Shortly after US President Obama and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard sealed the bilateral defense deal in November 2011 under which 2500 US marines will be stationed bubble football suits in Australia came Obama’s announce- ment on January 5 2012 of the new strategic defense guidance entitled Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for the 21st Century Defence. The document claims that China’s rise might have impact on the US econ- omy and security, and that countries such as China and Iran continue to pursue asymmetric means of countering US power projection capabilities.1 Both the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Defense refuted these claims, arguing that not a shred of evidence exists to support such wild accusations.2 Many media reports nevertheless argue that compe- tition between the United States and China amounts to a new Cold War.3
Different Views of Trends in Sino–US Relations
The conflict between China and the United States at the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Talks gave rise to the mainstream view within US academic circles that Sino–US ties are worsening. Paul Pedrozo and Seth Cropsy argued that competition between China and the United States was a necessary outcome of China’s naval modernization.4 Robert Kaplan, meanwhile, contended that China’s growing military capacities and economic power made heigh- tened tensions in Sino–US relations inevitable.5 Thomas Christensen holds that relations between the two countries will come under stress as China shifts towards a hard-line policy with respect to its sovereignty and territor- ial claims.6 While in 2010 US academics blamed China for the deterioration in Sino–US relations, Chinese scholars regarded the worsening of ties in 2011 as obviously a result of the Obama Administration’s beefing-up of its pivot strategy in the bubble football equipments Asia Pacific region. Scholars are nonetheless split on whether the pivot constitutes a strategy adjustment or a tactical adjust- ment. Those arguing the former predict long-term competition between China and the United States; those who see it as a tactical adjustment regard the deterioration in Sino–US ties as temporary, that is to say, Obama’s pivot strategy in the Asia Pacific region is part of his 2012 electoral strategy that he will drop after the elections and revert to his 2009 policy towards China. We identify three distinct views regarding the future of Sino–US relations.
Pessimists argue that Sino–US relations are entering a new Cold War period. Henry C. K. Liu suggests that a new Cold War is brewing between China and the United States, but that it is more geopolitically framed than ideologically based, albeit couched in residual ideological polemic.7 William Jones goes as far as to expect conflict between China and the United States to culminate in a third world war.8 Yongnian Zheng also considers that East Asia is headed towards a new Cold War dynamic that has prompted devel- opments on the Korean Peninsula.9 Mearsheimer holds that it is not possible for China to rise peacefully. He argues that ‘if China continues its impressive economic growth over the next few decades, the United States and China are likely to engage in an intense security competition with considerable poten- tial for war. Most of China’s neighbours, to include India, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Russia, and Vietnam, will join with the United States to con- tain China’s power.’10 Lawrence S. Wittner even infers the possibility of nuclear war.11
Those more optimistic about the future of Sino–US relations are bubble football suits and primarily Chinese scholars, who generally believe that it is possible for China and the United states to avoid a new Cold War. Wu Jianmin argues that China will not as a matter of national policy enact the role of a hegemon, but follow the historical trend of peace, development and cooperation and absolutely reject war, competition and conflict. Under no circumstances, therefore, will China enter into a new Cold War with the United States.12 Wang Jisi has long held that while China and the United States will not become allies, nor will a crisis in their ties arise of an extent amounting to Cold War.13 Wang argues that the structural contradictions that appeared between China and the United States in 2010 are attributable to the narrowing gap in their respective comparative capacities which, conversely, have driven them fur- ther apart in terms of mutual understanding. Major issues such as Taiwan, the Korean Peninsula and the exchange rate have had escalating negative impact on Sino–US ties and created higher levels of strategic suspicion rather than mutual strategic trust.14 This implies that as long as the United States and China bolster strategic trust they can prevent their bilat- eral relationship from slipping into a Cold War scenario.
As distinct from these pessimists and optimists, we, together with a number of colleagues, argue that United States’ pivot towards the Asia Pacific represents a strategy adjustment. Competition between China and the United States will consequently grow, but this does not meet the criteria for a Cold War.15 We characterize the United States and China as ‘super- ficial friends’, and argue that as such they have a highly volatile relationship, apparent in shifts between good and bad periods.16 As, at least for the meantime, China and the United States have no desire to abandon their strategy of superficial friendship, the conditions necessary for a Cold War are not present. For example, although Obama supports a new defense strategy whose focus is on containing China, he purposely avoided any mention of China at the time he announced this new policy at the Department of Defense.17 Moreover, four days after the announcement, Obama sent Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner to China to seek Beijing’s support of US sanctions against Iran.18 As China and the United States will not for the time being abandon their superficial friendship strat- egy, Sino–US relations will hence not teeter towards Cold War.
