The relationship between the United States and China has a deep-rooted history spanning hundreds of years. The initial interactions between the two countries, involving different cultures, political structures, and economic systems, began in the 18th century with the United States’ initiation of maritime trade with China. During this century, wealthy American traders sought to access China’s existing material wealth and bring in Asian products in demand by the American people, leading to a series of political and economic endeavors. American traders reaching the shores of China eventually facilitated the commencement of trade partnership between the two countries. Over time, commercial relations evolved into political ties through the initiatives of the respective states.
By the 19th century, the relationship between the two countries became more complex as American traders engaged in opium trade in China, giving rise to various issues and conflicts. The opium trade gradually transformed China politically and socially, negatively impacting the existing order within the country. The enrichment and social conflicts brought about by opium led to crises within Chinese society. Consequently, the Chinese government opposed opium trade, resulting in the termination of agreements with American traders. This event marked a shift in the relations between the United States and China, leading to the emergence of crises between the two countries.
As tensions escalated due to the opium trade, the relationship between the two countries reached a critical point in the 20th century, with the rise of nationalist movements and civil war in China. During this period, the United States’ foreign policy towards China became increasingly hardened. Additionally, the outbreak of World War II and Japan’s invasion of China marked the beginning of a new era that further complicated bilateral relations.
In 1949, with the Communist Party taking power in China, the official relations between the United States and China were severed. The United States refused to recognize China’s new communist regime and considered Taiwan as the legitimate government of China. From this point onward, especially during the Cold War that began after World War II, China and the United States became adversaries due to ideological and strategic reasons, engaging in a struggle with each other.
The US-China Rapprochement and New Challenges
After a prolonged period of tension and crises, US-China relations entered a new phase in the mid-1970s with the efforts of US President Richard Nixon and Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai to foster closer ties and develop bilateral relations. This period, known as “Ping Pong Diplomacy” in the literature, saw the reestablishment of high-level diplomatic relations through sports events between the two countries. As a result of this rapprochement, President Nixon became the first US president to visit China in 1972.
From that point onward, the process of normalization between the two countries officially began. In 1979, the US formally recognized the People’s Republic of China. The US recognition allowed China to gain more acceptance, respect, and increase its economic influence in the international arena. In the following years, relations between the two countries continued intensively, especially in the field of economics. China gradually became the world’s largest exporter and manufacturing center, with the United States becoming its most important trading partner. The partnership between the two countries developed over time, resulting in mutual interdependence and a win-win relationship.
However, the growing and evolving economic relations between the US and China began to give rise to new problems over time. Trade imbalances, China’s subsidies in the export sector, technology transfer, and violations of intellectual property rights became many of the issues causing tensions and crises between the two countries. By the 2000s, China’s focus on copying and imitating production, particularly the infringement of intellectual property rights of patented US technology products, led to international problems.
US-China Relations Today: General Framework
As we come to the present day, relations between the US and China continue to unfold in an imbalanced and complex manner. The two countries have entered into a phase of competition against each other, particularly in the realms of economy, technology, and military. Simultaneously, trade wars and an economic battle have emerged between them, accompanied by security concerns.
In recent years, China’s rise in various fields and the intensification of strategic competition have continued to give rise to new problems in US-China relations. Despite occasional tensions, the two countries strive to resolve issues through dialogue, disregarding ideological, political, and economic differences. Climate crisis, prevention of nuclear weapons proliferation, and regional instability are among the various issues that compel the US and China to work together. However, competition and conflict persist in many other areas, remaining problematic.
One of the major challenges between the United States and China relates to China’s human rights violations. Particularly, the issues of Hong Kong’s autonomy and the problems faced by Uighur Turks spark debates between the two countries. Discussions arise between the two countries due to the international pressure and public opinion created by the US regarding China’s human rights violations.
In summary, while the roots of US-China relations are ancient, they remain highly complex and problematic. The economic power of the two countries occasionally leads to conflicts and competitive issues, negatively impacting their political relations. Cultural, religious, political, ideological, and economic differences pose challenges in finding middle ground for problem resolution. Although attempts are made to address issues through dialogue, the future of the relationship between the two countries remains uncertain, with a high likelihood of hot conflicts, such as the Taiwan issue, leading to power struggles in the future.
To better understand the hegemonic struggle between the United States and the rising global power of China, which threatens the global influence and position of the US, we will attempt to address the issue under various headings.
