Relations between the United States and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) have been in serious decline since at least March 2020, when Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian became infamous the blame the pandemic on US troops and US President Donald Trump called Covid-19 the “Chinese virus.” Nearly two years later, observers are understandably looking for the first signs of improvement in a relationship where both sides recognize the value of cooperation and the dangers of unbridled tension. But they may be leading in vain.
After senior officials in the United States and China held a controversial meeting in Alaska in March 2021, the virtual summit between Joe Biden and Xi Jinping in November was more business-like. Nevertheless, the summit did not produce the hoped-for breakthrough by de-escalating tensions. In the days after Chinese warplanes went on to whirl Taiwan and continue a month-old campaign of military pressure. Likewise, in December, the Biden administration announced a diplomat boycott of the Beijing-hosted Winter Olympics, and Biden convened Summit for Democracy. Both actions received sharp criticism from the Chinese government.
But this back-and-forth behavior is not unusual. Relations between the United States and China in the post-Mao Zedong era have generally followed a cyclical pattern, with setbacks giving way to periods of recovery. The Tiananmen massacre in June 1989 caused Washington to hit China with criticism and sanctions, to which Beijing reacted angrily. However, most of the sanctions were quickly lifted or not enforced. China retained its most favored trade status, and US-Chinese business boomed in the 1990s.
Another example is the collision of a US EP-3 surveillance aircraft with a Chinese J8 fighter jet over international waters near Hainan Island in 2001, which caused the death of a Chinese pilot and led to the temporary detention of the US crew and encouraged a bilateral crisis. . Both sides blamed the other for the crash: the Chinese objected to the damaged American plane landing at a Chinese airfield without permission, while the Americans accused the Chinese of illegally holding the crew hostage. Nevertheless, four years later, senior U.S. officials stated that relations between the United States and China were best for three decades.
A third example is when US planes accidentally dropped bombs that hit the Chinese embassy in Belgrade and killed three Chinese nationals in 1999. The Chinese government believed this attack was deliberate and demanded later compensation, but did not fundamentally decide to change relations with the US . Two years later, China joined the World Trade Organization with the backing of Washington.
Fortunately, the bilateral downturns have been brief. Historically, there was consensus in both countries that maintaining a constructive relationship was worth enduring a few negative developments. But the recovery from recessions today is less certain because the underlying circumstances affecting US-China relations have changed.
Until recently, the United States had a huge advantage over China in military and economic power, and it contributed to stable relations.
To elaborate, China was unable to do serious damage to the United States. Washington thus had the luxury of taking a relaxed approach to China’s military build-up, the first years of China’s growing trade surplus with the United States (which began in the late 1980s), argues China’s South China Sea, a standing threat to power. reunification with Taiwan, and China’s violations of its international obligations. Accordingly, US policy towards China was not fully mobilized for competition and deterrence, but included efforts to promote Chinese integration into international organizations and regimes with a view to avoiding the appearance of “treats China as an enemy. ”
For Beijing, the balance of power, which remained strongly in favor of the United States in the post-Cold War period, meant that it was not possible for China to directly challenge the United States’ strategic position in East Asia, nor to impose peripheral states acting against the Chinese agenda. The will of Beijing. under the guise of the US-sponsored regional order. As recognized by Deng Xiaoping’s famous 24-character foreign policy briefing, this was a time to build China’s strength through trade and investment with the United States and to avoid confrontation unless the United States threatened a vital Chinese interest. Before Xi took over the overall leadership, Beijing acted cautiously with policies that could alert other states to form a defensive anti-China coalition – all of which eased US concerns about specific China’s intentions.
Today, however, this power difference has become much smaller. Although China is not militarily superior to the United States, the People’s Liberation Army is now strong enough to inflict frightening costs on US forces in a scenario where US forces try to deny the Chinese a regional military victory. Moreover, China’s enormous economic importance provides the strategic lever. Beijing can arm its trade to force countries that are not traditionally in line with China to support its goals in political strife, as with South Korea and THAAD problem in 2016-2017. Even more troublesome is the fact that China has a reasonable chance of seizing the leadership in the development of future key technologies such as artificial intelligence, green energy production, quantum computers and cutting-edge medicine.
