NEW YORK – In the coming decades, nothing will matter more for global peace, prosperity, and governance than how the United States and China handle the ongoing shift in their relative power. In the long term, today’s other pressing challenges – including Russia’s relationship with the West and events in the tumultuous Middle East – will amount almost to sideshows by comparison.
What makes the Sino-American relationship dangerous is that powerful forces in both countries seem intent on a collision course. On the Chinese side, under Xi Jinping’s assertive leadership, the government is no longer heeding Deng Xiaoping’s injunction that the country should “hide its strength, bide its time, and never take the lead” in international affairs. It has pursued manifestly expansionist territorial claims, most notably in the South China Sea, and shown a clear determination to resist the indefinite continuation of American dominance in the region. The prevailing Chinese mindset is that the US is intent on isolating, containing, and undermining it.
Unhappily, there is plenty of evidence on the US side to feed that sentiment. Whatever many American policymakers may be saying in private, their public discourse almost invariably reflects an intention to remain the world’s dominant power – and specifically in Asia – in perpetuity.
The most confrontational recent articulation of this position can be found in a report for the Council on Foreign Relations, by Robert Blackwill and Ashley Tellis, arguing that the central objective of American grand strategy must be “preserving US primacy in the global system,” and urging a series of aggressive economic, political, and military measures to “balance” China. They say this is not a “containment” strategy, but it amounts to nothing less.