Wed. Feb 21st, 2024

Prof. ST Hsieh

Director, US-China Energy Industry Forum

626-376-7460

[email protected]

April 3, 2023

Whether a collision or conflict between the US and China is inevitable or not, everything should be done to avoid it! There is no winner if the world’s two largest economies go ahead for a conflict, absolutely no one.

Leaders in the US and China have to show true leadership by cooling down the temperature. Not only the top dogs should talk asap, but ranking officials and working level staff must be engaged too.

Both the US and China need to jointly develop a list of actionable items from top down. Yes, there are many grievances against each other, unfortunately some issues cannot be resolved right now and better left for future generations. Specifically, ideology related issues should be tabled before practical issues are resolved. For example, human rights are important universal values, however, it is impossible for China to change her system to a western system overnight and vice versa. The same goes with respect to democracy vs autocracy. If a globalized economy can be decoupled, why not let each nation practice its own political system?

On the other hand, trade relationships or practices between nations can reach compromises and move forward with immediate impacts. The same goes for global issues including public health, poverty and climate changes all need immediate actions.

Every global power should sincerely focus on peace making!

Can a US-China collision be avoided?

BY HARLAN ULLMAN, OPINION CONTRIBUTOR – 04/03/23 8:00 AM ET

From Taiwan to TikTok, U.S.-Chinese relations only worsen. Can it be reversed? If not, is a collision or conflict inevitable?

The U.S. has declared China a major strategic competitor but intends to keep this competition peaceful. The one issue on which a highly partisan and politically divided Congress can agree is the increasing threat posed by China. From a Chinese perspective, America clearly believes China is an adversary and even an enemy, not merely a competitor. 

China is erecting  a great “steel wall” to defend itself from the West. China has formed an “unbreakable” alliance with Russia, the West’s other adversary. China is building a powerful conventional and nuclear armed military and attempting to make itself less technologically dependent on the West.  And China is taking aggressive actions to change the global order and check U.S. influence while regarding America with increasing hostility.

Over the past decade, the U.S. has realigned its strategy and force posture towards Asia and China. Nuclear submarines will be sold to and then built in Australia through a consortium with the U.S. and UK.  

The U.S. has taken diplomatic actions to rally Asian allies to contain and deter China’s growing influence. The U.S. is planning to decouple China from Western markets. And the Biden administration has cast “strategic competition” into an ideological battle between democracy and autocracy.

The start of this decline in relations dates from 2011. Although Chinese leader Xi Jinping would not come to power until the next year, he was well aware of how relations with the U.S. and the West were turning. And, at some stage, he would understand that China would have to react to protect its interests.

With little warning in 2011, the Obama administration announced a strategic “pivot” to Asia. The rationale was that the “emergence” of Chinese economic and military power had made Asia strategically more important than the traditional U.S .emphasis on Europe. But China was more suspicious.  

Allies in Europe and Asia were taken aback and disturbed by this sudden change. China was surprised and angered. Was the real purpose of the pivot to contain China? More directly threatening was Obama’s National Security and Defense Strategies (NSS and NDS).  

The explicit aims of the NDS were to contain, deter and, if war comes, defeat five potential enemies. China was atop the list. China would have no choice except to react to the U.S. defense strategy as more U.S. forces began deploying to the region. 

The Trump administration would impose tariffs on China in 2018 to reverse the $400 billion trade deficit. A wholly destructive and unnecessary tariff war followed. And the Trump NSS and NDS were far more aggressive towards China.  

Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Was China responsible? Today, no one seems to know. Absent any Chinese transparency, COVID may well prove to be the catalyst that put relations into this untenable situation.

While the Biden administration  substituted the softer word “prevail” for defeat in the NDS, to China that still meant “win.” Recent statements of American four-star admirals and generals about preparations for war presumably against China and predicting a Chinese invasion of Taiwan by decade’s end could not have been starker presentations of a direct threat, confirmed by a spate of U.S. think tank war games on that scenario.  

The war in Ukraine has added further complications. Biden warned Xi not to send lethal weapons to Russia. Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen warned, during her “transit” through America last week, that if the Russian invasion succeeds, China will seize Taiwan. China said her trip would have severe consequences if she met with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).

Based on FBI reports, Congress accuses China of intellectual property theft and spying, clear evidence of the malign actions of Beijing generating even greater distrust and animosity in America. Human rights and China’s persecution of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang Province are another tension with no apparent solution as China denies or refuses to discuss these matters.

The tragedy and danger are evident. Both China and the U.S. hold strong grievances against the other. Some are justified. Many are not. These grievances, along with the Taiwan issue, may not be negotiable or resolvable.

What to do? As a first step, President Biden should not say he will speak to Xi when Xi is ready. A meeting is needed now, and it must be substantial. Otherwise, while a collision is not inevitable, it is not implausible. 

Harlan Ullman is senior adviser at the Atlantic Council and the prime author of “shock and awe.” His latest  book is “The Fifth Horseman and the New MAD: How Massive Attacks of Disruption Became the Looming Existential Danger to a Divided Nation and the World at Large.” Follow him on Twitter @harlankullman.

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