china Economy History Huang Renwei Military

What Does the Future Between the US and China Look Like?

As China ascends economically and politically, its struggle with the US has grown fiercer. Huang Renwei points out the inherent weakness of the US power structure and argues that, starting in 2020 and potentially lasting for the next 30 years, China and the US have entered a strategic stalemate phase that will ebb and flow.
Office of U.S. Treasury Secretary, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

By Huang Renwei / Read China

Historical Origin and Stages of the “Strategic Stalemate Phase” between China and the United States

The concept of “strategic holding phase” was coined by Mao Zedong in his “On the Protracted War” published during the War of Resistance against Japan. He proposed that the war of resistance against Japan would consist of three stages: Japan’s strategic offensive, China’s strategic standoff with Japan, and China’s strategic counter-offensive. This paper borrows this concept to express the development trend of Sino-American relations.

Compared with the War of Resistance, there are three main differences between the U.S. and Chinese strategic rivalry today. One, the most fundamental difference is that the U.S.-China strategic rivalry is not in a state of war, whereas the strategic holdout of the War of Resistance against Japan was entirely in a state of war. Second, the next stage of the Sino-U.S. strategic rivalry stage was not a strategic counter-offensive stage, nor was there a strategic counter-offensive stage. China does not have the strategic goal of defeating the United States completely. Third, after a longer period of strategic stalemate, U.S.-China relations will enter a state of coexistence and co-governance. The so-called new type of great power relationship can only be formed after a long period of strategic rivalry.

From the theoretical point of view, “strategic stalemate” should contain three characteristics: First, the two sides of strategic stalemate are relatively balanced in power. Neither side has an overwhelming advantage in order to maintain the state of “strategic stalemate”. Second, in a longer period of time, it is difficult for either side to defeat the other side, and there is no difference between victory and defeat. Third, both sides have strong institutional confidence in order to maintain the resilience of strategic stalemate. The United States is confident that it will maintain world hegemony for more than 50 years, and China is confident that it will achieve the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation by 2050, the second century goal.

How long will the strategic holding phase be? It will be about 30 years from 2021 to 2050. This depends not only on the conditions for China to achieve its goal of modernization and power, but also on the change in the power balance between the United States and China. Because of China’s goal of “two centuries,” the U.S. think tank’s long-term strategic scenario for China also defines the time frame as 2050. The 2020 strategy report released by the Center for International Strategic Studies (CSIS), a U.S. strategic think tank, defines the time frame for the U.S.-China strategic competition as 2020-2050. Another important think tank, the 2049 Center, also defines the time period for U.S.-China strategic competition as 2020-2050. “The name of the 2049 Center is based on China’s second century goal as its hypothetical target. As can be seen, 2050 is the expected strategic goal of both sides, and this target position determines the time orientation of the holding phase. Within these 30 years, strategic competition will remain the new normal in U.S.-China relations as long as there is no reversal of the power contrast between the two sides.

Three characteristics of the strategic stalemate phase between China and the United States

One of the characteristics of the U.S.-China strategic holding phase is the duality of the Chinese and U.S. power structures. The duality of the respective structures of China and the United States is a fundamental feature of the strategic holding phase. The United States has remained relatively strong during its long decline, while China has always been weak during its rise. This duality between the two sides is the main axis that will transform over time throughout a century of unprecedented change.

The duality of the United States is reflected in the widening gap between its hegemonic power and its goals. in the 1970s and 1980s, the United States and the Soviet Union were ranked as two superpowers and its world hegemony was incomplete. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the U.S. became the only superpower in the world and its hegemony constituted a “unipolar world” with “one superpower, many powers”. The withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and the crisis in Ukraine have further demonstrated the existence of this trajectory.

