Envoy rejects a 'zero-sum' strategic race

Updated: 2014-06-26 09:16

By CHEN WEIHUA in Washington (China Daily USA)

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Envoy rejects a 'zero-sum' strategic race

US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Russel testifies on the future of US-China relations before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday afternoon in Washington. Chen Weihua/China Daily

Amid growing negative rhetoric between China and the United States in the last few months, Daniel Russel, the US assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific affairs, is giving assurances that the existing power and the rising power are not heading to strategic rivalry.

Describing the scope of today's bilateral relationship as "unimaginable" when former president Richard Nixon made his historic visit to China in 1972, Russel said there is still enormous potential for progress in the US-China relationship, progress that will yield benefits to the citizens of both countries, their neighbors and the world.

"To realize this progress and these benefits, we seek to ensure that the relationship is not defined by strategic rivalry, but by fair and healthy competition, by practical cooperation on priority issues, and by constructive management of our differences and disagreements," he said in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday afternoon.

Before Robert Menendez, chairman of the committee and a Democrat from New Jersey, Bob Corker, a Republican from Tennessee, and Ben Cardin, a Democrat from Maryland, Russel said there are people who argue that a Cold War-like rivalry is inevitable and that the US and China are condemned to a zero-sum struggle for supremacy, if not conflict.

"I reject such mechanistic thinking," he said.

"As anyone who has served in government can tell you, this deterministic analysis overlooks the role of leaders who have the ability to set policy and to shape relationships," said the top US diplomat for East Asia.

Russel believes the growing economic interdependence will further increase each side's stake in the success of the other.

"It undervalues the fact that leaders in Washington and Beijing are fully cognizant of the risk of unintended strategic rivalry between an emerging power and an established power and have agreed to take deliberate actions to prevent such an outcome," he said.

"And it ignores the reality of the past 35 years — that, in spite of our differences, US-China relations have steadily grown deeper and stronger — and in doing so, we have built a very resilient relationship," he added.

J. Stapleton Roy, the former US ambassador to China, said conventional diplomacy will not be sufficient to limit and hopefully reverse the strategic rivalry between the countries.

He described it as a normal response of human nature that led to confrontations throughout history, including the crisis in Ukraine and the tensions between China and Japan.

"This is normal behavior," Roy said in the second session of Wednesday's Senate hearings. "You do something I don't like. I do something you don't like. You have this back and forth.

"This is the reason why rising powers have more often than not gone into confrontation with established power," he said.

Roy, now a distinguished scholar at the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States of Wilson Center, said it was the unconventional behavior on the part of China and the United States 42 years ago that achieved a breakthrough in the bilateral relationship that led to their diplomatic ties.

He also described the courage and foresight 35 years ago by Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, who decided that the maritime territorial disputes with Japan were too complicated and should be left for future generations to resolve when they have the wisdom.

That has led to a healthy development of China-Japan relations for some 25 years, according to Roy, who was born in China to a missionary family in the 1930s.

"We need to be equally daring in our approach in stabilizing our relations with China," he said.

Russel described the upcoming 6th China-US Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED) as "an important vehicle for making progress in the pursuit of a cooperative and constructive relationship; for building a ‘new model' that disproves the thesis that the United States and China are somehow destined for strategic rivalry and confrontation".

US Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Treasury Jack Lew will lead the US side at the S&ED in Beijing in early July, while Chinese Vice-Premier Wang Yang and State Councilor Yang Jiechi, will lead the Chinese side.

While tensions in both the South and East China seas, which involve disputes between China and US allies of Japan and the Philippines, have drawn much attention lately, Roy reminded the Senators that countries in the region, which have good trade ties with China, don't want to contain China, and also don't want to be forced to choose between China and the US.

Roy warned that if the US mishandles that, it would alienate those countries in the region.