2022: Wang Jisi: Has the U.S. Really Declined? Chinese Need to Have a Clear Understanding About This

Has the U.S. Really Declined? Chinese Need to Have a Clear Understanding About This

May 14, 2022 | Source: Culture Vertical | Reads: 644

王缉思: 美国到底有没有衰落? 中国人应有清醒认识

Keywords: Belt and Road Global Governance Country Studies Geopolitics

[Introduction] In recent years, the U.S. has had a lot of domestic socio-political problems and erratic international performance, which has aroused global concern. Many people in the East and West lament that the United States is declining, and many oppose singing the praises of the United States. What exactly do you think about this issue?

In this interview, Wang Jisi, Director of the Institute for International Strategic Studies at Peking University, points out that the international status of the United States has indeed been declining relative to China in the last decade, but not significantly compared with countries other than China. Compared with previous hegemonic powers, the U.S. has various existing advantages that prevent it from going into a rapid decline. The current soft power of the United States is much less than it once was, and its political decline is rare in history, but it has not yet severely constrained its economic and technological development. The increase in immigration to the United States has exacerbated racial conflict, but immigration also gives the United States momentum for development. Changes in U.S. domestic politics, while not immediately leading to the shaking of its hegemonic position, can affect the logic of its foreign policy.  Responding to domestic political polarization, the Biden administration’s diplomatic path is actually not too different from that of the Trump administration, and the populist overtones of U.S. diplomacy will persist, as will a more assertive foreign policy.

He also pointed out that China is the primary “competition” identified by the U.S., but many Americans do not believe that Sino-U.S. competition will lead to a “new Cold War” because the conflict between the U.S. and China is different from the conflict between the U.S. and the Soviet Union back then. The Biden administration’s China policy emphasizes strengthening itself and uniting with allies to counterbalance China, while waiting for and even stimulating China to “make a mistake. Because the U.S. believes that future competition is mainly a contest of national governance capabilities, whoever can avoid obvious mistakes can indirectly win through the mistakes of their opponents. Regarding the recent concerns about the Taiwan Strait issue, Wang Jisi believes that the bottom line of the United States has not changed, and that the extent of its involvement in the Taiwan Strait conflict depends mainly on the manner and scale of cross-strait interaction. In the context of a long-term Sino-US standoff, it is necessary to maintain a clear and objective perception of the United States.

This article was originally published in Contemporary American Review 当代美国评论, No. 1, 2022, and was originally titled “The Performance and Motivation of the Evolution of U.S. Domestic and Foreign Affairs – An Interview with Professor Wang Jisi“.

The Expressions and Motivations of the Evolution of U.S. Domestic and Foreign Affairs

–Interview with Prof. Wang Jisi

The International Status of the United States: Relative Decline, Overall Stability

Q: In 1999, you published a book entitled “On High: U.S. Global Strategy and World Status after the Cold War”. Do you think the U.S. is still on “high” in the world compared to more than 20 years ago or the beginning of the Cold War?

A: To judge the change of the U.S. international status, we need to base on facts. If we look at the indicators of the U.S. economy, especially the value of GDP, there is no obvious decline in the U.S. GDP accounted for 25.3% of world GDP in 1980, rose to 28.82% in 1995, and reached 30.4% in 2000 at the end of the Clinton administration. By 2007, that figure had fallen back to 24.9 percent. In 2011, following the international financial crisis, the U.S. share fell further to a low of 21.1%, before returning to 24.9% in 2020. This means that in the decade from 2011 to 2020, the U.S. GDP share of the total world economy shows a trend of growth rather than decline.

So, is the U.S. economy in decline, or rather, which country is it in decline compared to? The answer is China, and the only when compared with China does it show a decline. In 1980, China’s GDP accounted for only 1.7% of the world economy; by 2007, it had risen to 6.1%, and in 2011, when the U.S. economy was in the doldrums, China’s global share of GDP rose steadily to 10.3%; it grew further to 17.4% in 2020. This also means that the decline in the U.S. share of the world economy quite literally stems from China’s rise. But if you compare the US to other countries (and regions) such as Japan, Russia, the UK, the EU, Brazil, etc., the rising share of the US total economy shows a very clear positive momentum.