The decline of U.S. hegemony is a longer historical process in which the U.S. still maintains its position as the most powerful country in the world. The U.S. still has the strongest financial control, scientific and technological innovation, military striking ability and public opinion shaping ability in the world. The decline of hegemony is not the same as the weakening of U.S. comprehensive national power. The current international system, including the United Nations system, the Western allied system and the international monetary and financial system, was established by the United States after World War II, and the United States still has decisive influence. International rules, especially international economic rules, are largely created by the United States. The so-called “rule-based international order” is essentially a “world order based on U.S. rules”.

The decline of hegemony refers to the declining status and ability of the United States to lead international affairs, including the right to shape the international system, the right to create international rules, the right to dominate international discourse, the right to guarantee international security, and the right to mint the U.S. dollar as the world currency. In terms of maintenance, reform, innovation and public goods supply of the international system, the U.S. has increasingly shown a serious lack of capacity. During the Trump era, the U.S. has been breaking rules and “withdrawing” from the group. After Biden came to power, the U.S. began to restore the rules and to regain dominance over them. As a world currency, the U.S. dollar hegemony serves the U.S. strategy, controls the economic lifelines of other countries, and imposes economic sanctions on other countries at will. Based on its function as a world currency, the “dollar hegemony” is increasingly serving its own interests, and its function and credibility as a world currency are weakening. The decline of the dollar hegemony is one of the important manifestations of the decline of U.S. hegemony.

The rise and fall of national power is presented relative to the contrast in power between different countries. Relative to China’s rapid rise since the 21st century, U.S. power growth has shown a relative decline. But relative to Europe and Japan, U.S. power is rising significantly faster than theirs. The power gap between the U.S., Europe and Japan has further widened. The U.S. still has the dominant power among its Western allies, and there is even a tendency for the U.S. to strengthen its control over its Western allies. If we look at the combined power of the U.S. and its allies as a whole, the power gap between China and the U.S. is still quite large, and the historical inertia of the U.S. as a superpower will remain for a long time.

In the stage of strategic stalemate, the power contrast and power shift between China and the United States generate structural contradictions, but such contradictions can have two developmental tendencies of confrontation and cooperation. Several issues need to be considered here.

First, in the process of power transfer between the great powers, whether confrontation between the rising powers and the defending powers is inevitable. Will the scale and speed of the transfer of power from the defending power to the rising power lead to or avoid a full-scale confrontation between the two, and will this transfer of power be reversed and lead to the defeat of the rising power; or lead to the accelerated decline of the defending power?

The second is whether the narrowing power gap between rising and defending powers will create limits and lead to strategic showdowns. China and the United States are the world’s first and second largest economies of great weight and equal size, respectively. The gap between China and the United States is rapidly closing. In 2001 China’s economy was 10% of the U.S.’s; by 2022 it will be 77% of the U.S.’s. Historically, the “iron rule” that the second largest economy in the U.S. was acceptable up to 60% of the U.S. has been broken. China’s economic growth from 70% to 100% of the U.S. has been significantly shortened. If the U.S. cannot prevent China from reaching or exceeding the size of the U.S. total, what is the acceptable limit of China’s rise and whether exceeding that limit will lead to a strategic showdown between the two.

Third, structural contradictions between China and the United States may be transformed into confrontational relations under certain conditions, and into cooperative relations under other conditions. China and the United States have a large degree of interdependence and correlation of interests, and no one can completely abandon the complementary relationship with the other and implement the so-called “decoupling”. Various problems, whether global, regional or bilateral, require cooperation rather than confrontation between China and the United States in order to be mitigated or resolved. The U.S.-China relationship will be in a permanent state of oscillation between quasi-confrontation and quasi-cooperation.

The structural contradiction between China and the United States is reflected in strategic competition in three major areas: global markets, two systems, and geopolitics, and is characterized by the coexistence of confrontation, compromise, and cooperation. As China maintains its upward momentum and reaches a state of equilibrium with the United States, the confrontational nature of the structural contradiction between China and the United States will decline, and the confrontational nature will shift to a compromising and cooperative nature.

