In a lengthy speech delivered at the Hudson Institute on October 4, U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence lambasted China, making groundless accusations. Pence, citing the claim of great power competition from the National Security Strategy, called China the biggest threat to the United States. Immediately after Pence’s speech, global media began to say that a new Cold War was brewing between China and the U.S.
The executive and legislative branches as well as the Republican and Democratic parties all advocate a hardline stance on China, believing the China policy of the past administrations since President Richard Nixon have failed and China has grown into one of U.S.’ strategic competitors. But big power competition has changed.
First, in a globalized era, big power competition has its limitations. Countries at different stages of development are closely interconnected onto the same value chain, and they produce different components for the same products based on their comparative advantages. So it’s a new age of interdependence, and never before in history had any countries, even Western powers, become so closely connected and inseparable. Under such circumstances, China and the U.S. have become highly dependent on each other and are parts of an international system. In the globalized era, big powers would have to abide by common international rules and seek cooperation and dialogue in the global framework while competing against one another. Therefore, in comparison with the past ages, big power competition today has been greatly reduced.
Second, U.S. allies would not choose to take part in its competition with China. In its competition with China, the U.S. attempted to split the world into two opponent blocks by applying the old trick it used against the former Soviet Union, but it simply won’t work anymore. Due to the “America First” doctrine unprecedented rifts have already opened between the U.S. and its allies. Its allies are growingly concerned about whether or not they can continue to trust and rely on the U.S., and are no longer blindly dancing to its tune as they did during the Cold War. Furthermore, U.S. allies don’t agree with the “big power competition” approach of the U.S. During the 20th China-EU Summit, the EU reiterated that the China-EU relationship is a “comprehensive strategic partnership”. During his visit to China, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe described China and Japan as “partners” rather than competitors. Also, U.S. allies and China are highly economically interdependent, and they don’t want to take sides between China and the U.S. And if they are forced to make a decision, it does not necessarily mean that they would side with the U.S., as has been proved by the examples of the Belt and Road Initiative and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.
The Trump administration has been considering China its major competitor, but it still maintains contact and cooperation with China. The trade tensions are a telling example. The on-and-off trade war, in fact, was not meant to “decouple” the US from China but to seek the most favorable trade terms for the US. Trump has yet to adopt an overall confrontational policy towards China, similar to the military encirclement, economic blockade, and political subversion that the U.S. applied against the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
Finally, consistency in China’s foreign policy will help reshape China-U.S. relations and keep bilateral relations stable. China has always been upholding an independent foreign policy of peace. As for its U.S. policy, China always sticks to the path of friendly cooperation, which is not only beneficial to the two nations, but also to world. Amid China’s rise, it has called on the U.S. to build a “new type of major-country relationship featuring non-conflict, non-confrontation, mutual respect, and win-win cooperation”. China has reiterated time and again that it will never follow the old logic that a strong country is bound to seek hegemony, nor does China have any intention to take the place of the U.S. In seeking solutions to territorial disputes and defending maritime rights, China follows the principles of “upholding mutual understanding and mutual accommodation, dialogue, and consultation” and “pursuing joint development while shelving disputes”, and opposes the use or threat of force. In a word, China’s foreign policy, in particular its U.S. policy, will not easily change just because of U.S. adjustments of its China policy, and this could play an important role in maintaining stability in bilateral relations.
When the U.S. cooked up the concept of big power competition once again and defined China as its main rival, it was an indication of its unease and angst. Times have changed, and it is no longer be possible for it to duplicate the big power competition that occurred 30 years ago. To better deal with big power competition fanned up by the U.S., China should stay calm and focus on its own affairs, neither making tit-for-tat strategic countermeasures, nor making any unprincipled concessions on specific issues.