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Game Of Thrones Getting Ugly?

An explosive joint report by a top Chinese scholar and a leading American analyst argue the two countries are locked in a corrosive cycle of distrust that, if left unchecked, could lead to outright antagonism within 10-15 years. The idea behind the report was for each co-author to write candidly about how his country views the other.

A grim narrative emerges from their conclusions. Both countries see the relationship as a zero-sum competition. China thinks America’s time has come and gone; that it is on a path of inexorable decline; and although it expects Washington to fight to retain its position in the world, Beijing is confident it will prevail in the long run. The American attitude is equally disturbing. Many senior policymakers and law enforcement officials believe China is seeking to overthrow America from its hegemonic perch and are convinced the Chinese government is designing both its cyber capabilities and its defense systems specifically for American targets.

The report, published by the renowned Brookings Institution, is revealing as much for who said it as for what was said. The authors are among the most influential policymakers in their respective countries. Kenneth Lieberthal, the national security director for Asia during the Clinton administration, composed the American outlook. The Chinese perspective was written by American Interest board member Wang Jisi, whom the New York Times described as having “an insider’s view of Chinese foreign policy”:

The candid writing by Mr. Wang is striking because of his influence and access, in Washington as well as in Beijing. Mr. Wang, who is dean of Peking University’s School of International Studies and a guest professor at the National Defense University of the People’s Liberation Army, has wide access to senior American policy makers, making him an unusual repository of information about the thinking in both countries.

A zero-sum adversarial relationship between China and America serves neither country well. America’s national interest is achieved via an international system of stability and cooperation among powers great and small. If the opinions expressed in this report are an accurate reflection of what leaders on both sides of the Pacific are thinking then the coming decades will require a considerable commitment of American resources to preserve the global order.

What this report does is set the stage for the next American venture in Asia policy. Last fall saw the U.S. respond to what China’s neighbors saw as a series of dangerously provocative moves by Beijing by renewing its commitment to the region. But as I wrote at the time, the U.S. goal in China isn’t and shouldn’t be the containment of China but the construction of a non-zero sum Asian order that works for everyone in the region—emphatically including China.

The pivot to Asia won’t be complete until it is accompanied by a pivot to China: the administration needs to articulate and implement an approach to US-China relations that can minimize the chances of a spiral of distrust and competition setting the two powers at strategic odds. The Obama administration’s Asia policy gets most of the easy questions right; Wang Jisi and his compatriots are asking harder questions now, and America’s answers must be honest, compelling and smart.

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  • Kris

    I’m waiting for Rodney King’s take on the situation.

  • Anthony

    WRM, theorist have proffered that “great powers” go about maximizing their share of world power given the international system; your Quick Take reads like both United States and China analyst view the other country as seeking opportunities to maximize their power vis-a-vis the other – neither country is sure about intentions of other. Your consideration of a non-zero sum Asian order that works for everyone is certainly a beginning towards being smart and compelling as we develop strategies…

  • Anthony

    WRM, important quote from report: “Popular views can play a powerful role in influencing the sentiments of each government. Both Washington and Beijing should better explain to their domestic constituencies the importance of U.S.-China relations and the positive side of their policies toward each other” – quote keeping in line with your suggestion for more honesty, smartness, and compulsion driving our Asian (China) policy.

  • Tom Holsinger

    Because it’s always about governments, and governments only, just as it was with the XUSSR. The American people don’t have a dog in this fight, so their feelings can be disregarded. So can this weird old book called _Special Providence_.

  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    I don’t see things in this light at all. What I see is the Bleeding Edge American Culture having lured the backward Chinese out of the darkness behind the curtain and into the light, with what the Chinese thought was an opportunity to cheat the American’s with currency manipulation. The results are that 100’s of millions of Chinese have been uplifted out of abject poverty, and they have all been exposed to the Superior American Culture. The Chinese have overpaid for the $1.15 Trillion in US Treasuries they now hold, and only now are they becoming aware of how badly they were taken. Every day in China there are riots, as the middle class America created there, demands a life style like that enjoyed by Americans. Free Enterprise, Democracy, and the Rule of Law, are the pillars of the Superior American Culture, and they are what the Chinese middle class now wants. The Internet, Cell Phones, TV, Movies, mean that hiding the corruption, inefficiency, injustice, and waste of the Communist Government, and the Successful American alternative is impossible, despite the Communist’s attempts at muzzling all of them.
    This is not a zero sum game; America is winning, as all the adaptation going on is that of the Chinese becoming more like Americans, and not the other way around. Ask yourself is America more likely to give up Capitalism, Democracy, and the Rule of Law, or is China more likely to adopt Capitalism (already in progress), Democracy (Tiananmen Square just slowed adoption it didn’t stop it), and the Rule of Law (still might=right)?

