Towards a new type of great power relationship between China and the United States
An address to the National Defence University of China
Thursday 28 March 2013
It’s now three months since I last addressed this important Chinese institution.
I thank you for the hospitality I received then.
I thank you for the collegiate discussion I had with a number of your leaders on that occasion.
And I thank you for your kind invitation to return here today, so soon after the National People’s Congress has confirmed the appointment of China’s new leadership for the next five years.
The last time I spoke here I emphasised the importance of understanding clearly one another’s strategic perspectives on the future stability of the Asian hemisphere – from the viewpoints of Beijing, Washington, and the other capitals of Asia.
I also emphasised that there was nothing determinist about the future of international relations.
Of course we should all make a careful study of the history of international relations (and I know in this country you make a particularly careful study of this history).
We are all obviously shaped by our own histories in our dealings with other states, both positive and negative.
But it is both intellectually and politically invalid to conclude therefore that our histories inevitably determine our futures.
That is why when I last spoke here I emphasised the importance of re-engineering our collective strategic mindsets.
I emphasised that how we think about each other directly influences how we act towards each other, either positively or negatively.
I emphasised that there was nothing inevitable therefore about whether the structural forces of economic globalisation would drive us towards a cooperative future based on continued peace and mutual prosperity.
Nor is there anything inevitable, as some in the policy communities both in Beijing and in Washington would argue, that our future in Asia is destined for accelerating strategic competition, conflict, or even war.
The truth is, politics is about choices – choices by peoples and their governments about what sort of future they want at home and in the world.
It is also about the choices we make about what practical policy steps are necessary to get there.
It is for these reasons that on balance I remain an optimist about our common future in Asia.
That does not mean that I am also an idealist. We cannot simply declare peace, harmony and universal brotherhood starting from tomorrow morning at 9 AM as the dawn of a new utopian age.
In fact, like most of you, I am a strategic realist.
I recognise the strategic realities which exist across our hemisphere – the military alliances, the military budgets, the force structures, the declaratory and operational doctrines, as well as the increasing number and complexity of regional security incidents that are occurring.
But, equally, I have a realist view that both the interests and the values that unite us in this hemisphere are greater than those that divide us.
Profound differences of course exist not just between the so-called East and West; not just between so-called socialism and liberal capitalism; not just between religious and secular traditions; not just between Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism and Confucianism; but also profound and continuing cultural differences and sometimes animosities between our various peoples.
But if you were to conduct an opinion poll tomorrow of all of our peoples in Asia on whether they want continued peace, opportunity and prosperity as opposed to nationalism, armed conflict or war, I am confident they would all vote for the former.
And the results would be the same in Sydney, Sichuan or San Francisco.
So the practical challenge facing us all, in the military academies, foreign ministries and chancelleries across our wider region, is how do we step-by-step, in practical measures, build strategic trust in one another – particularly between China and the United States where the existing trust deficit is so large.
A new type of great power relations
That is why I believe we can work constructively with China’s emerging concept of “a new type of great power relations” (新型大国关系).
Many of us who follow China’s domestic international relations and security policy debate closely have observed the emergence of this Chinese strategic concept over the last decade.
We watched CCTV’s 12-part documentary series entitled, “The rise of great powers” (大国崛起).
This of course followed President Hu Jintao’s collective studies session with the Politburo several years earlier entitled, “An Historical Investigation of the Development of the World’s Main Powers since the 15th Century”.
We have observed the importance of great powers within China’s official foreign policy doctrine that, “The major powers are the key, surrounding areas are the first priority, developing countries are the foundation, and multilateral forums are the important stage.” (大国是关键，周边是首要，发展中国家是基础，多边是重要舞台。)
We have also observed both the Chinese and American domestic debates about rising powers and declining powers and the relevance of what is called “power transition theory”, including its particular warning about the unique dangers which arise in the period when the power gap begins to close rapidly.
We have also observed all the explanations and counter-explanations of Deng Xiaoping’s maxim of “hide your strength and bide your time, do not seek leadership but do some things” (韬光养晦，不当头，有所作为).
We have also observed the debate about China’s peaceful rise and then China’s peaceful development (和平崛起，和平发展).
We have also seen the literature on China’s Renaissance (中国复兴).
