«South China Morning Post»: China must stop `wishful thinking’ that rivalry with US will end with Biden

  • Chinese foreign relations expert Yan Xuetong predicts decades of an uneasy peace as competition continues between two powers
  • Clearly defining competitive relationship would give Beijing and Washington common ground to avoid escalation, he says

China must stop “wishful thinking” about the incoming Biden administration and clearly define the nature of its relationship with the US as a competition, according to a leading Chinese foreign relations expert.

Yan Xuetong, Dean of the Institute of International Relations at Beijing’s Tsinghua University said there would be an “uneasy peace” in the decades ahead, featuring an increasingly fierce rivalry between the two great powers, and hedging policy moves from smaller parties.

“Unpredictability, uncertainty will still be the basic characteristic of the coming years,” Yan said on Wednesday at the Beijing Xiangshan Forum, China’s top international platform for dialogue on defence and security issues. “The world will definitely become more chaotic.”

Yan Xuetong, Dean of the Institute of International Relations at Beijing’s Tsinghua University. Photo: Handout

Yan said he was not optimistic about president-elect Joe Biden’s China policy, which he predicted would shift from the trade war into frictions in the political realm, without lowering the scale and intensity of clashes between the two countries.

“Biden will take a multilateral approach and the pressure on China will increase rather than decrease,” he said, adding that human rights and other ideological values were part of the policy goals pursued by Biden and the Democrats, compared to Donald Trump and Republicans who saw them more as geopolitical tools.

“He will take a harder line and invest more resources in these issues, resulting in more serious conflicts,” Yan said.

But he said some in China were reluctant to accept that tensions would continue and were talking too much about cooperation with the US. “I think many people wishfully believe that by denying the competition it will disappear,” he said.

Yan said China should reach a consensus with the US that competition was at the core of their relationship, which would give the two powers a common ground for pragmatic discussions on how to manage and prevent it from escalating into war.

“When you can’t manage competition, talking about cooperation is meaningless,” he said.

The China-US rivalry differed from the Cold War between the US and the former Soviet Union and would make the world even less safe, despite the possibility that nuclear deterrence may still effectively prevent a major war. “Because in the next 10 years, there will be no global leader,” Yan said.

The Beijing Xiangshan Forum on Wednesday. Photo: Handout

While the US and USSR had each provided leadership to their own blocs – and had jointly led the world on some issues -neither China nor the US could dominate the Asia-Pacific region, and neither had the resources or capability of maintaining the current order, he said.

“The US cannot accept China as its equal, but China demands it, so something like the Franco-Germany joint leadership in Europe is also impossible.”

Yan said under such a bipolar configuration, third parties would tend to hedge strategically between the two, dramatically increasing uncertainty and challenging trust among many traditional allies. “International norms will be violated, a lot,” he said.

“South China Morning Post”
Liu Zhen
3 December 2020