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Foreign Policy

In-depth Changes in China-US Relations Reflect Present-day Geopolitical Wrangling

Mar 08, 2019
  • Chen Yonglong

    Director of Center of American Studies, China Foundation for International Studies

China-US relations are at a historic crossroads, where the nature of the relationship may be entering a stage of qualitative changes from a stage of quantitative changes. It has been obvious to countries of the world that there have been signs of a dangerous tendency of confrontation in China-US ties. It is precisely because conspicuous changes have taken place in the kernel of geopolitics that the relationship can no longer proceed according to its traditional rhythm.

After the end of the Cold War, the geopolitical concept of the East and West has risen and fallen in a short period of 20-odd years. Though the "East-West" catchphrase in major power relations can still be seen in scholarly works and media commentaries, it is no longer a priority in those relationships. This is an important external reason as to why China's reform and opening up proceeded rapidly and steadily.

However, as the emerging economies of the world have risen, including China’s, they have gradually integrated with the international community and became new drivers of global development. This has facilitated the constant enrichment and forceful resurge of geopolitical competition. Though the US hasn't declined, its strong sense of loss and fear prompted it to politicize economy and technology, and particularly to incorporate capabilities and potentials for scientific and technological innovation as important geopolitical considerations which even become dominant factors.

Humanity is entering an era when science and technology are changing the world. Clear boundaries between geopolitics and geoeconomics have by and large disappeared. Major powers and main forces in the world have simultaneously come into a time of mixed competition. In order to reclaim its past advantages and momentum, the US has taken suppressing and postponing Chinese development as its policy priority. It is new geopolitical change that has resulted in the profound changes in China-US ties. China has already faced and will continue to face complicated challenges and tests to its development. Rebuilding China-US relations has already become inevitability.

It is no longer possible for China to evade the US’s challenges, some of which are even against facts and morality. Though the world's second largest economy, there remains a large distance between China and the US. The unbalanced reality of China and the US as big powers are gradually becoming clearer. Like it or not, history has mercilessly placed China in a position against the US and has thrown it into the whirlpool of contemporary geopolitical wrangling.

No matter what goodwill China displays to the US, and how hard it tries to avoid taking policies that may challenge the US' current position, the US will exhaust all means to prevent China from growing strong. This is the cruel reality at present. Looking at the US authorities and political elites, it is not hard to discover that one of the US' core goals is to delink China and other emerging economies from the upper reaches of the global economic and technological chains, restrain their developmental capacities, weaken global economic interdependence, and enhance their reliance on the US. Perhaps this is the core strategy of President Trump's innovative destruction— reshaping the world according to US logic. From this perspective, it may be an inescapable episode in history for the US to unscrupulously mobilize state powers to coerce other countries to suppress, blockade and punish Huawei, a leading private firm from China.

But the China-US wrangling is completely different from the Cold War-era US-Soviet confrontation, which featured two camps. China-US collision has also transcended confrontation between political regimes and arms races. Thanks largely to China's composure, it has withstood the US’s impulse to instigate a new Cold War. Bilateral wrangling has largely affected competition within economic, scientific and technological sectors, as well as participation in global rule-making. China-US dialogue on trade is still ongoing, and has yet to escalate to an "economic iron curtain" such as Cold War-mongers had fantasized about. Both Chinese and US economies and trade have suffered, but delinking is impossible.

China and the US should have conditions to find effective ways to get along in a new international economic and political environment, and seek mutually beneficial collaboration in competition and management and control, thus facilitating the building of a stable, cooperative and coordinated bilateral relationship. This is the best option and in the best interests of China, the US and the world.

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