  • Jim.

    One place to turn in history for some guidance is the fate of Austria as a European / world power in the “Concert of Europe” years. This role seems to be the one envisioned by Democrats (and other Eurocentrics) as the right and proper one for powers like the US and the EU.

    Cut back your military to minimal levels to pay off your debts. (Less effective now, since for every dollar spent on paying someone to protect this country, four dollars are handed out to someone to do absolutely nothing.) Play a role on the international stage, but since your military is so weak, that role must be purely on sufferance when other players fear the balance of power is tilting away from them. Abandon your own critical interests in the name of “concord”, rather than developing the power to look after them. Bow at the altar of the Multicult, rather than trying to assimilate your peoples and unify your nation.

    The alternative? The British approach. Maintain a cost-effective military and deploy it to advance our interests. Be confident in our culture, so that even disparate peoples who were traditionally implacable enemies proudly unite behind your banners.

    Stepping forward and embracing the British way will lead to victory. Being forced into the Austrian way will lead to defeat.

  • Carl Pham

    I find this commentary silly, and the point of view thoroughly outdated and discredited 1970s-era “detente” thinking.

    I see zero a priori difficulties with competition and distrust. Those are, indeed, the bedrock foundations of a robust market competition — both in terms of actual products and services, and in the more abstract “products” and “services” that constitute philosophies of governance, international relations, and civil liberties — and it is exactly this competition that promises the earliest and best benefits to the citizens of both nations.

    By all means, let us compete with the sneaky conniving untrustworthy Yellow Peril, and by all means let them strive to prove the stripy-pants corrupt running dog has lost his moxie and his moral bearings. On your mark, get set, go, and may the best nation win.

    To be sure, armed conflict is quite undesirable as an outcome, but as the Cold War proved you can go a very long way down the road of distrust and competition without open warfare. Furthermore, while it may be intuitively appealing to imagine distrust and competition naturally and inevitably lead ultimately to warfare, that is an unproven (and in my opinion unlikely) proposition.

    Finally, we have already seen how ultimately dysfunctional is the fool’s gold goal of international orderliness and sameness. In that direction lie the graves of the League of Nations, the futility of the UN, the sterility and bankruptcy of the present EU, the failure of international peace-keeping ventures generally.

    There is no more reason to wish for sweetness ‘n’ light between the United States and China than there is to wish for it between Microsoft and Apple. A robust, even occasionally ugly, competition, suits the species much better.

  • John

    China does not deserve our trust. They steal every piece of intellectual proprty they can get their hands on; they spy on us relentlessly; they launch cyberattacks repeatedly, looking for weaknesses.

    We would be idiots to treat them as we did the Soviet Union, where we signed treaties that hamstrung the US while they never intended to abide by them for a single day.

  • M. Report

    5. Jacksonian Libertarian says:

    Ask yourself is America more likely to give up Capitalism, Democracy, and the Rule of Law, or is China more likely to adopt Capitalism ?

    The Progressives fully intend to take advantage of the coming economic crisis
    to install an authoritarian system in the US,
    one more like the Chinese system they openly admire.

  • M. Report

    As a certified propeller-headed technophile,
    I assure you that if the forces fighting for
    a free future cannot take advantage of the
    opportunity to cooperate, they will deserve
    the dystopian Firefly style ‘Alliance’ that
    is the alternative; The Tech is there, just
    waiting to be developed.

