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How the U.S. “Extreme Pressure” Measures Could Affect the Trend of China-U.S. Bilateral Relations in the Near Future?
Views:2422 Updated:2020-08-12

There are less than three months from now to the U.S. general election day. The pandemic situation in the U.S. is still very severe. Under this critical circumstance, China-U.S. bilateral relationship is down to a low level with the U.S. side recently having taken a series of hostile policies and actions against China on issues related to Hong Kang, the South China sea, Taiwan, and Xinjiang, as well as the Chinese technology companies.

Apparently, the U.S. aimed to deploy a series of “extreme pressure” measures to put all the possible cards on the table in a very short period of times to force China to make concessions. The hostile moves taken by the U.S. might be a little sudden for a lot, as China and the U.S. just reached a phase one trade deal in January, by then the international community seemed to have cast a hope to the development of the bilateral ties between the two large powers.

Among all the hostile measures, the U.S. actions against the Chinese tech companies Huawei, TikTok, and Wechat very recently have especially drawn a lot of international attention. The U.S. government has sent out an ultimatum to TikTok - TikTok was pressed to reach a deal with Microsoft in 45 days. Otherwise, the operation of TikTok in the U.S. market will be banned. Shortly, Wechat received the similar threat.

With the U.S. officials’ announcement coming up, a series of questions automatically were raised - what could be the legal ground for the U.S. government to take force measures to ban TikTok and Wechat? What procedures need to go through for doing this? What measures could be taken by the Chinese tech companies to defend their interests? And what might be the impact of the U.S. policies and actions on the consumers and business sectors of the two countries?...

At the current moment, it is hard to tell whether TikTok and Microsoft will be able to reach a deal. Within a short time, it is also hard to assess the amount of damages caused by the U.S. tough measures to the consumers and businesses of the two countries. Going through a legal procedure also needs to take a much longer time. Instead of focusing on the technical questions, the aim of this analysis is to address the most fundamental question - what might be behind the U.S. tough measures against China? Then it will try to think about how these measures would possibly affect the trend of China-U.S. bilateral ties in the near future.

General Election

People would generally agree that the U.S. coming general election is mainly behind the U.S. extreme pressure against China. Some experts already pointed out that, in order to win the election, both republicans and democrats appeared to have engaged in a competition for proving which one of the two parties could be tougher toward China. Apparently, such kind of motivation and attempts made by some U.S. politicians would be detrimental to the U.S. political environment as well as to the U.S. society in general.

The unhealthy or negative campaign strategy partly has revealed the deep problem and crisis existed within the U.S. society, one of which is the trust deficit between the people and the government. Instead of thinking about more positive and proper means to build trust and confidence of the public to the U.S. politics, certain officials have taken the most convenient measure to transfer the domestic crisis up to the international level by creating a common enemy.

According a recent opinion poll, a growing percentage of Americans hold a hostile stance toward China. The author of this analysis wouldn’t give credit to some of the election opinion polls especially at the current moment, as any one of them (though not all of them) could be part of a campaign strategy, and it could be mismanaged, with the purpose of affecting the public mood and of gathering more people around.

The imminent concern of the U.S. officials and advisers before the election day should be about the general public sentiments and the campaign result. They don’t seem to care more about the long-term repercussions of any hostile measures toward a particular country (including the damages to the U.S. itself). Therefore, it shouldn’t be surprising that the U.S. pulls all the tough cards on the table against China at the same time. Whether the hard policies could secure any outcomes before the election is also of an issue anyway.

Strategic Adjustment

In addition to serving the election purpose, from a strategic and longer term perspective, the U.S. tough moves especially toward the Chinese tech companies could also have revealed a fact that the U.S. has started to do a strategic adjustment.

During the second half of the 20th century, very often the U.S. had deployed its hard power including military force to sustain the U.S. influence. After the world stepping into the new century, the 9.11 terrorist attack took place, the U.S. relationship with part of the Muslim world was deteriorated. In response the U.S. ever launched a strategic policy on “war on terror”. Now, it appears that the U.S. aims to adjust its strategy toward a new area of issues, which could be named as a “war on information, communication, science, and technology”.

Though other areas of issues will as usual still be on the U.S. policy agenda, meanwhile it will likely pay more attention to enhance its capacity and competitiveness in information, science and technology, and the U.S. will aim to seek control over this area of issues. How could the U.S. strategic adjustment possibly affect the trend of China-U.S. bilateral relations in a foreseeable future then?

Trend of China - U.S. Bilateral Relations in the Near Future

With the growing competition between China and the U.S. in a number of areas, some have already raised the question of whether there could be a real conflict between the two. Some may also have thought about whether the two economies might close to an edge of decoupling. There has been a voice of decoupling lingering around in recent months.

