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17 Jun, 2014

Commentary: Is a declining US good for China?

By Chen Weihua

(China Daily)  2014-06-13 – When the Asia Society’s ChinaFile online magazine invited me to discuss whether a declining United States is good for China, my feeling was the question was loaded and confusing. Loaded because it seems to assume that Chinese will celebrate a declining US, given the sensational headlines of strategic rivalry between the two nations we see so often in the news media.

Is a declining US good for China?

Yes. There are Chinese who might jubilate over a declining US, just as there are those in the US who are eager to see China go bust. But that is by no means the majority in both nations.

But first we should clarify whether the question refers to an absolute decline or a relative decline. These are starkly different questions and will get different answers.

An absolute decline of the US, in my view, is not happening because the US economy is still growing and its military is stronger and better equipped than ever. That is also true in many other sectors, such as education and technology.

But a relative decline of the US is already taking place with the rise of countries such as China, India, Brazil and many other developing nations. Such a relative decline will become increasingly prominent in the coming decades as emerging economies continue to expand at a faster pace than the US.

An absolute decline of the US would not serve China’s interests, because China has benefited enormously from a strong US in growing its economy, education, technology and various other sectors in the past 30 years of reform and opening-up. The US’ relative decline will continue in the coming decade, but an absolute decline would not benefit China much.

Now the question becomes whether the relative decline of the US is good for China and other emerging economies. The answer now is a definite yes.

And the US has also reaped fruits from the rise of China in the last three decades.

The relative decline of the US means that not only has China lifted more people out of poverty, but also there are more middle-class Chinese, who can afford to travel to the US and send their children to American universities. And there is more Chinese investment in the US. That has been happening and has been warmly welcomed by the state and city governments in the US.

In fact, the relative decline of the US means it is not just China, India and Brazil that have become stronger, but all nations; and that is something worth celebrating.

It also leads to the question of whether the US is willing to share power with the rising rest.

The US’ anxiety about losing its global dominance and leadership is obvious.

The phrase “American leadership” was repeated time and again in President Barack Obama’s speech at West Point on May 28 and National Security Advisor Susan Rice’s talk at a security forum in Washington this Wednesday.

At Wednesday’s security forum, Wolfgang Ischinger, a former German ambassador to the US, pointed out that leadership, if not by force, needs trust and credibility, and that trust between the US and Europe has been damaged, following the revelations of the National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.

Ischinger also called on the US and Europe to work with China and other countries to reform global institutions such as the United Nations Security Council, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to adapt to the changing world.

I guess many Chinese would welcome the US leadership, so long as that leadership was not just in its own interests and it was not being used to rally other nations against China, especially when bilateral relations have hit a low point.

The author, based in Washington, is deputy editor of China Daily USA. chenweihua@chinadailyusa.com