Ash Carter's bellicose rhetoric bad for relations

Updated: 2016-02-08 09:35

By Chen Weihua(China Daily USA)

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However, portraying China as "being assertive, aggressive" and a "competitor, adversary and enemy, or potential adversary and enemy" has happened more frequently among US government officials and politicians despite the wide-ranging cooperation between the world two largest economies.

Such hateful rhetoric is contagious: During the Feb 4 Democratic debate, Chuck Todd, an NBC anchor, asked candidate Bernie Sanders, who opposes the Trans-Pacific Partnership, if his stance would lead China to write trade rules in that part of the world, something that Todd apparently learned from Obama, who had continually repeated that rhetorical line.

The US seems to be winning a propaganda war with China despite the fact that China has been a peaceful nation that has not engaged in any armed conflict with another country in the past 40 years, except a brief border clash with Vietnam in 1979.

The US has been engaged in constant wars, the most recent being the ones in Iraq and Afghanistan. While many people blamed President George W. Bush for the wars, Obama has been criticized by many as serving "Bush's third term".

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, the US military budget accounted for 3.5 percent of the nation's GDP in 2014 compared with China's 2.1 percent, a figure that is also lower than Russia, India, France, Britain and Turkey.

The US has been the largest arms exporter in the world, the source of 31 percent of the global total in 2014. Asia has become a fast-growing market for US weapons systems.

Two American scholars I met last week shook their heads at Carter's speech. One said it is unsustainable when the US is suffering from so many problems, from crumbling infrastructure to a monstrous national debt.

The other is worried about the wrong signal Carter sends to China, a message that might trigger an arms race.

Kenneth Lieberthal, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, warned that if the two countries end up having a fundamentally antagonistic relationship, it will be a monumental failure of diplomacy and politics on both sides.

Carter has just contributed to that type of worst-case scenario.

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