On 18 February 2021, in preparation for the Second IPB World Peace Congress in Barcelona this fall, IPB held a roundtable discussion on US-China Relations, featuring Dr. Joseph Gerson of the US and Prof. Wang Danning of China, with commentators from across Asia. Below are the texts of the two speeches as well as the biographies of the speakers.
Watch the full event here:
Dr. Joseph Gerson: (download .pdf here)
I want to thank Cora, Bina, and others in IPB’s Asia committee for inviting me to participate in today’s webinar. I’ll be learning more than sharing today. U.S.-Chinese relations will be determinative of humanity’s fate. This applies to the increasingly dangerous arms race and military confrontations, the intense economic and technological competition, and the current absence of disarmament, pandemic, or climate change collaborations. How we respond to and shape that arc of history and the lives of this and future generations.
Our era is defined by the inevitable tensions between rising and declining powers. Here in the United States, our daily newspaper and social media feeds are filled with stories about the two powers’ intense economic and technological competition. We see little about the dangerous military contest for control of the South China/West Philippine Sea that has replaced the struggle for dominance over the Straight of Hormuz and the Fulda Gap in Germany as the geopolitical center of the struggle for world power. Incidents, accidents, and miscalculations midst provocative exercises in the South China Sea, where there are no agreed rules of engagement, and in relation to Taiwan, could easily escalate into great power war.
Compounding these dangers are the increasing militarization of artificial intelligence, robotics, and other advanced technologies
After nearly a century of U.S. Asia-Pacific hegemony and the imposition of the U.S.-dominated post WWII Bretton Woods order, China’s “reform and opening” created an economy that is expected to soon overshadow that of the United States. China’s economic transformation, which as Walden Bello notes includes China replacing the United States as the new center of capital accumulation, which also serves as the foundation for its increasingly advanced and powerful military. Today, China’s area denial air, naval and missile forces, defensive though they may be, increasingly call into question Washington’s long-term ability to dominate the South China/West Philippine Sea and the western Pacific Ocean, in what since 1945 was the “American Lake”. And, despite U.S. arms sales to Taiwan and related military training, it is increasingly apparent that should China ultimately opt to “reunify” this historically Chinese province by military means, armed resistance would be futile and could escalate to nuclear war.
As we see in the Biden Administration’s rhetoric that the United States must lead, and with its extension of the Trump Administration’s confrontational military, economic, and diplomatic policies, the Biden Administration and much of the country remain rooted in the tragic ideologies of U.S. exceptionalism and manifest destiny.
With his trade war, confrontational military threats and deployments, and his racist election-related scapegoating of China, Donald Trump crystalized a new Cold War with China. A self-defeating Washington consensus, driven by the mainstream and extreme right-wing media, has permeated elite and popular opinion. A recent poll by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs concluded that “A 55% majority of the public sees China as a critical threat, and another 40% see China as an important threat.”
Even before pandemic induced economic dislocations, wage stagnation and massive neoliberal economic inequality, Chinese and other low wage production platforms, industrial and financial off shoring, and increased automation provided fertile ground for Trump’s demagogic neo-fascist authoritarianism and scapegoating of China. With its forced technology transfers, intellectual property theft, and violations of WTO and other trade agreements, Chinese policy makers are hardly innocents. But, at root, neoliberal and other systemic factors are the primary cause of U.S. economic stagnation and the root of economic tensions.
Paradigms, History, and Security Strategies
Two systemic paradigms illuminate the present danger. First is the Thucydides Trap, named for the ancient Greek historian’s analysis of the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta. He stressed the inevitable tensions between rising and declining powers that have too often resulted in catastrophic wars. The post-WWII international order, including its Asia-Pacific hegemony, were imposed by the United States when China was an extremely poor, war torn, and technologically undeveloped nation. Chinese needs and interests were not considered. In recent decades, as China has risen, it has understandably pressed to revise, but not completely overturn, the rules of the global and strategic disorder.
There are also disturbing similarities between this era and the period leading to WWI. These include tensions between rising and declining powers, complex alliance structures, intense nationalism with the attendant hatred of others, territorial disputes, arms races with new technologies, economic integration and competition, autocracies, and wild-card actors. Just as a nationalist’s gunshots in remote Sarajevo triggered a global war, today an incident, accident, or miscalculation – for example, a collision of warships or war planes in the South China Sea or near Taiwan – could easily escalate to a major, potentially nuclear, war.