Conflicts of Economic Interests
Conflicts of interest between the United States and the People’s Republic of China primarily arise in the field of economics. China has become the world’s second-largest economy as a result of its recent economic growth. The US, on the other hand, continues to maintain its position as the world’s largest economy and global financial center.
However, both China’s rising power and the US’s struggle to maintain its economic position have brought the two countries into conflict. While the US criticizes China’s policies of imitation and technology theft in its economic growth model, China accuses the US of taking protectionist measures and seeking to dominate world trade through its hegemony. Trade wars between the two countries have turned into a global battle in areas such as embargoes, company bans, and chip wars, negatively affecting all countries worldwide.
Technological Race and Cybersecurity
Technology is now the fundamental factor for economic and military superiority for all countries in the world. The United States, one of the founders of the modern world, possesses technological superiority that is a key factor in shaping and directing the present-day world.
China, following in the footsteps of the US in the field of technology, has reached a level where it can compete with America and has even surpassed the US in many areas. The People’s Republic of China has made significant progress in areas such as digital infrastructure and high technology, while America has engaged in an intense technology war with China to maintain its leadership in these fields.
The fundamental basis of the technology war between the two countries lies in America’s claims that China violates intellectual property rights and engages in technology theft in technology transfer, forming the main subject of conflicts. In particular, the accusation by the US that Huawei, the largest technology company with significant global market presence, engages in espionage has led to sanctions imposed on China. The US has expressed concerns about China in areas such as cybersecurity and data security, while China has accused the US of applying double standards.
In recent years, intense hegemonic struggles have been conducted between the US and China in strategic areas of great importance to countries, such as 5G and artificial intelligence. In these areas, the US takes strong measures to protect its technological superiority and prevent China’s rise.
Military and Geopolitical Conflicts of Interest
Another area where the struggle for hegemony and conflicts of interest between the United States and China is evident is in the military and geopolitical realm. The United States seeks to maintain its global superpower status by maintaining a military presence in the Asia-Pacific region, particularly by acting as a mediator and maintaining a balancing role among regional countries. However, China’s modernization of its military and its emergence as a rising military power in the region pose a threat to the US presence in the region. As a result, the military power struggle between the two countries disrupts the balance in the Asia-Pacific.
China has constructed islands in the South China Sea and has sought to assert its regional dominance over maritime rights. The US has expressed concern that China’s maritime claims pose a threat to other countries in the region and view them as a threat to freedom of navigation. Moreover, policies such as frequent military exercises and increased military bases by both countries in the regional seas further escalate tensions.
Ideological Conflicts and Human Rights Disputes
Another dimension of conflicts of interest between the two countries is related to human rights and ideological approaches. While the United States claims to base its foreign policy actions on values such as democracy, human rights, and freedom, it accuses China of being authoritarian. In particular, the US condemns China’s persecution of Uighur Muslims and uses arguments related to human rights violations and universal principles of law to isolate China in the international community.
The People’s Republic of China, on the other hand, accuses the US of applying double standards in human rights violations and international democracy issues. It also claims that the US interferes in its internal affairs. These ideological conflicts between the two global powers have led to the formation of different blocs and poles in the international community centered around America and China.
Conclusion and Recommendations
In conclusion, conflicts of interest between the United States and the People’s Republic of China manifest themselves in various areas such as economy, technology, military, geopolitics, ideology, and human rights. At the core of these conflicts lies the struggle for global hegemony and leadership. While the US strives to maintain its global power and influence, China aims to challenge and oppose American hegemony in its region.
The conflicts of interest between these two nations affect all countries around the world and undermine global stability. Policies that lead to tensions in international relations sometimes escalate into crises. To mitigate the negative effects of the hegemonic struggle on world peace, it is crucial to take steps to increase dialogue and cooperation between the two countries and generate public support for such efforts. Additionally, it is essential for many countries engaged in promoting world peace to act as mediators and focus on resolving the issues between the parties.
Conflicts of interest between the United States and the People’s Republic of China not only impact the two countries but can also evolve into a global problem over time. Indeed, the struggle for hegemony extending to other continents has forced many countries to take sides. In resolving inter-country problems, the development of relationships based on fair trade, mutual respect, understanding, and dialogue can initiate a new era in conflict resolution. Similarly, identifying common interests between the two countries and fostering collaboration will pave the way for much healthier steps in international relations.
Written by Umut Güner