Note: The following is an edited translation of a commentary from the Chinese-language "Commentaries on International Affairs."
United States Vice President Mike Pence recently delivered a speech in which he made a variety of unwarranted accusations about China’s domestic and foreign policies, further cooling China-U.S. relations. China has sternly refuted these allegations, with the Foreign Ministry stating "this is nothing but speaking on hearsay evidence, confusing right and wrong and creating something out of thin air." Even some of America’s former Secretaries of State are refusing to stand silently by. Recently, Colin Powell, the first African-American to serve as Secretary of State under George W. Bush, along with Madeleine Albright, the first female U.S. Secretary of State under Bill Clinton, were interviewed together by CNN's Fareed Zakaria. Both made it clear that China is not an enemy of the United States, and suggested that the United States should not create a Cold War situation with China.
"There is no question that China is the rising power, some of it because of their own history and their capabilities, some of it because we have left a vacuum and are not playing the role that I think we should be playing," said Albright. Colin Powell went even further. "Now it sort of comes down to a trade war, the last thing you need with anybody is a trade war. And we have to remember that the people who would pay for this added cost that's gonna be created are the consumers of the United States of America, who're buying high-quality low-cost Chinese goods. I think it's wonderful that Chinese have 300,000 students here. And now I hear that the White House is thinking about not letting them come anymore. I tell you who you will hear from. You will hear college presidents, like you wouldn't believe, is that they pay full fare," said Powell.
Powell is no stranger to high-level diplomacy, having served as the National Security Advisor, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Secretary of State. He has a deep understanding of the U.S.-China military situation, and of the importance of diplomatic cooperation. This is why he advocates solving problems through dialogue. Powell spoke of how he responded to a collision of an American and a Chinese plane above the South China Sea. He emphasized the need for mutual respect rather than threats, and of avoiding an escalation that would lead to a crisis. In his view, the Trump White House is clearly lacking a China strategy. He suggests that the Pentagon has now identified China, Russia, and certain other countries as adversaries, almost enemies of the United States. Powell warns against this type of positioning: "China is not an enemy in that sense," said Powell. "Let's find ways to talk and engage, recognizing that not everybody is like the United States," he added.
As a pioneer of America’s engagement with China, another former Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, also has a deep understanding of the current situation. At a gala event to mark the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Wilson Center last month, Kissinger pointed out in a conversation with former U.S. Ambassador to China, J. Stapleton Roy, that the United States and China are two countries that believe they have an exceptional nature in the conduct of policy. He suggested that each is strong enough to create situations around the world in which they can impose their preferences. The United States can do this on the basis of its political system of democratic constitutionalism, and China can do it on the basis of an evolution that goes back at least to Confucius and centuries of unique practice.
Kissinger said he visualizes China as a potential partner in the construction of a stronger world order, but that if this process does not succeed, the two sides will be in a position of conflict, a situation both sides need to avoid. He has also warned that the United States should not find allies around the world with which to confront China, but adding that "neither China nor America needs allies to fight each other."
"The peace and prosperity of the world depend on whether China and the United States can find a method to work together, not always in agreement, but to handle our disagreements. But also, to develop goals which bring us closer together and enable the world to find a structure," said Kissinger. "The issue is not victory, here. The issue is continuity, and world order, and world justice, and to see whether our two countries can find a way of talking about it to each other," Kissinger added.
Kissenger also pointed out that China has a conceptual approach to policy. "They look at it as a process, going back to a certain period and going forward indefinitely. Americans are very pragmatic, and when American and Chinese negotiators meet, they usually have two different agendas. The Americans have a list of things that they want to fix in the immediate future. The Chinese have an objective towards which they want to work," said Kissinger. In the end, the Nobel Laureate's view is straightforward: Both China and the US can learn from each other, and also need to learn from each other.