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China: Articles in the Top Party Theoretical Organ Downplay Sino-US Differences

Two signed Chinese language articles in the current issue of ‘ Qiu Shi’, the theoretical organ of the Chinese Communist Party, are noteworthy for their definite tendency to play down the impact on Sino-US relations coming from the latest bilateral frictions centering round three issues – trade dispute, US arms sales to Taiwan and the upcoming meeting between President Obama and the Dalai Lama. While the journal has no doubt given a disclaimer that the views in the articles are from individual scholars and do not represent its own stand, what cannot be missed is that the assessments could not have been published without Qiu Shi’s tacit endorsement of the contents; this raises the possibility that the articles tend to reflect the party-line at high levels on the subject.

The first article, captioned “ Basic Factors and Variables in Sino-US Relations” (Qiu Shi, 2 February 2010, reproduced from Liberation Daily of Shanghai, contributed by Professor Chen Dongxiao, Vice-President of the Shanghai Institute of International Studies) has discussed two questions relating to Sino-US relations – what contributed to the excellent bilateral relationship in 2009 and what could be the variables in 2010.

Listing ‘opportunities, favourable conditions and popular support’ as basic factors, Professor Chen has found that the Sino-US relations in 2009 were most influenced by ‘structural’ aspects which facilitated bringing of changes by the two nations into their respective strategic positions, especially by way of adjusting to each others’ strategic interests. The main drivers for such changes have been the growth in China’s international power and influence as well as directions taken by both China and the US to tackle core global common issues.

Analysing the imperatives for Washington which arose in 2009, the Shanghai-based expert has felt that under the impact of global financial crisis and the “Iraq-Afghanistan double-burden”, the US international power and hegemony began to face a decline, forcing it to shift to a ‘defensive strategic adjustment’ line and that accordingly, the regime of the ‘new generation leader’ Obama, introduced a ‘smart-power’ diplomacy, looked for ‘multi-partners’ and sought cooperation and support from everywhere. In particular, it came under compulsion to rely on China’s strength to ward off the financial crisis and accelerate economic recovery. Internationally, the Obama regime hoped for getting China’s help to tackle various diplomatic problems and global issues; the aim has been to rebuild American leadership. President Obama’s announced policies of ‘not containing China’, playing down US-China differences on human rights and other traditional issues, delaying arms sales to Taiwan and easing intervention on the Dalai Lama issue, have been symbols of the ‘strategic adjustment’ line of the US in 2009.

Acknowledging that no change has occurred in the US-China balance of power, with former ‘being strong’ and the latter being ‘weak’, Professor Chen has further explained as to why China responded to the US policy readjustment in 2009; he has pointed out that for China’s development and security, maintaining active cooperation and promoting healthy and stable development of ties with the US are needed and that on that basis, China seized the initiative, arrived at a new position in relations with the US, established new mechanisms for interaction between the two sides and developed new areas of bilateral cooperation.

On variables in 2010, Professor Chen has said that in the US, domestic influences concerning the issues of China’s core interests, like Tai Du (‘Taiwan independence’), Zang Du (‘Tibet independence’) and Jiang Du (‘ Xinjiang in –dependence’) may continue to prevail, adding that the three factors may be used by the US as ‘pawns’ to maintain pressure on China. There may also be US pressures on China with respect to matters like rebalancing of world economy, climate change and post-financial crisis ‘burden sharing’.

What is notable is the scholar’s optimistic tone at the end. According to his assessment, the ‘symbiotic’ growth in Sino-US mutual interests and the situation of mutual dependence in strategic interests between the two will not be reversed in 2010; they will also be maintained for a long term. Professor Chen has in the final stressed “both sides need each other in the interest of strategic balance and should cooperate as partners, for the purpose of meeting common challenges in the new century”.

The second article, captioned “ Sino-US Relations Suffer Strains, but Still Controllable” (Qiu Shi, 2 February 2010, reproduced from Liberation Daily of Shanghai, written by Prof Jin Canrong, Vice President, International Studies Department of the People’s University, Beijing) has predicted that the impact on Sino-US relations from the three “time-bombs” (Trade friction, Arms sale to Taiwan and the Dalai Lama factor) will become controllable in 2010.The assessment has cited following as reasons in this regard – (i) both China and the US have developed a strong desire to solve all issues dividing them, as a requisite to maintain peace and development, (ii) the importance of Sino-US relations goes beyond the bilateral context now and any confrontation among them will affect regional and global economy and politics. Regionally, the two are required to cooperate in depth for solving hot issues in Asia and bringing stability. Globally, both need each other in fighting terrorism, preventing proliferation of nuclear arms, dealing with climate change and addressing financial crisis. Also, at regional and global levels, China and the US are already actively participating in ‘sophisticated’ cooperation mechanisms like APEC, G-8 plus 5 and G-20, not to mention the Sino-US Strategic and Economic Dialogue framework and (iii) China and the US have developed common economic interests. Bilaterally, their economies have come to depend on each other, with the trade between the two sides reaching US$ 400 billion.

Professor Jin has concluded by saying that the “three time bombs” above may cause fluctuations in the Sino-US relations in 2010 and the ties may not be as good as they were in 2009.But 2010 may not witness any change in the overall framework of bilateral ties, of which dialogue and cooperation will be the mainstream.

It would be important for the analysts to take notice of the non-alarmist tones in the articles above, the publications of which have coincided with another authoritative write-up foreseeing a ‘steady path for China and the US towards warmer relations’ (by Zhang Jiye, Global Times, English edition, 2 February 2010), but also asking China to be careful from a long term point of view on the possibilities of US shifting its policy directions towards China, once it regains power. This, coupled with concerns expressed in Qiu Shi over the prevailing domestic influences in the US concerning Taiwan, Tibet and Xinjiang independence activities, may suggest that in spite of Beijing’s expectations of the differences with Washington remaining under control in 2010, it continues to nurture strategic suspicions about US future intentions vis-à-vis China.

(The writer, Mr D.S.Rajan, is Director of the Chennai Centre for China Studies, Chennai, India. Translation and examination done by

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