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Why China Disagrees With U.S. Definition of Competitive Bilateral Ties

Friday’s announcement of an upcoming China-U.S. summit in San Francisco has raised hopes for improved relations between the two nations, strained by Washington’s hawkish containment policies.

The White House has repeatedly referred to China as the nation’s “top competitor” and described competition with China as the “most consequential geopolitical challenge.”

However, the United States has shown little interest in fair competition and more desire to contain and suppress China.

To gain an edge, Washington has launched tariffs and restricted trade in high-tech areas, notably in the semiconductor sectors. It has implemented a “small yard, high fence” strategy and advocated for decoupling and cutting supply chains. The United States has pushed for protectionist “friend-shoring,” launched the restrictive Indo-Pacific Economic Framework and formed the Chip 4 Alliance. This is clearly not healthy competition.

These practices have violated the principles of market economics and fair competition, leading to disruptions in the U.S., Chinese and global economies. For Washington, the words of California Governor Gavin Newsom during his recent visit to China are inspiring: “Divorce is not an option.”

As two major countries, China and the United States cooperate and compete in trade, technology, diplomacy and other areas. But competition must be fair. It should be conducted following widely accepted rules and should not be fixated on undermining the development and legitimate rights and interests of other countries. Both countries need healthy competition that brings out the best in each other, not vicious competition that seeks the other’s demise.

China believes competition should be similar to a running race, with established guidelines and rules, where one can catch up through enhanced performance. In the Olympic Games, athletes aim to exceed their expectations and cannot sabotage or maliciously interfere with their competitors; otherwise, they face disqualification for breaking the rules.

China opposes defining the China-U.S. relationship solely in terms of competition, as competition is not the whole picture of this relationship.

Complementarity far outweighs competition in the economic relationship between the two countries. Last year, the volume of China-U.S. trade reached a record high of roughly 760 billion U.S. dollars. Given the scale of the economic relationship, it is normal for differences and frictions to arise. The right way to deal with them is to find win-win solutions through consultation.

China and the United States have different social systems, but this shouldn’t prevent the two sides from cooperating based on shared interests and need not be the cause of confrontation and rivalry.

In today’s world, the two countries have more, not less, in common.

Preventing conflict and achieving peaceful coexistence should be prioritized. Furthermore, both benefit from each other’s development. Finally, the world gains if China and the United States promote a global recovery following the COVID pandemic, tackle climate change and resolve regional hotspot issues.

“Peace, the end of poverty worldwide, and environmental sustainability all will benefit enormously from U.S.-China cooperation,” said Jeffrey Sachs, an economics professor and director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University.

Competition between the two major countries should focus on who can better govern their respective countries and ensure the well-being of their people. It should focus on who can do more to help the world recover from the pandemic, who can provide more public goods to combat climate change, who can offer better solutions to regional hotspot issues, and who can make both countries and the planet — home to eight billion people — safer, more peaceful and more prosperous.

The two countries should strive to solve global problems and lead humanity to a better place.

Whether the two countries will open a new era of human development through cooperation or fall into the abyss of great-power conflict and confrontation is the question of the century. It should be the common aspiration of China and the United States in this new era to go beyond the narrow perspective of one winning and the other losing and pursue the noble goal of humanity winning together.