▲ China’s GDP share of the world total has continued to rise over the past 20 years. Source: Brookings

This alone makes me skeptical of the assertion that the U.S. economy is in decline. Although the U.S. economy has declined relatively over the years as a share of the world economy, it has remained largely stable in the 25% to 30% range, and even if it occasionally slips out, it will return to that range in the short term. The reason why people feel that the U.S. economy is weak is simply because China is used as a comparator. In addition to aggregate economic indicators, the U.S. performance in hard indicators such as science and technology and defense spending has not declined significantly, but has remained high.

Nevertheless, it is a fact that the entire Western world is in economic decline. We can compare the top 10 developed countries in terms of GDP with the top 10 developing countries, which accounted for 64% of the world economy in 2001, while the top 10 developing countries accounted for only 12%; by 2020, the former’s share has dropped to 47.3%, while the latter’s share has increased to 26.7%. This clearly shows that the overall economic strength of developing countries is increasing, while the developed countries are decreasing. This performance also confirms the general assertion that “the East is rising and the West is falling”.

When it comes to the so-called soft power, that is, the attractiveness of the U.S. value system, political system and values, which other countries would now consider the U.S. to have the power of “role model”? How can such a country lead as a “beacon of light to the world”? If the United States has indeed declined in some areas, I think it is mainly in the area of soft power.

Q: At present, there are clearly different views on the international status of the U.S. in domestic and international academic circles, what indicators do you think are needed to judge whether the U.S. is in decline?

A: Most of the discussions on “whether the United States is in decline” are from a political perspective. I have also explored this issue in my article The Thin Horse in the West Wind, or the Eagle in the North Sky?《西风瘦马,还是北天雄鹰?》 This proposition was first put forward by Mao Zedong in 1946, and the original words were “all reactionaries are paper tigers”, “but the American reactionaries will also prove to be as powerless as all historical reactionaries. In America, there is another category of people who have real power, and that is the American people. Chairman Mao emphasized in 1957 that “the east wind overcomes the west wind”. At that time, China’s view was “the enemy is declining day by day, and we are getting better day by day”. Now we say “the East is rising and the West is falling”, which is the same lineage. Some of America’s opponents in the world, such as the Soviet Union (and now Russia) and North Korea, believe that the United States is always in decline, and that “American decline” is a constant quantity. The American scholar Immanuel Wallerstein argues that the U.S. is always in decline if compared to the state it was in in 1945. Others, from another perspective, argue that the U.S. is not doing what it should be doing well and that a general downward trend is inevitable, and they do so with a sense of resentment. The opposite judgment is that “the U.S. has never declined,” and Joseph Nye, an American scholar, is representative of this view. I think objectively speaking, the comprehensive national power of the United States has remained stable, but this does not seem to be the mainstream view at home and abroad, after all, from different positions, different conclusions will be drawn. Therefore, “whether the U.S. is in decline” is more of a political judgment than an academic question.

Q: What advantages does the United States have compared to those hegemonic countries that have declined in the past?

A: The United States has obvious advantages in terms of natural endowments, demographic changes, and geographic location that former hegemonic powers such as Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom do not possess. These elements are both prerequisites for the U.S. to become a world power and the roots of its continued vitality. It is therefore illogical to think that the United States will decline in the near future.

Source: Reuters

U.S. Politics: Decline Continues, Resilience Remains

Q: Since his inauguration, President Biden has put forward an ambitious agenda and is moving forward with a bold policy agenda, but his domestic approval rating has been declining. What do you think is the reason for this result?

A: The decline in Biden’s approval rating is not surprising. Almost all governments in electoral systems have high approval ratings in the early years of their administration and then gradually decline. For Biden, this decline is due to a number of factors, one of which is the hasty withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan and the subsequent reoccupation of Kabul by the Taliban. No matter how much the Biden administration defends itself, it cannot change the reality that the United States has lost face before the world. At the same time, the Biden administration’s performance in the economic field is not so positive,  the pace of advancing various political agendas at home is slow, and it has failed to fulfill the promise made during the election campaign to “quickly overcome the impact of the novel coronavirus epidemic”.