The second characteristic of the strategic stalemate phase between China and the United States is the long-term nature of the transformation of the international system. The transformation facing the contemporary international system is different from any system transformation in history. Most of the system transformations in the past changed the international system by war, and the Cold War pattern was largely determined by the confrontational nature of the two military blocs. Contemporary international system transformations are largely non-war transformations (not excluding war transformations triggered by sudden crises) and are characterized by their gradual and long-term nature. This characteristic remains largely parallel to the long-term nature of the strategic standoff phase between China and the United States.

First, the Western-dominated world system is in trouble. The West’s absolute dominance of 80% to 90% of the total world economy for a long time has now dropped to a slim 50% to 60%. The dominance of the West in wealth distribution and international affairs is being weakened, and emerging economies and developing economies can, to some extent, constrain the rise and fall of the Western economy. China accounts for 1/3 of the world’s economic growth and 1/3 of the developing world’s total economy, and its weight of influence on the Western economy is increasing.

Second, because of the inertia of the Western-dominated world system, even if the Western economy falls below 50% of the global economy, it remains at the center of the international system for a long time. The Western-dominated global governance, or “Western governance” system, can neither reflect the rise of emerging forces nor give them enough room to rise. It is difficult for the West to accept the concept and power structure of emerging forces and coexist with them, but the globalized economy does not allow the West and the non-West to be cut into two market systems. This will require a long process of mutual adjustment.

Moreover, Western countries (including some developing countries) habitually accept the U.S. leadership and find it difficult to accept an international order dominated by the emerging powers. This “peace under the United States” mentality will take a long time to change. It is also difficult for the emerging powers to create a new international system from scratch. Only when the hegemonic powers themselves are unable to support the old international system, a new international system will be able to take its place.

From China’s perspective, for more than 40 years, from 1980 to the present, China has been in the process of integrating into the Western-dominated international system. In the next 30 years China will face the rejection of China by the U.S.-led Western system and will have to shift from a process of integration-oriented to one of shaping and changing the existing international pattern and system. This requires a strong global governance capacity and an advanced global governance philosophy, which will take several generations to develop and promote before it can be established. For example, the lack of capacity encountered in the Belt and Road initiative is not a lack of investment and construction capacity, but a lack of China’s ability to convince other countries to accept the Belt and Road initiative within the world system. China’s relationship with the world and the interchange of positions in the U.S.-China relationship will require a long and iterative process before a qualitative change can occur.

The third characteristic of the U.S.-China strategic standoff phase is the limited nature of the confrontation between China and the United States. The confrontation between China and the United States in the strategic holding phase is limited. China itself does not have the will to engage in a full-scale confrontation with the United States, which is inconsistent with China’s strategic development goals through 2050. The U.S. ability and will to confront China is also limited, as such a confrontation would require the U.S. to expend several times its own national power and may not be able to achieve its goals. The limited nature of confrontation that exists on both sides is a fundamental condition for the relative stability of the strategic standoff phase.

During the four years of the Trump administration, the United States has attempted to pursue a bottomless confrontational strategy against China. At one point, the United States gathered all its resources for an “all-government, all-elements, all-round” offensive against China, including economic, technological, public opinion, some military, and extreme pressure through allies and China’s internal channels. The U.S. has proven unable to defeat China, but instead has paid too high a cost to the United States. In the case of the U.S.-China trade war, for example, Trump imposed high additional import tariffs on $500 billion worth of Chinese goods, 92 percent of which tariff burden was shifted to domestic U.S. consumers and producers, leading to a significant increase in domestic prices and triggering inflation.

The consequences of the U.S. technology war against China will be the same. The negative consequences of the U.S. technological crackdown on China will gradually show themselves. U.S. high-tech companies will lose the Chinese market as their largest source of profits, which in turn will reduce their R&D funding and lower their development potential, but stimulate China’s ability to innovate on its own. If the U.S. launches a full-scale financial war against China, it will cause an unprecedented shakeup or even collapse of the dollar system and a complete shutdown of the world economy, with far greater consequences than trade and technology wars.

