China and the US: How to Coexist Competitively?

On February 3, 2020, Senior Colonel Zhou Bo of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army published an op-ed in the New York Times discussing how China and America Can Compete and Coexist. Zhou compares the current tensions between China and the U.S. to the Cold War. He writes that the United States and the Soviet Union came close to war during the Cold War, but ultimately did not “thanks to a few modest agreements and well-established hotlines for emergency communication.” As PLA officer, Zhou could not get this piece published without authorization by his superiors in China’s Defense Ministry. We could assume this piece is also an informal reflection of the thinking of the Chinese military leaders.

Following Mr. Zhou’s op-ed, The Diplomat published Beware China’s ‘Barbarian Handlers’ in response to several of the arguments in Zhou’s article. Zhou states that freedom of navigation operations (FONOPs) by the U.S. Navy have increased the risk of incidents, but The Diplomat article argues that “a failure to do [FONOPs] would undermine the regional order based on international law.” The article also argues that Washington and China need a “modus operandi that works” rather than just competitive coexistence.

An online comment on these two articles says, “Leaving aside the legal interpretation of innocent passage, the passing of the USS Montgomery through the SCS on Chinese New Year amid the (Wuhan) lockdown did not make Chinese happy. Sometimes a war is not a result of grand strategy, but a result of small skirmish.” This comment is well taken. The referred incident does seem to be more provocative than enforcing FON.

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