Examining the U.S.-China Relations

The topic of China-U.S. relations has been one of the most pivotal contemporary discussions and it is not exaggeration to say it is one of the most strategic topics in the international system.
8 May 2021
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Seyed Mohammad Kazem Sajjadpour

 The topic of China-U.S. relations has been one of the most pivotal contemporary discussions and it is not exaggeration to say it is one of the most strategic topics in the international system. The reason behind importance of these relations is the way they influence international developments in the coming decades. In recent decades, China has continuously posed itself as a major challenge and in recent years as the most serious challenge to the US. At present, almost the majority of the US elite agree on China being a problem for the US and see it as a comprehensive and bipartisan issue.

Therefore, the pivotal question of this paper is:” What is the nature of China issue for the US in general and for Biden’s administration, in particular, and how is it to be analyzed?” to answer this question, three major aspects “China being an issue for the US, and the nature of this issue for the US”, “Unsuccessful handling of China with previous patterns”, Biden administration’s multifaceted interaction with China” will be probed.


  • China Being an Issue

The issueness of China for the US, is a multilayered and complicated issue, and no doubt a strategic one. The various dimensions of the issue of China must be first seen in its surge as a major global power. The US, as the world’s hegemon, is constantly like any other power sensitive to the rise of any other power that may challenge its hegemony. In fact, the China-US issue, is the issue of a hegemon with an emerging power that has hegemonic potential in the future. This issue forms the basic backbone of the US-China relations. However, at the heart of this problem, there are also political and economic relations, in a way that China, within a relatively short period, has managed to obtain an unimaginable global stand. At the heart of China’s surging economy, there is China’s outstanding technological rise. That is, China has managed, not only economically, to raise the income and other major macroeconomic indexes, but also, has amazingly made technological progress; so that ,in the opinion of the experts at the Japan Institute of International Affairs,  the American technological hegemony has been challenged by China ‘s recent technological advances.

The pivotal importance of technology in China’s political economy, and consequently, in its strategic status, is the focal point of the two countries’ conflicts.  China, not only has achieved technological advances, but has managed to turn them into main trade goods particularly in new areas, and inside this development, the issue of China being rich and gaining technology has facilitated China’s rise in other areas, and with various projects, one of which being “one belt, one road”, China has miraculously sketched a calm and strategic design at the global level.

From the political psychology standpoint, the US does not see China’s surge acceptable, and psychological tolerance of China is nothing to be digested by not only the American elites, but also the ordinary Americans, at least to see it from the angel of the normalized US supremacy. That is, regarding the American norms and values, the Americans see themselves above others, and regarding the norms, they consider production of wealth solely limited to western liberal democratic values, and that a country that is not bound by these values and does not reproduce them, and manages to reach this level of technological progress is not acceptable for the US. Therefore, the US is faced with a strategic technological-economic, psychological and multifaceted challenge. Although, psychologically, there is a need for an enemy and an “other”, a need for a bogeyman against an American angle which has one hundred percent of the traits of the adversary has been an inseparable part of the social –political psyche of America. After the soviet collapse, they scrambled to fill the void to some extent with other dangers, but as was said, China’s existence secures this US psychological need to a large extent.  

China being an issue, considering the economic intertwinedness of the US with China is a multilateral issue. In this regard, Frakson, the prominent American economist, by using the conceptual word of “Chemrica” points to the intertwined and interconnected economic relations of the US and China even during tough economic and political conditions and this, in itself, more than ever stresses China being an issue and its management for the US. Due to this intertwindness , despite the former soviet,  many American political and economic elites have benefited from China’s economic and technological growth and these intertwined interests have made confronting China harder and more complicated for the US.

  • Unsuccessful Handling of China

  In the past it was assumed that China and its rise could be managed, and the US grand strategy, particularly in the last two or three decades, was assimilating China in the world economy. The assumption was that this assimilation would finally result in the change and development of the nature of China’s system, and as a result change in its behavior. In fact, from the perspective of the intertwined political economy of China, the US and the world economy, China will change from inside, and its issue will be solved, as a result, China will turn from an enemy to a friend in the liberal democratic camp along with other countries. But in practice, China ‘s puzzle was that it drove ahead full speed, and even in the corona era with all its challenges, China is the only growing economy, while its political system remaining without change, and it has even grown more committed to Chinese norms and more resistant to western norms, proving unmanageability of China through the assimilation project.

