Sino-US Relations– Is the Hegemonic Position of the US Threatened?

Over the course of the 4 decades since US and China established diplomatic relations, China has metamorphosed from an isolated country suffering from deplorable socio-economic conditions and cultural tumult into a formidable power propelled by geo-political momentum. Due to the speed and magnitude with which China has re-emerged as a major world power, the world’s failure of the world to deal with China’s totalitarian domestic polices and its use of coercion with neighbouring countries, it goes without saying that Washington is increasingly apprehensive of China’s growing presence.

The scene of world politics is indeed very interesting, in this context of China being reckoned as an emerging superpower, while the US is regarded as the incumbent. Due to an imminent power struggle, the probability of destructive clashes between the two giants seems inevitable in the future. However, given their immense economic prowess and indispensability for international trade, the two are also intimately intertwined. Therefore, if they fail to maintain reasonably cooperative relationships, they have the potential to wreak havoc not only upon each other, but on the rest of the world as well.

China’s rivalry with the US can be viewed largely on the fronts of power and ideology. This conflict is reminiscent of the Cold War era, although communist China is far more threatening and potent than the stagnant USSR. Further, its massive and growing economy, along with its improving technology and human resources, is making China a strong military adversary as well. But while China is a worthy opponent, Washington has many competitive advantages over Beijing, such as a fortunate geographical position, unrivaled military skill, technological innovation, dynamic educational growth and an increasing self-sufficiency.

If China indeed aims at dethroning the US from its current position, certain trajectories along which Sino-US relations might develop should be discussed.  Firstly, the war for hegemony might cultivate into a real war, and armed conflict in the nuclear age could have drastic repercussions. Experts have also been considering the likelihood of a new Cold War with 21st century characteristics, and have also outlined a multi-faceted and protracted conflict between the two countries. Lastly, there could be an uneasy, but fluid coexistence between both countries, wherein deep and growing tension could be punctuated by occasional cooperation.

Sino-US relations already have been deteriorating on a number of fronts; friction in areas like trade and technology transfer, the Taiwan issue, and control over the South China Sea are increasing military hostility. For instance, the US has imposed sanctions on China’s Defence Ministry and has also announced a counter policy of aid $330 million worth in military equipment to Taiwan, while simultaneously stepping up its military capability in the East and South China Sea. This spate of animosity between the countries has  led observers to question Washington’s motives and the future of the relationship, while China has called Washington’s actions as a ‘total destruction of 4 decades of gains in US-China relations.’ In retort, China has started joint naval exercises with other South Asian countries and postponed military dialogue with the US, while its trailing of the US navy vessel in the South China Sea has only made matters worse.

It is imperative for the US to negotiate compromises with China and resolve superfluous differences. China can also contribute by negotiating an end to the ongoing trade war. China can agree to follow a code of conduct in the South China Sea, while the US can stop provoking China’s security.

What China wants, at least for the time being, is the status of a dominant regional power. Such a compromise would help in reducing tension between the military capabilities of the two countries. Further, mutual differences over the definition of national interest for both countries need to be adjusted and the Taiwan issue needs to resolved. The West should make peace with a rising China and invest in bolstering a healthy bilateral relationship. Although China is trying to adjust to the changes in the USA’s domestic politics, economy and security policy while trying to maintain a stable relation with the USA, both countries are going through a period of uncertainty in their bilateral relations where potential conflicts may fare out.

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