The US – China Relationship: should they compete or cooperate?

2 Mar

American hegemony has been the norm for decades. The “baton of pre-eminence” (Jacques, 2009) was snatched from the British Imperial Guard by the Americans at the end of the Second World War. However, in recent years, the world has seen a “shift in the balance of economic power” that is non-Western in nature. The developing BRIC nations – Brazil, Russia, India and China, possess a significant proportion of the global work force with a double-digit economic growth rate, China being the most powerful and now a rival superpower to the US (Jacques, 2009). Goldman Sachs predicts that by 2050, China will have overtaken the US as the largest economy in the world, unfavourable to American principles and interests (Jacques, 2009). This essay explores whether it is more beneficial for these two superpowers to compete or cooperate in terms of economic growth, technological advancements, military supremacy and more importantly, their political approach.

The rise of China’s economy can be accredited to globalisation. Jacques argues that globalisation was a Western concept, attempting to westernise the world to maintain Western supremacy (Jacques, 2009). This has achieved the complete opposite of the West’s original vision as owing to cheaper overseas transport costs and the creation of the Internet, China has been able to target international markets and now produces 70% of the world’s DVDs and toys, as well as establishing leading positions in other markets (Navarro, 2007). China is successful because of its low prices, achieved by its low paid but highly skilled, non-unionised workforce. China also used to peg its currency, keeping it low to maintain its leading market status and rapid economic growth. However, these economic drivers “violate one more or more of the many “rules of the trading road” – standards set by organisations such as the World Trade Organization and various treaties (Navarro, 2007). These international organisations and treaties, in addition to IMF, NATO and World Bank, were created by the US as part of the Bretton Woods Order to prevent the Great Depression at the prime of American supremacy (Jacques, 2009). Therefore, by defying these institutions, China is defying the US in order to maintain its speedy economic growth thus China has more to gain from competing with US while for the US, it would be beneficial if China cooperated as it would then be expected to abide by institutional regulations, slowing down China’s growth.

On the other hand, as US is the world’s biggest consumer and China being the biggest exporter, it can be argued that China as the seller should look to maintain a good relation with the US so that the US continue their trading relations with China and China maintains its huge trade surplus. Chinese exports only account for 15% of US imports whereas China is heavily dependent on US for consuming its products, putting China in a vulnerable position (Dunaway, 2009). In this case, China has more to gain from cooperating with the US while the US can boycott China exports, affecting China’s growth adversely and maintain its sole superpower status. However, China is the “largest buyer of US government debt” so can dump US securities as a threat to the US (Beaumont, 2011), thus US has more to gain from cooperating. At the same time, if US securities lose its value or default, both China and US will be affecting terribly therefore in this particular instance, both US and China should cooperate to maintain their economies.

One way in which US can successfully limit or reverse Chinese economic growth is to wage a war. Although Beijing has increased its military spending and has plans for its first stealth fighter jet, compared to the $91.7 billion spent by the Chinese in 2011, the US spent $700 billion thus China is not currently a military threat (Clarke, 2011). The US is thus still the single most powerful nation due to its unrivalled military supremacy as shown through the Cold War and the War on Terror (Jacques, 2009). The US also has allies such as Japan and South Korea, both developed nations near China which puts China in an inferior position (Bumiller, 2011) thus China has more to gain from cooperating whereas the US from competition. However, both the US and China are one of the five top nuclear weapon states while Japan and South Korea are not. Russia having the largest nuclear arsenal and being a former communist nation is more likely to be an ally to China as both are part of the BRIC nations which puts the US in an unfavourable position. China is furthermore estimated to double its nuclear arsenal by 2020 to rival the US (Kristensen and Norris, 2011). In this case, both the US and China will benefit from cooperating and not using their weapons of mass destruction as the demise of these two superpowers will be the demise of the world.

However, China is distraught with internal issues: can this be attributed to its authoritarian stance? The low wages and minimal worker rights of the Chinese work force may lead to an uprising that will be destructive to the Chinese economy (Navarro, 2007). The fall of the Chinese economy also has detrimental effects on the global economy as China is the leading global exporter. Aware that China’s internal issues can affect the global economy, the US provides assistance to China, for instance, the US department of Labor funds a $2.3 million coal mine worker safety project and a $4.1 million labour related rule of law program to educate on labour standards (US Department of Labor, 2006). This is because the US is aware that Chinese stability is also in their best interests.

As a result, it is essential that US and China cooperate and have more to gain from it despite differences in their political systems and views.


Jacques, M. (2009) When China Rules the World: The Rise of the Middle Kingdom and the End of the Western World, London: Allen Lane, ch. 1.

Navarro, P. (2007) The Coming China Wars: Where They Will Be Fought and How They Can Be Won, London: Financial Times Press, ch. 1

Kristensen H.M and Norris S.R. (2011). ‘Chinese nuclear forces, 2011’, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. 67 (6), pp. 81–87.

Dunaway S., 2009. ‘The US China Economic Relationship: Separating Facts from Myths ’, Council on Foreign Relations, [online] 16 November. Available at: < > [Accessed 10 March 2014]

Bumiller, E., 2011. ‘U.S. Pivots Eastwards to Address Uneasy Allies ’, New York Times, [online] 24 October. Available at: < > [Accessed 10 March 2014]

Beaumont, P., 2011. ‘Chinese ratings agency threatens US with new debt downgrade’, The Guardian, [online] 12 November. Available at: < > [Accessed 10 March 2014]

U.S. Department of Labor, 2006. United States Department Of Labor—Engagement With The People’s Republic Of China. Washington DC: U.S.- China Economic and Security Review Commission.

Hague, R. and Harrop, M., 2010. Comparative Government and Politics: An Introduction. 8th Ed. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 89 – 102.

Clarke, M., 2011. ‘China Accuses US of ‘exaggerating’ military threat’, AFP, [online] 24 August. Available at: < > [Accessed 10 March 2014]


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