Chinese Discussions about Relations with the U.S. and the Trade War

DOI: 10.20542/0131-2227-2019-63-10-17-29

A. Lomanov (,
Primakov National Research Institute of World Economy and International Relations, Russian Academy of Sciences (IMEMO), 23, Profsoyuznaya Str., Moscow, 117997, Russian Federation 

Abstract. The article analyzes the debates of Chinese researchers on the relations with the United States at the backstage of the “trade war”. The statements of the Chinese leadership about the continuation of the “period of historical chances” for national development are combined with calls to be prepared for contingencies and to pay extra attention to new trends in international environment that do not correspond with normative theses about irreversible tendencies of multipolarity, economic globalization and impossibility of a large-scale war. “Trade war” has become an incentive for understanding the reasons of deterioration in bilateral relations and searching for new sources of their stability. The most of Chinese foreign policy analysts believe that it is possible to extend the “period of historical chances” even in time of such a deterioration. However, the standard set of recommendations from Chinese experts (deepening of market reforms, participation in the reform of global governance and world order, strengthening national power while expanding cooperation with other countries for the sake of construction of a “new type of international relations”) have not offered a recipe how to prevent further worsening of Chinese-American relations. Broad positive recommendations to develop dialogue and avoid serious conflicts are useless at strategic junctures when the opposite side speaks the language of ultimatums. Chinese mainstream habitually emphasizes that cooperation between Beijing and Washington is beneficial to both countries and for the world, while no one gains from the confrontation. The proposals to the American side to “get rid of the zero-sum game mentality”, “take a more positive look at the development of China”, “constantly expand the space and prospects for bilateral win” were not able to curb constantly rising tensions in bilateral relations. Nevertheless, in a number of academic publications one can find optimistic statements that in the next couple of years, Donald Trump will surely soften the U.S. policy towards China. Realist point of view recognizes the possibility of intensifying rivalry between Beijing and Washington. Chinese researchers are increasingly turning to the analysis of the interaction of the two countries as “competition together with cooperation” or “struggle without destruction” (“dou er bu po”). The intention to establish an atmosphere of “healthy competition” in bilateral relations may not be feasible, since China does not have tools to convince Trump administration to abandon the pursuit of absolute superiority. After the bilateral trade lost its function as a stabilizer of Sino-American relations, experts felt the necessity to find new sources of stability. The main task is not focused on restoring the previous levels of cooperation. It is more important to recognize the differences between the two countries and create new effective mechanisms for conflict management by clearly defining “red lines” and communicating with other party to clarify interests and strategic intentions. In reliance on research publications in Chinese academic journals, the article demonstrates that optimistic judgments about the continual importance and strength of China-U.S. relations gradually gave way to realistic estimates based on the recognition of fundamental changes in this sphere. More notable became the efforts of Chinese researchers in comparative analysis of national strategies and consideration of alternative scenarios for further development of relations with the United States. 

Keywords: Xi Jinping, foreign policy, trade and economic cooperation, interaction strategy 


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For citation:
Lomanov A. Chinese Discussions about Relations with the U.S. and the Trade War. World Eonomy and International Relations, 2019, vol. 63, no. 10, pp. 17-29.

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