The Future Of U.S.-China Relations: Is Friendship Possible?

The Future Of U.S.-China Relations: Is Friendship Possible?
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Recently, it would appear to the casual observer that the U.S.-China relationship has a hit a rough patch. Both countries are repeatedly hitting heads on a variety of issues ranging from cyber warfare to land disputes. Some contend that relations have soured as a result of the actions of Chinese President Xi Jinping and the communist party. Others say that it is due to increasing U.S. activity in East Asia. Whatever the case, the U.S. and China are the leading powers in the world and ensuring stable relations between them is a must to preserve peace in the international order. Despite the high degree of interdependence, there is still the potential for conflict. With that in mind, both countries should pursue this relationship with the clear understanding of how important it is and how much can go wrong.

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U.S.-China – Current Relations

Ties between both countries are increasing though it would seem that levels of strain are increasing as well. The U.S. “Asia Pivot” which is meant to address the growing importance of Asia in the world and China’s rise is largely seen in Beijing as an attempt by the U.S. to contain China and to develop alliances with regional powers that are in dispute with China. On the other hand, commentators in the west say the pivot is not enough and as of now presents no threat to China. Regardless, it is clear that officials in Washington and Beijing view each other with suspicion. The U.S. does not want to see China imposing its will in the region nor does China want the U.S. interfering in a region that is not its own.

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One source of concern in China about U.S. involvement in the region is the development of relations the U.S. is conducting with countries that are on China’s periphery. In many instances, these same countries are engaged in disputes with China such as Vietnam. In one example, the U.S. is developing its relations with its former enemy, Vietnam while China watches cautiously and with mistrust.  Just this past week, Vietnam General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong visited Washington D.C. and met with President Obama. China and Vietnam have clashed over disputes in the South China Sea, particularly the Paracel Islands. The highly publicized incident involving a Chinese oil rig and the standoff between both sides in Vietnam-claimed waters in mid-2014 revealed how deep distrust and anxiety is between both countries.

Meanwhile Washington is cautiously watching the incredible buildup of the Chinese military, a buildup which seems to be at odds with China’s declared “Peaceful Rise.” Truth be told, that was the official policy of Xi’s predecessor, Hu Jintao; is it still today? The Chinese military is growing more aggressive in its actions in the South China Sea while expanding its reach elsewhere such as in the Indian Ocean. China’s island building projects in the South China Sea over the past two years have been seen as an aggressive move to dominate the region and counter weaker neighbors who will not be able to defend their claims. This has been a high source of tensions in the relationship with the U.S. for a variety of reasons including the fact that the Philippines are a claimant nation. The Philippines and the U.S. share a mutual defense treaty and Washington does not want Beijing to come into conflict with Manila as the U.S. will inevitably be drawn in.

Additionally there are growing cyber issues. Revelations of a major hack at OPM in the U.S. that has seen files on millions of American citizens compromised in what is widely believed in the U.S. to be the result of Chinese hackers. This would not be the first time that China has been implicated in a breach of U.S. government databases. Elsewhere, the Chinese routinely hack into U.S. corporations stealing information while engaging in intellectual property theft. One example is the widely held belief that China stole the designs for the newest U.S. fighter aircraft, the F-35. Already many are saying that one of the greatest threats to U.S. national security is cyber warfare and as of now, the Chinese seem to be far better prepared to wage it.

Future Relations

To ensure a stable, peaceful relationship in the future, the U.S. and China need to make their intentions clearer to each other. This is not to say that each other’s cards should be out in the open but greater understanding will go a long way to at least stabilizing tensions. Expectations from each other in the relationship should be put onto the table so as to get a clearer image of how both sides can work together and what is mutually achievable and what is not. In the minds of many, the U.S. is declining and China is ascending. Truth is both powers will see more stability than rapid rises or falls in the near future and that stability can be translated into the relationship.

The South China Sea dispute can explode into a conflict at any time and so it is necessary that China understand the consequences of its actions. Its constant antagonism of other regional powers serves to only worsen a delicate situation. For its part, the U.S. does need to understand that China is the power in that region; this is not a dispute on the periphery of the U.S. but on the periphery of China. Understanding that this dispute is of great importance to China will serve to better the way the U.S. approaches it when dealing with China.