More recently, we have discussed Hu Jintao’s dual concept of a harmonious society at home and a harmonious world abroad (和谐社会，和谐世界).
In China, it is always good to let “a hundred flowers and a hundred schools of thought contend” (百花齐放，百家争鸣).
Of course, given China’s rapid development over the last thirty years, we understand that this is a work in progress. As my good friend Professor Yan Xuetong from Tsinghua University said last year, “When the world asked China: what do you want to be? It doesn’t know, and that’s the problem.”
I should also say, we in the West and the rest are also constantly evolving our own strategic analysis and, to some extent, our strategic policy positions.
But I think you perhaps understand why some of us foreign barbarians have from time to time been confused about the long term direction of China’s domestic debate on foreign and security policy – given the intensity of the public debate here.
That is why many of us welcome President Xi Jinping’s definitive embrace of the concept of a new type of great power relations.
I believe it is a concept which we can all now build on over the important decade ahead.
Twelve months ago while visiting Washington, then Vice President Xi Jinping stated that there were four elements to a new type of great power relationship between China and the United States:
· Increasing mutual understanding and strategic trust;
· Respecting each side’s “core interests and major concerns”;
· Deepening mutually beneficial cooperation; and
· Enhancing cooperation and coordination in international affairs and on global issues.
China’s declaratory commitment to this new framework for its bilateral engagement with the United States is further reflected during last year’s US-China strategic and economic dialogue, when Hu Jintao stated, “We should, through creative thinking and concrete steps, prove that the traditional belief that big powers are bound to enter into confrontation and conflicts is wrong and seek new ways of developing relations between major countries in the era of economic globalisation.”
Furthermore, Xinhua reported following last year’s G20 Summit when President Hu met with President Obama that:
1. The United States and China should continue to engage in a broad range of dialogues, strive to enhance mutual trust and continue to maintain high level communication through senior-level visits, meetings, telephone conversations and letters;
2. The US and China should further deepen “win-win” cooperation in traditional fields such as commerce, investment, law enforcement, education and science and technology; while pursuing a similar cooperation in emerging areas such as energy, environment and infrastructure construction.
3. The two countries should “properly manage their differences” and minimise interference or disruption from outside factors such as by insulating the relationship from the US presidential campaign.
4. The US and China should share international responsibilities and better meet global challenges and maintain “a healthy interaction” in the Asia Pacific region.
Once again, I would argue that this represents a broad framework for US-China relations which I believe the US could and should work with.
Let us return for a moment to Xi Jinping’s framework twelve months ago. President Xi emphasised the importance of respecting each side’s “core interests and major concerns”.
From time to time, China’s definition of its core interests has changed.
It is of course ultimately a matter for the Chinese people what political system they choose for themselves.
The international community accepts China’s sovereignty over Taiwan, Xinjiang and Tibet.
Of course, our friends in this audience will understand that the international community has a different view concerning China’s territorial claims in the East and South China Seas where a number of China’s neighbouring states dispute China’s claims, and where other countries around the world, by and large, maintain a neutral position, urging all parties to use peaceful, diplomatic and/or international legal institutions to resolve outstanding claims.
In this context, however, US failure to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) has not assisted US diplomacy in urging all parties to these disputes to resort to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea.
If the US accepted the UNCLOS jurisdiction, it would make it more difficult for China to decline to accept the Tribunal’s jurisdiction as well.
We should all remember the Tribunal exists for a purpose: for the international community to peacefully resolve maritime territorial disputes and therefore avoid a repeat of the armed conflicts we have seen in the past.
Within the broad framework of “core interests and major concerns”, our Chinese friends would also appreciate that other countries of the region have profound concerns about both the nuclear weapons and ballistic missile program of North Korea and its inflammatory declaratory language concerning its preparedness unilaterally to use armed force against the south and other “unnamed aggressors” in Asia.
Therefore, on the broad question of US and Chinese interests, there is plainly scope for much work to be done.
President Xi Jinping also emphasised the importance of building strategic trust. This I believe can be achieved on a step-by-step basis.
That is why I have written an article for this month’s Foreign Affairs magazine in the United States entitled, “A New Strategic Roadmap for US-China Relations”.
Many of the arguments contained in the article are built on those outlined in my addresses to both the National Defense University here in Beijing and to the Brookings Institution in Washington DC late last year.