  • Steve W from Ford

    I was traveling in China on business a few years ago and was being feted by one of my companies suppliers.Even though my company was their largest American market and they were anxious to please me, during a dinner party in my honor at a local restaurant they had the manager wheel in a TV so that they could watch a TV series that they were all, very evidently, engrossed with.
    The series was basically a drama about heroic Maoist Chinese fighting (successfully) against the invading Japanese. I was told the series was VERY popular and was broadcast weekly. The heroes were all tall, striking Chinese (as one might expect) while the Japanese were the most vile caricatures one can imagine. Buck- toothed, leering short men whose every action screamed evil. Nuance was definitely not on the menu that evening.
    Now one can certainly understand the Chinese revulsion for the acts of the Japanese occupiers during WW2 but the level of contempt still displayed was, to me, rather shocking given the amount of economic and cultural intercourse between the countries since the war. We Americans believe the passions of the war to be past us but, in China, at that moment they were most assuredly, present.
    I asked my dinner companions about the programming and its link to historical fact. To a man they assured me that the portrayals were not only historically accurate but were, if anything, understated. They expressed complete, and very personal, hatred of all Japanese and told me about their great disgust at having to deal with them at all. The cartoonish nature of the caricatured evil of the Japanese characters can not be overemphasized. It was extreme.
    I bring this up to illustrate the great power of a government controlled media to manipulate the passions of a public that has been trained to be compliant. The sheer level of hatred in that room was compelling.
    If strife with America serves the ends of the political class in China, I am convinced, strife it will be.
     I am not yet persuaded that we are so different.

  • Tblakely

    The thing about China is that they think they are much more culturally advanced over the rest of the world given their long history. Now the reality is that China has been stepped on and humiliated for the past couple of centuries. That really bugs them.

    Now that they are on the upswing, consciously or subconsiously, they want payback. That is why they are comtemptous of international law and intellectual property rights. That is also why they are so aggressive with other countries. I think they really want a war were they kick somebodies [behind] so they can get some face back. However, most of them know even if they were successful it would greatly damage their economy.

    I don’t think it’s gonna end well.

  • Wilbur

    I vote for another 100 years of humiliation

  • Thomas Hazlewood

    Not to worry! Bill Clinton assured us that China was our ‘Strategic Partner’, remember? All we’ll need to do is push the “Reset’ button, vice the OTHER Clinton. There’s little wonder that the Chinese think the US is in decline after 8 years of Clinton’s foolishness, 8 years of Bush’s laxness, and now 4 years of Onama’s idiocy. After all, if they are what Americans choose to lead them, it’s obvious that America IS in decline….

  • Luke Lea

    I’ve been reading up on China lately, trying to get a better understanding of its history and culture. I started with Shanghai, a good but not great novel by Christopher New which gives a good overview of that city in the early part of the last century. Subsequent nonfiction reading showed it to be pretty accurate. Next I read Wild Swans, which I have to say is one of the best and most beautifully written books I’ve ever read. It tells the story (true story) of three generations of women in one family — the grandmother, who was the captured concubine of a Kuomintang general, her mother, who was a dedicated communist official (as was her father) during the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, and finally herself, who belonged to the Red Guards as a teenager before getting a scholarship to study in England, where she remained. The corruption, cruelty, personal betrayals and reversals of fortune she describes beggar the imagination, as does the courage and fortitude of the survivors.

    I’m now reading The Dream of the Red Chamber which is supposed to be the greatest Chinese novel ever written. I doubt that seriously. It is basically a loosely strung series of erotic anecdotes and family gossip in an aristocratic Chinese family living in the early 18th century. Corruption is a theme, as it was in the other two books I mentioned; corruption seems to be a steady theme in Chinese history, as is the idea of “rehabilitation” strangely enough. Sex is big in China and always has been apparently; they are a very erotic people. Women historically were the play things of the well-born, beautiful toys, but also the center of male attention: they liked their toys more than just about anything else. Aestheticism is another recurrent theme: human nightmare on the one hand, the beautiful reflection of the moon over a lake on the other (with a big emphasis on the literature of nature).

    These are just a few superficial impressions. I’m learning more all the time.

  • Luke Lea

    I’m sorry, The Dream of the Red Chamber is set in the early 1800’s not the eighteenth century. I doubt you would know the difference.

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