The policy of assimilation has a long history in the US foreign policy, a tradition pursued on and off during the Trump era and in this regard the word “decoupling” can be used. That is, the ties between US-china economies be severed and with imposing tariffs, regulations and laws, make Chinese companies’ access to the American market and economic opportunities more limited and harder; like limits for Chinese students entry  to the US. These policies made china a huge monster during the Trump era, so that Steve Banon, Trump’s famous strategist, at the start of the second round of presidential elections in the US and with regard to the challenges that trump was faced with, saw his sole chance of winning drumming up the anti-Chinese sentiment and projecting China as a devil, which was to no avail. But in the end, the decoupling project was not a fruitful policy and particularly it should be said that, due to China’s international economic relations, global access and interdependence with other regions of the world, practically the decoupling policy failed and China still remained an issue and was constantly brought up during the election debates between Trump and Biden. Biden went to the White House and adopted a policy combined of change and continuity.

  • Biden Administration’s Multifaceted Interaction

By accepting the fact that the decoupling policy was not successful, Biden’s policy is centered around three pivots: First cooperation; that is, it has to cooperate with china in some areas and without cooperation with China keeping the US hegemony at the global level and preventing China’s surge as a rising hegemony is impossible. The example for this is cooperation with China at the Climate Change Conference, which was held online and China was a participant of which. Second Competition; Biden administration is committed to enter a tense competition in areas like technologies, standardization, and intellectual property and other areas which are in a way related to technology, and not allow China to exceed America. Third confrontation; confrontation with China in strategic issues like Taiwan, Hong Kong, the South China Sea and human rights issues as the issue of Uighur Muslims. Biden’s policy seems in appearance more complicated. However, for realizing the multipronged policy in such a short period, he has adopted operational strategies, one of which despite its allies’ inclination in the Middle East and West Asia, is a reduction of attention and not involvement compared with the past, to be able to focus its energy on China. Also, emphasis on the Quad group- quadrilateral cooperation among the US, Japan, Australia and India is a considerable element of Biden administration’s policy which has a military nature and is on the rise, while some believe that there should be added to this quadrilateral cooperation two other members including Singapore and South Korea. Another subject is stressing Japan for confronting China, and the recent trip by the Japanese prime minister as the first high ranking official to the US is analyzed along these lines, which shows Japan’s prominence in China management policies by Washington.

Despite Biden’s design and gestures, in practice the US’s China management policies will face setbacks. Because, China is not a passive actor and will play its cards against Biden’s multifaceted steps. In addition, China’s economic growth is unstoppable and even the US’s closest allies, while closely watching the China issue, have no interest in clashing with China. Europe is one of those allies which is not fully in line with the US in the China issue. China’s choices are worthy of notice. China’s Eurasian-oriented look and expanding ties with Russia and paying attention to the Middle East, and even offering a plan for the Persian Gulf security and offering several plans for China’s Glasnost have faced Biden’s administration ‘s policies with challenges.

Finally, meaning of this conflict, and China being an issue for the US, for Iran’s interests warrants an independent discussion. But first it must be noticed that this issue has and will influence Iran’s interests, and for this reason, observing and understanding the nature of this conflict are key to us, and second, this conflict must not be compared to the ideological conflicts of the Cold War Era. There is an economic-technological nature embedded in this issue which cannot be reconciled with the Cold War era premises and assumptions, of which china was a part. Third, there will be strategic openings for Iran which should be hailed, but to utilize them masterfully, attention must be paid to the complexities of the new stage of the international relations.


  • Conclusion:

Therefore, China-US relations are important, serious and multilayered and China is America’s most pressing issue and this issueness has long begun. At the heart of this issueness first lies the concern of a hegemon about another rising hegemon. Second, in managing the China issue, there are ups and downs in the US policy and, at present, Biden’s policy is a multipronged one, and third, that this policy is going to succeed or like previous policies is doomed to failure is shrouded in secrecy and there are serious challenges to it. Finally, these conflicts and complexities do not have necessarily a bilateral nature and we, too, should closely watch them. These multifaceted interactions have impacts on the international system and its actors, and Iran is no exception.          

 (The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the IPIS)     

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