Why the emphasis on China? Because China has become, “one of a small number of countries that have significant national interests in every part of the world and that command the attention… of every other country and every international organization.” For all of the Pacific Rim and perhaps even for the United States, China is the most important nation to pay close attention to. It seems determined to expand both its physical and influential power in its region, and by having the largest economy, population, and military in East Asia, nearby states are getting increasingly concerned. Already China has flexed its muscles in relations with Japan over the Diaoyu islands, the Philippines over disputed fishing waters, Tibet, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the list goes on. And because of this ‘aggressive behavior,’ many political scientists, China specialists, and Congressmen argue that China has a certain negative perception of what the Unites States thinks of all this. How China Sees America by Andrew Nathan and Andrew Scobell covers one opinion of how the Chinese perceive the Unites States [see cartoon below]. The article would make it seem as if China has intense distrust; distrust not only of the United States but of many and most large foreign governments.
So how legitimate is this opinion of distrust? It stems from the fact that we have two countries with grossly different governmental structures. The United States prides itself on the transparency of its government, while China has a history of working in the shadows and sees little wrong with doing so. This inherently makes the United States suspicious of China’s cloaked decisions. And because of the Chinese belief that governments are genuinely secretive, they tend not to trust the openly expressed American statements. Thus this idea that the U.S. is (secretively) secret is often what the Chinese are accused of believing.
How true is this? Only the Chinese government could tell you for sure. There is little doubt that China often takes what foreign superpowers say with a grain of salt. But then again they deserve to, for the United States, the E.U., and Japan all have a histories of suddenly altering policies. At the same time, however, the idea that Beijing is writhing its hands in frustration, attempting to decipher what foreign governments are secretly up to is a fallacy. Especially with Secretary Clinton at the helm and now that President Obama has been re-elected, the Chinese are more comfortable believing what the United States openly says. Yes there are tensions over Taiwan, currency manipulations, and job exporting. But relations these days are generally improving, and though the Chinese do not trust the United States to align with Chinese interests, they are more confident that what the United States and other powers state to the international community is the political truth.