Prof. Yang Zhizhen’s May 2014 article “Interactions Between US – China Relations and China Building Relations with the Countries on its Periphery” examines the structural competition and functional cooperation built into this triangle. The Chinese text of Prof. Yang’s article is online at http://www.hprc.org.cn/gsyj/wjs/dwgx/201502/P020150206561729821744.pdf
Prof. Yang Zhizhen is that the Institute of Politics and Law at the Hubei Province Academy of Social Sciences in Wuhan. Yang specializes in US –China and US – India relations and is the author of a 2014 volume of essays on US – China relations “China’s Development Strategy and US – China Relations” 中国开放战略与中美关系 http://product.dangdang.com/1494769232.html
I don’t know how influential Prof. Yang is but this is interesting and positive big picture thinking. Yang sees the South China Sea unhappiness as a distracting peripheral issue that needs to be handled properly and some difficulties in Chinese relations with their neighbors as due to their unwillingness to see a dominant China (not because of the US stirring up trouble which is the conventional explanation) My summary of this:
“The great majority of East Asian countries are also worried about China and don’t want to see it become the dominant power and so the leader in East Asia. In East Asian international relations, the old rule that economics determines political has lost effectiveness. Nearly all these countries rely on China economically but in security and in politics rely on the US. They welcome a US role that balances out an excessive growth of Chinese power. What is needed is for the US and China to cooperate in Asia.”
This seems more realist than the political science “realists” who sit around thinking dark thoughts all the time!
The environmental cooperation angle at the end is intriguing too.
Summary translation (full text at URL above) China is a rapidly growing country, and while some foreign policy “realist” thinkers would claim that a collision is inevitable, that should not be the case in an era of peace and development. The core US strategic and security interest is preserving the leading role of the US in the world; since the collapse of the USSR it has been the only superpower and a hegemonic power. China is a rapidly growing power that came late to the international order but it is an active participant and builder of it. There is a structural element of competition in US – China relations and is a natural consequences of changes in the international power system.
Although the gap between the US and China has shrunk considerably over the past 15 years, it is still an enormous one. China cannot in the near term hope to be competitive with the US in military power, S&T capacity, diplomacy, and creativity
Although China has achieved an equal place in the international system, China did not participate in the creation of the post-war order [Note: China here must mean PRC since China as the ROC did participate prior to 1949] Therefore, as China becomes stronger, it will want to change some of the “rules of the game” to better accord with its own interests and preferences – that is just what the western countries fear. The US does not want to see East Asia united, but even less does it want to see a war there. China and the US share many common interests in protecting the world order and has worked constructively with China on avoiding conflict by restraining Japan and Taiwan independence. China has been actively developing its economic relations, particularly focusing on SE Asia.
A mass of complicated territorial disputes in the South China Sea are a big challenge. The US can use it to separate China from its neighbors in order to preserve its leadership in East Asia and the world. But there is no advantage to the US to conflict in the SCS.
China’s relations with its neighbors is not a zero-sum game. Both the US and China can win. The complication is that as China gets closer to its neighbors, the US will fear that it will lose influence in the region – this will increase the competition between the US and China. The US has made it clear that the SCS problem should be handled multilaterally through ASEAN and not in bilateral negotiations with China. After China put the nine-dotted lines on its passports, the US openly expressed doubt about the Chinese position and warned against unilateral action by China.
The US and China are both countries with worldwide influence that are bound together by history. If the US were to openly try to organize the Asian countries to contain China, or to create an ideological bloc of democratic countries opposed to China, that plan would certainly fail. Similarly, if China were to try to take the US out of Asian economic and security affairs, it would certainly encounter the determined opposition of other countries.
China must consider US- China relations and its future as it builds it relationships with its neighbors in order to stimulate positive energies in the relationship and to avoid structural competition from complicating China’s relations with its neighbors.
There is both structural competition and functional cooperation in the US – China relationship. There will be a great deal of “benefits leakage” to the US from increasing Asian integration. Only increasing contact, cooperation and exchanges between the US and China in these areas will US doubts about China’s intentions be reduced.
The US has important interests in the East Asia region and is concerned about being excluded by regional integration. The US doesn’t want there to come a day when East Asia doesn’t see the US as a leader. The great majority of East Asian countries are also worried about China and don’t want to see it become the dominant power and so the leader in East Asia. In East Asian international relations, the old rule that economics determines political has lost effectiveness. Nearly all these countries rely on China economically but in security and in politics rely on the US. They welcome a US role that balances out an excessive growth of Chinese power. What is needed is for the US and China to cooperate in Asia.
。美国在东亚地区具有重要的利益，担心东亚国家通过地区一体化将其排挤出去，因而对东亚区域一体化保持高度的警惕。东亚转向一个真正不再需要美国当“老大”的格局是美国最不想看到的#”$%。绝大多数东亚国家对中国持有戒心， 不愿意看到中国在东亚地区独大从而主导东亚事务。对于东亚国际关系来说，经济决定政治的规律已经 失效，几乎所有国家是在经济上依赖中国而在政治安全上依赖美国，主动迎合甚至邀请美国来制衡中国影响的扩大，显然这不利于互联互通的深度推进。因此，这条路径并不可取。随着亚太经合组织互联互通 建设的启动，亚太自由贸易区的建设是历史的必然。中国应该选择第二条路径，或者至少选择第三条路 径，争取早日加入跨太平洋伙伴关系计划，与美国在亚太区域互联互通建设中开展合作，以此充实中美新型大国关系的内容，进而促进中国同周边国家互联互通建设。
One area where the United States could help, both officially and unofficially, is on big infrastructure projects which have sometimes run into difficulty on environmental issues. U.S. expertise on environmental impact assessment would be valuable on these projects. Some of the SE Asian countries that China cooperates with are poor developing countries that pay inadequate attention to environmental issues.