Let me recap the core arguments that I had put forward:
First, the US and China need a program of regular summitry (two or three each year) with a mutually agreed work program on strategic trust building exercises for the future, rather than simply the political issue management of the day. Bilateral dialogues between officials are fine. But it’s heads of government who make things happen.
Second, each side needs a point-person on the bilateral relationship who can speak authoritatively for each administration; who can move the work program forward between summits, as well as handle day-to-day issue management as it arises.
Third, both the US and China need to identify at least one item within the current global rules-based order which is not working, and demonstrate together they can make it work. Previously I have cited examples of stalled WTO negotiations, climate change negotiations and the non-proliferation agenda (the latter being particularly important given both North Korea and Iran).
Fourth, both the US and China should work with the members of the East Asian Summit to build a comprehensive set of confidence and security-building measures for the Asian hemisphere with a view to building strategic trust step-by-step and reducing the risks of conflict escalation through miscalculation.
Fifth, US-China mil-mil dialogue needs to be taken to a new and sustained level at the level of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. This enhanced military dialogue should also deal as a matter of urgency with the vexed question of cyber security which at present has the capacity to begin to tear the relationship apart unless some level of mutual trust can be established.
Sixth, China and the US should begin discussing China’s eventual accession to the Trans-Pacific Partnership in order to create a basis for new common prosperity through a free trade regime in Asia and the Pacific. This will boost economic growth and employment in all countries.
Seventh, the US and China should accelerate their global economic cooperation on global macro-economic stability through the G20. This must focus on the identification of the next drivers of global economic growth consistent with the Pittsburgh Declaration of 2009. Failure to produce a result on this continues to plague the prospects of global economic recovery as of today.
These also represent new potentially positive economic dimensions to the relationship rather than the inevitably negative preoccupations with security.
This recommended framework for a new strategic roadmap for US-China relations also embraces President Xi Jinping’s third point of his definition of a new type of great power relationship: what he describes as “deepening mutually beneficial cooperation”.
Similarly with Xi Jinping’s fourth point on enhanced cooperation and coordination on global issues.
Other irritants in the US-China relationship which are not of a strategic nature should be dealt with in other forums and not be allowed to affect, and therefore infect, the strategic role of the sort of summitry I have proposed.
For these various reasons, I argue that China’s desire for a new type of great power relations with the US is largely compatible with the sort of proposals I have put forward for a new strategic roadmap between the two.
However, conceptual work is one thing. Practical diplomatic work is another. And much work remains to be done.
There is one major challenge which of itself is capable of derailing the prospects for new strategic cooperation between China and the United States.
There has been much discussion and acrimonious debate in the last twelve months over the East China Sea and South China Sea.
There is an emerging concern about the future of cyber security.
But the most immediate and significant threat to a new form of strategic cooperation between Beijing and Washington, and between Beijing and the rest of the region, lies in the North Korean nuclear program.
North Korea’s most recent ballistic missile test into the mid-Pacific last December is unacceptable to the international community.
Its third underground nuclear test in February this year is also unacceptable to the international community.
North Korea’s response to the UN Security Council Resolution 2094 imposing new sanctions is equally unacceptable.
Let us remember the precise content of the DPRK response to the United Nations Security Council:
1. North Korea unilaterally tore up the 1953 armistice agreement with the south, an agreement which brought to a conclusion hostilities involving many states, including China, the United States and Australia sixty years ago;
2. North Korea threatened pre-emptive strikes against United States, its allies and other “aggressors” in the region; and
3. North Korea threatened to reduce Seoul to a smouldering ruin.
This is the most aggressive language used by any nation state in the world today about its neighbours. It is the language of the 1930s. It is not the language of the international community of the early 21st century.
When we add to that the fact that North Korea now possesses sufficient nuclear material to construct a nuclear weapon and is now testing delivery systems capable of targeting other states, the international community no longer regards North Korea as simply a theoretical threat.
For a number of countries, it is emerging as an existential threat.
In this military academy, you are taught that strategic policy is based on two elements: military capabilities and political intentions.
In North Korea, we begin to see the convergence of both.
I understand fully that North Korea is not a client state of China.
