Editor’s Note: The French version of this interview report will be published by the 2010 June issue of the ChinePlus.
Tiessen - Q1: After a hectic start to the year - marked by the Google case, the arms sales to Taiwan, etc. - how would you rate the state of the (diplomatic and economic) Sino-American relations today?
Wang - A1: It is not new for China and the U.S. to debate various matters. On the diplomatic front, the U.S. perceives China's approach as a change of conduct rather than of principle as it evolves from a low profile toward a more forceful stance. On the economic front, the financial crisis has given China more confidence: its stellar GDP growth rate of 8.7% contributed to 50% of the 2009 global growth, whereas the U.S. debts continue to pile up while its unemployment rate stays around 10%. This leads to a mood in which different values are viewed, especially by the U.S. side, as challenges, and even a kind of offense. The U.S. government is therefore acting increasingly strongly against China.
The U.S. put forward an idea of "strategic reassurance" with China; China must reassure the rest of the world not to greatly upset the existing, largely U.S.-led international system. But it would be wrong to expect China to bear the burden of such assurance. China has sent strong signals to the U.S. not to infringe upon China’s core interests, and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao stressed that “Cooperation is better than containment, dialogue is better than confrontation, and partnership is better than rivalry.”
The U.S.-China relationship is truly too big to fail.
Tiessen - Q2: It seems that the tension (at least on the political level) has also risen a notch on both sides this week with the debate on the revaluation of the yuan. China is determined to stick to its positions and do nothing yet. How is this position seen in the United States?
Wang - A2: It depends on whom you listen to:
Morgan Stanley’s Asia Chairman Stephen Roach said that there is no “China problem,” only an “American savings” problem (i.e., no purchase, no debt), but the U.S. politicians are not willing to face it (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YH-A1yBtVGA); Bloomberg commentator William Pesek wrote that the U.S. “has zero moral high ground when it comes to the state of global imbalances.”
On the contrary, U.S. economist Paul Krugman bashed China hard on the Yuan issue; in addition, over 100 U.S. Congressmen signed a petition to urge the Obama government to list China as a currency manipulator; Senators Schumer and Graham announced a bipartisan bill that threatens China with tariffs.
Tariffs on China carry big risks: protectionism deepened the Great Depression. The U.S. needs to tread carefully. The louder it calls on China to revalue the yuan, the more likely officials in Beijing will dig in their heels. Premier Wen Jiabao made that clear, when he dismissed U.S. complaints.
China is sending Vice-Minister of Commerce Zhong Shan to lead a delegation to visit Capitol Hill. Beijing may resume a modest exchange rate reform to strengthen its own economy, which, in turn, could ease pressure from Graham, Schumer and others.
Tiessen - Q3: What should we think today of the hypothesis proposed a year ago of a G2 dominated by the United States and China?
Wang - A3: G2 is a narrowly-focused term used by American journalists and some geo-strategists in a leadership bid to jointly address a wide range of global challenges of bilateral interests. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said that “China disagreed with the suggestion of G2”and “China pursues an independent foreign policy of peace and will not align with any country or country blocks. Global issues should be decided by all nations in the world, rather than by one or two countries.”
However, President Obama did say that the U.S.-China relationship was emerging as one of the most important in the world. Both nations agree that the Sino-U.S. cooperation can play a unique role in advancing the establishment of a new international political and economic order, as well as promoting world peace, stability and prosperity. The U.S. is the Number One world economy and China will soon become Number Two. Their cooperation is crucial in reality regardless of any hypothesis. The U.S.-China relationship has progressed for decades and the respective national interests underlining it are generally harmonious. The occasional sharp discord between them, in my opinion, will eventually subside, and not spoil this harmony.
Tiessen - Q4: In recent weeks we have read on the web or in Chinese newspapers comments that are very anti-American. In your opinion, should one fear a boycott by the people of everything that is "Made in USA" (or another form of retribution)?
Wang - A4: If it comes to an escalated trade war between the two nations, I would not be surprised to see boycotting “Made in China” or “Made in USA” or other forms of retribution from both sides (similar to the U.S. anti-French-fries episode after 9/11 , and the France-China tension over Tibet). But since the Chinese government knows well that protectionism is a lose-lose game for both nations, the Chinese authorities will rein in their people to prevent such disasters as they did before. Previous clashes include, for example: in 1999 Chinese officials accused the U.S. of striking the Chinese embassy to punish China for representing Yugoslav diplomatic interests in Washington; and in 2001 a mid-air collision resulted in an international dispute between the two nations, called the Hainan Island incident.
Venting anger on paper is a form of peaceful protest. The outside world should listen to these voices to understand China and the Chinese people in order to avoid unnecessary clashes.
Tiessen - Q5: How can the political dialogue between the two countries be improved? Do you see any women and men in particular who are able to change the current situation?
Wang - A5: More dialogue is required. China has taken the initiative by sending a delegation to Capitol Hill to discuss the heated economic issues.
Recall that Hu Jintao and Barack Obama signed a Joint Statement on U.S.-China Relationship in November 2009, which aims to advance U.S.-China relations in the new era. But Obama's first trip to China drew mixed reactions in China. The Chinese felt that the U.S. had a lot of favors to ask of China, but not much it could give. The U.S. media outlets were generally cool since Obama was unable to obtain any specific concessions on the Yuan-Dollar exchange rate or sanctions on Iran. Calling the U.S. a “Pacific nation” and himself “the U.S.’s first Pacific president,” Obama’s tour revealed China as the heart of the U.S. Asia policy. But the Obama government currently lacks someone like the former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson who understands China, and also can influence the economic policy of the United States.
In these circumstances, the two nations should exert more efforts on the China-US Strategic Economic Dialogue established in 2007. Such efforts should separate economic issues from politics and keep a long-term U.S.-China partnership in mind to avoid short-sighted missteps.