As Beijing's economy and global influence continue to grow, so does the relationship between China and the United States. When George W. Bush visited China recently, he asked for greater currency reforms, intellectual-property protection and political freedom. He left with a reported $4 billion Boeing deal to sell aircraft to China, but few Chinese concessions. Now all eyes are turning to the inaugural East Asian Summit in early December, during which representatives from 16 Asia-Pacific countries will discuss the establishment of an East Asian Community modeled after the European Union--but U.S. officials were not invited. NEWSWEEK's Melinda Liu spoke with Qin Yaqing, vice dean of China Foreign Affairs University and a leading scholar involved in the East Asian Community concept. Excerpts:
QIN: It's hard for them to change their thinking. It's hard for the neocons to think China is less of a threat. But the Bush administration is more pragmatic, especially since the beginning of the second term, more down-to-earth. Somewhat less ideological but still strong. There's a more cooperative attitude. China was especially grateful for a very clear statement [by Bush] about Taiwan, opposing Taiwanese independence.
I quite agree; it's still very difficult. I'm cautiously optimistic for long-term China-Japan relations because I don't think either wants to have a war with the other. In this situation, if a big problem should occur, it would be a kind of misperception or accident. The fundamental thing for China and Japan is to improve overall relations. China and the United States have done a very important thing, which is to engage each other on the level of strategic talks. Then you can rise above the trivia, the small things, the very specific issues, so that you can see how to cooperate with each other.
China is becoming very active, including in areas of strategic importance to the United States like Latin America, which is the backyard of the United States. But it's a bit of an overstretch to think China has a grand, ambitious global strategy for possible confrontation with the United States. China does not have the ability, and doesn't have the intention to compete with the United States.
Second, China's immediate national interest is its huge demand for energy; some Latin American countries are very rich in energy resources. Because China's energy consumption is increasing so rapidly--it's the world's second biggest energy consumer after the United States--this is a big domestic issue. So China has moved into some areas and people say it's doing a lot of business with so-called bad countries, such as Sudan.
China [also] wants to make a friendly international environment. So basically, it goes wherever it can make friends. This is the major intention; I don't think there's a huge grand military political campaign, or strategy, targeting the United States.
Some Chinese may feel this is a purposeful strategy of the United States to encircle China. But this kind of thing has occurred in history many, many times. In this regard it's important for the two countries to be more transparent, talk to each other more, to explain clearly what I'm going to do.
The present Chinese leaders are quite good at this. They tell the other side, "This is what I want." Maybe this is partly the American way, not exactly the Chinese traditional way. You just tell each other very frankly, "I'm going there because I just want that oilfield." By their public statements, you can see that Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao simply say, "OK, I have five points. Number one is this, number two is that." This is much more straightforward. Traditional Chinese leaders like to talk more about the overall situation, general philosophy, things like that. These leaders, from their training and background, are more pragmatic and practical.
Color revolutions are basically a domestic thing... corruption, domestic development issues, leaders' personal behavior. If these aren't very satisfactory, people don't like the leaders. That's the key issue. I think the United States welcomes these changes, no doubt about it. But is this part of a grand U.S. government strategy? Maybe at a very philosophical level. But at a specific level the fundamental cause is [that] those leaders didn't do well at home.