SINGAPORE - The China-US relationship has not faced a more challenging time since the normalisation of ties 40 years ago and the main reason is the new round of McCarthyism in the United States that is creating a red terror, a Chinese analyst has said.
"The current situation of the China-US relationship gives no cause for optimism. It is at a crossroads," said Dr Ruan Zongze, executive vice-president of the China Institute of International Studies, the think-tank of China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He was speaking to reporters on Friday (July 24) at an online press salon organised by the All-China Journalists Association.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said in a video conference with his German counterpart that the US had caused the current tension in ties in order to halt China's developmental progress. But he said China hoped to achieve win-win cooperation with the US while firmly safeguarding its legitimate right to development.
McCarthyism was a period in US history in the 1950s during which Joseph McCarthy, a senator, launched a series of investigations and hearings in an effort to expose the supposed communist infiltration of various parts of the US government.
Dr Ruan's reference to this period comes as the US on Wednesday ordered the closure of the Chinese consulate in Houston, Texas, within 72 hours.
Republican Senator Marco Rubio called it the "central node" of the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) "vast network of spies and influence operations" in the US.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also attacked the CCP in a speech on Thursday, calling on the Chinese people and "free nations of the world" to change the behaviour of China's ruling party. "If the free world doesn't change Communist China, Communist China will surely change us," he warned.
However, Dr Ruan noted that in 1972 when the US-China rapprochement started with President Richard Nixon's visit to China, the two sides had stated clearly in their joint communique their different political systems. He said this difference had not posed an obstacle to their multifaceted cooperation through the decades.
In explaining the deterioration in ties over the past few years, Professor Jia Qingguo of Peking University said at a webinar on Thursday organised by the National Press Foundation of the US that China had not developed according to the expectation of the Americans.
Instead of becoming more like the US, China has become less like it, especially in recent years.
Americans are frustrated and concerned with this, particularly in the face of China's rise, and they "begin to imagine and exaggerate what this China can do to the US", he said.
Prof Jia said, however, that the two sides are not yet in a Cold War.
If a Cold War is defined as ideological rivalry, military confrontation and economic separation - as was the case between the US and the Soviet Union from 1947 to 1991 - "I don't think we are quite there yet," he said.
This is because China has not come up with an ideology to rival the US's and apart from some skirmishes in the South China Sea, the two sides are not engaged in all-out military confrontation. "And despite the trade and tech war, our economies are still very much connected and intertwined," he pointed out.
However, he warned that the two sides are headed in the direction of a Cold War at accelerated speed "thanks to the Trump administration". "If the current momentum continues, I think the two countries are likely to end up in a Cold War and maybe even in a hot war," he said.
He called for cool heads to prevail and for both sides to examine their relationship, adding that while they have different political systems, they want the same things including peace and stability.
Dr Ruan, for his part, saw the current situation as "abnormal" and a "short-term phenomenon" and expressed confidence in the return of friendly cooperation.
His colleague at CIIS, Ms Shen Yamei of the Department of American Studies, said at the same press event that in the long term, cooperation would be the essential aspect of China-US ties, as has been the case in the past 40 years. "There have been frictions of one kind or another but in the end the two sides through dialogue and cooperation were able to resolve various kinds of problems," she said.
In the meantime, as tension escalates, China is not sitting on its hands. It has proposed dialogue and cooperation to stop the downward slide of relations, noted Dr Ruan.
At the same time, it will "firmly safeguard its legitimate rights and interests".
"In face of the US's unreasonable provocation and extreme actions, China will strike back in a firm, strong and reciprocal manner," said Dr Ruan.