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

Wang Jisi, President of Peking University's Institute of International and Strategic Studies and editor of The Rise of China and a Changing East Asian Order

The China-U.S. relationship is not doomed for a Cold War-style confrontation. Neither is it destined to avoid a deadly conflict. The more likely trend on the road ahead is a further deterioration of relations until both China and the United States come to the realization - maybe following a tragic crisis - that they have to negotiate a ‘deal’ of mutual tolerance.

Looking back at history, it is China, not America, that has played a decisive role in shaping the relationship. China changed the feature of its ties with America in 1949 when the People’s Republic was founded. China again reshaped the contour of the relationship after 1978 when its leadership decided to embark on reform and opening. Since then China-U.S. economic and cultural relations have prospered. Major changes in American politics, like the civil rights movement, the financial crisis in 2008, and changes of administration in Washington, have hardly affected the landscape of U.S.-China interactions.

Now, once again, it is mainly China’s power and behavior that incur a shifting of the bilateral ties. The Americans are alarmed by China’s expansion of global influence, exemplified by the Belt and Road Initiative, and its reinforcement of the role of the state in economy and society, as well as the consolidation of the Communist Party leadership with its ideology. The current trade friction is only a reflection of the deep-rooted, enlarging cleavages of political values, power structures, and national goals between the two giants.

The United States has now identified China as a major external threat while its bonds with other countries are debilitated. China seems unruffled in its march toward becoming a global game-changer defiant against Western values and practices. However, both countries are encountering daunting challenges at home that are much greater and more urgent than geostrategic contentions abroad.

Both China and America are undergoing dramatic domestic transformations, the destinations of which will determine whether, and how, they can find a way to renovate the links that have benefited the two sides over the last forty years. China is changing more rapidly than America. But China will continue to change in its own pace and track, and ultimately in the right direction. To dodge an ill fate, the two countries should engage each other in a benign competition to see which country is better able to make their people happier and more dignified, and who will earn more respect in the world.