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Guest Lecture by Professor SU Hao



Grand Games Between China And US: Congagement – Confrontation – Coopetition



Professor SU Hao



16 February 2019, Saturday



2.00am – 4.00pm



Seminar Room 902, level 9
NTU@One-North Campus Executive Centre
11 Slim Barracks Rise
Singapore 138664


About the Speaker:
Professor SU, Hao, is a distinguished professor in the Department of Diplomacy and founding director of Center for Strategic and Peace Studies at the CHINA FOREIGN AFFAIRS UNIVERSITY(CFAU). He was chairman of Diplomacy Department, director of China’s Foreign Relations Section, general secretary of East Asian Studies Center, and director of Center for Asia-Pacific Studies within this university. He is also affiliated with some institutions in China, such as, president of Beijing Geopolitical Strategy and Development Association, member of Chinese Committee for Council of Security Cooperation in the Asia-Pacific (CSCAP) and Pacific Economic Cooperation Council (PECC); board members of China Association of Arms Control and Disarmament, Pacific Society of China, China Association of Asian-African Development Exchange, and China Association of China-ASEAN.

He received his B.A. in history and M. A. in international history from Beijing Normal University and Ph. D. in international relations from China Foreign Affairs University. He took his advanced study in the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London in 1993-1995; and was a Fulbright scholar in Institute of War and Peace Studies of Columbia University, and in Institute of East Asia of University of California at Berkeley in 2001-2002; and a guest professor in Department of Peace and Conflict Studies of Uppsala University in Sweden in 2004, Faculty of Society and Design of Bond University in Australia in 2014, Department of Politics of LUISS University in Italy in 2015, Department of Politics and Economics of Aoyama Gakuin University in Japan in 2017 and S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) of Nanyang Technological University in Singapore in 2019. His specialties are diplomatic history of China, China’s foreign and security policy, strategic studies, international relations in the Asia-Pacific region and East Asian integration.

Lecture Abstract:(Contributed by Tan Yew Whuay, MCGG student)

The China-US bilateral relation is perhaps the most important in the world which can send ripples through the international geo-politics if not handled properly. Professor Su characterised this bilateral relationship into three phases – congagement in the 90’s, confrontation currently, and coopetition as the way forward. Congagement, a portmanteau from containment and engagement, was the oxymoronic relationship between China and the US when the US wanted to engage China to bring the latter into the international system but yet at the same time wanted to contain the latter’s influence for fear that a rising China might challenge its hegemonic status. Confrontation is US’s response to the reality of a risen China. Coopetition, a portmanteau from cooperation and competition, is China’s preferred engagement strategy under the new norms as it believed that both big powers can cooperate to bring benefits to the world while competing with each other for excellence. He argued that the current frosty bilateral relationship is very much a result of the zero-sum game logic because the US used its own lenses and own historical trajectory to extrapolate China’s rise. He argued that China, on the other hand, instead believes that there could be synergy despite the two being natural competitors. Professor Su shared his observations and insights on the love-hate bilateral relationship with students from Master of Arts in Contemporary China (MACC) / Master of Social Science in China and Global Governance (MCGG) and Master of Public Administration (MPA) at NTU@One-North on 16 Feb 2019.


There is a need to rethink of the current US-dominated unipolar world order following the dawn of the 21st century which ushered in an era of several rising powers. The current Western world order is a result of the West’s aggressive-expansionist nature and the zero-sum logic that is prevalent in US’s strategic calculations. Under the Western world order, the West’s realists view of power as zero-sum, which cannot be shared but transferred through a global-order phenomenon called “power transition”, is not helpful to advance global stability. Professor Su opined that although the US would like to use her hegemonic capacity to perpetuate her control over international societies, she must accept the new geo-political realities and make room for a new world order.

The decline in Western economies has further weakened the unipolar order and the rise of countries with long cultural histories called for a multipolar world order. Despite US’s perspective, Professor Su said that the rise of China would not be inimical to US’s interests as China does not have hegemonic ambition of building a new empire, like the western powers in the 19th and 20th centuries. He explained that China has a different world-order logic of mutual respect and peaceful co-existence and that the US should accept “power sharing” and recognise the interests of these “emerging powers” to achieve a win-win outcome.


The US has always been trying to guard against China as China’s politic was structurally different. From the Cold War period when China was targeted as part of the Communist alliance, then in the post-Cold War due to uncertainty and China’s socialist system, and finally escalating the confrontation to a level of the “New Cold War” as the US believes that China would be “taking revenge”. As all military alliances were predicated on an enemy, which was then USSR, China was unfortunately made the convenient target in US’s western Pacific alliances following the collapse of USSR. To add to the fire, there are many writings of Chinese conspiracy theories plotting against the US and the world.

Another source of tensions between China and the US is the competition of the different interpretations of regionalism. Professor Su said that the US’s “New Regionalism” see herself at the apex of the power structure which transcends regions to oversee international peace by containing “rouge” nations. However, China’s “Open Regionalism” sees regionalism as the grouping of neighbourly countries into regions and interacting with one another to bring about peace and prosperity. This US’s view of regionalism had led to the “Pivot to Asia” in 2009 which was clearly targeted at suppressing China’s rise. To this end, the US had built a counterbalancing framework of using other East Asian countries to push back China’s influence, deconstructed East Asia’s regional cooperation, and reverse the leadership vacuum in the region.


Strategically, the US saw China as a peer, not a rogue like Russia. Hence, Professor Su believed that not all is lost as both China and the US have room to cooperate despite being competitors if the US is willing to accept a new type of major countries’ relations. Structurally, US’s and China’s economies are too intertwined to be divided. Whether both will thrive with each other or decline with each other will be determined by the leaders of these two powers. He expressed a slight pessimism over the bilateral relations as the US’s leaders and scholars tend to be hawkish on policies towards China.

Behaviour wise, Professor Su defended that China has been a responsible actor and contributed to the betterment of global governance. He said that China does not intend to challenge current world order and her diplomacy objectives were to improve the current world order insofar as a fair and reasonable one to serve the needs of the international community. He also pointed out that China is pacific in nature. He drew this from the different understanding of the concept of “empire” – to the Chinese empire is built with the use of superior moral qualities to attract countries into her orbit, whereas the US understood it as the use of superior force to growth its area of influence.


Professor Su concluded that both countries, despite being structurally different in terms of civilisation, politics, economics, and military orientation, had similar sources of their strengths, which included geography, inclusive societies, and multi-ethnicity. Most importantly, both had similarly economic objectives in spite of the different implementation. To this end, he opined that the US had to accept the new power relations and build a “new type of international relations” to accommodate emerging powers.


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