Beijing should contain the rise of populism and “extreme nationalism” in China, a former senior diplomat has warned, and he said it was wrong to think the United States is in decline.
Yuan Nansheng, vice-president of foreign ministry think tank the China Institute of International Studies, made the remarks in an article outlining what he said were key changes that would reset bilateral relations when the coronavirus pandemic is over.
“In the post-pandemic era, US policy towards China could shift focus to containment and towards a ‘new Cold War’,” he wrote in the article posted on the WeChat account of Peking University’s Institute of International and Strategic Studies on Tuesday.
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“Although it is unlikely that China and the US will go down the road of decoupling, this possibility cannot be eliminated and should be given careful attention,” said Yuan, whose last diplomatic posting was as China’s consul general in San Francisco.
While the foreign ministry has repeatedly pointed out the support Beijing has provided to other countries during the pandemic and accused Washington of being unable to handle the outbreak, Yuan called for a more measured approach.
“Although China has done well in the fight against the pandemic, to see this as a historic opportunity for China’s rise is a strategic misjudgment. If we let populism and extreme nationalism flourish freely in China, the international community could misinterpret this as Beijing pursuing ‘China First’,” Yuan said, referring to US President Donald Trump’s “America First” policy.
The coronavirus, which was first reported in central China, has added to the deepening rift between Beijing and Washington over issues ranging from trade and technology to security and human rights. They were again at loggerheads over responsibility for the pandemic at the United Nations General Assembly last week.
“The pandemic has heavily burdened the American economy, but this does not mean that the Chinese economy will therefore benefit from this opportunity,” Yuan said. “With top-notch technology, the biggest consumer market, financial market and global currency, the US could be the first to walk out of economic crisis and get back on track.”
He added that it was a “misjudgment” to believe that America’s superpower status was on the wane.
Yuan was also sceptical about Trump’s warning of an economic decoupling with China that would see trade and investment scaled back and US manufacturers relocating out of the country, but he said Beijing should be prepared for the worst.
Beijing also needed to be alert to the changing dynamics in the “geopolitical triangle” of China, the US and Russia, according to Yuan. He said Moscow could benefit from the worsening US-China ties, just as Beijing had done from the rift between Russia and the US.
“Decoupling between China and the US would mean that China would become the focus [in the triangle] which would leave little room for Chinese diplomacy,” he said, adding that consideration should be given to how the triangle would evolve if the two countries did decouple.
With relations in free fall, Yuan also suggested Beijing draw on former leader Deng Xiaoping’s foreign policy mantra of “hide your strength, bide your time”.
That would be in stark contrast to the approach of the “Wolf Warrior” Chinese diplomats – a reference to a nationalistic movie franchise popular in China – who have become more strident in their comments in recent years amid the rivalry with the US and as Beijing comes under more scrutiny over its global ambitions.
“Some people think adopting this strategy [of Deng’s] shows weakness – this is a complete misunderstanding … Soldiers flash swords, but in diplomacy put your sword back in its scabbard – it doesn’t have to be revealed for people to know it’s there,” Yuan wrote. “Chinese diplomacy needs to be stronger, not just tougher.”
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This article US-China relations: Beijing should contain ‘extreme nationalism’, ex-diplomat warns first appeared on South China Morning Post