Our world is about to be transformed. It is too early to tell what changes will come about. Yet, there is a premonition that the future relationship between America and China will set the course for the entire world.

America and China must relate in a manner that is not confrontational and destructive; their relationship must be one that contributes to the harmonious development of the community of mankind. No one will oppose such a conclusion. The question is, how do we realize this goal?

Rapid economic development has caused dramatic changes in Chinese society. China has finally caught up to the point that it now has America in its sight, re-emerging as a world power both in name and substance. The tremendous change that has taken place in China is a sign that its logic and action can no longer be contained within the framework envisioned by Deng Xiaoping, the master architect of modern China. The country has begun to wander in search for a new national image and identity.

Stories that have China taking calculated steps to rule the world based on some grand strategy do not reflect the reality faced by the country. China itself has been unable to reach a conclusion, much less decide on the focus of its search. The debate is on, but has yet to enter a stage of full-blown discussion.

When it comes to economic issues, we can safely say that China sees eye to eye with the rest of us. It is hard to imagine China destroying the existing global economic order from which it has gained maximum benefit. However, geopolitics is another issue altogether. Will mankind remain constrained by the fatalistic view that an economic power will ultimately become a military power, and that an emerging power will inevitably challenge the existing superpower?

I believe there is a way out. Both America and China must escape such fatalism, and I think they can. Once they clearly realize the responsibility and mission they have been entrusted with in the context of human history, the answer will come naturally.

Let us start with China. If it is seeking to create a global geopolitical order “with Chinese characteristics,” it follows that China must denounce the hegemonistic approach. After all, hasn’t China been the harshest critic of American hegemonistic behavior over the years?

The Way of Might and the Way of Right have their origins in the teachings of Mencius, which describes “one who claims righteousness through might” as a hegemon and “one who exercises right through virtue” as a true ruler (king). These words carry great weight in Chinese values. Any mention of the Way of Right is immediately met with comments that it is premised on the view of a world order that existed hundreds of years ago in East Asia, which pitted the Chinese against barbarians and formed the basis of tribute offering relationships.

This ancient worldview has no place in the present. Today, in a world where America and Europe, India, Russia and Japan have appeared in the same arena, it is impossible to envision China ruling the world as its center in any foreseeable future. Such a worldview is distinctively rooted in culture and civilization. It presupposes a superior culture and civilization on the part of China. While that may come true, it will be an infinitely time consuming process.

China cannot revert to a world order that is hundreds of years old. And that being so, it should come up with a new universal principle and contribute to the development of a global civilization. It is completely acceptable for China to present the Way of Right rooted in its classical thinking as a principle. That would indeed demonstrate the significance of China’s rise to power in the history of civilization.

Let us now turn to America. It is my belief that America is destined to contribute to the advancement of global civilization. We should consider America not as an ordinary country but as a “smaller version of the world.” Anyone who agrees with the principles championed by America can become its citizen, demonstrate their talents and contribute to social development. It was this capacity to accept and exploit diversity that propelled America into its leadership position in the world.

America is a “melting pot” where people with varied cultural backgrounds combine to create an American culture that has made a considerable impact on global civilization. And the proportion of non-Europeans continues to grow within the American population.

I have always considered America — a smaller version of our world — as a grand “testing ground” for the entire human population on earth. It is a testing ground where diverse peoples coexist, cooperate and create innovation. If this experiment succeeds in America, there is hope that mankind may succeed on a global scale. If it fails, mankind can expect no bright future. America exemplifies the future of mankind.

Such is the position held by America. China meanwhile has a unique civilization dating back thousands of years. These two countries must clearly recognize their grave responsibility to human history, and think and act accordingly. They must share the concept of co-evolution as described by Henry Kissinger — or the principle of learning from each other and evolving together. Japan and the rest of the world should actively participate in this process, because what we are seeking to create is a “global civilization” for the entire world.

Yuji Miyamoto, chairman of Miyamoto Institute of Asian Research, is Japan’s former ambassador to China. This article originally appeared in the bulletin of the English-Speaking Union of Japan.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.