Scholar: Creating opponents is a strategic demand for the U.S.

Source: China Military OnlineEditor: Yao Jianing
2016-05-31 16:58

BEIJING, May 31 (ChinaMil) -- The Chinese government, as well as people with insight both in China and the U.S., has always sought to find a way to avoid the "Thucydides Trap" between the two countries, but the two countries are under a piling shadow of strategic confrontation because the U.S., as a country outside the South China Sea region, has increasingly interfered in the South China Sea disputes.

In a recent speech given by the U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, he mentioned China 22 times, saying that China could be erecting a "Great Wall of self-isolation".

Hua Chunying, spokesperson of China's Foreign Ministry, responded yesterday that what Carter said reflected typical American thinking and hegemony. "Some from the U.S. side, while living in the 21th century, are still thinking with the Cold War mentality. They seek and create opponents for themselves around the world."

Historically speaking, the U.S. has always wanted a rival or opponent as its strategic "focus". The first "Thucydides Trap" it stepped into was against the United Kingdom. The two of them fought against each other during the American War of Independence, and the U.K. contained the U.S. for a long time since then.

To step out of U.K.'s strategic containment and seek new space for strategic rise, the U.S. launched the Pacific Ocean strategy. When it still took the U.K. as an imaginary strategic opponent, it took Russia, the strongest rival against the U.K., as a comprehensive strategic partner.

After the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895 (launched by Japanese imperialism to annex Korea and invade China), the rising Japan soon took the U.K.'s place to become America's No.1 imaginary opponent, and the two countries fell into a "Thucydides Trap" in the Pacific Ocean.

After WWII, America's biggest opponent was of course the Soviet Union, and the Cold War between them almost led to a third world war.

If we take a look at the American history of more than 200 years, all its strategies were characterized by the need to find an opponent all the time. "The U.S. needs an opponent" seems to have become a strange consensus within the country just like freedom and democracy.

Even after the Soviet Union was disintegrated and the Cold War ended, it continued to "find" or create other opponents. A typical example was that since the Gulf War in 1991 to the present day, the Americans have been unable to find the "weapon of mass destruction", the pretext it used to invade Iraq.

Some Americans believe that as a country of immigrants, the U.S. would have been ruined by the immense internal diversity and disparity if it didn't have an external opponent. Doesn't that sound like the American version of "Survive in Disasters, Perish in Comfort"?

Regarding the function of external opponent as a "coagulator", Sallustius, a politician and historian of ancient Rome, pointed out that after Rome's strong rival Carthage was conquered, the long-term absence of an external threat would lead to Rome's decline and internal disorder.

Famous American political scholar and historian Rostow also said that an external opponent, even just a neighboring country with different political values, would largely enhance a nation's self-identification.

Whether consciously or unconsciously, the U.S. still has the "rigid demand" for an external opponent, and driven by this demand, it has viewed China's rise as "an issue" in itself while using ideology, human rights and other accusations simply as excuses. It's a living proof of "convicting someone for his/her talent or strength".

Whatever China does, even if it tries to take the initiative in improving China-U.S. relations, the U.S. can always find the reason to antagonize it. There may be some more urgent light-weight opponents in that process, but they only take China's place for a while.

America's dependence on an "opponent" contains a dangerous logical trap - the self-fulfilling prophecy. If you want an opponent, the opponent will appear, thus "proving" the prophecy.

Chinese President Xi Jinping said during his state visit to the U.S. in 2015 that "there is no such thing as a "Thucydides Trap" in the world, but if major countries make repeated strategic misjudgments about each other, they may create such a trap for themselves."

China believes the Pacific Ocean is vast enough to accommodate both China and the U.S., but some Americans don't seem to agree to this view. When there is nothing else to meet America's "demand" for an external opponent, its subjective imagination will be very dangerous.

This article is written by Xue Er, an Australian scholar of ethnic Chinese origin.

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