The prerequisite for Biden to maintain his approval rating is that his administration can meet the interests of the majority of American voters. Therefore, to improve the quality of life and employment rate of the people rather than simply improve economic indicators is his basic priority, but this is something thathe can not do over the short term. In fact, the gap between the rich and the poor within the U.S. is widening even further, though this is not only a U.S. problem, but also a worldwide problem. I have been following the changes in the Gini coefficient around the world.  This indicator is rising in nearly all countries.  The U.S. is no exception, and it is probably rising even more in the U.S. Although I don’t have specific data, most Americans admit that the wealth gap in their country is becoming larger and larger. Statistically speaking, the poorest groups in the U.S. are still concentrated among Latinos and African-Americans, and the overall poverty rate of minority groups is significantly higher than that of whites, thus arousing their strong resentments. At the same time, the gap between the rich and the poor within the white population is also increasing, and the quality of life of some whites is obviously not as good as it was before. In reality, although the U.S. economy is picking up, it is still the richest minority that is getting the major dividends, and both minorities and poor whites are dissatisfied with this, feeling that the quality of life is not as good as it used to be and that the economic growth indicators are no longer meaningful to them. Under such circumstances, how can Biden’s approval rating improve?

Q: In recent years, both the left and the right in the U.S. have become more extreme, and irrational behavior is increasing. Is there a similar situation in U.S. history? Does this current performance have American characteristics?

A: In my impression, although the U.S. has had many problems in the past, the current political polarization and confrontation is rare in its history. Specifically, I visited the United States for longer periods of time in the 1980s, 1990s, and early 21st century, respectively. And when I go back now, I can see firsthand that the quality of services in the U.S. is declining, the conflicts between ethnic groups are increasing, the gap between rich and poor is widening, and there is growing discrimination against Asians.

This is not how I felt when I first came to America. My friends in the U.S., as well as the older generation of Chinese Americans, had similar feelings. In their view, the United States in the 1940s and 1950s was a “good America,” where people had a much more positive attitude toward life, family, and coping with problems than they do now, even though there was also racial discrimination and inequality between rich and poor.

After I examined many other countries, I found that many phenomena are not unique to the U.S. The problems in the U.S. are actually a microcosm of the entire world. The gap between rich and poor is widening in almost all countries, the ecological environment is being destroyed, corruption is worse than in the past, social morals and people’s morality are declining, divisions between ethnic groups are more common, and public discontent with government is on the rise. These problems facing the United States are common to many countries and are worldwide problems. By comparison, China is unique in that public opinion polls show a high level of public satisfaction with the central government, which is unimaginable in the West.

Q: How much do you think these problems in U.S. politics will constrain its future development?

A: Objectively speaking, there is little direct connection between the creativity within the United States and its current political process. The political decline in the U.S. is not just a year or two old, but the existence of people like Elon  Musk and the growing development of his personal career already speaks volumes. Also, Francis Fukuyama, who is particularly concerned about the decline of the United States, is also a foreign immigrant [Translator’s Note: This is incorrect. Francis Fukuyama was born in Chicago.] , but he has managed to become an influential figure in the United States as well. The fact that many other foreigners and foreign businesses are also active in the United States, including some non-white dominated businesses, indicates that the impact of political problems in the United States is relatively limited, or at least not obvious for economic development. However, the impact of political decay on U.S. society is clear, and domestic cohesion is not what it used to be. This will not have an immediate effect, but it will manifest itself in subtle ways through a variety of issues. Historically, various trends and forces in the U.S. have always maintained a basic balance, and those that are too extreme are not sustainable, so there is no need to be too pessimistic. Although polarization and confrontation are now the trend, the U.S. is still very vigilant about it, and voters will not let one side win all, while the whole society is quietly returning to the center.

Q: In a longer historical period, do you think the racial conflicts in the U.S. are easing or intensifying? Do you think the racial problems in the United States can be solved?

A: The increasing conflict between races, between old and new immigrants, exists in the United States as well as in Europe and other parts of the world, so it is also a worldwide problem. When the “Pandora’s box” of free movement of human beings is opened, such conflicts are inevitable. The United States is a microcosm of many of the problems that exist in countries around the world.

