By Fang Bing
April 11, 2023
FILE - U.S. President Joe Biden, right, stands with Chinese President Xi Jinping before a meeting on the sidelines of the G-20 summit meeting in Bali, Indonesia, Nov. 14, 2022.
NEW YORK — Since the first meeting between U.S. President Richard Nixon and China’s leader Mao Zedong in 1972, the U.S.-China relationship has weathered disagreements, often for the sake of mutual profitability. But since 2012, when Xi Jinping came to power, issues such as the trade imbalance, technology competition and human rights have increased tensions between the world’s two largest economies.
In November 2022, U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping met in an effort to stabilize relations, but since then, the U.S. shot down an alleged Chinese spy balloon in February. Then, U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy met on April 5 in California with Tsai Ing-wen, the president of Taiwan — a self-ruling island that China claims to be a breakaway province.
In response, China staged three days of combat drills to simulate sealing off Taiwan. And from April 5 to 7, Beijing welcomed French President Emmanuel Macron, in part hoping to counter America’s goal of creating a global coalition to resist Chinese policies.
How will the U.S.-China relationship unfold over the next 10 years? VOA Mandarin asked four scholars who are longtime observers of the relationship between Washington and Beijing. Here are their responses, edited for clarity and brevity.
David Lampton, professor emeritus of China studies, Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies:
“I see no forces at the moment that are pushing us in a more constructive direction, and what we have going on is what I would call an action-reaction cycle, particularly in the security area, weapons development and military buildup. We have more and more forces operating in close proximity to each other. The possibility for accidents is going up, and yet we don't seem to be able to make any moves that would lessen this trend.
“If you think back to when the last election occurred and the Biden administration came in, there was talk about trying to reduce tariffs, there was talk about more dialogue between the leaders of the two countries, there was talk about arms control, or at least confidence building measures in the security area. There was talk about more military-to-military relations … and basically all those developments did not occur.”
Yan Xuetong, dean, Institute of International Relations, Tsinghua University, Beijing (speaking as part of a panel discussion hosted by Harvard University on April 5):
“We won’t have this competition between China and the U.S. driven by ideology. My understanding is that neither China nor the U.S. have the intention to expand their ideology or political model. Populism is a new momentum, not only in the Western countries but also in non-Western countries.
“You see now people on both sides understand that the competition is in cyberspace, the core of the competition is digital technology superiority. The ideological confrontation is just an instrument used for that purpose. Ideology is no longer the goal, rather the strategy used for achieving the goal, which is technology superiority. So this is not a cold war because it’s not a geopolitical competition, it’s a cyber-political competition.”
Stephen Walt, Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations, Harvard University (speaking as part of a panel discussion hosted by Harvard University on April 5):
“China has notions about what the world order should be. It's not a liberal world order, it's in some respect a much more West-failure world order, hard-shell sovereignty, each country gets to decide, for example, what the definition of human rights is, as opposed to a more universalist conception identity in the United States.
“What really worries me is that I don't see a serious effort underway at present to develop ways to manage the bilateral relationship. Politicians and intellectuals start to compete for who can be more anti-American or who can be more anti-Chinese. I think one can see those dynamics already happening in both places. I worry about the gradual severing of communication between the two societies, where each side is increasingly trapped in its own bubble, where it tells itself a story about its role in the world.”
Jerome Cohen, professor emeritus, New York University School of Law:
“I think we handled the balloon incident badly. China apologized in effect before the balloon got very far, and we should have built upon that and agreed with them how to handle it, even if it meant destroying the balloon over Alaska.
“We should not have allowed the balloon to get to the continental United States, and we certainly shouldn't have canceled the secretary of state’s trip to China. That was a mistake, and I just thought we should try to make up for that now.
“I think President Joe Biden should make a major speech where he honestly recognizes the undesirable effects of the harsh American attitude toward the People’s Republic of China and calls upon the PRC to make corresponding concessions to us, so we can avoid further downward spiraling and start an upward spiral.”