National Interest: Is Washington willing to negotiate peaceful coexistence with China?


Researcher and former US intelligence official Paul Hare believes that the recent negative path in US-Chinese relations highlights a very important question:

Is it still possible to achieve peaceful coexistence between the two countries?

Or is the United States and China destined to witness mutually hostile relations?

What goal can still be pursued by reviving substantive diplomacy between Beijing and Washington?

Hare, a non-resident senior fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, and former US intelligence official for East Asia, explains in a report published by the National Interest magazine that the repeated allegations that a new “Cold War” has begun to emerge clearly reminiscent of an American-Soviet precedent.

Although there are many differences between that outdated example and current US-China relations, there are lessons to be learned from this comparison.

Many such lessons can be gleaned from University of Connecticut history professor Frank Costigliola’s new biography of George Kennan, the pioneer of America’s policy of containment of the Soviet Union.

One of the main themes in the book is Kennan’s failure during the last half of his life to convince his successors of policymakers in Washington that containment is not intended to be a military strategy, but is intended to be a prerequisite for negotiating the terms of achieving peaceful coexistence between the United States and the Soviet Union.

According to Costigliola, since the beginning of the Cold War, Kennan sought to put an end to it through “serious diplomacy” aimed at reaching “an honorable settlement that reduces tension” between Moscow and Washington, thus preventing any armed conflict.

Kennan’s main proposal was military disengagement in Europe by both the United States and the Soviet Union, which he believed would defuse or avoid the inevitable US-Soviet rivalry.

Kennan was focused on what he saw as a constraint on American power and what kind of accommodation it would take with the Soviets so that the United States could devote sufficient attention and resources to dealing with domestic American challenges.

In short, Kennan advocated a combination of “patience, sacrifice, and restraint”.

If Kennan failed in his efforts to persuade Washington and Moscow to overcome the interactive dynamic between them and reach a diplomatic modus operandi that might have mitigated or ended the Cold War, the question now is whether the opportunity remains for Washington and Beijing to negotiate a similar modus operandi before the relentlessly competitive side of their relationship leads to another Cold War, or worse.

Hare says Keenan warned that misattributions of motives and false assumptions about hostility can be self-fulfilling.

It seems that US-China relations are moving in this direction now.

And if there were missed opportunities to improve US-Chinese relations during the Cold War, perhaps opportunities to put US-China relations on a less hostile level and on a more positive path are now being missed.

It may be true that achieving mutually beneficial relations and peaceful coexistence between the United States and China is as far off today as Kennan’s vision was for the United States to achieve an “honorable settlement” with the Soviet Union fifty years ago.

Given the levels of mutual mistrust and the domestic politics of Washington and Beijing, it may not be possible to achieve strategic sympathy in the two countries.

The leaders of the two countries may not be willing to take the risk of reaching a mutual accommodation, especially if they have already determined that doing so would be futile.

Hare asked, Are they willing to take the risk of not doing it, or of refusing to do it?

Both countries seem to appreciate that they are entering their rivalry from a position of strength, if not believing that they have the upper hand.

But they almost certainly overestimate their own strength and underestimate the strength of the other.

Washington, in particular, runs the risk of ignoring the significant difference between China today and the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

Hare asserted that China is now a competitor, a true equal to the United States, and enjoys global economic power and diplomatic influence far beyond what the Soviet Union could have.

Thus, it is destined for Beijing and Washington to have overlapping spheres of influence, and to possess the ability and strength to resist the will of each other.

Under these new historical circumstances, some form of accommodation is almost certainly the alternative to inevitable conflict.

Each party must realize this and no party should exclude the other party’s willingness to realize it.

For these reasons, Kennan’s idea of ​​”serious diplomacy” for peaceful coexistence deserves more thought and urgency than it did fifty years ago.

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