At the same time, the United States has its own particularities. In the process of studying world politics, I found a phenomenon: where there are many immigrants, ethnic conflicts are bound to increase. One important reason for the rapid rise of ethnic conflicts in the United States is the rapid rate at which it absorbs foreign immigrants. In contrast, Europe absorbs immigrants at a slightly lower rate, and Japan largely does not absorb immigrants, thus circumventing the problem. Within the United States, the reluctance of people of different ethnic groups to integrate with each other naturally creates a living space that is isolated from each other, and conflicts of interest are bound to increase. Even though the United States emphasizes affirmative action and calls for taking care of minority rights, it is bound to face various kinds of resistance in the process of concrete implementation. From this perspective, the racial conflicts in the United States will only gradually intensify, but are unlikely to be resolved.

Nevertheless, this traditional practice of absorbing large numbers of immigrants is still a “double-edged sword” for the U.S. Although immigrants deepen domestic conflicts, it is a great advantage that the U.S. can attract scientists, technicians and intellectuals from all over the world to study and settle there. If this advantage can be maintained, then the United States in the fields of science and technology, education and the economy will not decline significantly. After Trump’s election, many Americans have expressed a desire to immigrate to Canada. While it is true that immigration from the U.S. to Canada is increasing, the number of immigrants to other countries does not seem to have increased significantly, and they seem to be willing to continue living in the U.S. This is another reflection of the attractiveness of the U.S. Simply put, the real decline of the United States will come when the lines in front of U.S. consulates are no longer crowded with people waiting for visas.

Q: What is the difference between the Biden administration’s “middle-class diplomacy” and the Trump administration’s “America First” policy?

A: Americans are very dissatisfied with America’s own performance, but they are more critical of other countries. They think that Mexicans have taken their “rice bowls”, the Chinese have “taken away” the U.S. manufacturing industry, and they even think that the whole world has “taken advantage of the U.S.”. The rise of nationalist consciousness and populist sentiment is unstoppable. So the United States began to smear the countries they do not like, and to be more selfish and assertive abroad, the current U.S. foreign policy is formed under this tone.

When it comes to the “middle-class diplomacy” proposed by the Biden administration, it is actually not very different from the Trump administration’s policy, which is still to raise the banner of nationalism and give priority to protecting American interests. In essence, it is still “America First” and “America First”, only that the Biden administration does not make a big deal of it, but focuses on action. In general, while still focused on meeting internal needs, the Biden administration will embrace more U.S.-centric multilateralism internationally.

Q: The current political polarization within the U.S. is very serious, along with a clear split within both parties, how will this situation affect its foreign policy?

A: The above-mentioned changes within the U.S. will inevitably lead to some diplomatic adjustments. Americans have become more suspicious and antipathetic to the outside world, and the government has a greater need to please the domestic public in terms of foreign policy, hence a more nationalistic tone and a tougher foreign stance. The United States needs to show a tough attitude toward some countries, especially the so-called “totalitarian countries” and countries that “take advantage of the United States” in its discourse system, so that the interests and psychological needs of some domestic people can be satisfied. For example, before Nicholas Burns came to China as ambassador, he made a series of tough statements against China during the congressional hearings. If he had not made this statement, it would have been difficult to get congressional approval for his nomination, and his words were mainly for domestic audiences, as dictated by the political realities of the United States. The Biden administration has to please domestic voters, and its foreign policy can only be what it is now.

U.S.-China Relations: Deep Confrontation, But Hardly a “Cold War”

Q: What do you think are the characteristics of the Biden administration’s strategy toward China since it took office, compared to the Trump administration?

A: The Biden administration’s strategy toward China has three characteristics. First, the starting point is to strengthen America’s own power. The Biden administration has always emphasized dialogue with China “from a position of strength,” because if its own strength declines, the United States will lose its competitiveness. So their first step is to strengthen the U.S. own strength, enhance domestic economic and technological strength, accelerate infrastructure construction, and “get back” the real economy.

