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The Loneliness Of A Superpower: Why China Needs The U.S. (A Chinese Viewpoint)

Op-Ed: Facing territorial disputes with its neighbors and deep uncertainties on the home front, China's newfound strength also requires stability that only the U.S. can help provide. A Chinese bet on the G2 alliance.

The American and Chinese Presidents in January (US Army)
The American and Chinese Presidents in January (US Army)
Cao Xin

BEIJING - Lately, the waters have grown rough around China.

With the South China Sea disputes still simmering, new turmoil has broken out in the East China Sea. First, ten fishing boats filled with Japanese right-wing extremists forced their way onto the Diaoyu Islands. Then, South Korea decided to submit an official document to the United Nations' Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, outlining their new territorial claims in the East China Sea. According to this document, South Korea's continental shelf claim extends not only to Okinawa, but also includes the China Inland Sea.

So from Northeast Asia to Southeast Asia, China is simultaneously engaged in full-fledged territorial water and island sovereignty disputes. Beijing is facing a number of small countries, advancing and surrounding it at the same time.

And this is hardly the only trouble that China's diplomacy faces today. China's biggest problem is reflected in its diplomatic guiding principles and philosophy. The "harmonious world" concept that we have always insisted on is not compatible with the fact that China is now the world's second biggest economy. And it is not trusted by others. The rise of China has aroused much reaction, suspicion, anxiety and even rejection.

In the Middle East, which is gradually becoming more and more meaningful for China, some officials complain that China is a fence-sitter afraid to take clear stances.

China's most important strategic partner, Russia, is the provider of advanced arms to Vietnam, with whom China is stuck in a major row over a territorial sovereignty dispute. While China has been seeking energy cooperation with three Central Asian countries, Russia has been interfering either openly or secretly.

And then there's Europe: China is actively investing in the continent, increasing its imports from European Union members and buying Euro bonds to respond to their serious credit crisis and rising nationalism. But still: this does nothing to change the reality that Europe is still the firmest ally of the United States.

Looking for a friend

China doesn't have a real friend in the world. Not in the other "BRIC" countries of Brazil, Russia and India, nor in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization group that includes countries like Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, India, Iran, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Belarus. These are just forums provided to each member state to have a place for proclaiming their positions, not real international organizations which have a status in accordance with international law. Among all the big global states, China is the only one that faces such a lonely situation.

Besides, subject to the guiding ideology of China's diplomatic practice, more attention is paid to saving face than gaining concrete returns. For instance, when having to evacuate its citizens or providing consular protection abroad, the diplomatic personnel attach much more importance to domestic propaganda back home than to offering real help to the people in need. This is why when it faces major issues like the territorial disputes in the South China Sea and the East China Sea, it is totally helpless.

The fundamental problem is that China's diplomatic ideology does not reflect China's reality. It's a country where the GDP is the world's second highest, but its diplomatic thinking is of a mid-level player in a multi-polar world trying to keep a low profile. It lacks an overall strategic and international perspective.

The recognized principle on the international stage is strength, or even the rule of the jungle.

In terms of strength, China is second in the world. It needs to protect its economic interests around the world. Emphasizing its vision of a "harmonious world" or constantly abstaining from voting on the UN Security Council only makes the outside world think that China is opaque, that it does not uphold international justice, or even dare to defend its national interests. It's only logical that other countries will rally together to compete against China under such circumstances.

China's diplomacy must be in line with the fact that it is the world's largest creditor nation, and has the courage to protect its own interests while also playing a role in helping the outside world as best it can.

Among the various paths available, the most realistic would be to pursue the so-called G2.

The concept of G2 was first raised by Dr. Fred Bergsten, Director of the Peterson Institute for International Economics in 2008. It holds that the "Group of Two" – the U.S. and China – should align their positions towards world affairs and, in particular, towards Asia-Pacific affairs.

The U.S. needs China too

When President Obama visited China in 2009, he made this recommendation to the Chinese leaders. The background was that America's economy would not recover in the short term, while problems were bound to persist in Afghanistan -- and it needed China's assistance, especially in the Asia-Pacific region.

Lately, the U.S. has also gotten involved in depth with the war in Libya, and the unrest in the countries in North Africa and in the Middle East. This reflects the decline of America's strength. Some U.S. leaders think that China does not threaten the United States militarily, that China is not exporting its ideology, and its economic development has an obvious global driving effect, while America has more and more problems which need China's help to resolve. America needs a G2.

Yet many Chinese people are skeptical about the G2 model, citing both trust issues, as well as individual interests. However, with calm thinking, it becomes easy to see that strength is the most important factor determining the development of international relationships, and the evolution of the international dimension of a country.

One has to pay the price of being a leader. Sometimes you wind up losing more than you gain. It is a basic international duty. And if China agrees to build the G2 with the US, at least the security situation around China should improve considerably.

The last and most important point is that foreign and domestic affairs are complementary and inseparable. To solve its current domestic problem of incompatibility between the economic base and the superstructure, China needs a stable exterior environment.

A G2 could provide such steady conditions. Otherwise, even just the "unlimited internet access' proclaimed by Hilary Clinton or an "internet freedom strategy" is enough to make China's life very uneasy. A G2 could provide a basis of good will between two allies, instead of insidious mutual destruction. China needs a relatively stable transition period to solve its domestic problems. Dealing well with America is the key to achieve that goal.

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photo - U.S. Army

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