Stability and cooperation remain the only beneficial route for US-China ties

By Tom Fowdy
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, December 10, 2020
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The past year has seen an overwhelming deterioration in U.S.-China relations. The Trump administration has attempted to set a legacy of permanently changing America's foreign policy towards China from one of engagement and cooperation, to confrontation and geopolitical competition. 

Many commentators have described the intensifying hostility towards Beijing as a "New Cold War" with America increasingly seeking to contain China's rise, especially on matters of technology. But what does China want? And more to the point, what is truly best for the world as a whole as well as the two countries?

Contrary to the Western media hysteria, Beijing has never embraced the idea of a new cold war and continues to oppose any talk of one. It is not looking for confrontation. At this point in time, the current administration in Washington is making the mistake of depicting U.S.-China relations in a zero-sum game, an approach lacking nuance, balance or perspective.

This pretends that all positive attitudes towards Beijing have been at America's expense. This is false. Ultimately, global stability, prosperity and wellbeing depends on a constructive relationship between Washington and Beijing, while a "sledgehammer" approach with growing divisions on trade, technology and investment is ultimately a retrograde step for the world.

In 1972, U.S. President Richard Nixon undertook a landmark visit to China and met with Chairman Mao Zedong, opening a new chapter of relations between Washington and Beijing. Mao's legacy ultimately spurred his successor, Deng Xiaoping, towards a reform and opening up program, transforming China's economy and role in the world. 

However, 48 years later, American politicians are now pouring disgrace on that legacy. In July, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a speech, deliberately hosted at the Nixon Presidential Library in California, that sought to symbolize the "end" of that chapter opened in 1972.

Pompeo proceeded to claim that the entire era of engagement and openness towards China was one of naivety and foolishness on the part of the United States, and symbolically sought to drive home a "new approach" based on confrontation, the belief that China cannot be "engaged" in the support of American interests, but should be pressured and met with hostility. 

The speech added to a fabric of rhetoric by Donald Trump over the past few years that constantly claimed America was "losing" out in trade with China, and that economic relations were a simplistic arrangement all at America's expense, destroying American jobs and so on. 

Of course, the truth doesn't come close to such a misleading picture. There is no zero-sum game. In reality, 50 years' worth of positive U.S.-China ties have been enormously beneficial for Washington. American companies have been able to make billions in China's growing domestic market, far exceeding home tallies. 

This not only constitutes material products, but also creative industries such as Hollywood. Likewise, Chinese students, now derided as spies and infiltrators, have equally contributed billions to the U.S. economy, as has tourism and investment from China. 

Yet even if one sets aside economics, a friendly relationship has worked. Beijing has cooperated with Washington on a host of issues from climate change, to UN peacekeeping, counter-terrorism, nuclear non-proliferation (such as Iran and DPRK) and more. 

The idea that the U.S. and China cannot co-exist or live with underlying stability, despite differences, is completely misleading and, in turn, the mindset that all cooperation with China should be written off as a mistake and confrontation is the only way forwards is a threat to global peace, stability and well-being. Washington needs to come to its senses.

As a result, whilst Joe Biden obviously faces strong anti-China pressures when entering the White House, especially by a Trump administration eager to "box him in" with its legacy, he needs to opt for reconstructively repairing relations with China and discarding Trump's "sledgehammer" approach that never worked. 

Beijing is signaling to Washington that it is not interested in escalation or confrontation. If anything, it is obviously time to talk and it is time to negotiate. Therefore, the door of sustaining stability in U.S.-China ties is open and ready if Biden wishes to accept it. 

As the world's two largest economies and superpowers, there is a lot at stake and for the interests of all, a common pathway and co-existence must be sustained. The world cannot be divided into Cold War blocs again, where ideology and mutual suspicion cuts through the international community and thwarts common prosperity and development. It's time to reset. 

Tom Fowdy is a British political and international relations analyst and a graduate of Durham and Oxford universities. He writes on topics pertaining to China, the DPRK, Britain and the U.S. For more information please visit:

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