Second, the U.S. wants to unite with some other countries in the world to jointly restrain China, and to establish a multilateral camp against China. Since the Biden administration, the U.S. has held the “Summit of Democracies” and established the U.S.-Japan-India-Australia “Quadrilateral Security Dialogue Mechanism” and the U.S.-UK-Australia “Trilateral Security Partnership,” always emphasizing that the U.S. cannot “fight alone. It has always emphasized that the United States cannot “go it alone”. This is a markedly different approach from that of the Trump administration, and is closely related to the first point. Here, I have to mention a very important area of research on standards and rules, including technology economics, technology standards, digital economy, digital standards, network standards, and so on. The United States and other Western countries see China as an “alien” and hope to exclude China by developing various new targeted standards. We hope that young people will make more efforts and pay more attention to the standards and rules related to the development of next-generation technologies, so that the Western camp will not exclude China completely.

If there is a third point, it is that the U.S. believes that future competition is primarily a contest of national governance capabilities, and that whoever is able to avoid obvious policy mistakes will win indirectly through the mistakes of their opponents. Recognizing that there is nothing it can do to “change China,” the Democratic administration can only look to exploit possible Chinese “policy mistakes” to weaken China. This is why the U.S. sometimes deliberately provokes China into making “reckless” missteps, a move that is clearly purposeful and not as overt as the first two, but is an important consideration for the U.S. side.

Q: At present, being tough on China has become “political correctness” in the United States. Is the main cause of this the proximity of the two countries’ strength or the significant change in the U.S. perception of China in the interaction between China and the U.S.?

A: I don’t think it’s an either/or relationship between the two. The contrast in power between the U.S. and China has clearly changed, and that change has been in favor of China, which has led to a change in the U.S. perception of China as well. On the one hand, the U.S. feels that China is very powerful; on the other hand, the U.S. finds it difficult to “push” China back to its past position, and weakening China is either impossible or not very convenient to do in name. Therefore, to enhance its own competitiveness, so that its power is still above China, it has become the goal of the U.S. efforts to pursue. The only approach the United States can take is to strengthen its competition with China, isolate China in the world, and put China in a passive position. Put another way, China itself has indeed undergone significant changes in recent years, including many initiatives to consolidate the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party. While China sees such changes as beneficial to its position of power and to world peace and development, the United States sees such changes as detrimental to it, and so their negative perception of China has increased significantly. This is actually a collision of two values, and it is difficult to avoid this collision as China and the U.S. become closer in power, and it is a natural result of the tension between China and the U.S.

Q: The impact of Trump on China-US relations is huge. How is the current US strategy toward China different from the containment of the Soviet Union during the Cold War?

A: When it comes to the U.S. strategy toward China, it is difficult to be completely clear. No U.S. president has been able to develop a strategy toward China that can be summarized in a few sentences during his or her tenure. If one wishes to summarize the U.S. strategy toward China in concise words, such a summary is meaningless because concise words cannot paint a comprehensive picture of this complex subject. Moreover, some of the U.S. government’s China-related document announcements do not necessarily translate into actual policy. As an example, the domestic academic community pays close attention to the quadrennial National Security Strategy Report published by the U.S. government, and whenever a new report is released, many people will go to study it carefully. But looking back after four years, it becomes clear that the actual value of this report is not as important as one might think.  This is because the release of the annual report is a move by the U.S. executive branch to respond to congressional requests, and Congress needs a written guideline to show just where things stand so that they are at ease. From the executive branch’s perspective, in order to maintain its own policy flexibility, it does not want to be overly constrained by this document and does not want to see it strictly frame the foreign policy that the U.S. government should actually adopt in the next four years.

When it comes to the difference between the current U.S. strategy toward China and the Cold War containment strategy toward the Soviet Union, I think it is more in the impact of the civilizational and ethnic differences between the two sides of the game. The U.S. believes that the Western civilization system, which has continued from ancient Greece and Rome to the present, represents “universal values” and represents the direction the world should go. They do not believe that there is any other civilization that is so vital and so universal. China, on the other hand, believes that the 5,000-year heritage of Chinese civilization is sufficient to illustrate the vitality and advancement of Eastern civilization or Confucian civilization, and that we have the responsibility and obligation to carry forward Chinese civilization, which is different from Western Christian civilization, and that the two can go hand in hand.