But I also understand that everyone else’s diplomacies toward North Korea have been unsuccessful: with South Korea, with the US, with the Six Party Talks, and with the United Nations.
I am fully aware that China has exercised considerable efforts to try and restrain North Korean behaviour.
I also note that North Korea rewarded China’s efforts by launching its third underground test during the Spring Festival holiday and then declared its renunciation of the 1953 armistice and other measures in the middle of China’s National People’s Congress, when China was announcing its new leadership to the world.
I have also been following international reports of China’s growing domestic debate of its future policy on North Korea.
As Zhu Feng, a North Korea expert at Peking University, stated recently, “The North Korean nuclear test this time will push China to a rethink.”
China’s hardline newspaper The Global Times has warned in an editorial that the DPRK would “pay a heavy price” for its actions.
Furthermore, Jin Canrong of Renmin University has warned that North Korea’s “recent misbehaviour” has strengthened the voices of those in China wanting the government to take a tougher line against its unruly nuclear-armed ally.
More significantly, Deng Yuwen, deputy editor of Study Times, journal of the Central Party School of the Communist Party, wrote that China should simply “give up” on North Korea.
Most significantly of all, recent reports of a briefing by Qiu Yuanping of the Communist Party’s Central Foreign Affairs Office to the Chinese People’s Consultative Conference in a public session open to the media talked about whether to “keep or dump” North Korea.
It is of course a matter for China to determine what its future policy will be.
But, as a friend of China, let me make just two observations:
First, North Korea’s nuclear posture is of itself causing the United States and its allies in the region to enhance their cooperation on ballistic missile defence in order to counter the North Korean threat.
Of itself it is a reflection of profound strategic mistrust towards North Korea.
For many it also represents an entirely rational response to a real and growing threat.
Such ballistic missile defence cooperation also of course has wider implications for China’s national and security interests beyond the Korean Peninsula.
Second, China’s own global foreign policy standing is suffering and will continue to suffer as a result of North Korean adventurism.
This is unfortunate because China in so many global domains is playing an increasingly active and positive role.
But North Korea today has become not just a global pariah state but a dangerous one for so many of China’s friends and neighbours – not least South Korea.
Third, there is a limit to the level of self-restraint that South Korea can itself demonstrate given the enormous political pressures within South Korea’s democracy to respond robustly to any future North Korean provocation.
None of us should forget that US nuclear forces were removed from the Korean Peninsula in 1992.
It is a sad fact that North Korea’s nuclear weapons program began after that date.
There is also an emerging debate within both Korea and Japan about their own future nuclear postures given North Korea’s emerging capabilities and aggressive public language towards both.
For these reasons the international community will be looking more and more to Beijing, in view of its significance as a major supplier of food and energy to the Korean people, for a new diplomacy towards Pyongyang, given that all other diplomacies from other countries have so far demonstrably failed.
If North Korea can be managed in the period ahead, I believe the United States and China are capable of developing a new type of great power relationship.
Certain strategic realities do not change.
The United States remains the world’s only superpower and in all categories of power is likely to remain so until mid-century. It will also remain fully engaged in the Asian hemisphere.
The second strategic reality is that China is a rising power and China will continue to rise in all categories of its national power despite all the sceptics all around the world saying that it will falter or fail.
Therefore, here in Asia, there is no alternative but to construct a regional architecture that recognises these two realities.
Similarly, there is no alternative but for these two powers to build strategic trust step-by-step.
The world watches China closely.
Joe Nye wrote earlier this month that an important Chinese leader recently told him that, “We [i.e. China] need thirty years of peace to meet our development goals and to come close to the US.”
Joe goes on to write that during that period we can focus on building a new type of great power relationship.
The world will watch carefully over the decades ahead to see if China becomes the world’s next superpower.
It will also ask the question of whether China, if it becomes a superpower, will seek to change the current global rules-based order, or whether it will use the intervening period to enhance the rules-based order which has served China so well over the last thirty years.
In other words, what the world will ask is whether 新型大国关系 is a tactical or strategic concept in China’s security and foreign policy.
Only China ultimately can answer that question.
But I remain optimistic that if we all make the right choices, together we can enhance the global rules-based order that has avoided global calamity now for over two-thirds of a century.
As well as build such a rules-based order here in Asia so that we avoid calamity here as well.