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

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

Robert Sutter, Professor of Practice of International Affairs at George Washington University and author of U.S.-Chinese Relations: Perilous Past, Pragmatic Present:

Self-absorbed and increasingly powerful, authoritarian China works covertly and overtly against American interests and influence at home and abroad. A populist domestic upsurge in American politics demands higher priority for U.S. interests. The result is the most substantial negative change in American policy toward China in fifty years. The Trump administration and congressional officials register broad anger and growing angst on how China over the years has unfairly taken advantage of America’s open economy and accommodating posture to strengthen Chinese power for use against U.S. leadership. The stakes are more serious today because China is widely seen as a peer competitor and the trajectory of the U.S.-China power balance is viewed as favoring Beijing.

American military, intelligence and domestic security departments are implementing administration strategies focusing on China as a predatory and revisionist rival seeking dominance. They have widespread support in Congress. Longstanding American concerns with China’s growing military challenges combine with newly prominent concerns about Beijing’s efforts to infiltrate and influence U.S. opinion and politics. Chinese state-directed exploitation of the U.S.-backed international economic order to weaken America and advance China’s economic capacity now pose an ominous challenge to American leadership in the modern economy.

Trump administration trade and investment policies have been conflicted; the recent focus on punitive tariffs is costly and controversial. American media and public opinion have begun to discern the overall grim turn in U.S. government polices against China but it’s unclear how far they will go in supporting the shift from past positive U.S. engagement with China. Americans seeking to accommodate Beijing and 'meet China half-way' likely will be drowned out by growing disclosures on how China has manipulated such positive American approaches to strengthen Beijing and weaken America. 

China is determined to pursue its current course. The impasse will grow. For now, neither side wants conflict or war, but both are prepared to test the other in advancing in such sensitive areas as improving U.S. ties with Taiwan and China’s widespread espionage and manipulation of American opinion. Chinese promises and reassurances count for little. A serious challenge or decline in China’s perceived power would alter American angst over the prospect of Chinese dominance, possibly allowing for more mutual accommodation.