US-China Relations: Converging and Diverging Interests 

Shujaat Ali Azmi

Over the last 40 years, China has achieved marvels in economic fields. Its industrial prowess has helped it win the title of the “factory of the world”, being the world’s largest manufacturer of goods. It has also, in a relatively short span of time, become the second largest economy in the world. China has succeeded in attracting large companies and countries’ investments.

Normally,  hegemons don’t allow rising countries to rise but due to aggressive American policies of invading Iraq and Afghanistan, China got the time and space to rise. The economic recession of 2008, which halted Western economies, was ineffective in case of Chinese economy. Chinese resilience attracted attention of American policy makers as they felt that now it has emerged to be a peer competitor in the future. But to avoid any American heat, China continues as a passive power which it learnt from history and its Confucius-inspired philosophy.

To contain China, America has been working to formulate alliances in North East Asia.  Strategic competition between US and China will shape up the future of international systems. To understand this competition, it is necessary to individually analyze objectives of both powers and what are their policies to reach those objectives. Security competition between major powers could only be understood by realism as a theoretical framework. This study could help to foresee future of Sino-American relations.

As mentioned above, China arose to its current economic position peacefully, but after the American strategy of Chinese containment, it has changed its objectives as well as its policies to reach to those objectives. China has currently been pursuing its goal of global hegemony through military and economic dominance. In history, China has always remained an economic power but it has been attacked multiple times by Western and Eastern colonizers so working on military might has also been one of the major Chinese objectives. It has been working to enhance its military by increasing its military budget, reducing military manpower by using latest technology for boosting Naval and Air capabilities and working on indigenous manufacturing of advanced weapons. It has been working to become the biggest economic power by reaching top position in global economy and has been working on technological advancement. China has recently started working on artificial intelligence and computing which is being termed as the future of economic prosperity. 

There has always been a security competition between the ruling and the rising powers so it’s likely that this massive rise of Chinese economy will be looked with suspicions by the American policy makers. Currently, China is not only among the top in both military and economy, but is also considered a major power with global influence.

Chinese plans of becoming a regional hegemon has deterred amerce. Earlier they worked only to retain their position of global hegemony but now they are working to contain china. With Chinese containment they are also working to boost its economy which was growing at about 2% which is almost three times less that the speed of Chinese economy. But they are also working on the historical tool of containing powers, that is, through alliance making. Due to serious economic issues, they have now made economy as their first priority as being mentioned in the Trump political campaign to contain China. They will also be working to enhance and expand military might by formulating military alliances in the region which can provide them space near china. As observed during the previous election campaign of Donald Trump, Americans now are working to Make America Great Again, which essentially reflects a realization that the power of the United States has eroded.  

Despite of strategic competition between China and America, there are some similar interests also. America being the hegemon has been working from previous two decades to compel or force Iran and North Korea to dismantle their nuclear program so America could legitimize its writ in the world. China does not have the same interests, but it has also supported American demand of dismantling Iranian and Korean nukes, as Iranian nukes made Middle East a resource rich area under continuous social turmoil and North Korean nuclear program can push far eastern countries like Japan and South Korea to pursue nuclear weapons.

Terrorism has also been a major threat to both powers as independence movement in Xinxiang and terrorist attacks in America have pushed both the powers for cooperation to curb terrorism. Afghanistan has been considered a safe haven for terrorist for past two decades for which both China and America are economically funding Afghan government so to strengthen them against terrorism. Taliban being a reality in Afghanistan both countries have worked on their own to stabilize their relations with them, accepting them as major stakeholders in the country. Being two largest manufacturer of the world, both need peaceful sea routes for trade. But recently piracy has played a major threat to world. Both have conducted several military operations in Indian Ocean to wipe out piracy.

Both countries also have diverging interests, starting with economic domination in which they are pursuing opposite policies; China has been working for further globalization by connecting different regions through sea lanes, rail links and roads, whereas America has been pursuing protectionist policies to strengthen its economy. In the case of influence in Africa, they have been pushing each other out of African resource rich industry and its capacity to be one of the great economy due to its large size and massive population. Both have pushed their tech companies to invest more so to get African countries more in their respective influence. They are also pushing against each other in Asia as now social scientist points toward Asia as the future pivot of global that will get more allies will likely out power other. Both have different techniques for alliance making, china have been providing economic incentives to developing countries whereas America has been providing them with military assurances in case of any mishap. China and America have different positions for peace in Middle East as America wants social instability and disorder in the region so to make oil rich regional powers like OPEC countries dependent on America for their security whereas china wants peace in Middle East so ensure free flow of its major oil source for Chinese industry. Both US and China oppose each other in mitigating the impacts of climate change, America have withdrawn from Paris Climate Accord and America has withdrawn from it considering it has in favor of China. Both have different an opinion in maintaining global economic order, America has been opposing current economic order as evident from contemporary comments of president trump who consider who as a useless organization whereas China support contemporary international economic order. 

Sino American strategic competition can easily be mitigated by policy of neutrality that India and many others country have pursued during the cold war. Through this policy, Asian countries will keep this conflict out of Asia by not providing America a space in the region. But for this China will have to play its part by not pushing neutral states under its realm. China could easily out match china by peacefully negotiating its territorial issues of Senkaku islands that are just few rocks. Through this they will push America out of the region and comply other states to come for negotiation.  But if Americans want dominance than they has to formulate alliance with Russians as they can’t compete with two countries simultaneously as they will push China and Russia towards each other as being recently seen in Sino-Russian cooperation. But this competition is healthy for world as they are now able to live freely and will get more FDI from both these countries that could be used for their economic development. Best policy for the developing countries will be policy of neutrality as it will protect them from adversaries. 

Sino-American strategic competition will not remain peaceful as America being the major power will try its level best to push China for competition. This competition will tilt towards the power that can maximize their allies around the globe. China has remained peaceful but it will no more pursue policy of passiveness and will likely be competing with America. America has always remain the torchbearer of liberalist ideas that have pushed many countries in American sphere of influence but if they pursue protectionist and unilateralist policies they will lose all their allies. America has a successful experience in containing a great power in past which will provide them a leverage in this security competition but china has learned much from the history as evident from the history for which they will likely to be more resilient than any other historical power. Alas it is concluded that future will be a tough competition between America and China for which each country has to formulate long term plans to outmaneuver each other.

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