In this light, the conflict between China and the United States is indeed significantly different from the conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union back then. First, although the Soviet Union also advocated atheism, it was unable to escape the subtle influence of Orthodox Christianity and Western civilization, and it seems that Russia is still using Orthodox Christianity to expand its influence, even Putin openly says he believes in Orthodox Christianity. The origins of Orthodox Christianity and Protestantism are the same, so from a civilizational point of view, the U.S. and the Soviet Union were in the same Western system during the Cold War, the difference only being whether to transform the world by way of Marxism-Leninism or by way of Anglo-Saxon civilization. What exists between China and the United States is not only a debate between Marxism-Leninism and Western liberalism, but in fact what we call Marxism has been sinicized and has distinctive Chinese characteristics. Although China has not tried to actively promote its political system abroad, as the Soviet Union did, it is a fact that China’s international influence is growing and its development experience is being borrowed by more and more countries. This reality is becoming increasingly difficult for the United States to accept, and thus it is considered inevitable that the two civilizational systems will collide and clash.

This, in turn, leads to the issue of race. There is an implicit and deep-rooted belief in the West that while many other races have embraced the Christian faith, it is the whites in Europe and America, especially the Anglo-Saxon English-speaking countries, who truly represent Christian and Protestant civilization, and that the African, Latino and Islamic groups do not. They cannot accept the dominance of China as an “alien” in the world, but are powerless to change the rapid rise of China with its large population. The world’s population has changed, with whites accounting for 25% of the world’s population 100 years ago, but now down to less than 10%. This change is reflected politically in the significant decline in the power and influence of the West as a whole, where cultural and religious influence is not what it used to be. The influence of China, as the representative of the “yellow race,” [“黃種人”] is also rising rapidly, and in the view of the American elite, represented by whites, it is intolerable for Chinese civilization to replace Christian civilization, so they will do everything possible to prevent China from developing.

Q: The question of whether there is a “new cold war” between China and the United States is now more controversial in academic circles. How do you see this issue?

A: Compared with the U.S.-Soviet relationship during the Cold War, the current U.S.-China relationship is still different in many ways. First of all, neither side can resort to “bloc politics”, so the U.S. and China will not become a bipolar opposition like the U.S.S.R. By “poles”, I mean attracting other countries to unite around them and form a united camp. The United States wants to do this, but it is difficult to do so. China, for its part, does not seek to build such a camp. In contrast, as the gap between other countries and China and the United States grows, the future may turn out to be a world in which the two powers stand side by side, but there will not be two camps as there were during the Cold War.

Secondly, from the ideological aspect, the competition between China and the United States is not as obvious as the ideological confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union, but is mainly a manifestation of nationalism. Therefore, there is no ideological struggle between China and the U.S. like the one between the U.S. and the Soviet Union back then.

The last and more important point is that we all know very well that the U.S. and the Soviet Union have very little economic contact with each other, while China and the U.S. are inseparable economically, and economic interests will play a very big role between the two countries. It is the economic and trade structure of the two countries determines that the complete “decoupling” of the United States and China is impossible, even in the economic field “partial decoupling” is very difficult to do.

At present, the U.S. efforts to facilitate the “decoupling” is mainly in the field of technology, but this “decoupling” is also limited. The interdependence between China and the United States is not a matter of willingness, but a problem that no one can avoid. It is impossible for a country to develop all economic sectors, which is determined by the distribution of natural resources as well as the law of economic development. If a country has no demand for the outside world at all, that country cannot achieve real development either. From this perspective, the United States cannot completely “decouple” from China; while for China, there would even be the risk of “strangulation”, so we still have to continue to insist on opening up to the outside world.

Q: It is true that the interdependence between China and the United States is incomparable to that between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, but Britain and Germany also had close economic ties before the First World War, but there was a war in the end. Do you think economic ties can prevent a serious conflict between China and the United States?

