TOWARDS A SINO-AMERIACAN DUUMVIRATE? A HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE
"Chinese President Xi Jinping acknowledged on Wednesday that China and the United States have shared a good start on bilateral ties. Xi also called on the two sides to handle their relations at a strategic level. "I'm pleased to see the China-US relations have seen a good start since the new leaderships of the two nations came to power," Xi said in his meeting with former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Xi suggested the two sides further intensify high-level exchange and dialogue, sort out common interests and boost cooperation in various fields such as mutual respect, equality and handling their differences well. "The establishment of a new type of inter-power relationship between China and the United States needs an accumulation of dribs and drabs," Xi told Kissinger, proposing the two to step up their pragmatic cooperation and maintain communication and coordination on regional and international issues in an aim to promote bilateral relations to a higher level."Xinhua, "China, US share good start on relations: President Xi." Global Times (English). 25 April 2013, in www.globaltimes.cn
"Even as Chinese trade, companies and investments spread throughout the world and its growing military flexed its muscles, Mr Hu and his administration continued to insist that China was still a poor developing nation with limited capacity to engage on international issues. Since taking over as commander of the military and Communist party general secretary in November, and as president of China in March, the message from Xi Jinping and his comrades has been very different. They seem to be saying that China has now arrived on the world stage and that a more coherent and assertive foreign policy will be part of “the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” – Mr Xi’s defining political concept at home. “China is growing into a bigger and more far-reaching power,” crowed the Global Times, a nationalistic Chinese tabloid, as Mr Xi embarked on the tour of Latin American and Caribbean countries that will take him to California by the end of the week. “The surge of foreign visits shows the confidence and activeness of the new diplomatic initiative,” it said in an editorial. US diplomats say they have had far better access to senior Chinese officials than under the last administration, but that their Chinese counterparts seem obsessed with getting the Americans to acknowledge that the “new type of great power relationship” is one between equals. At the heart of this slogan, just as with the G2 concept it comes from, is the hope that China’s rise will not be accompanied by the friction and war that has marred almost every other moment in history when a rising nation has rubbed up against the incumbent superpower.".Jamil Anderlini, "Global Insight: China’s ‘great power’ call to the US could stir friction." The Financial Times. 4 June 2013, in www.ft.com.
"Throughout these talks...we were treated as partners, unequal no doubt in power but still equal in counsel."Clement Attlee [Washington, DC] to Bevin [London], 10 December 1950, in PREM 8/1200 [copy in my possession].
"The United Kingdom was in a totally different category as far as the United States was concerned, to any other power in the world."John Foster Dulles, quoted by John Colville, in 'Minute', 7 January 1953, in FO371/103519/AU1053/1 [copy in my possession]. The Sino-American 'summit' between the countries two leaders has come and gone. With results which are par for the course for such pre-arranged meetings between leaders: a few meaningless words of agreement are hashed out, and the real crux in the relationships difficulties are either ignored or smoothed over 1. With that being said, I would like to look at and examine from a historical perspective what are the chances of fulfillment and success for the Peoples Republic's recent call for a Great Power relationship of equals. Id est., in short a Duumvirate. The first thing to notice from a historical perspective is that history fails to offer up few if any examples of a Great Power Duumvirate. While history offers of plenty of examples of a Concert of relatively equal Great Powers, especially in 18th and 19th century European history, it does not offer up much in the way of two equal or near equal Great Powers having a friendly or near friendly relationship and or alliance. More often than not, the mere fact that two powers were near equal in power, resulted more often in tensions leading directly to war, rather than friendship. The Anglo-French relationship for most of the 18th century springs immediately to mind, as does the case of Austria and Prussia from 1745 to 1866. However, history does offer up one example of a reasonably tranquil Great Power relationship between equals. Which one? That between Tsarist Russia and the British Empire in the post-bellum Europe from 1815 to 1853. As per the leading historian of 18th and 19th century European diplomacy, Paul Schroeder, this period saw a "shared British and Russian hegemony." A hegemony which could be 'shared' by virtue of the fact that both powers were able to expand in the extra-European world, without immediately conflicting with each other 2. Similarly, history also offers up two examples successful relationships between an 'established' and a 'rising' Great Power. The first was the relationship between the Dutch Republic and Great Britain in the latter part of the 17th century and early 18th century (1688-1714). In which an earlier rivalry was brushed aside in a quest to hold-off the threatened hegemony (real or imagined) of France's Louis XIV. It should be said though that this relationship of equals was for a very limited duration and was only in fact consummated due to the fact that both countries were under the rule of the same monarch (William III) for most of this time period. A shared Protestantism and a fear of French Counter-Reformation Catholicism, also assisted. The other example that history offers up, is that between the United States and United Kingdom in the period roughly from 1941 to 1956. In the words of historian John Darwin:
