Thursday, May 30, 2024

Sino-US heat could be defused –Only if this man is heard

Such are the power of his thoughts that one is beholden to his utterances or writing.

You might be stumped though.

The name Shen Dingli doesn’t strike a chord.

Oh. He is a Chinese: that must be the reason.

Stumped again.

He is widely available in English.

Okay, then what’s so special about him?

Let’s review his views on Sino-US relations and we could probably come to an agreement.

At the end of this piece, chances are you would like to know more about him and scrape the internet for more by him.

Sino-US Relations-The future: America is in relative decline. The trend will intensify. Its disregard for international law, especially through its war on Iraq, has damaged its legitimacy for global leadership.

Meanwhile, economically, US GDP’s world share is slipping. By 2016, it will be in second place in terms of China’s purchasing power parity (PPP); by 2020-2025 in terms of China’s official exchange rate. America’s space to manoeuvre would thus be reduced. Defence budgets slashed. The trend would continue over the next decade. China meanwhile will keep doubling its military budget every four to six years.

The mounting US debt, the shrinking economy and the declining role of the US dollar per se, all indicate that by 2030, America will have lost its sole superpower status. China would have established itself as a co-superpower—better GDP, parity in defence spending, the education infrastructure and social safety network more robust.

How US would react to a looming China: United States will remain fundamentally opposed to multipolar system, unless they start viewing themselves other than a “City Upon A Hill.” They will resist anyone, China included, from sharing its leadership. They might agree to engage with China for the development of a multipolar order—but only out of necessity, not out of choice. It would clearly affect the global security.

South China Sea Narrative: Suspicions between the two would abound. China would think why US has moved its pivot to Asia; US would worry if China’s military modernization is in line with its international commitment, especially to the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of Sea (UNCLOS) which allows Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia respective exclusive economic zones (EEZs), thereby denying China’s claim of the right to tap maritime economic resources in some of these exclusive area. China on its part is deeply concerned about the US shift to a pro-Japan position in the China-Japan sovereignty dispute over the Diaoyu Islands. Such deep mutual suspcisions and subsequent hedging, if poorly managed, could lead to a serious crisis escalation.

A bit of background first. China officially claimed all rocks within its nine-dashed lines (9DLs) in 1947 when none of the other regional stated had as yet claimed any of them and when none of them officially were opposed to the Chinese action. In fact, a number of them actually accepted and even supported China’s claims.

The Philippines till 1997 didn’t consider Huangyan Island (Scarborough Shoal) a part of its sovereign territory. All its five constitutions till 1997 viewed Luzon Island as its westernmost territory, which is 130 nautical miles easy of Huangyan Island. North Vietnam officially admitted in many ways, till its unification with the South in 1975, that Nansha Islands (Spartly Islands) and Xisha Islands (Paracel Islands) belong to China.

There have been two types of problems since then. First, Vietnam, the Philippines negated their words by occupying some of these islands in the first place which caused the tension. Malaysia took a similar action. Second, China joined the UNCLOS in 1982 only to find later that its neighbours along the South China Sea had their EEZs overlap the 9DLs to varying degrees.

Now China has demanded that its traditional fishing/seabed rights within the 9DLs-bound South China Sea should not be compromised by the creation of EEZs of its neighbours. This has generated disputes with other claimants. The only way this tension could be diffused is if other countries should quit the islands they have occupied. And China follows the UNCLOS agreement as the basis for dealing with its rights in the EEZ/9DL overlapping area.

Professor Shen Dingli is Vice President of the Chinese Association of South Asian Studies, the Shanghai Association of International Studies, and the Shanghai Association of American Studies.  He received his PhD in physics from Fudan in 1989 and did post-doctoral research in arms control at Princeton University from 1989 to 1991.Presently he teaches international relations at Fudan University, located in Shanghai, China and one of the most prestigious and selective universities in China and Asia.

The above piece is a condensed, revised version of an interview conducted by Emeritus Professor Joseph Camilleri, La Trobe University for  the website,

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