U.S. – China: A Relationship Of Inconvenience?

In an era of economic modernization, it is clear states stand to lose more and gain very little by locking horns and flexing their muscles. With the way the international system has changed over the past few decades, for any state — especially one that has come a long way from being just another piece of land on the map to a regional superpower, if not global — it will always be considered foolhardy and erratic behavior to opt for a violent and coercive approach to settle disputes.

U.S. - China: A Relationship Of Inconvenience?

Talking on the table and weighing the pros and cons of fighting a war is the new battlefield, with diplomacy the best way out. Indeed, Carl Von Clausewitz’s statement, “War is nothing but a continuation of politics with admixture of other means,” is not more applicable to the current scenario in which states, regardless of their insecurities and reservations about their so-called allies, cannot afford to go to war.

China’s emergence as the Asian peninsula superpower

Today China has come a long way towards establishing itself as one of the emerging superpowers in the Asian peninsula. A major chunk of China’s economic progress is due to the fact that there is no state on the globe that can challenge its production and manufacturing superiority. And the fact that China is pulling strings on Wall Street clearly means that the U.S. cannot afford to adapt a confrontational policy with the Asian giant.

Apart from already going with its economic plans at a breakneck pace, China is also arming itself to the teeth, and this has raised concerns in North America where China’s aggressive approach is seen as a ploy to flex its muscles in the vicinity of the South China Sea, which is an international disputed territory with multiple players vying to have control over it. The fact that the Chinese navy’s movements and the recent developments in that context (the building of the artificial island) are further worrying the U.S. and its allies.

However, it was never really supposed to be the way things have panned out in recent memory. In 1972, U.S. President Richard Nixon visited Beijing, which was a first in U.S. history at that time. It was a move that astonished and shook the whole world, considering China’s ideology towards economics and politics. Regardless, that did not stop Washington from trying to broker a diplomatic relationship with a state that was steadfast in its resolve to not give its “newfound friend” any room to maneuver.

Even though the media at that time was very critical about this particular move, Nixon and his administration were defiant since they saw the bigger picture. In China, Washington saw a state with huge potential and a possible market and a strategically important ally despite a few features of the state that made Congress a little twitchy.

After keeping very much in line with the economic reforms that were introduced during the 1970s and being very consistent about it, China has really come to life since the turn of the new millennium. Today it is a vocal and integral member of the World Trade Organization and one of the most vital cogs in the international monetary system. It might be a benign superpower for now, but one cannot underestimate its global influence on all levels.

U.S. – China relations

Since the beginning of the year, U.S.-Sino relations have gone through some turbulent times, to say the least, with both giants having reservations over one another’s modus operandi. While the U.S. has reservations about China’s recent activities in the region, both in a militaristic and economic sense, Beijing has reservations of its own in terms of U.S. presence in close proximity to its seas.

The boiling point could, however, be the recent cyber-terrorism issue in which the U.S. has been constantly blaming Chinese hackers for getting inside its military assets and extracting critical information. China has maintained its innocence, and only recently, senior officials from both sides wrapped up four days of meetings on cyber-security.

China has vowed to reprimand and punish domestic hackers, but it appears that Washington has not been impressed with President Barack Obama’s hinting at possible sanctions on China for online attacks. Such statements, if blown out of proportion, will further degrade relations between the two countries, which, in all honesty, does not bode well for either side or for other stakeholders.

However, the cyber-security issue is one of the many examples of mistrust from both sides. Consider, for instance, the peculiar issue of the South China Sea, which for decades has been a bone of contention among all the nations whose internationally-defined territory it falls into. Even today, this territorial dispute continues with China claiming sovereignty over the sea, which is believed to hold up to 11 billion barrels of oil and 190 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

The United States, with its persistence to ensure freedom of navigation and interests in maintaining the sea lines of communication, has been very vocal about its reservations on Chinese adventures in the disputed territory. The failure of states vying for a stranglehold over the sea through a proper diplomatic channel is already undermining international laws that govern maritime disputes and gives way to possible confrontational behavior that will not result in anything good for all stakeholders.These are waters that need to be navigated carefully since one error of judgment would surely ruin all the progress that has been achieved in terms of the relations the two sides have brokered in recent memory.

As things stand, keeping in mind the grand scheme of things, war is not an option for either state, as any confrontation, either a skirmish or an all-out war, would simply put a lid on the economic relations the two countries have been enjoying lately since it would leave both sides with a bad bargain.

A confrontation with China could weaken the U.S.

Moreover, with the U.S. already huffing and puffing on its way towards restoring order in a volatile region, namely, the Middle East, another confrontation in another region would definitely weaken its power.

Some political analysts have drawn comparisons of U.S. — Sino relations to the frosty relations it had with the Soviet Union, but that is purely a far-fetched assumption considering the fact that China is not operating in a covert manner at any level and despite its various issues and enjoys a place atop the pinnacle of regional and global committees. Indeed, taking China completely out of the equation would do the U.S. more harm than good.

Beijing, on the other hand, is well aware of the fact that despite enjoying a really good phase in its history, it cannot afford to adopt a confrontational policy towards the U.S. as its economy relies a lot on U.S.-based firms. Without these MNCs (Multinational Corporations) outsourcing their core tasks to China, Beijing might not be in a position to enjoy the economic freedoms it has right now. A producer cannot live without its market, and Chinese bureaucracy is completely aware of it.

China’s String of Pearls Policy aims to establish its influence in the region, and its adventures in the South China Sea are a major piece of this puzzle. Historically, China has every right to claim sovereignty on the disputed territory, and even though the U.S has reservations about the recent developments near Nansha Islands, Beijing is probably in the right when it comes to being vocal about its territorial claims. Being an outsider with no territorial claim, it would serve U.S. interests well not to be dragged into this affair.

Chinese President Xi Jinping is set to visit the U.S. from Sept. 22 to 25 in an event that is now the most-anticipated one on the world stage this year. A lot of issues will obviously be discussed during the Chinese supremo’s sojourn, which could and should serve as a perfect opportunity for both states to make a fresh start and discard all negative notions that, for now, are dragging down all the good these two states can achieve if they work together.