Alastair Iain Johnston argues that the classic security dilemma theory can be used to explain US–China relations, and that there is no need for a theory of superficial friendship.19 What he does not acknowledge is that the security dilemma theory can explain why relations between China and the United States have deteriorated, but not why they can subsequently improve, whereas the concept of superficial friendship explains both sides of this particular coin, thus effectively accounting for the volatility of Sino–US relations. Pessimists and optimists do not share our expectations regarding future trends in Sino–US relations because they do not fully perceive the nature of the superficial friendship between the two countries, in particular, its character–strategy duality. Deterioration in bilateral ties is attributable to the characteristics or nature of superficial friends; improvements in relations are attributable to the strategy employed by the countries to maintain their superficial friendship.
Superficial friendship is epitomized by character–strategy duality. To under- stand this, we might consider the balance of power—a familiar concept among scholars of international relations and one also characterized by duality. A ‘balance’ is both a characteristic and a strategy. Balance refers to a situation under which there is power parity among great states or co- alitions of states. Measures to achieve balance are apparent in the strategic behavior of states aimed at hedging against the power of other states.20 Similarly, the concept of superficial friendship implies a state of bilateral relations as well as a strategy.
The state to which superficial friendship refers is one where neither one of two parties regards the other as a strategic partner, but where both claim a strategic partnership. In their cooperation, bubble football suits each party is solely concerned with the individual benefits to be obtained. Neither of the bubble football buy parties cares whether the other gains or loses as a result of the cooperation, and might even regard achieving benefits at the expense of the other party as reason- able. When one party cannot achieve its objectives in the course of cooper- ation, it will be disappointed and express discontent, blame the other party, or retaliate by not cooperating, causing a deterioration in relations. For example, China and the United States see one another as trade partners, yet in the face of a trade imbalance, the United States presses China to appreciate the Renminbi solely to enhance United States’ benefits with re- spect to employment, thus exacerbating China’s difficulties vis-a`-vis exports.21
A superficial friendship strategy refers to two parties’ exaggerating the nature of their bilateral friendship and paying lip service to the improvement of relations in order to expand the expected value of future cooperation and so temporarily improve bilateral relations. The escalating frequency of summit meetings between China and the United States is a classic example of this strategy. Since January 2009, when Obama took office, to the November 2011 APEC meeting in Hawaii, Hu Jintao and Obama met on a total nine occasions in 22 months—on average once every 10 weeks. Such frequent gatherings make it impossible for any single meeting to produce a substantive outcome, but do delay occurrences of conflicts between the two countries. When I visited the United States in November of 2011, I told a number of State Department Officials that too many summits would make substantive cooperation unachievable, so rendering such meetings pointless.
At the time, not a single official agreed with me. They all argued that even though the meetings might not produce substantive cooperation agreements, they still played a positive role. This view is also broadly held among Chinese diplomats. The leaders in both China and the United States meet so frequently without expectation of achieving any substantive outcome hence implies the use of a superficial friendship strategy.
The characteristics of superficial friendship determine that nations will not engage in sincere cooperation, and that conflicts of interests between them will occasionally result in a deterioration of bilateral relations. By adopting a superficial friendship strategy, two nations can temporarily ease conflicts and bring about a short-term enhancement of bilateral relations. The re- spective effects of the state of superficial friendship and of the strategy of superficial friendship hence work in opposing directions, in the same way as the state of balance of power and the balance of power strategy work in opposition to one another. When comparing the effects of balance of power and of superficial friendship, therefore, it should be clear that both work according to a reverse dynamic. The state of balance of power plays the role of maintaining stability in bilateral relations, whereas the strategy pursuing balance generates tensions in bilateral relations, as one power seeks to gain advantage over a rival. On the other hand, the state of superficial friendship creates conflicts, and is hence the strategy that helps guide Sino–US relations back towards friendship. The state and strategy of superficial friendship has an internal unity.
