At last week’s APEC summit in Manila, President Barack Obama sharply criticized China for building artificial islands in the disputed waters of the South China Sea. But instead of calling out China, Obama should have taken the opportunity to reconsider Chinese President Xi Jinping’s proposal for a “new type of major-power relationship.”
The Obama administration was concerned when Xi first raised this concept in 2012 when he was still China’s vice president. Does that mean that China expects to share power equally with the United States? What signal would that send to U.S. allies?
In his 2013 meeting with Obama, Xi Jinping defined the “new type of major-power relationship” as “no confrontation, mutual respect, and win-win cooperation.” This proposition marks a break away from the zero-sum game mentality, and serves American interests as well as the interests of the world.
However, all Xi Jinping’s benevolent messages such as “win-win,” “shared future,” and “interdependence” are falling on deaf ears. Americans tend to view anything the Chinese say with suspicion, perhaps for good reason. China has repeatedly claimed that it will never pursue hegemony. Yet, the Communist Party itself is the hegemon within China. Beijing has a lot of work to do in order to convince the international community that it would behave differently on the world stage.
For the U.S., however, embracing the “new type of major-power relationship” does not diminish American leadership, nor does it mean that the U.S. needs to share power with China equally.