A: The closeness of the current ties between China and the U.S., including the communication of information, the movement of people, the flow of materials, etc., especially the mutual integration of finance and technology in the digital age, is unparalleled to that between Britain and Germany 100 years ago. The reason why the risk of war is not that great is because the communication between China and the United States in all aspects has been very extensive and deep, making the probability of a sudden incident or a surprise attack very low. If you want to launch a surprise attack and let the other side achieve its goal without any prior notice, it seems unlikely to do so under the current conditions; and you can’t do it alone while hurting the other side. Of course we cannot completely rule out the possibility of a surprise attack leading to a rapid escalation of the conflict and eventually getting out of hand, but this possibility is quite small because neither China nor the United States wants to go to war. It is necessary to be prepared to deal with war and not to be weak in foreign rhetoric, but both countries know what a full-scale war would lead to against the background of each possessing nuclear weapons, so war is not the current option.

Q: In recent years, the situation in the Taiwan Strait has become increasingly tense, and the U.S. and China have entered a new phase of competition on the Taiwan issue. Do you think the U.S. government’s policy toward Taiwan is undergoing a fundamental change? If a war breaks out in the Taiwan Strait, will the U.S. intervene?

A: I don’t think there is a fundamental change in U.S. policy toward Taiwan. The United States still emphasizes the one-China policy, but that policy has never included recognizing Taiwan as a part of China. The U.S. is ambiguous on this issue, recognizing only the government of the People’s Republic of China as the sole legitimate government representing China, which shows the fundamental difference between the U.S. one-China policy and our one-China principle. We believe that there is only one China in the world, that the Government of the People’s Republic of China is the sole legitimate government representing all of China, and that Taiwan is a part of China, and these three sentences are linked together. The United States has accepted only the first two statements, while constantly walking a tightrope on the third one, not denying that Taiwan is an autonomous political entity, but also saying that it does not support “Taiwan independence”.

In my view, the United States does not fully support Taiwan’s independence. Successive U.S. administrations have used the Taiwan issue to keep China in check, and in the unlikely event that “Taiwan independence” does materialize, the U.S. would lose the leverage to use Taiwan as a counterweight to China. The U.S. would not benefit from a war between China and the U.S. if “Taiwan independence” were to occur. For the U.S., the best state of affairs is that Taiwan is neither under the control of the mainland, nor does it transform itself into a legally “independent Taiwan”. This way it can continue to “reap the benefits” on both sides. The United States has always supported Taiwan’s non-unification and non-independence, and this basic principle has not changed. The Biden administration has increased its efforts to use the Taiwan issue as a bargaining chip to pressure China, but I don’t think the bottom line has changed.

As for the question of whether the United States will intervene in the event of a war in the Taiwan Strait and the extent of that intervention, I think it is difficult to pre-determine, but it depends mainly on the form and scale of the mainland’s “military action against Taiwan. We must keep the option of “using force against Taiwan” as a bottom-line thinking, and as Tsai’s provocations against the mainland continue to escalate, we will also emphasize the credibility and urgency of resolving the Taiwan issue by force, so as to form a stronger deterrent to the “Taiwan independence” forces. I believe that the China has already developed plans for the eventual use of force if that should become necessary and that plan includes preparations for a possible U.S. involvement.

Q: During the Trump administration, China-U.S. human relations also fell into the category of “decoupling”. Since the Biden administration, visa controls for travel to the U.S. have been gradually liberalized, but academic exchanges between the two countries have remained largely stagnant. How do you see the prospect of resuming humanistic exchanges between the U.S. and China?

A: There is currently news that more Chinese students are applying to come to the U.S. than before, I am not sure about that and I don’t know where these numbers come from. My feeling is that the resumption of humanities exchanges between China and the U.S. will be a slow process, depending not only on the trend of the novel coronavirus epidemic, but also on people feeling a restored confidence in the stable development of China-U.S. relations. Humanities exchanges between China and the U.S. may continue and recover in the future, but they cannot return to their pre-2017 level. That is determined by the general political environment of the relationship between the two countries.

Q: You have talked about the relationship between the state of China-US relations and the situation of Chinese people in the US in some conferences. How do you think China-US relations will affect the working life of Chinese people in the US?