Certain US scholars understand the theory of superficial friendship solely from the vantage point of its characteristics; they have not considered the explanatory power of the theory from the dualistic perspective of both char- acter and strategy. As they perceive the character of superficial friendship solely as one that causes deterioration in Sino–US relations, and do not acknowledge that the superficial friendship strategy can enhance Sino–US ties, these scholars argue that the classic security dilemma theory explains the deterioration of the relationship, so precluding the need to explicate a superficial friendship theory. Below, we focus on points that Alastair Iain Johnston raises in his recently published critique of my theory of superficial friendship.
Johnston says: ‘Yan’s basic hypothesis appears to be that superficial friendship generates excessive disappointment due to excessive optimism. This, in turn, accounts for the ups and downs in the US–China relationship, particularly since the end of the Cold War.’22 Obviously, Johnston does not realize that the ups of Sino–US relations result from the strategy of super- ficial friendship adopted by these two countries, and that the downs are caused by the nature of superficial friendship between them.
Although very cautious, Johnston’s psychological critique still leaves room for discussion. Based on David E. Bell’s research, he argues that ‘[A]fter series of disappointments actors will revise their expectations in more pessimistic directions. Thus, one should see more conflictual (though perhaps more stable) relations with interlocutors over time.’23 David E. Bell’s article researches the psychology of consumers when selecting prod- ucts.24 Whereas research on consumer psychology is about relations among economic interests, Sino–US relations cover the three areas of economics, politics and security. From 1990 to 2011, Sino–US economic relations were obviously much better than Sino–US political or security relations. Deterioration in Sino–US ties over that time were mainly the result of pol- itical or security issues, and economic interests helped to enhance relations between the two countries during this period. Moreover, the key assumption in research on consumer psychology—that actors seek to maximize bene- fits—differs from what happens in Sino–US relations, where interlocutors look at both absolute and relative benefits. For example, although the United States desperately needs to increase employment, the US government nevertheless continues to restrict Chinese investment in the United States to prevent China from controlling United States’ strategic economic sectors. This is a classic example of a policy targeting relative benefits. Hu Jintao requested at the 2011 APEC summit in Hawaii that Obama ease political restrictions on Chinese investment, but there was no progress on the matter.25 Using consumer psychology to analyze the diplomatic policy of states is thus problematic. Johnston admits: ‘Of course, exuberance, disap- pointment, and shattered expectations are characteristics of the psychology of people and small groups, not nations or states.’26
Johnston further argues: ‘Mere dissatisfaction does not necessarily lead to proactive, conflictual, responses. Rather, disappointment often results in passivity, based on a feeling of helplessness, rather than a more aggressive or angry response.’27 He also notes: ‘[P]eople are more likely to concede to another side if that other side expresses disappointment rather than no emo- tion at all.’28 It would seem, though, that his point of view perfectly illus- trates that a superficial friend can opt not to cooperate, or to protest in order to express dissatisfaction, the difference between non-cooperation and pro- test being that each causes different extents of deterioration in relations. When one party expresses dissatisfaction, this implies that bilateral ties have deteriorated. If his interlocutor makes a concession, the negative im- pacts are short-lived, and relations go through a short cycle of deterioration followed by rapprochement. The impacts of such a disturbance are thus relatively limited. If, on the other hand, the interlocutor does not make a concession, the deterioration of relations might be more permanent. By the time one party recognizes that a policy of confrontation will not result in concessions and adopts a strategy of superficial friendship to improve ties, the other party will respond with a superficial friendship strategy, so achiev- ing enhancement of relations. The resultantly lengthy cycle of deterioration– improvement in relations, however, generally leads to a serious disruption of ties. This explains why levels of instability between superficial friends tend to vary so much over time.
