US-China competition needs to be civil

Wang Wen

During his press conference on the sidelines of the ongoing two sessions, Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi said, it is not surprising that there is competition between China and the US as their interests are intertwined, but the two sides should have healthy competition on the basis of fairness and equity. Many people may have not yet perceived the subtleties of this crucial statement.

For a long time, China’s diplomatic policymakers have been avoiding topics related to competition with the US. However, Wang’s statement means China has publicly made it clear that the scenario of the China-US competition for global leading role has been taking shape, although China may not necessarily wish for such competition and is hoping for more cooperation.
It is also a response to the Interim National Security Strategic Guidance, issued on March 3 by US President Joe Biden’s administration. It describes China as “the only competitor potentially capable of combining its economic, diplomatic, military and technological power to mount a sustained challenge to a stable and open international system.”
Over the past 20 years, the US strategic definition of China has been swaying among “partner,” “competitor” and “rival.” During his first major foreign policy speech on March 3, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken listed eight priorities for US diplomacy, stressing China is US’ “biggest geopolitical test.” It mirrors the fact that the US strategic positioning of China is no longer vague or swaying. It is clear-cut now: China is US’ No.1 competitor.

After 20 years of contact, games, friction and even low-intensity conflicts, the US no longer treats China as a partner, but a primary competitor. How would China respond?
In English, competition is not necessarily a bad thing. Among the words that could measure ties between any two countries, there are at least five Cs: cooperation, coordination, competition, confrontation and conflict. Competition is neutral.

Over the past 40 years of reform and opening-up, especially the 20 years since the 21st century, China’s economy, trade, finance, industry and culture are rising rapidly. An important reason for that is: China has been facing competition squarely. It has been embracing the international competition, re-understanding the world through competition, learning from its competitors, catching up with them in some sectors, and making progress together with others in other fields.

The Chinese people in the new era are supposed to be more confident. They are not supposed to turn pale at the mention of competition, or associate competition with strategic confrontation and conflicts.
Even if China adopts competition as its strategic positioning of the US, it won’t exclude the possibilities of cooperating with the US. Hegemony will never be China’s choice – even when the country become stronger. China will not bully other countries. It is pursuing a path of healthy competition with major powers.

As far as I am concerned, the new type of major power competition, or healthy competition, includes at least four categories. First, the competition for model, which focuses on governance of domestic affairs. Or in other words, it is a competition to see which country can better meet their people’s ever-growing needs for a better life and can provide experience to other developing countries.
Second, the competition of cooperation, which focuses on which country has the stronger capability to organize and promote bilateral and multilateral cooperation, helping to boost vaccination coverage, and to realize economic recovery, technological innovation, poverty alleviation, etc, in the post-pandemic era.

Third, the competition of dividends focuses on which country can offer more impetus to world economic growth, promote global trade and investment, as well as peace and stability.
Fourth, the competition of vision, focuses on which country has more far-sighted views to resolve the polarization between the rich and the poor, ethical challenges posed by intelligent technologies and deteriorating ecology, leading mankind to the next era of civilization.

As long as the competition is fair and square, China has no reason to refuse, fear or avoid it. The Charter of the UN was signed in 1945 with the five permanent members of the UN Security Council playing the role as the core in major power coordination. The move was an attempt to create a more advanced major power competition.
The future competition between China and the US should also be more civilized than any major power competition in the past. And it should reflect the progress of humankind.

The author is professor and executive dean of Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China.