As the world’s two most influential powers, the future relations between China and the US have garnered worldwide attention. Recently, the Russia Today (RT) talked with Wang Wen (Wang), dean of the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, over the development of the bilateral relationship and whether it’s possible to avoid confrontation. The following is an excerpt from the interview.
RT: US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that China and the US are guided by “non-conflict and non-confrontation,” but it’s not like the US is going to stop its navy patrols in the South China Sea, or China is not likely to give up on its islands – so is it in fact impossible to take “confrontation” out of that relationship?
Wang: I think the South China Sea issue is very complicated. Nowadays, China and the US have a very good channel to negotiate and to coordinate.
For example, Tillerson visited Beijing. We also have a few high-level officials who visited Washington and we can discuss the problem and deal with the crisis face-to-face. I think this is very good. China, nowadays, from a think-tank scholar’s perspective, has enough confidence to deal with the US regarding the South China Sea issue.
RT: According to a Pentagon adviser, there are people in Washington who want a showdown with China. Are there similar hawks in China who would also want a confrontation with the US?
Wang: China is a very complicated country. We have 1.3 billion people. There’s a lot of patriotic pride. For those nationalists, they hold very tough stances against the US – but apart from this, the Chinese government is very rational. It wants to balance the interests of the nationalists and the liberals in its foreign policy. China wants to deal with great powers peacefully and gradually, using a “win-win” strategy.
RT: I’ve been told by both the Chinese and American sides that an “accidental encounter” can spark a full-on military confrontation. Is this something that is always in the cards for the Chinese? Are you prepared for this scenario?
Wang: China is prepared for anything now. China has a lot of think-tanks. We think for our government and prepare for every possibility. And our foreign policy is very effective. It allows us to avoid conflicts. In the past 30 years, China had no military engagement with any country. China is the most peaceful country in the world.
RT: The islands in the South China Sea that Beijing claims as its own can soon become airstrips for combat Chinese aircraft. Do you think China is going to deploy a permanent force there to back its claim to the islands?
Wang: Regarding those islands in the South China Sea, China has enough power to protect its own sovereignty. No one can stop it. It is our right, so why is the US intervening in the South China Sea island construction? I think the most important thing is that the world needs to know the South China Sea only concerns China and Southeast Asian countries.
RT: The US has long had its allies in China’s peripheries – Vietnam, South Korea, Japan, but for instance, the Philippines right now is turning toward China, breaking its ties with America – even though you have a territorial dispute. Do you think these nations are going to form an alliance around Beijing now?
Wang: I think the Philippines woke up when it changed its attitude toward China. The former president of the Philippines placed too much trust in the US and then the new president realized that the US cannot give anything to his country, but China maintains its support for the Philippines.
Filipino people are smart; they can tell which country helps them. I have the same confidence in Vietnam, Malaysia, as well as the other countries, even South Korea and Japan.
RT: There’s a lot of talk about US-China confrontation. Yet it’s impossible for an average American to imagine his or her life without Chinese products. The two countries are so closely connected by trade and intertwined economically – how is it even possible to talk about confrontation when both sides have so much to lose in terms of money?
Wang:We can’t only focus on those confrontations. We need to look at the other aspects of the relationship. Every year, there are over 6 million people going on changes between the two countries. There are nearly $600 billion in trade. So, the US and China now are interdependent. I think confrontation is something made up by the media.
RT: China has always been content with being a leader of its own region, but right now, we’re seeing China building the Silk Road infrastructure project and also investing so much in Africa – so is this tradition changing, is Beijing ready to seek more influence abroad?
Wang: China is the second largest economy and in 10 years, China will be the largest economy in the world. Naturally, it wants to provide public and international goods to the world. In the past, the rest of the world had underestimated China’s contribution to the global governance. Three years ago, Chinese President Xi Jinping launched a new initiative, the One Belt and One Road initiative. It means that as an emerging power, China wants to contribute to the world through peaceful, “win-win” principles, without war or conflict.
RT: Finally, really shortly, I am going to ask you about Trump – because you can’t really tell what Trump wants from China. One day he says one thing, another day he says another – do you think that’s part of his strategy, to be unpredictable?
Wang: Trump is a very interesting guy, and now he’s learning how to be the US president. We should give him time to learn and study as a president. China has confidence to engage with Trump and to tell Trump how this deal will benefit to the US’ core interests in the future.
I think cooperation between the US and China, and between the US and Russia will benefit US’ own interests.