The good old days are over and US hawks are in the ascendant, says academic who briefed President Xi Jinping on foreign policy strategy
Zheng Yongnian believes president-elect will have to take account of growing hostility towards Beijing from the American public and politicians
Beijing must drop its illusions that
will automatically get better under a Biden presidency and should be prepared for a tougher stance from Washington, a Chinese government adviser has warned.
Zheng Yongnian, the dean of the Advanced Institute of Global and Contemporary China Studies, a Shenzhen-based think tank, said China should not miss any opportunity to mend relations with the United States but should not assume that relations with the US would return to how they were before Donald Trump’s rise to power.
“The good old days are over … the cold war hawks in the US have been in a highly mobilised state for several years, and they will not disappear overnight,” Zheng said in an interview on the sidelines of the Understanding China Conference in Guangzhou.
Zheng, who attended a symposium hosted by
in August to offer advice on China’s long-term strategy, said there was now a bipartisan consensus in the US on containing China.
The relationship between China and the US has fallen to its lowest level since Beijing and Washington established formal diplomatic ties over 40 years ago, with the two countries clashing on a range of issues including trade, human rights and the handling of the
Hostilities towards each other are on the rise and the latest Pew survey found that over 70 per cent of Americans have a bad impression of China.
might take advantage of the public resentment towards China after he entered the White House. “American society is torn apart. I don’t think Biden can do anything about it,” Zheng said.
“He is certainly a very weak president, if he can’t sort out domestic issues, then he will do something on the diplomatic front, do something against China.
“If we say Trump is not interested in promoting democracy and freedom, Biden is. Trump is not interested in war … but a Democratic president could start wars.”
Zheng also warned that the clash of values could intensify under Biden. “The difference is that Trump is a businessman and behaves unpredictably, while Biden takes the elite route and is usually predictable,” Zheng said. “So Trump is irrationally tough [on China], and Biden is rationally tough.”
At the same time, Zheng blamed US domestic problems for the worsening China-US relations.
According to Zheng, the “neoliberal” model of economic development championed by the US has led to divided societies and widened wealth gaps in the West. He pointed to the shrinking middle-class in the US, which he said had fallen from 70 per cent of the population in the 1980s to less than half now.
A polarised US society, in turn, had led to a hostile view about the external world in which China was “victimised”, he continued.
“The deteriorating US-China relationship is the victim of internal problems in the US, and an external reflection of US internal problems,” Zheng said.
As such, it would be naive for Chinese businesses to expect a return to the heyday of globalisation. Many Chinese have benefited from globalisation in the past decades by sourcing components from the US and selling end products in the global market, but this environment will change under big power rivalry between China and the US, according to Zheng.
He cited the example of the telecoms giant Huawei Technologies, which relied on US chips but has been hit by sanctions from Washington, which says the company is a security risk.
China was responding to the changes by focusing on the domestic production of hi-tech products to cut its reliance on imported ones, he added. China’s rush to join regional trade pacts was another approach to secure the country’s position in future global value chains, he added.
President Xi Jinping announced last week that China would actively consider joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement after the country signed the
Zheng also said the tech wars between the two countries might get worse once Biden took office.
“We must have our own technology, we have to reform our system,” he said. “The protection of intellectual property rights is very important, not only in response to Western pressure, not any more. Otherwise, how can we promote independent research and develop local enterprises?”