China-U.S. Relations: They Need to Be Friends in Order to Thrive Separately


China and the U.S. are like in-laws. 

They’re not particularly fond of each other, they only get along because they have to, and at any moment, one may push the other over the edge. Differences in ideology and culture breed suspicion and uncertainty between China and the U.S. As economic superpowers and permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, China and the U.S. are not destined to be enemies as many experts have speculated.  Washington and Beijing need each other to achieve both domestic and international policies. The Obama administration must pursue a policy of partnership. This is despite the escalating concern in mainstream America driven by the likes of Donald Trump, who trumpets doomsday scenarios depicting the U.S. in China’s vice grip.

The two world leaders undoubtedly have varying interests and priorities, but must work together to achieve those priorities. A dispute or military confrontation could divide the world between Team USA and Team China halting economic cooperation, free trade, or worse, lead to a third World War. The costs are simply too high for the U.S. and China not to cooperate. For example, China’s economic growth and prosperity relies heavily on U.S. imports, while the U.S. depends on China’s cheap manufacturing and emerging market to grow American businesses. Both countries would suffer substantial economic losses if either were to become disgruntled and close trade. A lot has changed since Nixon opened the doors in 1972, but the fact remains the same … China and the U.S. need each other.    

The interdependency of the American and Chinese economies is the glue binding the US’ and China’s need for one another. For example according to the U.S. Trade Representative, the U.S. imported nearly $400 billion of goods from China, while exporting only $104 billion in 2011. And in 2010, American companies invested $60.5 billion in the Chinese market, whereas, China invested $3.2 billion in the U.S. China is also the US’ second largest trading partner totaling $503 billion. Furthermore, continuing to ensure the trade between the United States and China is important for the American middle class to afford luxury goods such as electronics as well as China’s impoverished rural peasants who flock to the city for manufacturing jobs and the hope of a better life. Similarly, the U.S. and China need each other to pursue international peace and stability efforts through the United Nations Security Council. Take the U.S.’ response to the Arab Spring in Libya. The U.S. needed China to pass Resolution 1973 for military intervention in Libya under the Responsibility to Protect. 

The U.S. and China need not be best friends, but their cooperation and continued diplomatic dialogue is important for their respective economic and foreign policy.  Beijing and Washington understand their need of one another, but also need to be careful of misreading any events that could cause several areas of conflict in U.S.-Sino relations or worsen existing tensions surrounding Taiwan or the South China Sea.