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[Wang Son-taek] Global interests and the US-China summit

Nov. 16, 2023 - 05:36 By Korea Herald

It is very welcome that US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping met at the APEC summit in San Francisco. The fact that the summit was held can be a success this time because the negative opinions of the US and China on the other side are strong. However, when looking at the dialogues between the two, we find that the approaches of both sides are short-sighted, narrow, and reactionary. If they want a practical solution for peaceful coexistence, they must take a long-term vision, global perspective, and initiating attitude. If the two countries' leaders accept the new approaches, a concept of "global interest" could emerge, creating a situation that is welcomed by all people around the world, not only the United States and China.

Global interests are the common concerns people share worldwide beyond national interests. Examples might include climate change, war and terrorism, infectious diseases, and economic stability. The first step to obtaining a global interest is that the United States and China consider both short-term and long-term calculations simultaneously. In the US, many experts argue that imposing economic pressure on China and forcing diplomatic isolation will put President Xi Jinping into submission or brake on China's development. However, it should also be noted that this naive approach shifts President Xi Jinping's responsibility for the failure of economic and social policies domestically to unfair pressure from the United States and provides a scenario for strengthening his leadership. China can also put sanctions on the US companies in China. Those sanctions may help ease anger, but the possibility of foreign direct investment and Chinese economic development decreases.

For the United States, developing foreign policy only by looking at China is impossible. The US has to address the war between Russia and Ukraine and the war between Israel and Hamas. To do so, managing the competition with China in an orderly manner becomes an urgent task, and dialogue with China becomes an essential procedure. China can continue its economic development trend only when relations with the United States are maintained smoothly. While the US and China hurt each other, the national power gap between superpowers and other great powers will narrow as other great powers such as Japan, Germany, the UK, France, Russia, Korea, and India build their national capabilities. It is a long-term inconvenient scenario for both countries.

Secondly, the US and China should pursue global and national interests together. It is well known that the US is a hegemon, but it is not well known that the US has the status of a global hegemon for the first time in human history. During the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union were called hegemonic powers but their hegemony was limited to within their camps. Before the Cold War, around five European countries including the UK, France, Spain, and the Netherlands enjoyed special status similar to hegemonic nations, but many competing great powers existed.

Since the dissolution of the former Soviet Union in December 1991, the United States has become the only hegemonic power in the global community. The United States became a country where national and global interests coincide, which is still valid. Nevertheless, it is necessary to understand that if the US focuses only on US national interests and disregards global interests, the international order will be disrupted, and the profits it has taken to maintain order as a hegemonic country will be lost, too. Former President Donald Trump concentrated only on the American profit and the world was embarrassed. President Biden is trying to restore the US-led world order, but it seems that he has got to overcome difficulties if he is to do so.

China should also value global interests. If you look at the national economy, China already has a vast enough scale to challenge the United States. Regardless of China's intentions, the international community, including the United States, must recognize China as a potential hegemonic challenger. Under such circumstances, if China focuses only on its interests and ignores global interests, all countries worldwide might try to suppress China's national development. So, China faces the task of proving that its development has no adverse impact on the global community. If the task is not carried out properly, China cannot avoid unnecessary checks and obstacles.

Lastly, the United States and China should pursue policy initiatives rather than reactions against the other side. If the United States tries to directly pressure and isolate China just because it is rapidly increasing its national capacity, it is merely a reaction. The US is trying to divide the global community into democratic and authoritarian camps and isolate China, and it is a reaction, too. Because of the mere reactions, the US's conceptual status would fall from the global hegemon to one of the great powers. The best method for the US is to set global rules and persuade other nations, including China, to obey the rules. The content is the same as sanctions or pressure, but in terms of justification, there is a difference in that the US is not in the form of pressuring China, and the US leads the compliance with the global order. China also needs to support maintaining a stable global order and norms. Of course, from the perspective of China, it would be wise to gradually make diplomatic efforts to reflect China's interests as the existing norms. That should be another kind of China policy initiative that synchronizes global and national interests for their terms.

If the US and Chinese leaders take a long-term vision, global perspective, and initiative attitude, they will get a more vital tool to persuade the domestic hard-liners who argue that they need more pressure and sanctions against the other side and increase the possibility of getting the coexistence and prosperity under the concept of global interests.

Wang Son-taek

Wang Son-taek is a director for the Global Policy Center at the Hanpyeong Peace Institute. He is a former diplomatic correspondent at YTN and a former research associate at Yeosijae. The views expressed here are his own. -- Ed.