It would be extremely risky for the United States to engage in an all-out military war with China. The United States does not have the financial resources to support a local war with China, let alone a nuclear war. The current federal debt is already more than 150 percent of U.S. gross domestic product. If the United States were to engage in a military war with China, it would need to more than double its current military spending to at least about $1.5 trillion. If the war continues for several years, even without a nuclear war, the U.S. dollar credit, U.S. finances and U.S. stock market would collapse completely, and it would be difficult to win militarily. The United States would need at least twice the national, financial and military power of China to defeat it. Clearly, there is no way the U.S. could mobilize such vast resources to defeat China.

Based on these basic estimates, President Biden declared to Chinese President Xi Jinping that “the United States does not seek to change China’s system, does not seek to fight a new Cold War with China, does not seek to oppose China through strengthened alliances, and does not support Taiwan’s independence.” Although there is a problem here of the United States saying one thing and doing another, it is, after all, an official determination and expression at the highest levels of the United States of the limited nature of the strategic confrontation between the United States and China, and a full-scale confrontation with China is not in the interest of the United States. There are only two possibilities for changing the limited nature of the U.S.-China confrontation: first, a subversive strategic mistake by China that interrupts its peaceful rise, the probability of which is low; second, the probability that U.S. anti-China forces will absolutely dominate its decision-making hierarchy and recklessly launch a full-scale cold war or even a hot war against China, also a relatively low possibility. As time goes by, Chinese power will fully catch up with the United States, and the strategic confrontation between China and the United States will turn from limited to non-confrontational only when the United States is unable to confront China and can only face reality and compromise with China.

Three Decades of Strategic Stalemate: A Continuing Change in Power Contrasts

The length of the strategic stalemate phase depends on the speed of change in the power contrast between the two sides. This power refers to the comprehensive competitiveness that includes all factors such as economy, military, diplomacy, politics and public opinion. The biggest gap between China and the United States at present is in the field of science and technology, which determines the advancedness of manufacturing and also relates to cultural and institutional competitiveness. Scientific and technological competitiveness is the decisive factor of contemporary comprehensive national power. The speed of China’s S&T development determines the length of the strategic holding phase. In the four areas of science and technology, military, finance and soft power, the United States is still dominant, and the gap between China and the United States is narrowing, but still significant. China has made breakthroughs in individual areas, such as Huawei’s leading 5G technology. The advanced level reached by Huawei in the field of communication technology can be achieved by Chinese companies in other fields in the next 10 years or so. The fact that China’s high-tech industry has been tightened by the United States in the last two years has instead prompted China to speed up the pace of independent innovation in science and technology. By 2035, it is possible for China to approach the U.S. level in basic technology areas; then by 2050 there will be a basis to be on par with the U.S. in science.

In April 2021, the International Monetary Fund predicted that China’s total GDP will reach about 90 percent of that of the United States by 2026 and could equal the United States in 2027 to 2028. The International Institute for Strategic Studies in London projects that China’s total GDP will catch up with that of the United States in 2028. The assessments of these international institutions are somewhat more optimistic than China’s own. In terms of exchange rate calculations, tying China’s GDP with the U.S. in 2030 is a more moderate projection. If the U.S. maintains an average annual growth rate of 2 percent over the next 10 years and China maintains a 5 percent growth rate, by 2030 China’s total economy will catch up with the U.S., with a GDP per capita of $20,000 and a total between $25 trillion and $28 trillion, which is a more modest expected target. Although China is crossing the cordon of the United States striking the second largest power, the 10-year period from 2021 to 2030 remains the most intense and dangerous period of strategic competition between the United States and China, where all the conflicting points of conflict are most likely to be concentrated.

