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China has achieved an average annual growth rate of 10 percent since implementing reforms in 1978, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) predicts this trend will continue for at least the next several years. In addition, a recent report projected China's economy will replace the United States’ as the world's largest by as early as 2025. Today, China possesses the world's largest population, the fastest growing economy, the largest army, the largest middle class, a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, a manned space program and a nuclear arsenal (Turner, 2009). China is undeniably one of the great powers of the modern world and will continue to grow steadily throughout the near future. Relations between China and the United States are likely to constitute one of the most relevant and significant issues of at least the first half of the twenty-first century. The United States has thus far viewed China’s recent developmental explosion with suspicion and paranoia, in line with the aging Cold-War era realist perspective. However, as this perspective becomes a hindrance to closer cooperation and economic growth for both nations, a new outlook must be constructed in order to reflect modern realities and further global development. I will argue that current popular opinion and official national interests, in both the United States and China, favor a constructivist approach to relations, which should be implemented in order to benefit both nations. Constructivism offers a new way to view U.S.-Chinese relations and possesses the capacity to help forge innovative pathways of cooperation between both nations that would not only be mutually beneficial, but would also progress the entire modern world.
Central to the survival of the realist tone in U.S. foreign policy towards China is American popular opinion, which influences policymakers and determines elections. In a recent study by faculty members from the University of Oklahoma, political orientation and party affiliation were found to greatly impact how ordinary Americans perceive China. Specifically, the study found that regarding political orientation, self-reported “conservatives” are much more likely than self-reported “liberals” to view China’s rise as a threat to the U.S., and to sponsor a U.S. China policy of containment. Additionally, they were more likely to hold negative views of the Chinese government and to have slightly more prejudiced attitudes towards the Chinese people. Somewhat unsurprisingly, similar trends occurred with regard to party affiliation, with Republicans perceiving China as a greater threat and advocating tougher China policies than Democrats (Gries, 237, 2010). The current prominence of liberal ideology and the emerging need for a revision of conservative ideology, as signified by the defeat of the Republican Party in the recent general elections, coupled with the findings of this study, provides an optimistic base for future progress in U.S. – China relations.
The study also found that age had a relatively significant impact on perceptions, with older Americans more likely than younger Americans to perceive China as a threat, to hold negative attitudes towards the Chinese government, and to support containment policies. Participants at the lowest level of education, those who at most graduated from high school, were also found to exhibit significantly more prejudiced attitudes towards the Chinese people, and a greater desire to contain China than did those at higher education levels (Gries, 2010). These findings are also promising for the future improvement of U.S. – Chinese relations through a weakening of the realist tone, as the study revealed that primarily those steeped in Cold-War era propaganda, such as the elderly, and the least educated view China most negatively. Both of these groups can be predicted to gradually transition to a more friendly perspective on China, as the Cold War grows more distant and a new generation of elderly emerge, and as the educated community funnels modern understandings of the reality of Chinese growth to the lowest levels of education.
In China, whether the Chinese see the United States primarily through a Marxist, or realist lens, most strategists assume that a country as powerful as the United States will use its power to preserve and enhance its privileges and will treat efforts by other countries to protect their interests as threats to its own security This assumption in primarily a response to past American behavior and leads to the pessimistic conclusion that as China rises, the United States will continue to resist. Andrew J. Nathan, a Professor of Political Science at Columbia University, aptly conceptualizes the world from Beijing’s perspective as full of hazards that can be described in four concentric rings. The first ring contains the entire Chinese territory, where Beijing believes foreign actors and forces threaten stability and territorial integrity. The second ring involves China’s borders, where 14 adjacent countries with differing national interests place pressure on China’s security. The third ring of Chinese security concerns consists of the politics of the six distinct geopolitical regions that surround China: Northeast Asia, Oceania, continental Southeast Asia, maritime Southeast Asia, South Asia, and Central Asia. Each of these regions poses complex regional diplomatic and security problems. The final ring consists of the world beyond China’s immediate vicinity. The fourth ring has only recently been entered by China, and is perhaps the largest source of anxiety for Chinese developmental strategists (Nathan, 2012).
