How to understand and explain the evolutions as well as predict the future directions of bilateral relations between the United States and China has become an imperative task for both policy-makers and academic scholars. Borrowing insights from three mainstream international relations (IR) theories, realism, liberalism and constructivism, this chapter suggests a three-stage, perceptual model of ‘threat–interest’ to explore the dynamics of Sino–US relations from 1949 to 2015. It argues that the nature of US–China relations, either cooperation or competition, is mainly shaped by the perceptions of leaders regarding security threats and economic interests between the two nations. How to manage their perceptions regarding each other and how to find a balance between cooperation and competition are the key issues for leaders in both the United States and China to manage their bilateral relations in the future. The next decade or two may be the best or worst times for US–China relations.
Andrew T. H. Tan
Andrew T. H. Tan
The rise of China and the challenge it poses to US dominance is regarded as one of the most important issues in international relations today due to its implications not just on the dominant position of the United States but also the stability of the evolving post–Cold War international system. The relationship between the world’s two largest economies is crucial. Should they succeed in coming to an understanding, war will be avoided and a new regional and global equilibrium will be the result. While Henry Kissinger concluded that ‘the appropriate label for the Sino–American relationship is less partnership than co-evolution’ the process of working out the entente cordiale that would underpin such a co-evolution is complicated by a number of serious challenges, such as economic disputes, human rights issues, China’s emerging military power, the rise of Chinese nationalism, the apprehensions in Washington over China’s rise and growing Chinese assertiveness in Asia. It remains to be seen if an entente cordiale could be achieved before growing mutual mistrust and misperception lead to open conflict.
Andrew T. H. Tan
China’s dramatic economic rise, its emerging global economic power, and its expanding military capabilities have led to predictions that it will soon supplant the United States as the dominant global power. However, it is not in fact on a trajectory to do so. China does not have the desire or capacity for global leadership, its armed forces are not organized for deployment and intervention in the far corners of the globe, and it suffers from a significant deficit in soft power that would make it appeal to others and confer it with global influence. On the other hand, the United States continues to have the will and capacity, backed by its global military capabilities and dominant position established following the end of World War II, to play a global role. Thus, while China’s global influence will increase as it becomes a global economic actor, it will in fact not replace the United States as the dominant global power any time soon. For the foreseeable future, the United States will remain the ‘indispensable nation’.
Andrew T. H. Tan
Taiwan has been a key issue in US–China relations since the end of World War II and, as the Taiwan Strait crisis in 1995–96 demonstrated, it could yet lead to open conflict between the two great powers. For China, resolving the Taiwan issue through reunification with the Mainland is a primary political objective on account of the strong and emotive nationalist sentiments surrounding the issue in China. However, Taiwan has been the benefactor of fortuitous strategic developments in Asia, which has led the United States to continue to protect it from China. Given the context of China’s rise and challenge to the US position in Asia, it is in the United States’ interest to continue the policy of strategic ambiguity embodied in the Taiwan Relations Act, which has helped to maintain the status quo in the Taiwan Strait. Given the intensifying strategic rivalry between the United States and China in recent times, it is also increasingly unlikely that the United States would fail to intervene should China use force, as this would undermine the US position in Asia. While Taiwan is ultimately expendable should strategic circumstances change, for the time being, it remains a key issue in US–China relations and the challenge is maintaining the status quo and thus peace.
Edited by Andrew T.H. Tan
This Handbook addresses the key questions surrounding US–China relations: what are the historical and contemporary contexts that underpin this complex relationship? How has the strategic rivalry between the two evolved? What are the key flashpoints in their relationship? What are the key security issues between the two powers? The international contributors explore the historical, political, economic, military, and international and regional spheres of the US–China relationship. The topics they discuss include human rights, Chinese public perception of the United States, US–China strategic rivalry, China’s defence build-up and cyber war.