Many from a wide range of areas generally believed that China-U.S. bilateral ties will be back on track. The current series of conundrums existed between the two countries are temporary, because China and the U.S. over the past decades have been highly inter-connected in nearly all sectors.

This piece would keep a view that a big military conflict between the two will be very unlikely. A big confrontation means a third world war. Mankind cannot afford that. Humanity and human civilizations will be destroyed if that happens.

Concerning the question of decoupling between the two economies, it is not of a matter decided by a government without taking the factual matters into account. Whether the people, businesses, organizations, and other wide variety of entities would support the decoupling measure is of the most crucial question. Without the support of all these sectors, what is the ground for the government to implement the decoupling measure?

The general trend of China-U.S. bilateral relationship will continue to be driven by a mixture of cooperation and competition. Though the two largest economies have been highly integrated and interdependent in almost all issue areas, these don’t mean that the collaboration between the two will always go smoothly. More intensive bargain, discussion, and negotiation will be involved in the collaboration process. The bargain and negotiation in the areas concerning the core interests of each other could be getting more intense. Also the key areas of competition between the two could be altered accordingly in different period.

At the present stage, the U.S. appeared to have an intent to strengthen its competitiveness in communication, science, and technology. Therefore, the competition between China and the U.S. over this area of issues in the coming years will be upgrading. As usual, the U.S. will continue to deploy some of its traditional containment tactics to seek control. These could consist of preventing the Chinese tech companies (other type of international corporations also) from getting on to the global stage, and of limiting their capacities in developing and owning the most advanced technologies etc. Meanwhile and very likely, China in response would take certain measures to defend China’s interest as well.

As a result of this “Tit for Tat” game, the people and various sectors of the two countries would bear the consequences after all. The kind of “extreme pressure” measures set by a government against a particular corporation also create distrust and discourage fair market competition.

Along with the “Tit for Tat” game, the most significant question that needs to bear in mind is that the one which takes the initiative to set a hostile measure against another is not necessarily of the winner or of losing less. The world has seen too many of this kind of cases having happened in history.

To avoid such kind of non-stop “Tit for Tat” game, a wise solution would be for the two countries to agree on something to regulate and guarantee fair competition among all the companies in the markets. The identity of a company - whether it is an U.S. company, a Chinese company, or a company from other countries - shouldn’t be taken as a big matter. The contributions of this company to humans instead should be of the most important matter. The sciences and high-technologies created by the companies are supposed to be global public good, and the purpose of developing advanced technologies and sciences are to better serve the mankind ultimately.

In addition to the competition between China and the U.S. in science and technology, in the global governance sphere, the two countries together with other middle powers face big challenges as well. The differences likely to remain between the U.S. and China concerning global governance basically consist of two aspects: the reform of some traditional institutions / mechanisms, and the possible making of new rules and norms.

Regarding the reform of a number of international institutions/mechanisms, which more or less have a problem either with enforcement, with bureaucracy, or with efficiency, a lot of efforts have been made by some countries over the past years, nevertheless, partly due to the complexity of interests held by major powers within the relevant institutions, so far not much progress has been secured in terms of pushing forward the reform process.

The future for a number of traditional institution / mechanisms could be full of uncertainties - some may find good solutions and manage to complete at least part of their reforms; or they could be merged with or replaced by a series of new institutions/mechanisms having similar functions with traditional ones yet with more efficiency and creativity; or some institutions might disappear.

Whatever the fate of a number of institutions / mechanisms will be in the future, the reform process will not be easy. There are experts having proposed that, apart from continuing to deploy the traditional approaches to press the reform of the existing institutions, relevant countries and institutions are suggested to seek new alternatives/ideas to address the problems existed within the relevant institutions.

Moreover, countries may consider, in accordance with their own interests, to seek new possible options such as facilitating new mechanisms together with those with similar interests in whatever areas. In this case, the question of whether the new alternatives are formal or informal shouldn’t be the major concern, rather, efficiency and flexibility should be more important.

Regardless of what the objective really is - promoting the reform of traditional international institutions or formulating new multilateral rules and norms, the key is for the major powers encompassing China and the U.S. to agree on a common approach and to jointly set up a basic framework and certain regulations concerning this two aspects of work. Once a general consensus is reached, the technical tasks could be gradually followed through with the help of a wide variety of sectors. Therefore, the coordination, negotiation, and making certain concessions between China and the U.S. are of most significance in order to benefit both countries and beyond.

Apart from all the above, promoting the development of regionalism should also be an alternative suggestion to counter the repercussions caused by the difficulties in managing multilateralism. Regionalism and multilateralism should complement with each other. Sound development of regionalism is anticipated to contribute to globalization and global governance.

Overall, to properly handle the possible differences between China and U.S. in global governance,  there is a need for policy-makers of the two countries to deploy more of wisdom rather than of the direct and convenient “extreme pressure” measures, so does the management of other issue areas between the two countries as well.

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