In perspective of Nathan’s rings of Chinese security concerns, the United States is the most intrusive outside actor in China’s internal affairs. Specifically, the US serves as the protector of Taiwan, “…the largest naval presence in the East China and South China seas, the formal or informal military ally of many of China's neighbors, and the primary framer and defender of existing international legal regimes” (Nathan, 2012). This consistent presence means that China's understanding of American intentions determines how the Chinese address most of their security issues. The United States has done more than any other global power to contribute to China's modernization, by drawing China into the global economy, giving the Chinese access to markets, training and educating Chinese experts, preventing the full remilitarization of Japan, maintaining the peace on the Korean Peninsula, and helping avoid a war over Taiwan. However, the American military is deployed all around China's periphery, and the United States maintains a wide network of defense relationships with China's neighbors, which has not gone unnoticed by Beijing. In addition, Washington continues to disturb Beijing's efforts to gain control over Taiwan, constantly pressure China over its economic policies, and sustain a host of government and private programs that seek to influence all levels of Chinese civil society and politics. Therefore, in the view of the Chinese, the United States uses soothing words; casts its actions as a search for peace, human rights, and a level playing field; and sometimes offers China genuine assistance. However, the United States is two-faced as it intends to remain the global hegemon and prevent China from growing strong enough to challenge it (Nathan, 2012).
In effect, the foreign policies the United States has thus far pursued based on the realist perspective, have pushed China to adapt an equally realist perspective and view the U.S. suspiciously. The realist perspective views national interest in terms of a balance-of-power military struggle, which prevents the building of real interconnectedness and understanding. This true interconnectedness and understanding is the key to sustained development in this globalized world where no one state can possibly contain all of the tools for innovation within its borders. The free flow of ideas and cooperation between states has been the key to successful sustained modernization and industrialization for the last two centuries; therefore, we can deduce that only through cooperation, we as a collective humanity can tap into and discover all our talents and innovate our way through and over all obstacles to future progression of the human race. In contrast to the realist position, a constructivist redefines national interest in terms of physical survival, autonomy; economic well-being; and collective self-esteem (Ferdinand, 850, 2007). The constructivist doesn’t merely sideline realist interests, but complements them by constructing a thicker relationship based on a broader understanding of national interests and identities. This perspective attempts to help spread mutual understanding and respect, while enhancing the sense of national self-worth, which inspires cooperation and encourages discourse. The constructivist approach transforms the basis for relations, which in the realist perspective is traditionally limited to national political elites, to one which includes broader sections of society, particularly regional and local elites, and even the population in general. Given the current political climate as outlined in the previous pages in China, one might ask how could it be possible to transition from the realist perspective that has dominated politics in both states for decades, to the more cooperative and progressive perspective offered by constructivism? The answer is simple, we must learn from the relationships between other states that have recently evolved to embrace a more constructivist approach to international politics.
An unlikely teacher in embracing a constructivist perspective with relations to China is Russia. Russia directly borders the Asian giant, and has traditionally been extremely fearful of the prospect of a Chinese invasion of its eastern territory. Realism dictates that Russia is doomed to go to war if China achieves complete modernization, due to China’s significantly larger population that will unavoidably need more territory. However, recently due to a growing interest in trade among the two states, great strides have been made by leaders of both China and Russia to assure each other of their peaceful intentions. The reform process officially began in October of 2004, when Russian President Putin made an official visit to Beijing, and the two sides agreed on a final resolution of a border dispute which had been under negotiation for over 40 years. Presidents Putin and Hu, inspired by this historic event, set the objective of finding ways of deepening their strategic relationship. The next year, during their annual summit, they announced the launching of a Year of Russia in China for 2006 and a Year of China in Russia for 2007. The launching of these campaigns represented an attempt by the two large powers to move beyond the realist model, which has been the dominant approach to analyses of Chinese and Russian foreign policy for decades. In fact, according to some scholars, this event coincided with a more general need to re-evaluate Chinese foreign policy from a constructivist perspective, as it seeks to become a responsible power that pays more attention to the development of soft power and assistance to the rest of the world (Ferdinand, 850, 2007).