The military relationship between both countries must improve as well. While China takes provocative military maneuvers, the U.S. must understand that China views our military maneuvers in the region in the same light. Greater steps must be taken towards collaboration between both militaries in the form of cooperative training, and involvement in international missions. Distrust will prevail though as long as China keeps with its massive military buildup which is unnecessary if it intends to have a peaceful rise. The issue of cyber warfare must be addressed as this is becoming one of the more distressing aspects of the relationship. The U.S. routinely accuses China of massive data breaches and hacks though it would be foolish to believe that the U.S. doesn’t engage in such activity as well. Regardless, steps should be taken to put an end to such massive attacks.

Additionally, both countries should aim to cooperate in issues where mutual goals are desired. These include the issue of North Korea and climate change among others. Both the U.S. and China stand to lose in both issues if they are not resolved and so the opportunity to cooperate exists. These opportunities should be taken immediately as success in them will translate into success elsewhere in the relationship.

During a meeting in Beijing in May this year, Xi declared to Secretary of State John Kerry that U.S.-China relations are stable and that steps should be taken to avoid damaging the relationship. In September this year, Xi will be making his first official state visit to the U.S. at the request of Obama. Visits such as these do not erase the problems in the relationship overnight but go a long way to ensuring stability. Yes, to the U.S. China is an economic competitor but so are many other countries. The Chinese see the U.S. in the same way. Both sides do technically interfere in areas that they should not though both are also world powers and are not restricted to the confines of their own borders. Ultimately though, both countries need to take more concrete steps towards improving the relationship as it is and will remain the most important world power relationship of the 21st century.

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Stephen Paul Brooker is a writer, political researcher, and political consultant. His specialty is in East Asia security issues and he has lectured at St. John's University on conflict theory and international relations. He holds a Master's Degree in International Relations and a graduate certificate in International Law and Diplomacy from St. John's University and a Bachelor's Degree in Government from Wagner College. Currently he is pursuing a Diploma in Economics from the University of London.
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  1. If China and Japan were to combine together and form a more powerful China, then China would have a much easier time taking over any variety of smaller countries Of course, this may certainly need at least 10 more years, especially to combine military at the same time as technology advancement. Eventually, this more powerful China will become an overwhelming threat to America. This is exactly what happens in my screenplay titled; “The Last President” by Douglas Paige at; driveme89123yahoocom and asking only $1.7 million.

  2. This is the same old US in which they only see everyone as trouble maker while never realized its own provocative actions as problem. When US have disputes with it’s own neighbor like Venezuela, Mexico, Cuba, some Carribean countries, other countries have never intervened. Nor the others countries will ever sending their subs, aircraft carrier or fleet to it’s backyard.

  3. You probably would not realize … It is just because there are too many people like you in this country that we are inevitably declining.

  4. The propensity of USA to have conflict with China has brought in the issues of cyber attack and dispute in South China Sea. Both issues are essentially non-issues. It is known fact that USA has been cyber-attacking other nations, including friendly nations such as German and France, for a long time. This naturally includes China. It is expected that China will retaliate. China announced the Dash Lines for the South China Sea right after WWII without receiving any renunciation from any WWI victors including USA. That means the islands, shoals, reefs and rocks within the Lines belong to China and China has the sovereign right to do whatever is appropriate on them. So there is no reason why USA has to raise issues now on the South China Sea dispute. China has close and important economic relations with South East Asian nations. For USA to propose the TPP for South East Asian nations that excludes China from the beginning is a clear signal that its intention is to contain China.

  5. Do you think a nation that espouses freedom and democracy would align itself with a nation that suppresses freedom and democracy, like China?

  6. Daydream over!

    The free world can likely never achieve Utopia with another possessing opposite mind. The natural tendency to undermine the other is too deeply rooted.

    Weakness will spell disaster, if not demise.

    It is insane to wait and allow them to wield the bigger stick. That’s tantamount to self destruction.

  7. USA should relinquish its treaty with Philippines and others, as such treaties are aimed at certain countries in the region. It’s an old mind set and promotes rivals among nations. Focus on trade and bridge building. Pushing China away is very stupid.

  8. To say in a more sophisticated way is, ‘it is the gift muscle power for not just China, but also Russia that helps to avert WW III’.