If China’s total economic output catches up with that of the United States in the first decade from 2020 to 2030, and its overall national power catches up with that of the United States in the second decade from 2030 to 2040, a decisive shift will occur in the contrast of power between China and the United States during the strategic standoff phase. in the third decade from 2040 to 2050, China will catch up with the United States in major fields, including major science and technology. By 2020, China will have surpassed the United States in two important indicators: the number of corporate patents and the number of papers published in core natural science journals. Higher-end indicators such as the number of Nobel Prizes won, China is still significantly behind. Based on the large number of innovations and basic research results, there is hope that China will catch up with the United States in the third decade in the field of science and technology.

The biggest gap between China and the United States is in the area of soft power, including the “broad soft power” and “institutional resilience” of various cultural vehicles and communication capabilities. The ability of the U.S. ideological and institutional model to infiltrate and subvert other countries is almost ubiquitous. The difficulty factor in promoting widespread acceptance of Chinese information and culture around the world is very high. In the next 30 years of strategic stalemate, the U.S. will make greater use of its soft power advantage, whose costs and benefits are far more cost-effective than hard power confrontation, so that the intensity of U.S.-China soft power competition will exceed that of hard power competition. This is a long-term trend, and the more rapidly U.S. hard power declines, the more it will use its soft power advantage to confront China.

The power contrast between China and the United States has both explicit and implicit factors. Explicit factors include “visible” factors such as military power, technological power, and dollar power. Implicit factors refer to “invisible” factors related to soft power that are difficult to quantify, such as the extent to which China is able to produce the same quantity and quality of scientific and technological talent as the United States. China’s disadvantage is also evident in terms of hidden factors. The cultural and educational gap between China and the United States is obvious. Eight of the top 10 universities in the world are U.S. universities, and 50 of the top 100 are U.S. universities. Peking University and Tsinghua University are currently ranked in the top 30 in the world, and it will take a long time to shorten the gap with the top American universities. The U.S. use of public opinion warfare to distort China’s image is the key to the invisible power gap between the U.S. and China.

To dialectically understand the power gap between China and the United States, to achieve the conversion of the strengths and weaknesses of China and the United States. Transforming quantitative growth to quality-enhancing, i.e., achieving high-quality development. Achieving a qualitative transformation of China’s economy and domestic governance in the 30 years of the strategic holding phase is the core task for China in the next 30 years, and this domestic development strategy issue, placed in the framework of the strategic holding phase between China and the U.S., is an international strategy issue. It determines whether we can turn our disadvantages into advantages and strategic resources into strategic capabilities in the strategic standoff phase.

Having the world’s largest market capacity is China’s greatest strategic advantage and will have a decisive impact on the contrast of power between China and the United States in the strategic standoff phase. China currently has a population of 1.4 billion and a GDP per capita of $10,000; if the GDP doubles, it becomes $28 trillion and $20,000 per capita. This is a goal that is probable to be reached by 2030. If the U.S. rises to $28 trillion, it will need to achieve $90,000 per capita in 2030, which is quite difficult. China’s market potential is so huge that its ability to absorb imports of foreign goods can be transformed into international economic cooperation capacity, and its ability to export goods can be transformed into foreign investment capacity and infrastructure construction capacity. The “Belt and Road” is actually the transformation of China’s domestic market potential into overseas market projection capacity. Market capacity is also, to some extent, cultural communication capacity, which can be translated into the ability to create the rules of the international system. The size of the market will determine the power to create the rules of the market. The countries along the “Belt and Road” will implement the “four-in-one” new international rules of Western rules, UN rules, Chinese rules and local rules, instead of the single US rules. The battle over rules will be a combination of market competition and strategic competition between China and the United States.

There are also limitations to U.S. power during the U.S.-China strategic standoff phase. The limitations of U.S. power essentially reflect the potential crisis in the United States. The most obvious is the federal fiscal crisis, with the U.S. federal debt reaching $30 trillion in the first quarter of 2022, or 140 percent of U.S. GDP; interest on the federal debt alone will take up 1/3 of the annual federal budget. “and “robbery” in international affairs, causing serious damage to U.S. credit and image. The gap between the near bankruptcy of U.S. finances and the enormous expenditures required for strategic competition between China and the United States is the greatest limitation of U.S. power. Kissinger once judged that the greatest threat to U.S. security came from the federal debt, and the larger the federal debt, the more dangerous the United States would be. This warning hit the nail on the head.