Here in the United States, we urgently need to understand the seriousness of the moment and the imperative of pressing the Biden Administration to reject the containment policies that date back to the aftermath of the Cold War with the Soviet Union. Humility dictates that we remember that former U.S. Secretary of Defense William Perry traces the driving force behind China’s massive military modernization to his ordering two nuclear-capable aircraft carrier fleets through the Taiwan Strait in 1996 which terrified China’s leaders. The subsequent spiraling conventional, high-tech, and nuclear U.S. Chinese arms race, which U.S. will lead for at least another decade, is in no one’s interest.
U.S.-Chinese tensions didn’t begin with Trump’s trade war and racist anti-Asian rhetoric. The creation of the U.S. overseas empire began with the 1898 conquests of the stepping stones to the potentially massive China market – seen then as now as the holy grail of capitalism – the Philippines, Guam, Samoa and the annexation of Hawaii, as was as the seizure of Cuba and the Philippines. Two years later U.S. sent armed forces to China as part of the colonial coalition that subdued the Boxer rebellion. The determinative reason that the U.S. devastated Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and their people with A-bombs, was to bring the war to an immediate end, so as not to have to share influence with Russia in northern China, Manchuria, and Korea. And the United States prepared and threatened China with nuclear war in 1955, 1958 and 1996 during Taiwan crises.
Bush II-Cheney plans to rachet up efforts to contain China were sidelined by the 9-11 attacks and the disastrous invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Then, faced with China’s increasing economic, military and diplomatic power, instead of exploring the potential of Xi Jinping’s vision of a new model for great power relations, the Obama Administration’s responded with its “pivot to Asia and the Pacific” to reinforce U.S. hegemony. The commitment then as now was to deploy 60% of U.S. naval and air power to the Pacific Theater, to increase U.S. reliance on what are now termed Indo-Pacific allies and partners, and to plan for an air-sea battle targeted against China’s military infrastructure, electronic grid, and its financial and industrial resources, all of which are concentrated along China’s vulnerable coastline.
The Trump Administration doubled down on this containment policy with Secretary of Defense Mattis’ 2018 National Defense Strategy, the Pentagon’s defining doctrinal statement. In an era of fracking and a global oil glut, the Strategy which shapes all U.S. military planning, the United States reduced U.S. military commitments to the Middle East. And, in the last months of Trump’s reign, NATO fell in line with the U.S. Defense Strategy by taking the first steps toward adopting its NATO 2030 Doctrine, which makes containment of China one of the alliances two priorities. Europe is not fully on board, as we saw in the signing of the recent E.U.-China trade agreement, despite the opposition of the incoming Biden Administration.
It should be noted that in contrast to the offensive doctrines and structures of the U.S. military, even the Pentagon recognizes that China’s defining military doctrine is “strategic defense.” Encircled by hundreds of U.S. military bases and installations and the U.S. Navy’s Seventh Fleet, it has expanded its South China Sea defense perimeter with its nine-dash line territorial claims and construction of military bases on disputed rocks and islets in total disregard of other nations with legitimate territorial claims and international law. In this regard, in the imperial tradition of all great powers, China is mimicking the United States’ Monroe Doctrine and its domination of the Caribbean Sea.
Even as China has become the world’s second largest military spender, we should bear in mind that its military budget is one-third that of the United States. It has a no first use nuclear doctrine – not that retaliatory use would reduce the danger of nuclear winter. It has an estimated 260 nuclear weapons, as compared to the United Sates’ roughly 1,500 deployed nuclear weapons and 4,000 it has stockpiled. In addition to its several South China/West Philippine Sea islet fortifications, it has one foreign military base – in Djibouti, as compared to the hundreds of U.S. military bases that nearly encircle China from Korea and Japan, through the Philippines to Australia.
Faced with China’s military and technological challenges to U.S. regional dominance and global influence, the 2018 National Defense Strategy which will not be greatly changed by the Biden Administration, defined China as a “strategic competitor” and “prioritized “major power competition and, in particular, reversing the erosion of U.S. military advantage in relation to China and Russia.” To do so, it mandated “modernization of nuclear deterrence forces and nuclear command, control and communications (NC3) capabilities; additional missile defense capabilities; …continuing increased procurement of certain preferred and advanced munitions; [and] investment in technological innovation to increase lethality, including research into advanced autonomous systems, artificial intelligence, and hypersonics”.[i]
As then Secretary of Defense Mattis testified, “Our military remains capable, but our competitive edge has eroded in every domain of warfare – air, land, sea, space, and cyber”. This, in response, provided the rationale for massive increases in military spending for post-modern weapons acquisition and the deepening expansion of U.S. military alliances – most notably the U.S.-Japanese-Australian-Indian Quad, but also the reaffirmation of United States “ironclad” commitment to its alliance with South Korea, its military backing to Japan’s Senkaku/Diaoyu Island claims, and defense of the Philippines interests in the South China/West Philippine Sea.
