Wang Wen[SCMP]: US-China hostility must end for the benefit of both countries – and the rest of the world


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Wang Wen[SCMP]: US-China hostility must end for the benefit of both countries – and the rest of the world


Source: SCMP    Published: 2023-03-03

Here we go again. A giant Chinese balloon floats across North America, and US politicians want to shoot it, and China down.

What the heck; surely the saber rattlers know how much is at stake and how little another kerfuffle will mean to the symbiotic aspirations of good people on both sides of the Pacific.

The ballyhoo over the balloon isn’t going to poke a pinprick in the billions upon billions of dollars’ worth of trade between the two countries that occur every single month. This voluminous commerce is one of the greatest achievements in human history, and foundational to both countries’ success. We get jobs and resources to rebuild our country, and a sense of growing prosperity; the US gets shelves stacked with affordable goods that keep consumers content, and some of the best brains we have to offer.

Over the past 30 years, there have been many military incidents that led to fears of imminent confrontation, yet the helium-filled trade between the two countries has never been limited by the sky.

Since Trump the chest-thumping animosity has felt very different. Intractable ideological differences have become increasingly heated, but I’m not talking about the contradictions between the two countries. China has become the whipping boy that sooths the bitter acrimony between the US’ hard right and left. Hostility toward China is just about their only common ground, and no one dares to diverge from this demagoguery. The hotter the rhetoric, the more tight-mouthed and cliché-ish they all become. There’s not a sober mind in Congress or beyond willing to speak a single, solitary conciliatory word about China. Yet our codependent commerce continues to flourish unabated.

The bedlam over the balloon is filled with accusations of high-altitude spying, and not for a second was China given the benefit of a doubt. The self-righteous bellicose ranting over the balloon has forced many Chinese to recall the 2001 incident that cost Chinese pilot Wang Wei his life after his aircraft collided with an American jet that was conducting an obviously nefarious high-altitude surveillance of South China’s Hainan Province. Wang Wei died when his plane crashed in the South China Sea.

It doesn’t take top secret clearance, for people on both sides to see that technology and AI have been a boon to the spy game, which has become extremely unhealthy and worrisome. There’s no stopping any industrial military complex from seeking any advantage, but past purported tech failures have had deadly consequences. Chinese people still remember the 1999 tragedy when the US claimed it accidentally bombed the Chinese Embassy in Yugoslavia, killing three Chinese journalists.

These are needless and tragic unintended consequences sprung from closed and mean-spirited mindsets. They have engrained deep-seated and baseless conspiracy theories. They have led to a proliferation of disinformation that serves to cement confirmation bias. The unfortunate result has been mutual paranoia.

Chinese people feel the deck has forever been stacked against us, and the utter brutality we endured last century will never be forgotten or allowed to be repeated. While China’s military expenditures are increasing – some $230 billion -- they are but one third of what the US spends on its war machinery ($750 billion). Imagine the dividend our countries would reap if this balloon could start to deflate.

As it now stands, the tit-for-tat maneuvering of our respective militaries will undoubtedly continue. The finger pointing and embellished accusations are not about to stop. This is depressing as there remains so much good the two countries could do together, both for each others’ benefit and around the world.

The more recent and heightened China-bashing led by the US feels disingenuous and hypocritical considering the huge gap in governance practices, principles and values among some of the most supported allies of the US, to which it happily supplies billions worth of weapons of mass destruction.

The riddle I’m working on solving is how get Americans to understand that many hundreds of millions of Chinese are leading productive, wholesome lives in the pursuit of happiness. Chinese people have been the beneficiaries of a system that is evolving and unstoppable. US efforts to place roadblocks in our path simply haven’t worked and never will. The grave downside of this flawed approach is the long memories of Chinese people.

Of course there are issues and ills in both societies that can be used to harangue and lecture the other. Perhaps we could create a chart to compare and contrast these challenges, and tick them off as needing a lot of effort to repair. Perhaps we can come to an understanding that these issue are none of the other’s business, and work to heal our own houses.

It seems obvious that only the quiet, unstoppable current of commerce can carry all countries to a higher quality of life. But this fundamental and transformative good is being stalled by a giant wall of needlessly fraught enmity. Unleashing the creative forces linking likeminded people who want to achieve something for themselves, their country and others is surely what the world needs now.

Just imagine how a little congeniality could allow us to manage the existential threats of climate change and future pandemics. Progress on these issue would be a global uniting force. Do we not have enough humanity to rally around the goal of eliminating suffering from poverty, disease and hunger?

Let’s all lower the nature of our nastiness, the stakes are far too high not to. Let us not even contemplate a war between China and the US. It would end in an extinction-level event.

Wang Wen is Professor and Executive Dean of Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China.