China and US: The road full of obstacles

President Barack Obama is in China and he may find in the future in Beijing partners but also enemies.


The presidents of China and the US have said they will work together to solve some of the world’s most pressing problems. In which areas do you think both countries can really work together successfully to achieve something substantial and where do you see the major frictions?


Bernt Berger, Researcher, Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik, Deutsches Institut für Internationale Politik und Sicherheit

Obama’s visit was first and foremost of symbolic nature. It was his first visit to China and he had to do three things: firstly set the tone for the coming relationship, secondly give weight to his new style of foreign policy and thirdly to put the common issues onto the agenda.

Fundamentally, the policy of the Bush government vis-a-vis China will be continued with the exception, that common global issues are on the agenda now. If we look at it the issues with highest priority did not come to a conclusion yet. Economic issues will have to be solved on Economic dialogues. The goal of tackling Climate change is of common interest but neither side wants to set binding goals. Both issues have a domestic dimension. Trade disputes are about the protection of domestic markets and jobs. As far as climate change is concerned Obama needs time to reach decisions in the Congress and China does not want to impose goals whereby its own development can be limited. The Iran nuclear issue is common interest. However, China will not join international initiatives or sanctions against Iran. The reason is that China does not want to appear as a global ordering power yet. This would damage the confidence rating in South-South relations. Therefore active cooperation is still at the beginning. Both sides also need to deal wit mutual issues. This especially involves confidence-building in the strategic military sector. Therefore Obama’s visit to Beijing was forward-looking but not groundbreaking.

Edward Friedman, Professor, Political Science Department, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Probably the area in which there is most hope of important cooperation is climate/energy issues since both countries are huge importers and consumers of energy and also the largest two global polluters. Therefore they do have a serious shared interest in energy efficiency and pollution abatement. Yet even here progress will be limited by the CCP regime understanding that the domestic stability on which basis the CCP regime prospers requires rapid job-creating growth at any price. On most other issues what can be hoped for at most is the management of a rivalry to prevent worst case consequences from arising, something which, of course, is very important for world peace.

But China, as a rising authoritarian power, imagining itself as a moral global pole, experiences the existence of a democratic American world power as inherently a threat to the very survival of the single party CCP dictatorship’s unaccountable monopoly of power. As a result, trust in Beijing-Washington relations is quite low. Therefore, no matter what PRC leaders say, they will continue to treat America as the CCP regime’s enemy number one, while at the same time, of course, understanding that China’s continuing economic rise requires unconstrained access to the American market, to American investment, and to American science and technology. Despite the contrary views and interests of Japan, the nations of the ASEAN and India, Beijing’s actual policies in Asia show that the CCP regime wants the American military out of the Asian region which CCP leaders imagine as their backyard, disregarding the concerns of the other countries just mentioned that it is their front yard.

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