“Miao, it must be hard for you. Everyone talks about China.”
Marina’s kind comfort during a get-together earlier this week threw me into deep silence. I started missing my country and my people (and my food, just a little bit) as a plain citizen from a “rising power”.
For the past three weeks in the world’s “status quo power”, I have been gladly taking questions from all my American friends and nine international fellows, to the best of my knowledge, on a variety of topics from freedom of press to mass entrepreneurship in China.
There was one exception.
When Thomas Hanson, a veteran diplomat who worked for the U.S. State Department, gave us a one-hour lecture on the U.S. foreign policy and spent over 50 minutes on China — the “rising power”, I kept my mouth shut.
As a matter of fact, I was all ears when Thomas vividly explained the U.S. policy thinking towards China and triggered a heated discussion. Before anyone noticed that the only person from the “targeted” country had not said a single word, the time was already up.
According to Thomas, the U.S. gets to project power globally, thanks to the “blessed” geography of its own region, and it intends to prevent any other country from “having the luxury” of gaining such regional dominance. In 2010, it started hedging against China after concluding that China was rising effectively and peacefully.
The argument academically known as “Thucydides trap” was that, nations went to wars in the history when a rising power began challenging a status quo power. The fact, pointed out by Thomas himself, that China rises through building bilateral relations rather than sending troops to other countries, is a very neat counter-argument in my opinion.
“Our allies in Asia are going to sleep. They are underestimating the threat that a rising China can pose and therefore we must shake them awake.” Thomas cited a book, titled Hard Power: The New Politics of National Security and co-authored by Kurt M. Campbell and Michael E. O’Hanlo.
And he added that, the opinion was not immediately adopted, but in April 2010, when visiting Japanese prime minister said Japan’s economic future would be in Asia and Japan would support an Asian trade zone proposed by China, it “shocked the pants off Washington D.C.”
Wait a minute. How come the U.S. gets to shake anybody awake?
Perhaps the more honest way is to admit that the White House, not its allies, felt the pressure from a rising China and intended to deal with it.
And I thought the U.S. was a firm believer and promoter of world peace. Isn’t a peacefully rising China what the U.S. should prefer, or at least what the U.S. should say it loud that it prefers, for the sake of world peace? If so, what is the “threat” talk all about then?
Mindset often dictates perspectives, I suppose. When mentioning Xi Jinping’s first visit to the White House as the Chinese President, Thomas said the Chinese were “sought to speak our language” by talking about Thucydides trap.
If by any chance Obama referred to a political theory from China, I am very positive that my people and my media would express maximum appreciation. I believe the only reason Xi went straight to the point of the “Thucydides trap” was that he wanted to have a sincere, efficient talk with Obama.
Thomas also mentioned that the U.S. tried to dissuade its allies from joining the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), because “China will get to set the rules and we cannot let this happen.”
It reminded me one of the Americans’ favorite sentences: “We need change.” What if the new rules are fairer than the U.S. rules?
U.S. allies or not, Asian countries are smart enough to decide by themselves and for their own future. We are aware that any advice from the White House has to serve the U.S. national interest, not the Asian interest.
Thomas also touched upon China’s growing presence in Africa with massive infrastructure projects, recalling the comment from a South African ambassador on native people’s mixed feelings: “If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you are with.”
Our fellow Nicolas, from Nigeria, shared his impression about Americans’ long-time absence in Africa. Then Aurelio, from Argentina, added, “[In Latin America] there is no perception of China as a new imperialist or colonist; there is no doubt about the U.S. being a colonist and imperialist power.”
Honestly I enjoyed every second of this seminar. It was fascinating, inspiring and thought-provoking. By the way, all the comments above came from a Chinese citizen, not necessarily from a Chinese journalist.
As a plain citizen, I have become more convinced after this seminar that, China is doing the right thing. Burdened with many domestic challenges, the “rising power” has to focus on its own business and still has a long way to go.
We should just keep calm and carry on, shall we?