20 June 2014

China Must See Past Its Own Hype of An America in Decline

In this difficult time for Sino-American relations, in which statements often contain far more heat than light, Prof. Zha offers a constructive, balanced perspective–typical of his commitment to seeking truth from facts as a scholar, rather than engaging in the sort of one-sided sloganeering that has become all too prevalent. Thanks to Prof. Avery Goldstein for bringing this article to my attention.

Zha Daojiong, “China Must See Past Its Own Hype of An America in Decline,” South China Morning Post, 19 June 2014.

Zha Daojiong says Chinese policymakers and analysts should not believe their own jingoistic rhetoric about a US in decline. Even if it’s true, a weak America isn’t good news for China

Talk of the US being on the decline is back in vogue. This time, China features more prominently – if not solely – in the follow-up question: which country is going to benefit? My answer is different: it’s certainly not China who will benefit. …

Chinese analysts can better serve their country by publicly admitting that policy ideas from the US, not just finance or export opportunities, have contributed positively to Chinas prosperity. 

Another risk, more so for the Chinese thinkers considering the country’s foreign policy choices, is to continue triangulating the geostrategic situations in China’s neighbourhood and beyond, with the US seen as that ever-present third party. It is self-defeating to believe that now the US is on the decline, China can afford to be less mindful of possible repercussions in policy choices towards another country.

For China, the US, and the other party, it is useful to bear in mind the saying that it takes three legs to keep a stool stable. In other words, to avoid a downward spiral in regional security dynamics, it is essential to ditch the thinking that one party’s loss means an automatic gain for the other two. Each pair of countries should learn to work out their differences by themselves.

Whether the US is in decline is really more a matter of perception than fact.

At the end of the day, what happens inside the US – and in China for that matter – will dictate whether it thrives or falters, more than any outside influence. What really matters is that both China and the US learn to accept some level of unpredictability about the future and proceed to interact with each other.

Zha Daojiong is a professor of international political economy at the School of International Studies, Peking University

For an argument that China has its own challenges to address that call into question straight-line projections of its future growth, see:

Gabe Collins and Andrew Erickson, “China’s S-Curve Trajectory: Structural Factors Will Likely Slow the Growth of China’s Economy and Comprehensive National Power,” China SignPost™ (洞察中国) 44 (15 August 2011).