"The Anglo-American alliance was a remarkable example of a cooperation between a decline Imperial Power (which expected to recover) and its most obvious successor. For a crucial period, both parties accepted the myth of equality and practiced a form of condominium 4".Once again the circumstances in which this 'remarkable example' took place are somewhat unique: successful allies in two wars, a shared language, religion and culture as well as facing for a third time, a shared (diplomatic) adversary (Sovietskaya Vlast). Making for example the importance of such figures as Churchill and Roosevelt less important than certain structural aspects of the interaction between the two powers:
"It is debatable to what extent Roosevelt and Churchill ever really liked or fully understood each other. But it is obvious that they established an unusual degree of personal communication and a reasonable degree of mutual trust. At lower levels, military and official, habits of easy intercourse also took root and many permanent friendships were formed 5".In the case of contemporary Sino-American relations, both of the above referenced examples look to be extremely difficult to replicate or re-produce. First and most importantly, the USA and the PRC have not been allies in any military alliance and or conflict in the past, nor seem likely to become ones in the near future. Similarly, the culture and politics of the two countries, so-called globalization notwithstanding appear to be quite at variance with each other still. Something which in the absence of a political revolution in the PRC which enthrones democracy, or something akin to it, is not likely to change very much. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the re-positioning of the USA diplomatically and militarily to the Pacific / Far East, makes the likelihood of equitable interaction between the two powers so much the harder. As we have seen, one of the key variables for the joint Russo-British hegemony in Europe after 1815, was the fact that both powers were able to expand for much of the period without expanding into each other's sphere as it were. With the so-called 'pivot' by the American Administration, that type of scenario becomes infinitely harder to accomplish. Harder of course, but not impossible. If for example the Americans were to in say the next five to ten years, withdraw its military and diplomatic presence from the Far East proper, id est., Korea, Philippines, Australia, and most importantly Japan, then it would be possible to imagine that indeed an equitable Sino-American relationship might indeed come about. And au fond it is quite likely that, the 'new type of great power relationship' for the PRC means in fact that this type of American withdrawal should take place 6. And, perhaps the change of front by Peking on this issue from its frosty reception of the idea originally back in 2009, when it was the Americans who tentatively floated the idea, is due to the diplomatic sets-backs that the PRC has suffered in the East Asia region in the past three years 7. However, unless there is a sea change in American diplomatic and military thinking, it is difficult to believe that the USA will willingly grant the PRC regional hegemony in what will be in the near future, if not already, the most important economic zone on the planet 8. In the absence of such a change of front by the Americans, I for one cannot well imagine that anything approaching a Duumvirate will ever occur. At least not in our lifetimes. 1. Teddy Ng, "Xi and Obama remain divided despite 'successful' summit." South China Morning Post. 10 June 2013, in "http://www.scmp.com/news/china/article. 2. See: Paul W. Schroeder, "AHR Forum: Did the Vienna Settlement rest on a Balance of Power?" The American Historical Review. (June 1992), pp: 683-706; "AHR Forum: A mild rejoinder." The American Historical Review. (June 1992), pp. 733-735. And, The Transformation of European Politics, 1763-1848. (1994), pp. 577-590, 762-763 and passim. 3. Jonathan I. Israel. The Dutch Republic: Its rise, greatness and fall, 1477-1806. (1995), pp. 841-862 and passim. 4. John Darwin. After Tamerlane. (2008). p. 470. 5. Peter Lowe, "The significance of the Korean War in Anglo-American Relationship, 1950-1953." British Foreign Policy, 1945-1956. Eds. Michael Dockrill & John W. Young. (1989), p. 145. 6. See: Leader, "America and China: the summit." The Economist. 8 June 2013, in www.economist.com. 7. For a ex ante perspective prior to the set-backs of the last three years that Peking has suffered from its neighbors, see: Shaun Breslin, "Understanding China's regional rise." International Affairs (July 2009), pp. 827-835. Amusingly, this article posits that: "the way, therefore that others in the region conceive of and respond to China's rise might become a source of Chinese power and influence in itself". 8. This point is made graphically by the scholar and writer, Aaron L. Friedberg, in his somewhat tendentious, but still quite illuminating book, A contest for Supremacy. Published in 2011, it in effect advocated ex ante facto, the policies which have been subsequently named as 'the pivot', by the current American Administration. In the book (pp. 6-7), Friedberg notes that:
"Since the early part of the twentieth century an axiomatic goal of U.S. foreign policy under both Republican and Democratic administrations has been to prevent the domination of either end of the Eurasian landmass by one or more potentially hostile powers. The reasons for this have always involved a combination of economic, strategic, and ideological considerations. If Western Europe or East Asia were to fall under the sway of by (sic) unfriendly forces, the United States could find itself denied access to markets, technology, and vital resources. A hostile power or coalition might be able to draw on the wealth and military capabilities of the region under its control, using it as a secure base from which to challenge American interests and perhaps even to attack the United States itself".