America and China: Destined for Conflict or Cooperation? We Asked 14 of the World's Most Renowned Experts

U.S. President Donald Trump and China's President Xi Jinping make joint statements at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, November 9, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
July 30, 2018 Topic: Security Region: Asia Tags: ChinaAsiaTrumpIndo-PacificAsia-PacificXi Jinping

America and China: Destined for Conflict or Cooperation? We Asked 14 of the World's Most Renowned Experts

The National Interest asked 13 scholars and experts to respond to the following question: Given growing tensions between the United States and China, where do you see the overall relationship headed? Towards a permanent state of competition? 

Check out other comments in this series from: Graham AllisonGordon G. ChangDavid DenoonMichael FabeyJohn GlaserJames HolmesLin GangKishore MahbubaniRobert RossRuan ZongzeRobert SutterXie TaoXu Feibiao and Wang Jisi

Gordon G. Chang, Columnist and author of The Coming Collapse of China:

The United States of America and the People’s Republic of China have irreconcilable interests. As a result, these two super states are destined for intense competition and perhaps conflict.

We call China “revisionist,” but “revolutionary” is more precise. Chinese state media outlets these days, like in the 1950s and 1960s, carry revolutionary statements. China’s media now fawn over Xi Jinping’s “unique views on the future development of mankind.”

What is so unique about the views of the regime’s supremo? In September 2017, Foreign Minister Wang Yi, in Study Times, the Central Party School newspaper, wrote that Xi’s “thought on diplomacy” has “made innovations on and transcended the traditional Western theories of international relations for the past 300 years.”

Wang’s 300-year reference was almost certainly to the Treaty of Westphalia of 1648, now recognized as the basis of the current international system of sovereign nations. Wang’s use of “transcended” indicates Xi is contemplating a world without states other than China, especially because Xi himself often uses language of the imperial era, when Chinese emperors maintained that they—and they alone—ruled tianxia or “all under heaven.”

This tianxia worldview, increasingly evident in Xi’s and Beijing’s pronouncements, is, of course, fundamentally inconsistent with the existence of a multitude of sovereign states. The Chinese view, breathtakingly ambitious, unfortunately drives many of Beijing’s belligerent actions.

Beijing leaders not only speak tianxia but act tianxia. They are, for instance, trying to take territory from India in the south to South Korea in the north. At the same time, they are moving to close off international water and airspace, a direct challenge to everyone not Chinese. They are supporting the North Korean nuclear weapons and ballistic missile efforts with technology, components, equipment, materials, and financial and diplomatic support. Almost every day, their media attack the concepts of representative governance and individual freedom.

China’s rulers act with impunity, injuring American pilots and diplomats and harassing American ships and aircraft. They have seized an American vessel from international water and interfered with others. They steal hundreds of billions of dollars of American intellectual property each year. They ignore their obligations to other states while expecting other states to honor theirs to China. They are engaging in nothing less than an assault on the world’s rules-based order.

For about 150 years, American policymakers have drawn their western defense perimeter off the coast of Asia. China each day seeks to undermine America’s friends and allies in East Asia and drive the U.S. away. That effort, of course, directly undermines American security.

China’s challenge to America is across the board and therefore existential.