PRC and USA: Taiwan's Strategic Options Disappearing
Want Daily/China Times Group Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
March 11, 2015
Executive Summary: PRC-USA relations pose a challenge for Taiwan, which must change its strategy. It must not become a troublemaker in PRC-USA relations. Balancing the trilateral relationship between Taipei, Washington, and Beijing is in Taiwan's best interests.
Full Text Below:
US President Barack Obama sternly criticized Mainland China's recently drafted anti-terrorism law. The law forces foreign companies, such as Microsoft or Apple, to allow the Mainland government to access to their databases. This enables it to monitor the company's customers. Mainland China however, points out that US intelligence agencies have hacked into mobile phone SIM cards the world over. Mainland China says its move is consistent with international circumstances and domestic counter-terrorism requirements. The PRC and the USA clash constantly. Meanwhile, counter-terrorism measures proliferate day by day.
Sino-US relations are simultaneously competitive and cooperative. It is not a simple matter of friend or foe. The confrontation and conflict is even more complex than the "Thucydides Trap" from Western history. Mainland China and the US clash over geopolitical, economic, and strategic interests. They also clash over ideology and political values, making the problem doubly difficult.
Late last January, Mainland President Xi Jinping told US reporters that Mainland China's rise would inevitably lead to opposition from the United States, Japan and other countries. Fears of another conflict are increasing. But Mainland China will do its best not to fall into the Thucydides Trap. The pursuit of hegemonic power is inconsistent with Mainland China's circumstances. The Chinese people lack the genetic disposition for hegemony and domination. Xi Jinping noted the United States' dualistic worldview. He affirmed the desire to avoid conflict with the United States, since it would result in a lose-lose outcome. He said the realization of the "China Dream" requires international peace and prosperity.
The Thucydides Trap is a theory elaborated by the ancient Greek thinker Thucydides. It refers to the 30-year war between Athens and Sparta in 5th century BC,
which led to a lose-lose outcome. The theory has been applied to current Sino-US relations. Mainland China's rise obviously challenges US hegemony. The result of differences and conflicts might well be war. Paraphrasing Thucydides: Sino-US war may be difficult to avoid because the US fears China's rise to power.
Consider actual cases from the 16th century. The rise of new powers usually led to war. Obvious examples include the Franco-Prussian war of 1871, when Germany replaced Britain as Europe's largest economy. This led to two European wars, one in 1914, and one in 1939. The rise of Japan after World War I challenged the traditional powers. Japan established an Asian order, then launched a war of aggression against China and East Asia.
The international environment in the 21st century is different. Emerging powers have neither the ability nor desire to clash with traditional hegemons. In mid January, at the "China-US Business Forum", Mainland Premier Wang Yangyuan advanced his "America leads the world" theory. He said the United States has been the leader of global systems and standards. Mainland China has no desire or ability to challenge the US. It is willing to join the system and play a constructive role. In Switzerland, at the "World Economic Forum", Li Keqiang pledged that Mainland China would strive to maintain peaceful relations with the international community. He stressed that Mainland China's reforms and development will bring more opportunities to the world. He guaranteed that Mainland China will not shy away from its international responsibilities.
Beijing is attempting to gradually integrate itself into the existing US-dominated global system. It is keeping a low profile to avoid threatening continued US hegemony. It has adopted a global strategy of mutually beneficial relations between nations to avoid falling into the Thucydides Trap.
Meanwhile, the United States has no intention of widening Sino-US differences. Early this year, President Obama delivered a "State of the Union" address, and a "National Security Strategy" report before Congress. He said the US "welcomes the rise of a stable, peaceful and prosperous China", and seeks a constructive relationship with China that promotes security in Asia and the world. He stressed that although the United States and Mainland China are in competition, conflict is not inevitable. This is a new national security strategy for Washington, one that does not emphasize a “China threat”. It reflects the United States' strategic restraint and desire to avoid provoking Mainland China.
Mainland China is guarding against the United States' Asia-Pacific rebalancing strategy. But it has not been stampeded into a Thucydides Trap. The US is worried about rapidly increasing Chinese influence in the Asia-Pacific region. But it is also actively promoting Sino-US Strategic and Economic Dialogue, high-level consultations, and military exchanges and cooperation. Mainland China and the US maintain a state of jostling with each other without breaking with each other. They are clearly aware of the rise of Athens in the 5th century BC Athens and the rise of Germany in the 19th century. They know that the Thucydides trap would result in an Asian and global tragedy.
Mainland China and the US have different perceptions regarding rising great powers. Mainland China emphasizes mutual respect, mutual trust, restraint over differences, cooperation, and win-win as a foundation for the future. The United States emphasizes utility, the solution of specific problems, pragmatic cooperation, and constructive management of differences, leading to a win-win situation. Sino-US relations will require improved dialogue and cooperation. The Thucydides Trap is merely the product of certain people's imaginations.
PRC-USA relations pose a challenge for Taiwan, which must change its strategy. It must not become a troublemaker in PRC-USA relations. Balancing the trilateral relationship between Taipei, Washington, and Beijing is in Taiwan's best interests.