Two scenarios for the future of U.S.-China relations

July 8, 2017: U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping shake hands at the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany
If Presidents Trump and Xi can start negotiations on at least some of their trade disagreements, they could avoid a more dangerous confrontation (source: dpa)
  • The U.S. and China are strategic competitors
  • American policy is moving toward a greater confrontation with Beijing
  • If economic ties continue to deteriorate, a quasi-cold war is possible
  • The most likely scenario is an engagement that de-escalates tensions

In the United States, tension has been building since at least the 2000 presidential election between the concepts of strategic competition and partnership with China. It is clear from President Donald Trump’s 2017 National Security Strategy that the former has won out. U.S.-China relations have entered a new, competitive era. Exactly what shape this competition takes, however, is a crucial issue. There are two possible scenarios.

The first is quasi-cold war. There are indicators that the U.S. has moved into a period of “whole of society” confrontation with China. Vice President Mike Pence’s October speech to the Hudson Institute in Washington, in which he cited a “new consensus … rising across America … to defend our national interests and most cherished ideals,” seems to point in this direction.

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