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)