There can be little doubt that the defining global relationship of the twenty-first century will be that between the United States and China. Russia is an issue, and Iran; but it’s China and the United States that will almost surely be battling for hegemonic supremacy in the coming decades.
Trade and intellectual property are the most obvious fronts in this war, but there is so much more. China is challenging the traditional American dominance in the realm of technological innovation. It is building relationships with the nations of Latin America and Africa in ways that threaten to tilt those nations’ loyalties and admirations away from the United States and toward China. It is asserting itself militarily in the South China Sea in ways that may disturb the current status quo. And it is doing all these as its president tightens his own grip on power, creating an even more autocratic society than existed previously.
And yet, even as the two nations are in competition, they must and do cooperate on a number of fronts both economic and diplomatic. The trade wars have entered a particularly hot period, but over the long haul, the two countries will be too economically dependent on each other to allow these hostilities to dominate. So the relationship is a balancing act—one that will no doubt only grow more complex as globalism continues its march.
We assembled some of our country’s leading China experts to produce this symposium to cover these and other China-related issues. Noah Feldman, who coined the phrase “Cool War” to describe the relationship, sets the table with the introduction. Elizabeth Economy writes on trade. Rebecca Liao addresses intellectual property issues. Aleksandra Gadzala discusses China’s strategy in the developing world. Richard Vague explores the challenges arising from China’s pursuit of tech innovation. David Dollar assesses the diplomatic and military challenges ahead. And finally, Manfred Elfstrom explains what’s going on inside China itself right now and how these changes will impact the countries’ relationship. This symposium was made possible by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the authors.