One of the most common international political clichés is the bilateral relations between China and the United States. However, what is not very clear is the exact nature of the relations, which until recently, observers had settled for an inelegant but accurate description: the countries are neither foes nor friends. This seemed quite a reasonable designation: for starters, they are clearly not allies.
The Clear Differences Between China and America
The United States and China have never had much in common. There are countless China and America differences. One of the most significant is that the two countries do not share political values or overriding security interests.
Their fundamental perception of the world order clashes awfully. While China is working towards a multi-polar post-American world, the United States is tirelessly working towards preserving the liberal order despite its waning power. Additionally, other issues such as the East Asia tensions over Taiwan and the frequent disputes between Japan and China increase the friction between these two countries.
These two countries, despite their numerous differences, cannot really be termed as adversaries. They really don’t regard each other as security or ideological threats. Besides, their economies are intertwined so deeply that they will do anything to avoid any conflict that would interrupt China and America trade ties.
The Fundamentals of China and America Relations
China’s remarkable economic expansion and the global financial meltdown that pushed many economies to their knees give the impression that the West is slowly going down as the others rise. The previously inconceivably large economic gap between the two countries has significantly narrowed down.
The relations between these two countries are bound to change should a substantial shift in power balance occur. This, although not surprising, will come with additional strains to the already struggling relationship.
China is rapidly changing its stand on critical issues as it asserts its power in the East. For starters, it has adopted a more assertive policy on foreign issues and employed tough measures in dealing with maritime and territorial disputes with neighboring countries.
China has also adopted a program of rapid modernization of military actions and cyber attacks, a move that has unsettled the US and their Eastern Asia allies. China, on the other hand, interprets this response to their tough policies as a subtle attempt to contain their power.
What Are the Deeper Issues?
The US-China relations are tough, but tougher times are in the offing since the two countries can’t understand each other, especially on the critical issues that are vital to stable relations between them. Here is a simplified dissection of the strained relationship.
The Relationship is Plagued with Distrust
China’s political system hasn’t changed over the years, which has resulted in a surge in nationalism. This is one of the main reasons why there is some friction. Further differences in its military action modernization, regional security, and human rights policies have also raised eyebrows with both China and American allies. China’s beliefs on human rights imply that they are exempt from complying with universal norms as they believe in codes of ritual behaviors as opposed to individual rights.
China Is a Rising Power on Security Issues
Due to its modernization of military policy, China today is safe from inland invasion, with none of the neighbors even trying to match its power. The country also basks in military and technological superiority, with the army boasting of better capabilities, which include mobile nuclear missiles, quiet submarine attacks, and super advanced jet fighters. This is also the case with the US, which also enjoys military superiority with no neighbors to compete with.
Fundamental Differences on Policies
Beijing and Washington have almost nothing in common when it comes to policies. Some of the main contentious policies include climate change, security, and economic and global responsibilities. The fundamental differences in the policies have fuelled the distrust between the two countries. These disputes are likely to remain unsolved for some time. Since it is almost hopeless to assume that the differences will be resolved, it is far more conceivable to have the differences managed instead.
Economic Super Power Assumptions
The International Monetary Fund has estimated that the Chinese economy is likely to overtake that of America by 2025, all this due to the registered remarkable growth. This rise of the economic power in developing countries inverts the existing world order and suggests that China should take the opportunity to modify the international mechanisms on international laws and regimes that they deem unreasonable. However, all this talk of a shifting power balance and the inevitable rise of China is yet to convince America.
Lack of Legitimacy in Policies
The difference between China and America policy development goes far beyond their borders. It is each country’s belief that the other lacks legitimacy in its policies. The US asserts that China gives territorial; no strings attached resources to developing countries. China, on the other hand, gives the assertion back at them, arguing that in their rise to power, America had the same mercantilist trade policies. Both countries claim that the other underwrites the global order out of sheer self-interest and not altruism.
The Assumptions that Drive China and America
There are liberalism and realism assumptions that America’s policies on China are based upon.
· The Liberal Assumption
The United States assumes that China, through its investments and trade, will integrate into the existing order, and take part in maintaining it out of sheer self-interest
· The Realism Assumption
The US assumes that until China agrees to be a stakeholder, and even after it does, America will maintain its military might and alliances which they will use to deter China should it threaten to weaken the existing world order.
Initially, the liberal assumption seemed likely to take the day, especially since its military might was almost negligent compared to that of the US. However, given China’s current acquiescence, the realism assumption seems more likely. The existing incompatibilities in their international systems will keep these two countries in strained relations. As China’s power continues to grow, and America fails in their attempt to control them, the balance and their relations will remain strained.
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