Relations between China and the United States: Seeking Coexistence amid Competition

The Biden administration has been in power for about a year, yet Sino-US ties have not improved appreciably. Despite the fact that the two nations’ ties have lately showed indications of stability, long-term contradictions in bilateral relations have not been significantly resolved. The general trajectory of Sino-American ties is bleak. However, in order to face China and the United States’ realities calmly, both parties must actively consider how to strengthen bilateral relations. In conclusion, we must not only decrease our expectations for China and the United States’ future, but also consider the areas in which they may actively engage.

Many long-term issues influence the challenges in Sino-US relations. China’s ascent has resulted in fast shifts in the worldwide power balance. Bijian Zheng wrote an article on the road of China’s peaceful rise in the US publication “Foreign Affairs” in 2005. He noted at the time that while China’s power has expanded greatly, it still has some limits, including “China’s economy is just one-seventh that of the United States and one-third that of Japan.” After a little more than a decade, China’s GDP (at the international exchange rate) is now around 70% of that of the US and three times that of Japan.

The history and theories of international politics demonstrate that fast shifts in the power of great countries frequently result in a degree of tension, which is an essential structural aspect in Sino-US ties. Furthermore, China and the United States have significant disparities in political systems, philosophies, and East Asian geopolitics, making dealing with problems created by structural reasons more challenging. Take, for example, the Taiwan issue and other concerns. China’s consistent attitude is that these are internal Chinese concerns in which no external forces are permitted to intervene.

However, the US handles these concerns with certain value issues and Sino-US competitiveness. With such a broad backdrop, it is difficult to address a number of vexing issues in Sino-US ties. Jake Sullivan, US National Security Advisor, has declared publicly that the US does not intend to modify China’s political structure, which China appreciates. However, recent developments reveal that, while the US openly says that it will not modify the Chinese system, it will not abandon its ongoing sanctions on critical areas, and China will undoubtedly retaliate against the US.

The long-term competitive trajectory of Sino-US ties will not alter, but the two sides should not allow bilateral relations to deteriorate. There are still some solid aspects in Sino-US relations, and both sides may work hard to find ways to enhance the relationship. To begin with, while the Biden administration stresses rivalry between China and the United States, the Biden team also prioritizes managing disparities between China and the United States. Both China and the US are eager to avoid avoidable battles. Second, based on the anticipation of long-term rivalry between China and the US, the Biden team underlined the need of China and the US finding ways to coexist.

The concept of “competitive coexistence” implies that the Biden team has abandoned the Trump administration’s objective of drastically altering China through tremendous pressure. During the running-in period, China and the United States may gradually discover a new equilibrium of how to get along on the premise of long-term coexistence.

Third, China and the United States have resumed partnership on global and regional hotspot situations, as well as enhanced military communication. Although there are numerous challenges in Sino-US relations, if the two sides can strengthen collaboration on climate change, public health, and regional hotspots, it will undoubtedly provide bilateral relations more wiggle space. Finally, unlike the relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union, China and the United States have substantial economic, commercial, social, educational, and cultural relations.

For example, despite the effects of the epidemic and the trade war, Sino-US economic and commercial relations have not deteriorated, and both sides remain optimistic about educational exchanges. History has demonstrated that the political climate between China and the United States is constantly good and terrible, but long-term friendly contacts between the peoples of China and the United States remain the fundamental orientation.

People of insight from both China and the United States should play an active role in maintaining relations at all levels between the two countries. In summary, even if Sino-US ties are not looking up in the short term, both sides should look for realistic methods to keep things going. Both China and the United States are robust large countries, and their societies are vibrant.

Long-term competitiveness and peaceful cohabitation must be explored by China and the United States. The most essential issue for the Chinese and American authorities in the long term is not how to compete in bilateral ties, but how to handle their own internal affairs.

Raihan Ronodipuro
Raihan Ronodipuro
Raihan Ronodipuro holds a Master of Public Administration degree from the prestigious School of Public Policy & Management at Tsinghua University, China. His academic journey was propelled by the esteemed Chinese MOFCOM Scholarship, leading him to successfully attain a Master of Law in International Relations from the School of International and Public Affairs at Jilin University, China. With a rich background, Raihan has also contributed as an Associate Researcher in the Department of Politics and Security at the Center for Indonesia-China Studies (CICS). Currently, he plays a pivotal role as a member of the International Relations Commission within the Directorate of Research and Studies for the Overseas Indonesian Students' Association Alliance (OISAA) for the term 2022/2023.