We have to avoid the trap of the “New Cold War”. The phrase trying to describe US-China relations reflects Washington DC’s lazy and unipolar view of global affairs. The original Cold War involved a rivalry between two powers isolating themselves from each other. Comparing US-China relations with the original Cold War does not take into account how the US and Chinese economies have integrated with one another. The Cold War also offers no insight into pressing issues such as regulating the digital economy or the environment. Why call a relationship war when you don’t have to?
Instead, DC should replace its bellicose nature with a foreign policy that promotes the protection of the common people. Protecting the common people requires a sustainable relationship with China that does not focus on domination and competition. For example, we should consider decarbonizing our economy not for competitive reasons but to protect Americans. China could use our decarbonization efforts as an example to serve its own people.
At the same time, we need to recognize the limits of our influence. A complete “decoupling”, in which the USA and China unravel their economic interdependence, is not feasible. However, I believe that partial decoupling is necessary. As Professor Dani Rodrik writes, “There is little that Western countries can do individually or collectively to reshape China’s state economic model or repressive human rights and labor law regimes.” Instead of exporting our values, we should uphold our values with trade and investment rules that ensure American businesses and consumers are not directly involved in China’s human rights abuses.
What would stimulate China to abandon its own burgeoning warlike approach? In 2019, a group of economists and lawyers proposed an alternative route to trade wars between the US and China. The 2019 framework would promote the protection of ordinary people and allow Beijing to identify specific U.S. policies that severely affect China’s ability to pursue its goals. Disagreements are inevitable; Our aim should be to avoid the intense tension that we are now seeing between the two countries.
From internment camps for Japanese Americans to the Patriot Act, US history offers several examples of domestic tensions arising from DC’s failure to review our foreign policy narratives. We need to examine how foreign policy narratives like “the Chinese threat” or “the great enemy of the United States” fuel violence against Asian Americans. Words are important. In US-China relations, greater attention to wording will provide a basis for cooperation.