  9. i guess both people of this two countrys are guard each other as hurmen nature as usually, wth actual no harm back ground supportative. at the present time, the chinese are more likely look up the american, and the american are morely the otherway around. the result should be better because of the today’s information transmission are far better then never before. but with the guide from the polititian and weapon salesmen influence the result are, saddly going the opposite way. the history never lie that any dynasty or country are always running up and down, any influence may prolong the period of up hand, but with a price tag no body really want to see, never mind willing to pay, if we look back what happen from the roman and all the way down to spaniard. the human are smart enogh to warm themself why have to step in the sad way as before? in fact, a free and safe transmission are way better, beside there always has the way may co exist or trippro exist for a long time as we look the factor of indian rise. all the super power know the future fight between any giant would destroy the earth before anyone really seal the result of that show down.

  10. you probably are one of those pro Beijing , you are making a serious lethal assumption. China is not the number one military strong, most of it today technologies were stolen products from foreign inventors.

  11. Just look at the past with countries that have relationships with China ,most of them turned out to be a bad one.( Tibet , VietNam, Phillipine, Taiwan, Japan, US, etc… )
    China is full of greeds, irrational ambitions and friendships deceiving.
    It is best to stay out and have nothing with any China’s relationship, China is like a black ink, it is best not to get nearer or one can be contaminated.

  12. U.S.and China will work together for the world Peace and Prosperity as long as both governments’ ambitious political leaders are willing to compromise on equality bases. If U.S. can make friends with his bitter enemy Japan and Vietnam,why not China. Thou China was a big enemy to U.S. on Korean war, China would never forget U.S. government’s tremendous military and Flying Tiger supports on Sino-Japan conflict. China even wants to present medals to them to show their appreciation on September 3rd 2015. Why? Peace and prosperity are more preferable than war.

  13. The problem is many American politicians cherish American superiority and wish it will last forever. One way to achieve this dream is to keep other countries down, especially those showing signs of growing. On the other hand, most other countries seek growth to better serve their people. When the attempted growth is being suppressed, growing countries seek means to protect themselves and are seen by these American politicians as military threat. As a matter of facts, the military spending by other countries combined is dwarfed by American military spending, which incidentally also increases American debt and budget deficit. Crying wolf all the time creates phobia among American people and it can only continue to lose friends who at one time allies. A rethink of this aggressive policy is advisable.

  14. The US in not declining… all stats show that the US continues to grow just more slowly then before, the only country really declining is Russia and that is due to sanctions being imposed on that country. Sanctioning Russia also cripples the world as Russia is a major oil exporter. China’s growth is much faster then the US but it is not going to replace the US anytime soon…although I am not saying it won’t happen…. it just will be 25-30 years from now until China can stand up to US military might….and even then the US would still likely have superior technology..the gap would be much smaller though. In fact even though the whole world is having a economic crisis … the USA is still living pretty well..the US is the least effected by worlds economic problems. Russia is being sanctioned ….the EU has a declining economy and a declining military presence. Japan’s economy is stagnating still… The Middle east is filled with turmoil and event he rich are loosing big money because they are trying to wreck Russia and Iran even more. China is getting ready to hit 3 economic bubble busts at the same time which will dramatically weaken China’s economy. The US would be in the same shoes as everyone else if it was not for the US owning the reserve currency and the fact the the US banks have predicted all this and prepared long ahead of every other country and because the US has started to sell its own oil. Trust me the US is not declining but the world is becoming more even with China having a stronger voice in affairs…. many believe the US being the only world super power is unfair and look forward to China’s rise. Others fear the China’s rise is dangerous because it is ran by un-electable dictators .

  15. China says, it loves peace but it is not afraid of war. It does not fire first shot but it will not allow enemy to fire a 2nd shot.
    China-US had match in Korea war when China was weakest. This shows who is invading. Today, with declining US power, it is trying to remove the rein in Fascist Japan – actually started from 1947 when US released all the convicted Class A War Criminals who were barely in their life sentence for 2 years and made Japan its darling alliance. Practically, WW 2 in Asia has not ended as Japan never admitted its invasions eg, Pearl Harbor is due to US’s fault, Atrocities and Sex Slavery on top of torturing all POWs in Philippines and Thai-Burma Dead Railroad projects etc. USA’s short sightedness will end up killing itself.

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