A: The U.S.-China relationship more or less affects the state of Chinese life in the U.S. and how they are treated in the United States. Especially if the Trump administration deliberately incites people in the U.S. to hate China and the Chinese government because of the epidemic, as the Trump administration has done, it will certainly inspire some Americans to resent and reject Chinese people because of their Asian faces. But when we look at the overall crime rate in the U.S., there does not seem to have been a significant increase over the years, and there is a lack of sufficient data to support whether there has been a significant increase in serious violent crimes against ethnic Chinese. Since the onset of the novel coronavirus epidemic, xenophobia in the U.S. has intensified, and some Asians have been subjected to inexplicable insults, harassment and even violent attacks, but overall there has been no large-scale, high-intensity, sustained and organized deliberate acts of harm against ethnic Chinese people. And after some related video footage appeared on self-published social media, the U.S. mainstream has severely criticized such behavior. The murder of Chinese students in the U.S. has raised a lot of concerns, and it is indeed a disaster for them and their families, but at the level of relations between the two countries, it does not bring much impact, after all, it is only an individual criminal case, not a government action, much less a deliberate targeting of Chinese. And this kind of thing can happen in any country, we don’t need to over-hype it, otherwise it will be detrimental to the stability of China-US relations and will bring more pressure to the Chinese in the US. We can keep an eye on these cases and conduct research, but don’t over-extend them to the political level.

(This article represents the views of the author only and does not represent the views of this platform.)

王缉思: 美国到底有没有衰落? 中国人应有清醒认识

2022年05月14日  |  来源:文化纵横   |  阅读量:644

关键词: 一带一路全球治理国别研究地缘政治







美国的国际地位: 相对下降, 总体稳定

问:您曾于1999 年出版了《高处不胜寒:冷战后美国的全球战略和世界地位》一书,和20 多年前或者和冷战结束初期相比,您认为当前美国在世界上是否还处于“高处”?




▲ 过去20年中,中国gdp占世界总量比例持续上升。图源:brookings





答:人们针对“美国是否衰落”的讨论大多是从政治角度出发的,我在《西风瘦马,还是北天雄鹰?》一文中也曾经探讨过这个问题。这个命题最早应该是毛泽东在1946年提出的,原话是“一切反动派都是纸老虎”,“但是美国反动派也将要同一切历史上的反动派一样,被证明为并没有什么力量。在美国,另有一类人是真正有力量的,这就是美国人民”。毛主席在1957年强调“东风压倒西风”。当时中国的看法是“敌人一天天烂下去,我们一天天好起来”。现在我们说“东升西降”,这都是一脉相承的。美国在世界上的一些对手如苏联(和现在的俄罗斯)、朝鲜等认为,美国永远处于下降中,“美国衰落”是一个恒量。美国学者沃勒斯坦(Immanuel Wallerstein)认为,如果和1945年时的状态相比,美国始终是处于衰落中的。还有人从另一个视角考虑,认为美国没有把该做好的事情做好,因而总体上呈下降趋势是必然的,他们这样认为是带着一种恨铁不成钢的情绪。与之相对的判断则是“美国始终没有衰落”,持有此类观点的代表人物是美国学者约瑟夫·奈。我认为客观来说,美国的综合国力基本维持稳定,但这似乎不是国内外的主流观点,毕竟站在不同的立场上,就会得出不同的结论。因此,“美国是否衰落”更多意义上是一个政治判断问题,而不是一个学术问题。





美国政治: 衰败持续, 韧性犹存



















中美关系: 深刻对垒,难称“冷战”




























About 高大伟 David Cowhig

After retirement translated, with wife Jessie, Liao Yiwu's 2019 "Bullets and Opium", and have been studying things 格物致知. Worked 25 years as a US State Department Foreign Service Officer including ten years at US Embassy Beijing and US Consulate General Chengdu and four years as a China Analyst in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research. Before State I translated Japanese and Chinese scientific and technical books and articles into English freelance for six years. Before that I taught English at Tunghai University in Taiwan for three years. And before that I worked two summers on Norwegian farms, milking cows and feeding chickens.
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