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By MARTIN JACQUES | China Daily Global | Updated: 2020-09-21 08:37


US will remain antagonistic toward China until it finally accepts that its heyday is over

China's rise from 1978 took place in a relatively stable international environment. And at the core of this was the relatively benign relationship between the United States and China. There were two fundamental assumptions that underpinned the US attitude toward China over this period.

The first was that China was so far behind economically, that it was virtually impossible to imagine China becoming an economic challenger or threat to US economic ascendancy. And the second and I think a more important factor was that the US belief was that as China modernized, it would Westernize, it would increasingly resemble the US.

These two assumptions about China were upturned by the financial crisis that began in the US in 2008. This was the turning point. To some extent, the Western economy has been on a life support system since China was of course affected by the crisis, but basically it continued to grow at more or less the same rate as it had before. And by 2014, China was accounting for one-third of global economic growth. And because of the contrasting experiences of Western countries, on the one hand, and China, on the other, there emerged a growing anxiety in the West, and particularly in governing circles, but not only in governing circles, about the challenge of China.

The financial crisis took a toll on people's living standards in the West, which led to the growing dissatisfaction, particularly among traditional working class people, coming to the fore. So what has been the US response to this challenge? Essentially, the US response has been to try and make China's rise as difficult as possible. And things are likely to get worse before they get better.

The prospect that we are looking at now is an antagonistic relationship between the US and China for the foreseeable future. It's impossible to predict how long that antagonism will last as it depends on a change in the US mentality.

Americans are used to enjoying sole primacy in the world. Even today, it would be suicide for a US president to say: "We are in decline, and we cannot change that. We have to accommodate ourselves to a new world." Americans are not ready for this kind of argument. But the situation has changed, and the relationship will change when the US comes to accept that it must share primacy in the world with China.

China has come a long way, and is now a very serious competitor for the US.
But while the trade war it is waging will damage China. Fundamentally, it is not going to work.

In fact, it is probably going to damage the US more than it damages China. It will damage the rest of the world as well, by the way but essentially, the biggest sufferer will be the US. Likewise the high-tech war it has initiated will fail. It is harming China, but it is not going to succeed. Because China's innovative energy, innovative potential and innovative dynamic are just too strong now. Quite frankly, I expect over the next 10 years to see China becoming the technological leader in many new areas.

There is some criticism of China that it does not observe the rule of law, that it does not observe the norms of the international system, and so on. This is a criticism frequently heard from Western countries. But we need to be clear about certain things here. First, China had no say in the present rules and norms of the international system. They were all developed by the US and Western Europe. So China was not a party to the formation of the international system. Nevertheless, China has been a very good global citizen in the United Nations, in the World Trade Organization, in the International Monetary Fund, in the World Bank. China has played a very positive role. And China has always been very generous in its praise for the international system and the way it has been a beneficiary of that system. Let me just say something else as well here.

In a sense, China's rise started in 1978.China has not really been involved in any wars whatsoever since then. This is the period of China's great rise from nothing to now being equal with the most powerful country in the world economically. Now look at US history, or German history, or British history, or Japanese history, all of these countries were involved in many wars during the equivalent period of their historical development. China, in other words, has exercised extraordinary restraint during this period of its development.

I don't believe the present international system can survive for a long time. And the reason is quite simple. We live in a completely different world, a rapidly changing world. In 1980, the center of the global economy was essentially Western Europe and the US. By 2050, it will be China and India.

Increasingly, what we are witnessing is the rise of the developing world, and the decline of the developed world. In other words, we're talking about an international system which will be far more representative of humanity than it is now. In other words, we're moving from an essentially authoritarian, minoritarian system of global governance to something which is far more representative of the world as it is.

That's very positive in terms of the future. But it is creating a big crisis in the West. I view China's rise to be extraordinarily positive. That does not mean that China does not make mistakes, has not made mistakes, or will not make mistakes in the future. Of course it will. It's on a learning curve. It's only just really beginning to be a great power. But China is a very good learner. We can all see that.

The author is a British journalist, editor, academic, political commentator and the author of When China Rules the World. The author contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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