While the Biden Administration has impressively cancelled and reversed many disastrous Trump era social, economic, and environmental policies and moved aggressively to contain the Covid-19 pandemic, even with its announced Pentagon review of U.S. military strategy toward China, it will be adhering to the board outlines of the Mattis National Defense Strategy. President Biden has repeatedly insisted that the U.S. must “get tough” with China, and as an early manifestation of this commitment, Taiwan’s de facto ambassador was invited to participate in the Biden-Harris inauguration. Since Biden came to power, the Pentagon sent destroyer through the Taiwan Strait and dispatched two aircraft carrier fleet for a massive and provocative so-called freedom of navigation show of force. Those fleets were joined by a French submarine in an early display of NATO 2030 doctrine unity.
Biden has appointed Kurt Campbell – the primary author of the Obama Administration’s Asia-Pacific “pivot”- as the lead National Security Council Asia policy maker. In their Senate the confirmation testimonies Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, April Haines, Director of National Intelligence, and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo all confirmed their hardline commitments toward China.
Even as China’s leaders welcomed the Biden administration with statements about the need for “cooperation instead of confrontation between China and the United States” it has agreed the Biden Administration with its own provocative and threatening military assertions of its ambitions. It dispatched bombers into Taiwanese airspace and adopted a new law that “for the first time explicitly allows its coast guard to fire on foreign vessels.” Consistent with the new law, it is reported that it has deployed an armed coast guard ship to contested waters near the Dioayu/Senkaku islands. In addition to what this means for Vietnamese and Philippine vessels in disputed waters, it has raised deep fears among Japanese leaders about its implications for the contest to control the uninhabited Senkaku/Diaoyu islands and thus for the East China Sea.
Time doesn’t allow me to explore the background and dynamics of the two most dangerous U.S.-Chinese flashpoints, the South China Sea and Taiwan, in any detail, so let me turn to the questions of what must then be done. Despite the very real differences between, and the competing interests, of the two powers, it is imperative that they and we pursue our common interests via détente and Common Security diplomacy. War with China must be prevented at all costs.
Even as we are not uncritical of China, including its repression of basic human rights, we need to challenge the fear tactics that inflate the perceived dangers posed by China and concentrate on collaborating to overcome the existential threats posed by pandemics, the climate crisis and nuclear weapons. As we learned from the Palme Commission’s Common Security report, which provided the paradigm that ended the U.S.-Soviet Cold War even before the collapse of the Berlin Wall, security cannot be achieved via spiraling arms races with a nation’s rival, but only on the basis of creating mutual trust and security.
Among the most constructive steps that Congress, and more importantly President Biden can take would be adopting a no first use nuclear war fighting doctrine to match China’s. As Chinese interlocutors have noted, it could provide the foundation for deeper demilitarization diplomacy. In the past, President Biden has opposed the U.S. first strike doctrine. There is reason to hope that with a declaration in the run up to August’s Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference or in the context of his promised Nuclear Posture Review, the U.S. could turn the hands of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Doomsday back from 100 seconds to midnight. Several no first use bills, supported by our peace movement, are pending in Congress. While their adoption is unlikely, they add press to Biden’s considerations.
Additionally, the United States should halt freedom of navigation provocations, encouraging ASEAN-Chinese negotiations for an enforceable code of conduct and resource sharing in the South China/West Philippine Sea, cancelling arms sales to Taiwan, and encouraging Taiwanese-Chinese negotiations.
Remarkably, there is even a call from the U.S. Naval War College for the U.S. to meet China halfway. In terms of pressing policy change from the grassroots and grass tops, a host of new peace, anti-war and real security formations have emerged to prevent and reverse the Cold War with China. Among them are our newly created Committee for a Sane U.S. China Policy and a more movement-oriented Asia-Pacific Working Group, which are organizing webinars and creating resource packed webpages to build a base of informed activists and to develop strategies to impact U.S. policy. The recently created Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, Win Without War and Code Pink, all based in Washington, have also become important resources in our common effort to prevent a catastrophic war with China and to build a Common Security order that serves all of the peoples of the Asia-Pacific region.
