U.S. Hostility Towards China and American Exceptionalism According to Yang Jiemian
"There are three major schools of thought within American international relations theory: realism, liberalism and constructivism, each of which essentially serves U.S. hegemony and leadership."
Welcome back to Sinification. Distrust of, if not paranoia about, the United States has long been widespread in China. Today’s piece is fairly typical of this, mixing oft-held criticisms of America with a heavy dose of political correctness. Its author, Yang Jiemian (杨洁勉), is a veteran Chinese think-tanker and brother of China’s former top diplomat, Yang Jiechi (杨洁篪).
Yang Jiemian has had a rich enough career without my needing to mention his famous sibling, but this connection does make his views (however performative some of these may be) that little bit more interesting. After all, one of the aims of this newsletter is to try to convey the different lenses through which China’s opaque leadership may be looking at the world.
Yang’s piece was published earlier this year and has since been relayed multiple times by some of China’s top think tanks and other specialised outlets. Anti-US rhetoric may be pervasive in China (and often de rigueur), but Yang’s views should not be taken as fully representative of “what the Chinese elite think”. There are, of course, also those within these circles who would disagree with at least some of Yang’s arguments.
Today’s post was put together by Daniel Crain, who has done yeoman’s work in providing both a translation of these lengthy excerpts and the following summary of Yang’s article. The subtitles were added to help structure this post and are not the author’s. Given the length of today’s edition, you may not be able to read it in full from your inbox. Click here to view it in a new window.
America’s increasingly entrenched view of China as its “main security threat” relies on a number of problematic cultural, ideological, and theoretical ideas.
The U.S. is determined to maintain its global hegemony and sees suppressing China as key to preserving its current international position. However, this very pursuit is set to accelerate America’s decline.
Deeply rooted ideas such as “American Exceptionalism,” “Manifest Destiny,” and “Anglo-Saxon Superiority” have misled Americans into a profoundly self-centred view of history that fails to account for the historical and cultural complexity of other global actors.
America consistently fails to look beyond its own narrowly defined interests as it continues to rely on the “Law of the Jungle” and militarism in its foreign policy.
Since the U.S. refuses to share any aspect of international political, economic, or military leadership, it is unwilling to accommodate or even tolerate China’s rise.
Washington’s belief in the inevitability of great power conflict and zero-sum games has led to the “paranoid” construction of "imaginary enemies” like China.
Despite their occasional academic value, the core theories of American IR scholarship: realism, liberalism, and constructivism, have all been co-opted by Washington as ideational tools to maintain American hegemony and suppress China. In particular, realism has led the U.S. security state to prioritise the accumulation of power and to accept confrontation between great powers as inevitable. Liberalism has given the U.S. the supposed moral high ground in interfering with the affairs of other nations. And finally, constructivism has provided the U.S. with a discursive strategy to manipulate international perceptions. In particular, America has used the power of international discourse to construct an image of China as a “threat” to Taiwan, Xinjiang, and more broadly, global peace.
A dysfunctional political environment in Washington has created conditions where it is politically beneficial to demonise China and reject more benign approaches towards Beijing that could lead to “win-win” outcomes.
Americans are accustomed to thinking in binaries, e.g. good vs. evil, democracy vs. autocracy, individualism vs. collectivism. They are therefore unwilling to recognise the potential merit of political cultures different from their own. Meanwhile, culturally rich ideas from China such as “unity in diversity [和而不同]” and “harmonious coexistence [和合共生]” could lead to the reconciliation of seemingly opposed concepts, if only the U.S. were open to considering them.
By proactively constructing its own theories of international relations, continuing its economic development, and deepening its cultural self-confidence, China’s approach could serve as a corrective to American arrogance. In the context of heightened China-U.S. tensions, China should maintain a bottom line of “peaceful coexistence, non-conflict, and non-confrontation,” as it seeks to build a better future under the framework of its “Community of Common Destiny for Humanity” that includes the U.S., even if the U.S. may not realise it. No matter how difficult the task may be, China should remain steadfast in its commitment to putting relations with the U.S. on a more constructive path.
Name: Yang Jiemian (杨洁勉)
Year of birth: 1951 (age: 71)
Position: Senior fellow, doctoral supervisor and chairman of the Academic Committee, Shanghai Institutes for International Studies (SIIS)
Formerly: President of SIIS
Research focus: China’s international relations; US-China relations
Education: BA Shanghai Normal University (now, East China Normal University); MA Shanghai Institutes for International Studies; MA Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy (Tufts University); PhD Shanghai International Studies University (SISU)
Other: Member of the Foreign Policy Advisory Committee of the PRC’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Vice president of China National Association for International Studies (CNAIS); Brother of China’s former top diplomat Yang Jiechi (杨洁篪)
THE IDEOLOGICAL ORIGINS AND THEORETICAL BASIS OF THE UNITED STATES' PERCEPTION OF CHINA AS A "MAJOR THREAT" (EXCERPTS)
Yang Jiemian (杨洁勉)
Source: International Outlook (国际展望) Vol. 1 – January 2023
“In December 2017, the Trump administration produced a series of strategic documents which publicly established China as 'the biggest threat to the United States' and its 'number one adversary.' In January of 2021, the Biden administration not only failed to make a fresh start [改弦更张] on the issue of China, but actually worsened relations by accelerating its policy of encirclement and suppression. America’s stubborn commitment to this erroneous path, has led to the ongoing deterioration of China-U.S. relations and has increased the risks faced by the world [arising from] great power competition. For these reasons, we should not only clarify the specific issues facing China-U.S. relations, but also trace back their roots [追根溯源] to [differences in] philosophical thought, views of history, worldviews and strategic thinking, [thereby] analysing their causes at a deeper level. In doing so, [China will be able to] respond to challenges [more] effectively and take the initiative in guiding the development of relations between the two countries.”
Sources of American Arrogance: Manifest Destiny, Anglo-Saxon Superiority, and Political Exceptionalism
“In international relations, the United States is a major power with the shortest history of statehood but a comparatively long history of hegemony. As a relatively young power, the United States does not have too much historical baggage and is full of creative spirit. However, its lack of historical depth, especially its attachment to ‘American exceptionalism [美国例外论]’, makes it more difficult for the U.S. to learn from the historical experiences and lessons of other countries.”
"The sense of superiority derived from the doctrine of Manifest Destiny [天命论] [remains important in understanding American worldviews]. The U.S. proclaims itself to be [made up of] 'God's chosen people' who have created American history. Since the first European immigrants arrived in North America, they have conceived of themselves as shouldering 'God's mission' to realise a 'city on the hill.' This idealistic consciousness has since become deeply rooted in the soul of Americans. As America grew in size and strength, its people became more and more convinced that their country possessed an unmatched natural endowment.”