The U.S. economy is currently in three huge bubbles: one is the U.S. debt bubble, the second is the inflation bubble, and the third is the U.S. stock market bubble. The U.S. inflation rate has reached 8%, the highest in nearly 40 years. Inflation will continue to rise after the Ukraine crisis. Stimulated by 10 consecutive years of easy monetary policy since 2011, the U.S. stock market rose from being at over 10,000 to over 30,000 at the beginning of 2020. With a serious new crown epidemic and the risk of recession, the stock market is in a state of false boom exuberance. The consequence of unlimited dollar issuance is inevitably a decline in the value of the dollar, and the Federal Reserve is issuing large amounts of money to buy Treasuries. The debt, stock market and inflation in high places are superimposed, and all three are lost. The U.S. powers-that-be abused the world currency function of the U.S. dollar and tried to transfer the U.S. crisis to countries around the world by spilling over and absorbing the U.S. inflation in the world. In this Ukraine crisis, the U.S. used both the SWIFT system to hit Russia and the euro with energy price hikes. After both Europe and Russia were weakened, abusing the hegemony of the dollar to strike China was the next option. But China has a superb resistance to strikes that neither the EU nor Russia possesses, which will cause the dollar to encounter unprecedented countermeasures, and all countries will be cautious about the consequences of dollar hegemony abuse. Thus, the dollar hegemony crisis is the biggest strategic limitation of the United States.

The growing centrifugal tendencies within the United States will strain U.S. energy to contain China. In the last two years, the various divisive tendencies within the United States have reached their highest point since the 20th century and are more complex than during the American Civil War. Severe racial divisions and deep divisions between rich and poor are intertwined, highlighting the dichotomy between the 1 percent and the 99 percent. The regional split between Republican “red states” and Democratic “blue states” and the centralized split between federal and state governments triggered by the epidemic. These problems are compounded by the fact that America’s strength is its stock, and the problem it faces is its increment. This is an insurmountable constraint for the U.S. in the strategic stalemate phase.

Seize the battle buffer period and postpone the US-China strategic showdown

The concept of “strategic holding phase” is conducive to the overall grasp of the trend of U.S.-China relations and the maintenance of strategic stability, so that we will not follow the oscillation of policy adjustments due to the change of U.S. presidents. Taking advantage of the cyclical changes in the phases will help us gain the strategic initiative. The buffer period is characterized by no change in U.S. strategic goals and directions, a decrease in the intensity of U.S.-China confrontation, and a partial restoration of dialogue, compromise and cooperation between the two sides.

Assuming that the strategic stalemate phase is divided into three decades, each decade will have at least two presidents to change, and each president will take office or leave office, U.S. policy will be adjusted or even turned around. During this adjustment and turnaround process, there will be battle phases of intensification and buffering, which can be called “battle intensification period” and “battle buffering period. The strategic stalemate phase is completed in the alternating process of intensification and buffering.

U.S.-China relations during the strategic standoff phase exhibit a process of alternating between a longer period of battle intensification (3-5 years) and a shorter period of battle buffer (2-3 years). Seizing the battle buffer period is a key step to avoid a full-scale confrontation between China and the U.S. during the strategic standoff phase. If we want to avoid a U.S.-China strategic showdown in 20-30 years, we have to seize several of these buffer periods to digest the aftermath left by the previous period of intensification and prepare for the crisis that may arise in the next period of intensification. During the intensification period, we should attack the incoming enemy tit-for-tat, while during the buffer period, we should pay attention to reason, benefit, and discipline, maintain and expand the content of cooperation, extend the buffer period as much as possible, and postpone the breaking point of the strategic showdown between China and the United States. This is the dialectical relationship between strategic holding and battle buffer. Time is on our side and the direction of power shift is in our favor. Making good use of the buffer period is an important condition for us to transform the phase of strategic stalemate into a period of strategic opportunity.

