China and its forced American friendship

19 Mar

The relationship between China and America has become more and more strained over the last few years due to a spectrum of issues. The economic depression saw American economists suggesting a return to protectionist policies and stopping outsourcing to China. At the same time China is trying to secure its regional power by increasing its military might. This has aggrovated their neighbours as they see China becoming an imperial power trying to assert control through force. A third point of conflict between America and China is Chinas desperate need for more energy.


At the moment there is a discussion in America about the countries future economic relation with China. Obama’s first treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner, damned the way china manipulated its currency. By not only having a very large trade surplus with America, china had then used American dollars to invest in American businesses without letting the Chinese currency float freely on the market. As a reaction to this some economists, such as the economic Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman, suggest increasing tariffs on Chinese goods. A return to protectionism would not be popular and the results would not be pleasant in the slightest.


However it must be taken into account that a lot of America’s spending recently has been on the Chinese credit card. This creates a confused and complicated picture. China needs America to purchase the goods it exports and America needs China to continue funding its public spending. This creates a very tense and necessary friendship. Two of the world’s biggest traders on the global stage need each other out of economic necessity but don’t really want each other. It could be suggested that there may in the near future, a race between America and China to find other economic partners to rely on so they are not as interdependent as they are now.


Another flash point between the two nations is the South pacific and more specifically the South China Sea. As America refocuses it’s foreign policy towards the South Pacific and its variety of allies, such as Japan and Australia, China is building its naval fleet in order to become a regional power. It is obvious these two foreign policies are not designed to work together. America must appear strong to its allies, not only to maintain its image as the only global superpower but for its own battered ego after the experience of Afghanistan and Iraq. China on the other hand is forced by the public to secure the disputed island chains referred to as the Spratlys and the Parcels, amongst other names. Vietnam, the Philippines, Maylaysia and Brunei all lay claims to these islands as well. This sets up a face-off between the American allies and China’s increasingly powerful navy.


It must be taken into account the role of the two Koreas in this regional dispute. Despite neither laying claim to the islands both Koreas have influence in the region. If there was a conflict over the islands China would have to face the prospect of an American army on its doorstep with only North Korea as a buffer zone. All this suggests that there is a taut scene in the South China Sea and neither America nor China have the decisive edge to strike first, thus they must reign in their allies so they are not drawn into a conflict.


An additional subject of disagreement between America and China is the energy problem. China needs a constant and large source of energy from abroad; at least 60% of its oil comes from the Middle East. China recognises that it is in a vulnerable position because its use of energy is currently inefficient. This is proven by around 750,000 deaths a year due to pollution in China.


Currently the US Navy is based around the straights of Taiwan and other strategic locations could sever the important fuel flowing into China. This has caused the Chinese to buy up oil fields abroad rather than just import the oil, in order to take physical control of their energy and establish fuel security. However if oil prices are to drop rapidly at any point this may be a severe blow to the Chinese. There is also the problem that Chinese oil companies are seen to be doing business with ‘bad’ countries, those where American sanctions prevent other nations from working there. The future of China’s energy security is something not taken lightly by the communist leadership and if America does prepare itself it may find the Chinese outplaying them at a game they began.


In conclusion, in can be seen that America and China are friends of necessity. Until one achieves the upper hand or the other falters then there shall be an equilibrium not seen since after the Berlin wall fell.






McGregor, Richard. “750,000 a year killed by Chinese pollution.” Financial Times 2 (2007).


Shirk, Susan , China: Fragile Superpower (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2008)


Hutton, Will, The Writing on the Wall: China and the West in the 21st Century (London, Brown Little, 2006)


Yahuda, Michael, The International Politics of the Asia-Pacific (Oxon, RoutledgeCurzon, 2009)


5 Responses to “China and its forced American friendship”

  1. pw9g10 March 20, 2013 at 10:10 am #

    Considering the extent to which China and the US are reliant on each other economically it is definitely a long way off before tensions rise enough for conflict to take place. China would be risking more than it would gain if it was drawn into war by North Korea and would therefore be an incredibly unwise move. The gains from trading with the US and other Western friendly nations far outweigh the benefits of trading solely with North Korea. However, North Korea may already be holding back believing that China will not provide military backing if unnecessary action did pose a risk to China’s international relations.

    The stance the US adopts when commenting on Chinese protectionism is understandable from the view that the US wants the best deal possible. However, the US themselves cannot really condemn a protectionist stance as they have adopted such actions in the past when not prompted to do so. It appears that while the US is the world’s superpower it is open to free trade when favourable but also changes tactic when an alternative strategy is favourable as it did when Obama presented to Congress a ‘20% tax credit for firms that relocate jobs to the US from abroad’ (Plummer, 2012). Overall it appears that in recent years small arguments and accusations have taken place in what is becoming a struggle to gain any possible advantage.

