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China dilemma: Interview with Prof Zhiqun Zhu

By Kourosh Ziabari - posted Friday, 1 June 2012


In order to learn more about the intricacies of China's predominantly growing economy, its foreign policy and its relations with the United States and the Middle East nations, I've interviewed Zhiqun Zhu, associate professor of international relations at the Bucknell University who specializes in Chinese politics and foreign policy and East Asian international relations.

Prof. Zhu is the author of "U.S.-China Relations in the 21st Century" and "China's New Diplomacy."

Mr. Zhu answered my questions regarding China's human rights record, its oscillating relations with the United States, its position on the independence of Taiwan and its ties with the EU and Middle East countries.

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Kourosh Ziabari: Dear Prof. Zhu; to the ordinary people, it seems that the United States and China are constantly in a state of rivalry which sometimes amounts to animosity and hostility. What's the main reason behind this continued rivalry and competition? Does the U.S. consider China a threat to its economic and political supremacy? Does China believe that the U.S. wants to derail its political establishment?

Zhiqun Zhu: The conflict between the US and China is structural. The U.S. is the dominant global power, and China is a rising power. The dominant power always feels uneasy if a new power is challenging its status. This structural conflict marks the current dynamics in U.S.-China relations.

However, I do not think the U.S. government considers China as a threat. China is a challenge, especially economically and militarily. The U.S. welcomes China's peaceful development, and has actually contributed to China's rise in the past 30 years. China also considers its relationship with the US as the most important one in its foreign policy. Of course, in both U.S. and China, there are conservative and nationalistic scholars and politicians who consider each other as the enemy, but that is not the official policy of the two governments. Even the two militaries are friendly and are conducting regular exchanges now.

So in the future, the U.S. and China will continue to cooperate on many international, regional and bilateral issues. At the same time, they will also compete for resources and influence globally such as in the Middle East and Africa. And in Asia, they will compete for power and leadership. Competition and cooperation are the hallmarks of this relationship.

KZ: The Chinese goods and commodities have almost dominated the whole global market. In Iran, at least, we can find a Chinese counterpart for every commodity which the people need; from the foodstuff, medical equipments and handicrafts to industrial accouterments and automobiles. But the people always complain that the quality of Chinese goods is not commendable. Is there any political reason behind this? Is this a large-scale policy of the Chinese government to export low-quality goods to developing countries such as Iran and export the high-quality commodities to its major trade partners such as Canada and EU?

ZZ: In fact, you can hear complains everywhere, including developed countries and within China itself, about the poor-quality of Chinese goods. I do not think China has an agenda here to differentiate its exports. The real challenge for China is to upgrade its industrial structure and improve the quality of its products. China has to climb up the technology ladder and promote innovation and quality control. Perhaps by learning from Japan and South Korea, China can eventually make more high-quality products for export and for domestic consumption.

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KZ: As to what I've noted, the meetings of the U.S. and European officials with the 14th Dalai Lama have usually spurred anger and irritation by the Chinese officials. Has there ever been any effort to settle the dispute between the Chinese government and the separationists of Tibet led by Dalai Lama?

ZZ: Deep suspicion and distrust still exist between the Chinese government and the Dalai Lama. The two sides talked to each other in the past, but the gap remains huge between the two sides. They see Tibet's history, culture, and current political and economic status very differently. China's strategy appears to be waiting for the Dalai Lama to pass away. Like elsewhere inside China, China's current priority in Tibet is to maintain stability while promoting growth.

The government does not consider it a priority now to negotiate with the Dalai Lama or his representatives to narrow the differences between the two sides. Of course the danger of such a wait-and-see strategy is that the Dalai Lama's successors may be more violent and radical and even less willing to cooperate with the Communist Party.

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About the Author

Kourosh Ziabari is an award-winning Iranian journalist, writer and media correspondent. In 2010, he won the presidential medal of Superior Iranian Youth for his media activities. He has also won the first prize of Iran's 18th Press Festival in the category of political articles. He has interviewed more than 200 public intellectuals, academicians, media personalities, politicians, thinkers and Nobel Prize laureates. His articles and interviews have been published in such media outlets as Press TV, Tehran Times, Iran Review, Global Research, Al-Arabiya, Your Middle East, Counter Currents, On Line Opinion and Voltaire Network and translated in Arabic, French, German, Turkish, Italian and Spanish.

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