Countries around the world know very well that Donald Trump is a bully, and that he, either as a businessman or a president, always seeks to win through intimidation. It has also become clear that Trump has stoked U.S.-China tensions through willfully hiking tariffs and trying to cripple leading Chinese tech firms, in an effort to contain the rise of the Asian giant. For many countries that have strong ties with the world’s two largest economies, a China-U.S. confrontation, which will bring shockwaves to the world’s economy and politics, will also present a very difficult dilemma for them.
What Singapore’s foreign minister said last week represents one of the rational voices that urge the U.S. to rethink its heavy-handed approach in dealing with China.
Speaking at the Center for International and Strategic Studies in Washington on May 15, Singapore’s Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said it won’t work to view China as an adversary that must be contained and called for “constructive competition” between the superpowers.
He urged the U.S. to allow China to have a greater say in shaping global rules and to avoid a prolonged clash between the two largest economies that could force smaller countries to pick a side.
A world that splits into rival blocs would jeopardize gains made under the U.S.-led world order over the past 70 years, Balakrishnan said.
The U.S. view of China as an adversary and challenger appeared to officially start in late 2017, when the Trump administration released its first National Security Strategy (NSS). The report labeled China, along with Russia, a “revisionist power” that uses “technology, propaganda, and coercion to shape a world antithetical to [U.S.] interests and values.”
To be frank, part of China’s rapid growth in the past four decades derived from its participation in and contribution to a global economic system led by the United States. Therefore, China has no incentive to challenge the U.S.-led system. The huge popularity of Hollywood movies, NBA, and American fast-food and café brands in China shows Chinese people are not hostile to American culture and people. In the 2016-17 school year, about 350,000 Chinese students went to the U.S. to study, about one-third of the total number of Chinese enrolling at overseas colleges in that year.
China is presenting a different model of governance and economic growth that can co-exist with that of the United States, rather than replace it.
Two years before the Trump report, the Obama administration in its 2015 National Security Strategy welcomed “the rise of a stable, peaceful, and prosperous China.” The great shift in policy in such a short time indicates that the Trump administration has been dominated by China hawks.
Steve Bannon, former White House chief strategist, is one of the China hawks who have shaped the Trump administration’s China strategy. Bannon has concocted the alleged grave threat China poses to the United States — economically, technologically and geopolitically — mostly based on lunacy. He says China’s plan to “supplant” the United States is laid out in “Unrestricted Warfare,” a 1999 book penned by two Chinese Army colonels. Any people with normal intelligence should know the ranking of colonel is far from being high enough to qualify the authors to map out a country’s military plans.
Hardliners stand to gain when the China-U.S. relationship becomes adversarial. However, a confrontational relationship will harm both countries and the rest of the world.
“My appeal to the United States is to double down, reap the rewards together,” Balakrishnan told the U.S. audience.
This somehow echoes with what China advocates in proposing to build a “human community with a shared destiny.” While Trump may find himself justified in talking up “America First” to the domestic audience, a closed-door, bellicose U.S. policy will be doomed to fail as the rest of the world takes up the opportunities that America abandons. We are now living in a global village.
(The author is head of the Shenzhen Daily News Desk.)