By Franz Schurmann, Pacific News Service

China’s suspicions of America as a hegemonic power have been allayed by some recent steps by Washington to share power. A new vision of Sino-American relations is emerging, and that is good news for both countries as China emerges as a new global power.


July 16, 2004 – Given the heavy traffic of high American officials heading for Beijing, the participants must be doing something other than endlessly repeating, “America is against Taiwan independence.” However, Condoleezza Rice’s latest trip elicited from Jiang Zemin, China’s former president and now chairman of the powerful Central Military Commission, a far-reaching vision of what Sino-American relations could become.

Jiang said, “[Sino-American relations] must look at the big picture and develop a foundation that will last. Each will recognize its own limitations in Asia and the world” (from the Sing Tao Daily 7/9/04).

The key phrase is “Asia and the world.” That America is a global power has been known since World War II. But it’s only recently that China too has emerged as a global power. In 1997, the esteemed publisher of the Le Monde newspaper in Paris, Ignacio Ramonet laid down the five powers of scale — political, economic, military, technological and cultural — that a country must possess to qualify for becoming a global power. In 1997 there was only one country that qualified, America. Now China qualifies, or soon will.

For many decades the Chinese have criticized America as “hegemonic,” meaning it wants to dominate the entire world. Even though U.S.-China relations have now warmed, China feels that it cannot trust America so long as America remains hegemonic. But in this year, three events occurred that showed America was capable of moving towards humility.

First, the United States and China, the two biggest oil users, agreed to share the search for energy solutions by launching the U.S.-China Energy Policy Dialogue in Washington on Sunday. But separately, China is joining with big Asian oil importers Japan, South Korea, India and the Philippines to discuss a regional response to issues such as stockpiling, price premiums and environmental protection. The dialogue will take place in Washington, but the point-person is China.

A similar Sino-American sharing of leadership is the six-nation conference on North Korea’s nuclear weapons development. In this case the site of the meetings is Beijing but the interim discussions are being carried out directly between America and North Korea.

Jiang’s vision of Sino-American relations is to “develop a foundation that will last.” According to an Associated Press dispatch on Feb. 24, “the flagship of the U.S. Navy’s Pacific fleet arrived in China’s largest city Shanghai, the latest sign of warming military ties.” Rear Adm. Robert Willard, commander of the 7th Fleet, which is responsible for operations in the Asia-Pacific region, called the visit “further evidence of the close military-to-military cooperation between our two countries … The discussions will probably include expanding military exchanges still further,” he said.

Admiral Willard made it clear that the arrival of the flagship was unrelated to the current large-scale operations organized by the 7th Fleet now going on in the western Pacific regions that involve many other nations. “There is no connection between this visit and the other activities that are going on in the region,” he said. In short, the American and Chinese militaries were testing each other out. Now Condoleezza Rice’s visit to Beijing and Jiang Zemin’s displaying his vision to her indicates that the February “discussions” were fruitful.

There has been a lot of discussion about how the Bush administration has realized that it cannot ignore the United Nations. China sees that turnaround as a positive step from arrogance to humility or, as Jiang Zemin might put it, from hegemony to interests. In his vision about Sino-American relations he added another package of advice for Condoleezza Rice. “Each must accept and respect each other’s differences and each must constantly seek their common interests and develop them. Carry out the agreements contained in three joint Sino-American communiqués and work hard to resolve the Taiwan problem.”

China now has two big problems. One is how to get Taiwan to accept that it is a part of China. The second is how to ensure enough fossil fuels to keep its awesome economy moving. America has keys to solve both problems. But the fact that so much official American traffic keeps heading towards China and less and less to Taiwan shows that the keys only work in Beijing. And, since American malls are chock-full of “Made in China” goods, it means that if America uses the oil key in a hegemonic way, it only dooms America’s vaunted consumer capitalism.

America would do well by accepting Jiang Zemin’s vision of a world of global powers that recognize their limitations, and go from there.


PNS Editor Franz Schurmann is emeritus professor of sociology and history at U.C. Berkeley and author of numerous books.

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