Biden’s rise to power triggers the first battle buffer. The first alternating cycle of battle intensification and battle buffer occurs in the turnover between the Trump administration and Biden’s rise to power. between 2019 and 2020, leading members of Biden’s foreign policy team, including Blinken, Sullivan, and Campbell, published several articles on China policy in Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, and mainstream media outlets such as the Washington Post and New York Times, setting out their post-administration The fierce clash in the U.S. presidential election at the end of 2020, in which the Republicans and Democrats are engaged in a deadly power struggle, foreshadows Biden’s rise to power. All these foreshadow a battle buffer period after Biden takes office.

There is a difference between the key members of Biden’s team and the far-right wing of Trump’s team, such as Pompeo, Bolton and Bannon, which can be regarded as the difference between “rational suppression” and “irrational anti-China”, resulting in a “buffer period The difference can be seen as the difference between “rational suppression” and “irrational anti-China”, which results in the alternation of “buffer period” and “intensification period. If Pompeo and others remain in power after 2021, U.S.-China relations will fall off a cliff and there may be a dangerous prospect of a strategic showdown. In contrast, the emergence of a “battle buffer” period or periods to avoid continued intensification and a precipitous fall is objectively conducive to the stability of the strategic stalemate phase.

However, we have seen no significant buffer after Biden took office for six months, or the degree of buffer is also less than expected. There are three reasons for this: First, the obstacles set by Trump are so big that it is difficult to remove policy inertia in the short term, and the political climate in Washington is still “anti-China political correctness”. Second, the two parties have formed a consensus to position China as the number one strategic opponent, and no matter which party comes to power, this strategic positioning will not change even during the buffer period. Third, Biden’s team has a strong ideological element in its China policy, and its “small yard and high wall” strategy of precise strikes is more confusing and appealing than the strong anti-China posture of Trump’s team.

One is to lock China in by rule (i.e., “regulation lock”), locking China’s international behavior as much as possible in “non-compliance” or even “illegality. “The other is to establish new multilateral mechanisms. The other is the creation of a new multilateral mechanism (the so-called “pseudo-multilateral”), which is essentially a U.S.-led “united front” aimed at opposing China. The U.S. targeting of multilateral mechanisms at China has been one of the features of Biden’s post-power policy adjustments toward China. This is only different from Trump’s unilateralist approach against China.

The buffer period of this round of battle can be long or short. If the Republicans get a majority in both houses in the 2022 midterm elections, the Biden administration will enter a “lame duck” state early and the buffer period will be difficult to maintain. Even if the Democrats retain both houses of Congress, 2024 will be a presidential election year, the two parties will again be fierce campaign, the political air is seriously poisoned, the campaign buffer period is basically over. Therefore, this round of battle buffer period is only 1~2 years. By 2025, when a new administration takes office, China and the United States will enter a new period of intensified battles, and both the far right wing of the Republican Party and the Democratic Party establishment in power will inevitably launch fierce attacks on China. Because the first decade of 2030 is so close, the psychological pressure of the United States being overtaken by China in aggregate is already unbearable.

The cycle of alternation between the first battle intensification period and the battle buffer period provides us with a typical template for the sometimes intensified and sometimes buffered Sino-U.S. relations. Careful analysis of the internal logic of this cycle will help us reveal the regularity of the strategic holding phase, and moreover, help us promote the transformation of Sino-U.S. relations in a healthy direction, and help China and the United States share the responsibility of maintaining peace and development. (Notes omitted)

Huang Renwei
Huang Renwei

Huang Renwei is executive vice president of the Institute of Belt and Road and Global Governance, Fudan University. He was the vice president of the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences. He has long studied China’s international strategy, Sino-US relations, and the international economy. He is the author of several books, including “The Evolution of Land Systems in the American West”.

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