How China Sees America

In a lengthy article in Foreign Affairs (reposted by China U.S. Focus), Andrew J. Nathan of Columbia University and Andrew Scobell of RAND, give an in-depth look at the current U.S.-China relationship by examining how Beijing views the world and in particular the U.S. The article also presents an alternative for the future where both countries, “create a new equilibrium of power that maintains the current world system, but with a larger role for China.” In explaining Beijing’s perspective of the U.S., Nathan and Scobell write:

First, Chinese analysts see their country as heir to an agrarian, eastern strategic tradition that is pacifistic, defense-minded, nonexpansionist, and ethical. In contrast, they see Western strategic culture — especially that of the United States — as militaristic, offense-minded, expansionist, and selfish.

Second, although China has embraced state capitalism with vigor, the Chinese view of the United States is still informed by Marxist political thought, which posits that capitalist powers seek to exploit the rest of the world. China expects Western powers to resist Chinese competition for resources and higher-value-added markets. And although China runs trade surpluses with the United States and holds a large amount of U.S. debt, China’s leading political analysts believe the Americans get the better end of the deal by using cheap Chinese labor and credit to live beyond their means.

Third, American theories of international relations have become popular among younger Chinese policy analysts, many of whom have earned advanced degrees in the United States. The most influential body of international relations theory in China is so-called offensive realism, which holds that a country will try to control its security environment to the full extent that its capabilities permit. According to this theory, the United States cannot be satisfied with the existence of a powerful China and therefore seeks to make the ruling regime there weaker and more pro-American. Chinese analysts see evidence of this intent in Washington’s calls for democracy and its support for what China sees as separatist movements in Taiwan, Tibet, and Xinjiang.

Whether they see the United States primarily through a culturalist, Marxist, or realist lens, most Chinese strategists assume that a country as powerful as the United States will use its power to preserve and enhance its privileges and will treat efforts by other countries to protect their interests as threats to its own security. This assumption leads to a pessimistic conclusion: as China rises, the United States will resist. The United States uses soothing words; casts its actions as a search for peace, human rights, and a level playing field; and sometimes offers China genuine assistance. But the United States is two-faced. It intends to remain the global hegemon and prevent China from growing strong enough to challenge it.

Also watch a video interview with Nathan about the article, which is excerpted from a new book, “China’s Search for Security”:

For other views on U.S.-China relations, see a Reuters column by Mark Leonard, “The great Sino-American divorce,” and an op-ed in the New York TImes by Peter Hays Gries, “Why China Resents Japan, and Us.” Read more on the bilateral relationship via CDT.

[This post originally said the article was published in Foreign Policy, when in fact it was in Foreign Affairs. We apologize for the error.]

Open popup

Welcome back!

CDT is a non-profit media site, and we need your support. Your contribution will help us provide more translations, breaking news, and other content you love.