsten proposed a G2 between the U.S. and China, U.S. politician David A. Lake borrowed his hegemonic hierarchy idea and suggested that the U.S. should contain China’s rise by asserting its authority, driving China to acknowledge allegiance to the U.S. or successfully confine China to a U.S,-dominated international order so as to change the path of bilateral confrontation.
 
Such an idea is essentially consistent with Bergsten’s concept of a G2 in handling the U.S.-China relationship. Obama pointed out in an article published in Foreign Affairs in 2007 that while NATO should still be strengthened, the U.S. must build new alliances and partnerships in other key regions. “I will work to forge a more effective framework in Asia that goes beyond bilateral agreements, occasional summits, and ad hoc arrangements. I will also encourage China to play a responsible role as a growing power—to help lead in addressing the common problems of the twenty-first century. We will compete with China in some areas and cooperate in others and our essential challenge is to build a relationship that broadens cooperation while strengthening our ability to compete.” Obviously, the purpose of this kind of G2 is to enhance the U.S.’ competitiveness and drive China to submit to the leadership of the U.S.. This also explains why experienced strategists like Zbigniew Kazimierz Brzezinski and Henry Kissinger have attached so much importance to and recommended this model.
 
In the first year of the Obama administration, a new strategic and economic dialogue between the U.S. and China was started. Bilateral cooperation climbed to a new level and it looked like a new Sino-U.S. G2 era was beginning. But the Chinese government was not interested in launching a G2; it only wanted to develop bilateral cooperation. On May 20, 2009, Chinese prime minister Wen Jiabao pointed out to E.U. leaders and reporters at the 11th China-E.U. Summit that it is impossible for two nations or a group of big powers to resolve all global issues, rather multi-polarization and multilateralism represent the larger trend and the will of people. He also said that it was wrong to believe that world affairs in the future will be managed solely by China and the U.S.On 18 November, 2009, when he met Obama, Wen Jiabao clearly said he opposed with the idea of a G2 between China and the U.S.. He said that China is still a developing country with a huge population and it has a long way to go before it becomes fully modernized. And so therefore it must be sober-minded. Secondly, China has an independent foreign policy based on peace and it will not align with any country or groups of countries. Thirdly, global issues should be decided by all nations of the world rather than one or two countries. He also pointed out that China believes that Sino-U.S. cooperation can play a unique role in advancing the new international political and economic order as well as in promoting world peace, stability and prosperity. The Chinese government made these conclusions after the U.S. financial crisis broke out in 2008. China made repeated assessments on the negative influence posed by the sensitivity and the vulnerability of Sino-U.S. interdependence and took certain measures to reduce risks.
 
The competitive side of the U.S.-China relationship was highlighted after China repeatedly rejected proposals to establish a G2. The Sino-U.S. relationship experienced many ups and downs in 2010. Again, the U.S. took advantage of the Taiwan, Tibet and trade issues etc. to seriously damage the bilateral relationship. A series of unexpected events in northeast Asia again brought trouble to the Sino-U.S. relationship and direct confrontation on the South China Sea issue exacerbated the situation. To ease tensions, both sides initiated a China-U.S. consultation on Asia-Pacific under the framework of the China-U.S. Strategic and Economic Dialogue. State Chinese media immediately published a scholar’s article clarifying that the China-U.S. Consultation on the Asia-Pacific was not an effort by the two countries to dominate regional politics, but rather it was an effort to promote Sino-U.S. interaction by enhancing understanding, coordinating strategy and improving mutual trust to build a stable platform for sustainable economic development.
 
The Chinese government and the academic community both adopted the same attitude towards a G2. In the U.S., the media discussed a Sino-U.S. G2, but the U.S. government made no comment.As the Sino-U.S. relationship deteriorated in 2010, the American media began to sound less hopeful about the possibility of a G2.
 
As discussed above, the fact that a G2 has been proposed shows that the U.S.-China relationship is not simply a bilateral one. How to build a new Sino-U.S. relationship is key to ensuring a stable and healthy bilateral relationship.
 
III
 
It was only after the Chinese government’s direct opposition to a U.S.-China G2, that a senior Chinese official proposed the alternative idea of a C2. It is too early to say whether both sides will adopt this model for their bilateral relationship. But we can conclude that both sides are moving towards better cooperation and this should not change unless some major event happens. Therefore, a C2 looks to be a far more viable option than a U.S.-China G2. Firstly, since its Reform and Opening Up, Chinese foreign policy has been marked by continuity and the government remains unshakeable in how it handles big power relationships. The principles of non-alignment, non-confrontation and non-targeting of any third country have featured in all big power relations on the Chinese side. Chinese foreign policy over the past three decades or so has been largely successful. And so, it looks even less likely that China will change how it runs its foreign policy. Even if China were to make significant changes to its foreign policy, it will only strengthen its pursuit of peaceful relations. One of China’s key aims since Reform and Opening Up has been peaceful development, which is also the latest achievement of Marxism with Chinese characteristics. This has become the Chinese view of the world. It is very unlikely that such a rapidly rising big power will suddenly shift its diplomatic direction after enjoying decades of development and when its national confidence is soaring.
 
Secondly, U.S. foreign policy is easily influenced by its electoral system and is characterized by a pendulum effect. Even so, demands for strengthening U.S.-China cooperation are growing louder. Improved transportation and communication systems along with increasingly close economic and trade partnerships, top level exchange mechanisms and a growing understanding of the bilateral relationship are favorable to the formation of a U.S.-China C2. People in the information age are becoming more and more influential and no government can now ignore their demands. After the ups and downs of the 1990s, since the early 21st Century, the Sino-U.S. relationship has been developing on a stable footing. Both governments are getting better at crisis management and any effort to offset their relationship will be short-lived.
 
Economic globalization and global polarization have made the interdependence of big powers more complicated. Competing while cooperating has become the norm in big power relationships. China would rather pursue harmony in diversity than have uniformity without harmony. Sino-U.S. interdependence has already developed beyond a bilateral relationship. It now has a regional if not a global range. If minor events are not handled correctly, bilateral confrontation will be likely. Improving and innovating cooperation mechanisms and maintaining frequent exchanges help to reduce the likelihood of misunderstandings. Both sides should respect each other’s core interests, seek common ground while reserving their differences and pursue a balance while maintaining national interests so that both sides end up benefitting.
 
Certainly, it is not a surety that a Sino-U.S. C2 model will become reality. Different historical traditions and cultural values, competition over regional and global interests, suspicions and misunderstandings from the people of both nations, are likely to hinder the development of a C2. The changing bilateral balance of power and the U.S.’ adjusted China policy are the key current variables. The international society is concerned with whether the U.S. will keep declining and how strong is its determination and capacity to maintain hegemony. A declining U.S. and a rising China are hot topics for many people. In 2012, two books: Brzezinski’s Strategic Vision: America and the Crisis of Global Power and The World America Made by Robert Kagan both deal with the question: if the U.S. is declining how will it be able to contain a rising China? Both see the center of world power moving from the West to the Eastand so the U.S. must maintain its global role.
 
Anyhow, what is important now is how China and the U.S. can think creatively, trust each other, act in a spirit of equality and mutual understanding, and actively nourish friendship through a C2 model.
 
(translated by Wang Hui)

(Opinions of the writer in this blog don't represent those of China Daily.)


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