China, approaching the level of a peer competitor, is resetting the relationship. Washington now sees China as a current rather than a future potential adversary. Preparing for possible war and avoiding cooperation that could be to China’s strategic advantage has become an urgent concern for the United States. This antithetical approach counteracts a return to the historical form of conditions that prevailed before the United States lost its strategic cushion.
Furthermore, the domestic political atmosphere in both countries is increasingly the opposite of a return to the old bilateral normal.
Although Beijing urges Washington to “deal with differences”And remove the restrictions on American wealth and technology flowing into China, Beijing is also moving beyond the old relationship. In support of its primary goal of maintaining a monopoly over Chinese political power, the Chinese Communist Party has set in motion public expectations that China is now a great power and can adopt its agenda internationally. Whether factually accurate or not, the Chinese government is now emphasizing a narrative in which China is rising and the United States is in decline.
The narrowing of its power gap vis-à-vis the United States encourages China to press for speeding up the transition of Asia-Pacific leadership from Washington to Beijing, and even to treat the United States as an inferior figure. Events include “Wolf warriorDiplomacy, member of the Politburo Yang Jiechi Narrator senior US officials that “the US does not have the qualifications to … speak to China from a position of strength,” and PRC officials present the visiting US Deputy Secretary of State for requirement lists to stop US policies that China does not like.
Although China’s attitudes play out for the domestic audience, this is also reflected in China’s external behavior, indicating that this is not just a veneer of influenced bravado. From Sino-Indian border to East China Seathat Taiwan Straitthat South China Seaand Besides, intimidation has become the standard method of Chinese foreign policy. This underlines the government’s conclusion that the period of low-profile construction to which the Danish Parliament’s Council applied is over. As a consequence, the earth under the US-China relationship has changed.
With a much-publicized US movement toward economic decoupling, the bitter bilateral bitterness related to the Covid-19 pandemic, US sanctions and criticism of China over Xinjiang and Hong Kong, the emergence of a more robust Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad, which Beijing denies as an “Indo-Pacific NATO”) and US Government Declarations of support for Taiwan, the Chinese believe that attempts to “contain” China are intensifying. For Beijing, Washington is preventing China from accumulating national power and rising to regional leadership and global prominence.
To the extent that Chinese believe the United States is committed to a policy that opposes the fulfillment of vital Chinese interests, suspicion and competition will inevitably dominate the relationship. This trend reverses the pre-Xi norm for a predominantly cooperative relationship with friction pockets.
In the United States, the loss of faith in liberalism allows for a clearer view of the natural antagonism between China and the United States. Additional U.S. business leaders, senior bureaucrats, and politicians argue that deep economic engagement would cause China, an authoritarian and highly mercantilist state, to liberalize its economic and political systems. This belief served as a unilateral confidence-building measure that assured the Americans that China was destined to be a “interested”In a US-sponsored system of international norms and institutions. It was a crucial part of the foundations of US-China relations after the Cold War. Unfortunately, Xi convincingly demonstrated that increased American-born economic development was not to make China more liberal, either internally or externally. The Americans are now ready to see China as an opponent; It is actually one of the few issues around which there is a strong nationality consensus. In fact, both major political parties boast of being tough on China.
Today, American business is not as powerful or effective a champion of good relations between the United States and China as it once was. U.S. companies have not given up China wholesale trade, but increasingly they are just as likely to complain about unfair or exploitative treatment by the Chinese government as they are likely to campaign for friendly relations. They point to conditions such as Chinese protectionism, discrimination against foreign companies, threats to data security and forced technology transfer that are exacerbating the environment for US companies in China. Industries that urge the Chinese government to ignore bad behavior in the interest of profit are subject to public shaming.