The Year of Russia in China, which ended in November 2006, saw an unparalleled level of contact between Russians and Chinese in all spheres. Presidents Putin and Hu met five times, with Putin going to Beijing twice. Putin visited Beijing with an entourage of over 1000 people at the start of the year, with an overall of more than 400 official Russian delegations, with over 120 of them led by deputy ministers or higher officials, visiting China by November. In addition, an enormous Russian National Exhibition was held in Beijing, which showcased Russian scientific, educational and cultural achievements. There were many artistic displays, and a large amount of media coverage was devoted to all things Russian. Significantly, there was also a serious attempt to develop economic ties between Russian and Chinese provinces through official delegations. By the closing ceremony Russian Prime Minister Fradkov announced that half a million Chinese had personally attended the events, while hundreds of millions had watched on television. The Russian advocates of closer relations with China have also proposed and initiated a wider ‘inter-civilizational’ dialogue that will further enhance mutual understanding (Ferdinand, 851, 2007).
These conscious moves by both states to educate each other on their respective cultures in order to strengthen relations and ease fears represents a historic attempt at reconstructing norms and perceptions. Especially since, as Aaron L. Friedberg, Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University, points out, it may be true that some significant fraction of China’s rulers are still in the grips of old-fashioned realist conceptions of international relations and the potential utility of deception, surprise, and force in resolving interstate disputes. Friedberg observes that these ideas appear to be deeply rooted in traditional Chinese governance, as passed down in ancient texts, taught in military academies, and absorbed through Chinese culture. However, as I believe the recent Russian-Chinese cultural exchanges have indicated, the constructivist mechanism at work has begun a process of socialization that reflects China’s profound desire to be accepted as a modern, advanced country and a citizen in good standing of the world community Thus the deeper embedded China becomes in the web of regional cooperation and global institutions, the more the beliefs and expectations of its leaders will come to align with to the emerging universal consensus that those institutions embody (Friedberg, 36, 2005).
The recent cooperation between Russian and China is by no means for purely cultural reasons; the foundation for all reform began and endures because of China’s growing need for resources and Russia’s vast untapped reserves. In order to overcome the realist paradigm, economic and cultural interconnectivity and interaction are all needed. In Russia, the strengthening of the relationship with China preceded any major economic dependence between the two states, but still depends on promises of future economic gains. In the United States, we already have a high level of economic interconnectivity with China, thus the strengthening of our relationship and the surmounting of realist fears should, theoretically, be more easily attainable. I have already demonstrated that the domestic political climate in the United States is ripe for a shift in foreign policy, and if the U.S. were to publically open itself in a similar fashion as Russia to a higher level of cultural exchange with China in order to increase understanding and ease tensions, there is historical evidence that China would follow suite and in turn open itself to the United States. This constructivist shift would initiate the unavoidable processes of socialization, and alter both American and Chinese perspectives in a way that would at the very least remove irrational fears and spur constructive exchanges.
The future for constructivist cooperation between the U.S. and China looks promising, as signified by the joint statement released on January 19, 2011, by U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao, proclaiming their shared commitment to a "positive, cooperative, and comprehensive U.S.-China relationship." Each nation reassured the other regarding their principal concern, announcing, "The United States reiterated that it welcomes a strong, prosperous, and successful China that plays a greater role in world affairs. China welcomes the United States as an Asia-Pacific nation that contributes to peace, stability and prosperity in the region” (Kissinger, 2012). Since then, high ranking American and Chinese officials have exchanged visits and institutionalized their exchanges on major strategic and economic issues. In addition, military-to-military contacts have been resumed, opening an important channel of communication. The future prospects look positive, as long as both parties are open to conceiving of each other's activities as a normal part of international life and not necessarily as a cause for alarm. The United States is still the world’s leading power, and as such, has a responsibility to move toward a progressive global community that will benefit all of its citizens. Central to accomplishing this, as Kissinger points out, is remembering that, “the rise of China is less the result of its increased military strength than of the United States' own declining competitive position, driven by factors such as obsolescent infrastructure, inadequate attention to research and development, and a seemingly dysfunctional governmental process.” He concludes that, “the United States should address these issues with ingenuity and determination instead of blaming a putative adversary” (Kissinger, 2012). Word Count: 2610.
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- Quote paper
- Zach von Naumann (Author), 2012, How Russia working with China can help the United Sates, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/298376