Looking back at the year 2018, China-US relations have been a particularly hot topic. The unprecedented trade war, arrest of a senior Huawei executive and sparring over alleged cyber espionage have shaken the foundations of relations built in the last 40 years. Washington has defined China as a strategic competitor and is implementing it in policies.
More and more American elites believe China and the US are destined for a confrontational competition. In China, quite a few international relations scholars have expressed deep concerns over the prospects of bilateral relations.
Profound changes have taken place and it will be hard to restore ties to the shape they were in before the trade conflict. This is the reality we need to face up to. The US’ strategic thinking on China has changed as the latter’s rise has deeply upset the hegemonic power. But it is impossible to hold down China’s rise.
What will the US do next to deal with China? What is Washington’s strategic goal? The answers are very vague. So far, the US is trying to get an upper hand in bilateral relations, preventing it from catching up with the US and resetting Sino-US competition. It has not yet prepared itself for an all-out confrontation with China.
There is still a lot of room for China to maneuver if it wants to avoid a China-US decoupling and a new cold war. It’s in the interest of the US to maintain most of the exchanges between the two countries, especially to expand bilateral economic and trade relations. As long as China continues to open its door to the US, Washington cannot cut off ties.
Neither China nor the US has the will to be involved in a military conflict. China has the ability to further strengthen its defense, which will discourage the US from military adventures. Beijing has sufficient means to suppress forces such as the Taiwan separatists to safeguard the country’s core interests. It’s expected that China and the US will continue to control their differences over security next year.
China has the capability to thwart any US attempt at forming an anti-China alliance. Few countries in the world are willing to take sides in the China-US row, including the other members of the Five Eyes. An international cold war against China is impossible.
Future China-US relations are expected to tread cautiously with more disputes. But the resolve to rein in these problems will also be stronger, with more means at their disposal.
The Chinese society needs to maintain calm, avoiding being instigated by Washington to move toward a cold war. At the same time, we must be determined not to be afraid of facing the inevitable changes in bilateral relations, and strive to stabilize the relationship through both competition and cooperation.
Given China’s strength and Americans’ desire for a peaceful life, Washington cannot act unscrupulously against China. But uncertainties plague relations. In the face of American elites who want to contain China, Beijing should carry out reform and opening-up with gusto to become more prosperous, open and powerful.