To prevent new and catastrophic war, and to redirect the United States’ limited financial resources to address urgent human needs, we are in serious need of moving the money. By replacing Washington’s military first U.S. strategic doctrine with commitments to Common Security diplomacy, as a growing number of members of Congress and the U.S. public understand, we can finance the revitalization of the U.S. economy, pay for construction of a 21st century infrastructure, and begin to reverse the impacts of climate change. Given our national crisis, and despite Biden’s “get tough” approach to China, we expect an intense guns or butter debate in the coming year. Near the top of the list of possible cuts are funding to replace the United States offensive land-based ICBMs, the new and destabilizing standoff cruise missiles, and Trump’s “more usable” battlefield nuclear weapons. Closing as many is U.S. foreign and domestic military bases as possible, and naval reducing spending would also reduce the dangers of war and build real security.
[i] Mattis, Statement for the Record, SASC, April 26, 2018.
Prof Wang Danning: (download .pdf here)
When Biden entered the White House with the declaration that “America is back”, the new administration intended to reclaim its respectable global leadership with the following three steps: first, unite the democratic countries; second, return to the international organizations and agreements; third, maintain its advanced military power and reconstruct the global system of arm control. With this background, its policy towards China changed, too. The previous key word used to describe China as “the China threat” has been replaced by “the China challenge”. “Sino-US Decoupling” also disappeared. Instead, the US intends to work with China and other Northeast Asian countries in dealing with the denuclearization process in the Korean Peninsula.
Even though the discourse has changed completely, the new administration maintains its harsh attitude towards China with the same purpose of “containing” China. In the new administrative rhetoric, China is now “the strategic competitor”. Different from the previous version of “full confrontational enemy”, this leaves more room for multilateral cooperation, but at the same time, more room for competition, too.
In practice, the new administration adopts different tactics that can be described in the following four areas. First, more multilateral work instead of unilateral confrontation. In other words, the US will form a “unified” effort with its allies in urging China to follow the international rules. Second, more emphasis on the competition in science and technology. In the fields of AI, 5G, highspeed railroad, and clean energy, the US will intensify its investment for R&D and collaborate with the other countries in order to compete with China. Third, with its believing in free trade, the new administration will not focus on charging more tax on the labor-intensive products imported from China. Instead, it will maintain its embargo of high-tech products to China. Finally, the issue of Taiwan will become more important in the Sino-US relationship. The new administration will pay extra attention to Taiwan’s democratic system and let its Taiwanese friends to have “confidence”.
As China just finished the trade war with the US and stabilized Hong Kong’s social condition after a massive anti-government movement in 2020, the country with the largest population on earth turned to fight the pandemic with its all efforts and focus. From the China’s perspective, the country and its people are searching for a peaceful global social environment for their sustainable development. China’s contribution to a peaceful region and a stable Eurasian continent could be seen in its signing of RCEP and collaborative work with EU.
Under such circumstances, reginal risk of conflict remains when the Taiwan issue was constantly brought up by the US and the Taiwan government. Few days before the Trump administration finished its term, State Secretary Pompeo announced that the US ambassador to the United Nations will visit Taiwan and all of the previous barriers for the US officials’ visits of Taiwan will be released. All of these moves triggered the Chinese government’s strongest resistance and negative responses. The Chinese government took these moves as the American’s challenge of the one-China principle which has been the foundation for the Sino-US relationship and China is willing to commit all its efforts to fight for such challenges.
The Taiwan issue is China’s domestic issue and the Trump’s administration moves only adds up tension for the region. With China’s strongest voices to against the moves, the Biden administration starts to send out peaceful messages while the EU also refused to arrange Pompeo’s last visit in Brussel. As the results, all of the arranged visits to Taiwan got cancelled. But the meeting was still held online and the record remains to be intolerable from the mainland’s side.
For people from the both sides of the Taiwan strait, these moves are risky. To ensure a peaceful regional condition, these moves should be avoided in the future. On Jan. 27th, 2021, China’s ambassador to the US Cui Tiankai re-emphasized the importance of the Taiwan issue in the Sino-US relationship. China minds its unity and integrity and this is the foundation for the Sino-US relationship. Any violation of this can cause conflict between the two countries. Cui proposed four advocates in dealing with the Sino-US relationship.
First, mutual trust instead of misjudgment. Different histories, cultures, and social systems are not the reasons for confrontational conflicts. These could be the motivation and pushing power for cooperation. Any ideological bias should be abandoned.
Second, dialogue instead of confrontation. With the mutual respect and sincerity, frank dialogue can create comprehension, increase trust, and release suspicion. Any rumors on “the uselessness of dialogue“ is to promote confrontation.
Third, cooperation instead of competition and conflict. China welcomes the US’s returning to WHO and Paris Agreement. China is also willing to work with the US in dealing with the global financial risk.