For any given issue, bubble football buy the degree of influence superficial friendship has on the policies of the two parties will vary depending largely on how much impact the issue has on the respective parties’ interests. The party that bene- fits more or loses least is always more proactive in adopting a superficial friendship strategy to improve relations than the party that benefits less or loses more. For example, when in 1999 the US Army bombed the PRC Embassy in Belgrade, China demanded a formal apology from the United States. Because the US government was unwilling to offer a formal apology, the bilateral relations between the two states seriously deteriorated. As China was the victim in this case, we can assess the sincerity of the US apology based on the extent to which it was formal. The United States, which caused the harm, was naturally not willing to make a formal apology, and did not regard as important whether or not the apology was formal. A bi-national public opinion survey asking: ‘If the United States had adopted another means of handling the bombing of the Embassy, would China’s reaction have been more moderate and kept Sino–US relations from suffer- ing so much damage?’ showed that 86% of US respondents believed China’s reaction would not have been more moderate, while 57% of Chinese re- spondents believed that it would have.29 Generally speaking, the party that is not injured or that benefits will proactively adopt a superficial friend- ship strategy to improve relations, while the injured party, or the one that feels disappointed, will respond with a superficial friendship strategy after its interlocutor has proactively made improvements. (Figure 1)
We can see from Figure 1 that superficial friends have two strategic op- tions. They are: ‘not cooperate’ and ‘superficial signal of friendship’. Should one party respond to the other by playing ‘not cooperate’, bilateral relations will begin to decline. In the event that only one party adopts the strategy of superficial friendship, this is not sufficient to improve relations; both parties must play such a strategy to improve ties. After relations between the two parties improve, and as the characteristics of superficial friendship determine that the parties will inevitably face future conflicts of interest, relations will deteriorate once again. As the parties adopt a superficial friendship strategy towards particular issues and not according to any particular time frame, the duration of each cycle of deterioration and improvement of ties will vary. Obama’s 2010 strategy of pivoting back to the Asia Pacific Region will likely cause a prolonged deterioration in ties, but this does not preclude the pos- sibility of the two parties resuming the strategy of superficial friendship in a relatively short period of time, such as that Chinese Vice-President Xi Jinping paid a visit to the United States in February 2012.30
We characterize bubble football buy Sino–US relations as superficial friendship on the basis of our bubble football equipments quantitative analysis of the behavior that this dyad exhibits. Lack of stability in bilateral ties and shifts between periods of positive and negative relations are fundamental features of superficial friendship. This level of instability is much higher than that exhibited by real enemies, superficial enemies, or real friends. The trend line below estimates the frequency and intensity of disturbances in Sino–US relations.31 Figure 2 is the basis for asserting that post Cold War Sino–US ties can be characterized by the concept of superficial friendship.
As Johnston does not share our understanding of superficial friendship, he questions whether or not the average score we obtain from the trend line of Sino–US relations from 1989 to present supports our theory of superficial friendship. Johnston argues: ‘[T]he fitted trend lines show that the average annual score increases over time and the annual average absolute deviation declines. The monthly disaggregated data shows similar trends. In other words, Sino–US relations improve and the volatility declines.’32
Johnston bases his conclusions on a rising trend in the average score and therefore refutes the nature of changing Sino–US relations as defined by the theory of superficial friendship. Johnston understands superficial friendship as bilateral relations that are continuously deteriorating rather than as highly volatile. Relations between sincere friends and enemies are stable, but in different ways. Regardless of whether or not bilateral relations are improving or deteriorating, as long as bilateral relations do not approximate those of either a sincere friend or enemy, the states can be characterized as either superficial friends or superficial enemies. As such, the average score can only show us the changing trends in Sino–US relations during a par- ticular period, and does not give us a basis for assessing whether or not bilateral relations are characterized by sincere or superficial friendship or sincere or superficial enmity.
To observe instability of superficial relations between China and the United States since the end of the Cold War we must make comparisons with other historical periods. We cannot otherwise discern whether the over- all trend in Post-Cold War relations is towards improvement or deterior- ation. From a statistical perspective, we cannot use differences within a particular set of statistics to assess differences between different sets. That is to say that superficial friends, real friends, superficial enemies, bubble football equipments and real enemies can all demonstrate trends towards improvement or deterioration, but trends in the extent of change of characteristics of a relationship cannot tell us what type of relationship it is. In order to assess the character of the relationship we can only compare average scores across the four periods 1950–1970 (real enemies), 1971–1977 (superficial enemies), 1978–1988 (real friends), and 1989–2011 (superficial friends). See Figures 3–6.
In Figure 3–6, time is on the horizontal axis and the average value for Sino–US relations is on the vertical axis. As the unit in the database for the value of Sino–US relations is expressed in months, the average value ex- pressed in Figure 1 is the sum of the 12 monthly values divided by 12.
For ease of comparison, the equation used to derive the curve for each period is listed below.33 In the following equations, y is the average value for Sino–US relations, while x represents the year. The first year in the period is assigned the number 1, and the second year the number 2.
Formula for the curve representing 1950–1970: y 1⁄4