As China rises economically, and as it gradually becomes apparent that China’s rise is unlikely to be held back by any external force, maintaining a stable and peaceful relationship between China and the U.S. in the coming decades emerges as an increasingly important challenge facing both countries, and the rest of the world.
Over the coming decades, at all levels of government, business, academia, and the social sector, as well as at the level of the individual citizen, both China and the U.S. need to actively engage in a broad, and expanding, spectrum of topics of mutual interests. These activities will include:
1. COMMUNICATE to achieve mutual understanding of each other’s positions, intentions, and perspective on specific topics, in order to minimize misunderstanding, mis-interpretation, and mis-calculation that could lead to direct conflict. This is particularly important between the U.S. and Chinese civil authorities, and their respective military branches.
Under President Obama, the U.S. and China initiated an annual bilateral Strategic and Economic Dialogue in 2009. The Seventh Round was held and completed in June of 2015. Although no agreement has yet been reached on current, complex, and highly-sensitive topics such as China’s territorial disputes in the South China Sea and East China Sea and cyberhacking, such regular, high-level bilateral exchange has come a long way since the U.S. and China re-opened direct channel of dialogue in the early 1970s.
In recent years, high-level military exchange has also resumed, not only between China and the U.S., but also between China and Japan – with strong influence from the U.S., no doubt. Hopefully, a comprehensive set of agreements will lead to the prevention of military accident from taking place in the future.
2. COOPERATE on projects of significance for both the U.S. and China in order to build mutual understanding and, eventually, mutual trust. Encouragingly, progress has been made so far on many fronts, with many more opportunities available for future cooperation. At the government level, for instance, China and the U.S. should welcome each other’s participation in regional, as well as global, trade and financial institutions such as Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) with open arms.
Within academia, despite recent hiccups on a few American university campuses where its purpose and practices came under question, the Confucius Institute has contributed to the introduction of Chinese culture to America since its founding in 2004. Meanwhile, Chinese students continue to study English beginning from elementary school, and many of the best among them continue to pour into American universities in search of advanced education. On the other hand, American youths – especially those with potential to become future leaders – need more encouragement to study Chinese in school, and easier access to China in order to develop a fuller understanding and appreciation for China’s history, culture, and values. In this regard, organizations such as the Global China Connection (GCC), www.GCCglobal.org, which connects university students in America and China, serve a mission of strategic importance in the coming decades.
3. INTEGRATE financial assets and economic interests through participation in each other’s economic domains. Enacting the US-China Bilateral Investment Treaty is an important first step, followed by further loosening of investment barriers on both sides. The U.S. government should take note of the fact that, other than the defense sector, there are increasing benefits to integrate China into innovative – including hi-tech – sectors of the U.S. economy. In exchange, China should open up its service and agriculture
sectors to U.S. investments. By tightly integrating each other’s financial and economic interests, not only will businesses and consumers from both countries benefit directly, political leaders on both sides will have an added incentive to stay away from destructive behaviors in times of conflict.
The future of US-China relations need not be based entirely on competition. Instead, it should be based on a healthy mix of cooperation and competition, or “coopetition.” The world is big enough, with more than enough challenges facing mankind, that there is more than enough space for the U.S., China, and all other nations to peacefully co-exist, and to work together to resolve our common challenges.