    Plummer, R. (2012) ‘Protectionism: Is it on the way back?’, BBC News, 17 September [Online]. Available at: (Accessed: 20 March 2013).

  2. db7g09 March 24, 2013 at 5:37 pm #

    It has been China’s policy to base its relationship with its neighbours on economic opportunities. Through trade and investments, China has sought to share the fruit of its growth with others in the region, and in this way built a foundation for peaceful co-operation. This effort must continue.

    But, as the challenges thrown up by America’s strategic re-balancing have shown, a relationship built strictly on economic co-operation is not enough, and political and security concerns must also be addressed. In fact, a close economic relationship often creates such concerns.

    America’s policy in Asia is founded not on economics, but on a vision of a secure and stable strategic order in the region. That this vision of a common good – coupled with the values that America likes to champion – is attractive to countries in the region is unsurprising. Thus, in some sense, the Sino-U.S. rivalry is really one fought on values. In this regard, China needs to strengthen its dialogue with its neighbours on politics and security matters, establish bilateral or multilateral security mechanisms, and do much more to dispel their doubts and worries.

    This is nothing short of a competition between the “American Dream” and the “Chinese Dream”. China has to adjust, elaborate and strengthen the substance of its Chinese Dream, to increase its moral appeal to others. Once this missing piece of the puzzle is filled in, Chinese diplomacy will have found a new lease of life.

    Before this can be achieved, however, China should first successfully tackle its domestic challenges and deepen reforms at home. In other words, its diplomacy – built on the strength of its values – is but an extension of its internal policy.

    Interestingly, Lanxin Xiang, writing for the South China Morning Post has argued that “China’s diplomacy must be conducted by those with strategic vision, rather than the technocrats who have fumbled over the past decade, to set a policy that inspires trust”.

    The new Chinese leadership differs from the previous ones in its education background, personal experience and strategic outlook. Most of its members were trained in the social sciences and humanities, unlike the “engineers” who have run China for the past 20 years, starting with Jiang Zemin.

    As it turned out, the engineers were a perfect match for a foreign-policy elite dominated by language specialists, to whom instant results is the only measure of success. One should not expect them to have a long-term strategic vision.

    The new leadership should realise that, to avoid future diplomatic disasters, this type of “diplomat” must be pushed back to where they belong – sitting in the background and doing their technical work – and not be allowed to develop strategic plans. Indeed, the reform of China’s foreign policy and national security structure is no less urgent an issue, for foreign policy is too important to be left to language technicians.

    Establishing a political appointee system to allow those who have the confidence of the top leaders to conduct foreign policy might be the most effective way out.


    Rick Larsen – ‘How to improve U.S.-China relations’- – 25 February 2013 (accessed 23 March 2013).

    Lanxin Xiang – ‘China must leave its foreign policy to the experts’ – – 5 February 2013 (accessed 24 February 2013).

    David Shambaugh – ‘Falling out of Love with China’ – – 10 March 2013 (accessed 24 March 2013).

  3. na8g10 March 29, 2013 at 3:39 pm #

    The relationship between these two countries is interesting because as you mention, they both need each other to sustain growth. China effectively lend money to the US for them to go and buy Chinese goods with. The US need China’s money and China need the demand for goods from the US. The relationship has mutual benefits.
    However, I do believe that if anything, these two countries have come closer together over the years. China may be a communist country but economically speaking there policies are more in the centre than anything, similar to the US, which is the biggest factor holding this relationship together. Another factor that is coming into play is North Korea. Historically a strong ally of China, the Chinese have finally decided that the nuclear tests conducted by North Korea is too much and have supported strict new sanctions on them, something which they usually veto. Some have commented that this “may well represent the most significant gesture China has made toward Washington in recent years of wanting to reset the bilateral relationship. However, there’s also an argument the other way:

    “Beijing likely recognizes that North Korea’s actions could very well push the U.S. to beef up its military presence in the region, including stronger anti-missile defenses going to South Korea and possibly Japan. A more robust U.S. military presence in Northeast Asia that serves to strengthen capabilities of American allies is the last thing Beijing wants right now.”

    Either way, this relationship will be an interesting one to keep an eye on.


    • sb2g10 March 30, 2013 at 12:39 pm #

      Another interesting issue that has recently arisen is the role of North Korea in the relationship between the two countries. For a long time China’s backing of North Korea and the US’s strong support of South Korea has driven a large political wedge between the two nations. However, with China’s recent shift of support towards the South (caused by North Korea’s recent unauthorized nuclear tests) it will be interesting to see what effect, if any, this has on relations between the two powerful nations.

      • ja11g12 April 5, 2013 at 5:40 pm #

        This is true, China’s shift to now only supporting North Korea with financial and food aid may mean that any tensions on this issue with America can begin to become resolved, as the US also provides aid for North Korea. However, the Chinese government still strongly believe in the importance of state sovereignty so I doubt any joint effort between China and the US is likely.

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