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Opinion: Keeping a cool view of the U.S.-China Cooperatition

The term, “cooperatition” was coined by economists to describe corporations both cooperate and compete at the same time.  For example, Apple and Google cooperate on getting Gmail and Google Maps integrated well into the iPhone, resulting in a better finish product and while helping both companies in the market place.  However, Google also makes the Android phone operating system which helps strengthen Apple’s iPhone competitors.

Nation states cooperate and compete as well.  The broad and deepening of relationship between U.S. and China over the last three decades is clearly cooperation.  If the U.S. and China are not interested in cooperating with each other, many aspects of the China-U.S. relationship would be vastly different.   For example, both countries agree on the general need to combat terrorism on a global scale.  This resulted in the successful passing of the U.N. Security Council Resolution 1373.  Cultural exchanges at all levels between the American and Chinese peoples brought broad exposure to each other’s cultural, artistic, and educational achievements.  The Strategic Economic Dialogue continued, and it made headlines just only few months ago.  The increase in trade over the last few decades is also cooperation regardless of how one views the trade balance issue.

The competition part of this relationship is obvious too.  U.S. interference in China’s dealings with the Dalai Lama and Taiwan or U.S. sponsorship of various human rights resolutions in the U.N. against China.

China’s leadership view the world in the same way too (as I am sure the U.S. leaders).  In this China Daily report, former Chinese Ambassador to India, Pei Yuanying, said:

.. it was necessary to take multiple aspects of China-US relations into consideration. “The US has followed the policy of engagement plus containment with China for a long time and that overall policy will not change during Obama’s term,” he said.

Our world is not organized in black and white despite the media’s tendency to cast it as such.  (My opinion is Western media have been egregious in trying to polarize the West in black and white terms, but that is another topic on its own.)

It appears the best thing to do is simply to keep cool.  Yao Shujie, the Head of School and Professor of Economics and Chinese Sustainable Development and Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Nottingham in U.K., had an Op-Ed in China Daily, “Love-hate affair (between U.S. and China) must not boil over.”  He said:

Obama is keenly aware of the economic interdependence that binds China and the US, and the importance of their healthy relations to global stability.

However, it is not difficult to understand why he has adopted a tougher approach toward China in recent weeks. Under fire at home, particularly following the Democrats’ loss of the US Massachusetts Senate seat in January, he must be seen as assertive in dealing with China. Obama knows the rise of China’s counter-balancing power is inevitable. But as a president of the world’s only superpower, he must do his utmost to slow its speed.

Historical, cultural and ideological differences between China and the US, coupled with the US’ desire to maintain its world dominance, mean that their relationship will not always be peaceful.

Ideologically, the West still uses “human rights” and “freedom of speech” to justify a lot of their behaviors toward the developing countries.  However, in the last few decades, especially with the resurgence of economic power from China, India, and other developing countries, these Western ideologies have severely been weakened.  In this U.K. based Guardian article, “Haemorrhaging of western influence at UN wrecks attempts to push human rights agenda,” a study concludes:

The haemorrhaging of Western power, as reflected in longer-term voting patterns in key UN bodies, is mirrored by the increasing clout of China, Russia and the Islamic world, according to an audit of European influence at the UN by the European Council on Foreign Relations.

As the article says, this is a long term development.  I suspect the West, especially the Western media, will not abandon these ideologies for the foreseeable future.  However, the height of their impact has long past.

  1. March 9th, 2010 at 13:16 | #1

    I think it may be premature to pronounce that the heydays of Western ideology is over. I would say that the heydays of the use of Western ideology as a political tool to manipulate the world (and mislead populous understanding back at home) may (hopefully) be over – but the usefulness of Western ideology to the world depends on how it adapts. Just like religions like Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and Islam can adapt to become useful practices that benefit humankind, so can Western concepts like democracy and freedom. It will be interesting to see how these concepts evolve over the next 20-30 years.

    In the short term, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Western influence making an uptick here and there. Like the price of a stock in the stock market, China’s power and influence today may be overstated – even though the long term trend is up.

  2. March 10th, 2010 at 13:07 | #2

    Agreed, Allen. I like your conclusion better.

  3. raventhorn2000
    July 6th, 2010 at 06:56 | #3

    If I may draw an analogy in my comment:

    In science and technology, it is not who invents the idea but who exploits and improves the idea that matters. Or as Allen puts it, the “usefulness” of an idea that matters to the society.

    If applied to politics and culture influences, then we are witnessing the exhaustion of the Western ideas in practice, the exhaustion of their “usefulness” in the world. The ideologies of the West may continue to exist for quite some time (as a status quo, or mentioned here and there), but privately, the world is seeking useful ideas else where.

    Evolution is another analogy: Sometimes, species may evolve to have similar features as other extinct species, but the path of their evolution are completely different. Biological features are often dependent upon the environment or the “niche” of the species, more than what the ancestral genetics is about.

    For example, some dinosaurs had wings and could fly, but they became extinct. Later, a different branch of reptiles evolved into birds, and yet another evolved in mammals, which later evolved into several different types of flying mammals.

    If Western democracy may be like dinosaurs, they may evolve into something completely different, and then later on features of their old self return in other species.

    China and other nations have already adapted to the global environment and evolved to have some features of the West, and that “evolution” process will undoubtedly continue, just as China herself evolved through the last 4000 years.

    As for “Western influence”, I would say that there is still expectations of its continual influence in the world. But we are see the visible “power vacuum” of the West’s traditional sphere of influence. Its economic recovery is out of its control, and more dependent upon other nations. And the West is unable to use its traditional methods of pressure and diplomacy to get its way.

    The “second world nations” and “third world nations” are realizing it and are forced to resort to their own untested methods to solve their own problems, instead of merely asking the West for help. (They still ask for help, but they are expecting it less and less. Hence, the “power vacuum.”)

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