Conflict not inevitable: Joseph Nye

Updated: 2015-04-03 10:28

By ONG LESHUO and HUA SHENGDUN in Washington(China Daily USA)

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Conflict not inevitable: Joseph Nye

Joseph Nye, University Distinguished Service Professor and former Dean at the Harvard University 
John F. Kennedy School of Government, speaks about cooperation and competition between China and the US at his book launch of Is the American Century Over? at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington on Thursday. SHENG YANG / FOR CHINA DAILY

Harvard Professor Joseph S. Nye Jr said Thursday that that the United States and China can have both "competition and collaboration".

"We can benefit from working with China," Nye said. "We have to learn both competition and collaboration. It's a relationship that can be managed."

Nye, distinguished service professor at Harvard and former dean of the John F. Kennedy School of Government there, launched his new book, Is the American Century Over?, at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"I don't think China is going to pass the United States" as a world power, Nye said.

He said that to figure out where China stands in relation to the US, one has to look at three dimensions of power.

The first is economic power, he said.

Nye said that although China's economy has been growing, "their economy is not as sophisticated as ours".

Although Apple's iPhones are made in China, China sees only a minor profit off the final product.

"They need to change the growth model," he said. Nye said China has to get away from imitating to developing indigenous technology on its own, he said.

But he also foresees that with rising entrepreneurs such as Alibaba founder Jack Ma, China's economy is becoming increasingly sophisticated.

The second aspect is military power, Nye said.

Nye said that US military expenditures are four times those of China's. Although China is increasing its military budget, it is not likely that its military capacity equals or rivals the US', he said.

The third area is soft power, he said.

Nye acknowledged that China has been making major efforts to enhance its soft power. But he said that, according to public opinion polls, China is "not getting return on the investment".

In order not to be left behind in soft power, China has to unleash its civil society and deal with nationalism, he said.

Nye said an advantage that the US has is its openness and diversity.

"This capacity to assimilate and to give people opportunities is one of our great strengths," Nye said.

Nye also said that the US "deciding people shouldn't join" the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank is "a sign of American stupidity" rather than "a sign of American decline."

Nye has said previously that there would be an "opportunity to work out a new type of major power relationship if the US continues to avoid containment as a strategy, and if China accepts the legitimacy of the American presence in the Western Pacific".

He said that some pessimists predicted an "impending clash as China grows stronger and seeks to expel the US from the Western Pacific".

"This can be forestalled by the acceptance of spheres of influence in which the US restricts its activities primarily to the Eastern Pacific," he said.

"Whether the United States and China will manage to develop such a relationship is another question," he said. "Human error and miscalculation are always possible. But with the right choices, conflict is not inevitable."

Professor David M. Lampton, director of China Studies at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, said the phrase "a new type of major country relations" is a key concept for US-China relations.

Proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping in a 2012 speech in Washington, such a relationship would be characterized by "mutual understanding and strategic trust, respecting each other's 'core interests', mutually beneficial cooperation and enhancing cooperation and coordination in international affairs and on global issues".

"Perhaps a good way to start building on this framework is for the leaders of both countries to form a 'wise person' group consisting of influential individuals in both societies who could jointly conceptualize and recommend specific next steps," Lampton said. "As one Chinese analyst put it to me recently, 'focus on cooperation, not mutual trust. Mutual trust is based on cooperation. … We should have 'preventive cooperation'."

Cui Liru, former president of the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, said the China-US relationship is the key one for the world, and it is "undergoing a historic transition from a unipolar one to a multipolar one".

"If the structural tensions in Sino-US relations are not ripe for resolution, then by all means contain them so that they do not escalate," Cui said. "In the meantime, China would do well to manage its own affairs and close the gap with the US, confident that the day will come when the two nations can engage in serious dialogue on constructing a new order for the region and the world."

Sheng Yang in Washington contributed to the story.