Finally, communication instead of separation. Cultural exchange should not be blocked and destroyed. More and more Chinese students are questioning whether the US is still the destination for their academic dreams. Can the academic research and studies be conducted outside of the political cloud? Chinese tourists are also questioning whether their visa would be denied because of their political believing? Chinese entrepreneurs are also asking whether the fair market still exists?
To correspond Cui’s Jan. 27th talk, on the same day, the new State Secretary Antony Blinken called the Sino-US relationship the most important one in the future. It has both sides of competition and cooperation. Learning how to deal with this critical relationship can benefit both countries in the future.
About the Speakers:
Professor, China Women’s University
Research Fellow, Charhar Institute
After graduating from Peking University with a bachelor degree in sociology, she went to the City University of New York (CUNY) to pursue her doctoral degree in anthropology. As the “center of Marxism in the west hemisphere”, CUNY is strong in the studies of capitalism, globalization, and political economy of modern society. Dr. Wang received her Ph.D. in 2002 and taught in three universities in the USA and Hong Kong before she joined CWU in Beijing.
Between 2012 and 2015, Dr. Wang was the associate director at the Gender Research Center in Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) and the co-chair of Chinese Society of Women Studies (CSWS), a global NGO organized by scholars and activists in the field of women’s studies. Her research specialties are: gender and family studies in East Asia; economic anthropology; and urban anthropology. She has published numerous articles and chapters in these fields and she worked with her colleagues to edit a collective volume published by Routledge.
Since 2015, Dr. Wang’s research focus shifted to the studies of Belt and Road initiative and peace and development in Northeast Asia. She has been working with the Global Peace Foundation, GPPAC, and Charhar Institute on the topic of peace and development issues in the NEA region. Currently, while teaching, writing, and conducting researches in CWU, Dr. Wang also started a foundation in Hong Kong to catalyze the cultural exchanges along the Belt and Road.
Belt and Road Culture Exchange Foundation for Women was designed to support women and youth in participating in the cultural exchanges in Northeast Asia and East Asia.
Joseph Gerson is President of the Campaign for Peace, Disarmament and Common Security and Vice-President of the International Peace Bureau, co-founder of the Committee for a SANE U.S.-China Policy and convener of the U.S.-based Asia-Pacific Working Group. He is also associated with other peace, justice, and climate organizations.
He helped launch to nuclear weapons Freeze movement of the 1980s, and has long worked closely with Japanese A-bomb survivors, and Asia-Pacific and European nuclear disarmament and peace movement leaders. He was the lead organizer of the 2020 online World Conference: Abolish Nuclear Weapons, Resist and Reverse Climate Change, for Social and Economic Justice with participants from 39 nations and is currently leading the Peace & Planet Network’s planning for civil society actions on the eve of August’s Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference.
Gerson’s PhD is in Politics and International Security Studies, and his books Include With Hiroshima Eyes: Atomic War, Nuclear Extortion and Moral Imagination, The Deadly Connection: Nuclear War and U.S. Military Intervention, The Sun Never Sets and Empire and the Bomb. He has taught at Tufts University, the College of the Holy Cross, and Regis College. His recent articles include “The South China Sea: Conflict or Common Security in the Epicenter of Global Geopolitics” and “Facing History and Ourselves: Full Spectrum Dominance from White Supremacy to Hiroshima & Nagasaki”
A Civil Rights movement activist and Vietnam War era draft resister and organizer, he later joined War Resisters International in Europe, where he worked with WWI conscientious objectors, nonviolent resisters to Nazi rule, PLO representatives and Israeli pacifists.
Anuradha Chenoy is the former dean at School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. She has been chairperson of Area Studies Director in the Centre for Russian and Central Asian Studies. She has written many books, monographs, and articles in the domain of security studies, development studies and gender studies. She has held short term consultancies with the International Committee of the Red Cross, UNESCO, Action Aid International, UN Women, UN Peace keepers. She has also evaluated the work of organisations like Focus on the Global South and the Asia Europe Peoples Forum.
Enkhsaikhan is a former diplomat of Mongolia and a Leader of Blue Banner, an NGO that has consistently campaigned for a nuclear free Mongolia and is part of the Ulanbaatar Initiative for a Northeast Asia Nuclear Weapons Free Zone Treaty. He is a Board Member of IPB.
University of North Korean Studies in Seoul,South Korea. A firm believer of the power of the people. Our expert in North Korean concerns in IPB where he is a member of the Board.
Moderator: Cora Fabros, Co–Vice President, IPB