Why U.S., China Destined to Clash


Few geopolitical events in the 20th century could compare to Richard Nixon’s historic visit to China 40 years ago. Today, the “week that changed the world” is chiefly remembered as a bold gamble in diplomatic revolution that paid off handsomely for the American president and the United States. Even more obvious today, however, is that the Nixon visit started a process that eventually ended China’s self-imposed isolation and paved the way for the Middle Kingdom’s re-emergence as a great power. Over the last 40 years, China has gained far more than the United States from the Sino-American strategic rapprochement.

In terms of security, the quasi-alliance established between the United States and China following the visit vastly enhanced China’s ability to stand up to the Soviet Union, which amassed 30 to 40 divisions against China and was contemplating a preemptive strike on Chinese nuclear facilities shortly before the Nixon visit. Of course, adding China as a balancer against the Soviet Union helped the United States wage the Cold War. But the United States would have ultimately defeated the Soviet Union in this contest even without the Chinese contribution, which was modest in substantive terms.

Given the political turmoil of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), the economic dividends of the U.S.-China rapprochement would have to wait a few more years. It wasn’t until Deng Xiaoping’s return to power – and the economic revolution his reforms launched – that China began to appreciate the economic importance of its ties with the United States. Obviously, the astute Deng himself grasped this importance instinctively. That’s why the first overseas visit he made after gaining political supremacy in December 1978 (the month during which, incidentally, Beijing and Washington formally normalized relations) was the United States. He knew that China’s economic reform and opening couldn’t succeed without investment and technology from the United States. The model that drove China’s economic rise – high investment, openness to foreign direct investment and trade, and de-centralization – would have delivered far less impressive results had the U.S. market been closed to Chinese goods and American companies banned from investing in China (as they were before the Nixon visit).

So this past week, four decades after the Nixon visit, the verdict is in: China has been the clear winner. Luckily, the U.S. didn’t lose, either. It has been a rare win-win game in geopolitics. Nevertheless, even in this win-win situation, China has undoubtedly gained far more than the United States. The tallying of such relative gains makes one wonder why so many Chinese elites should harbor such anti-American resentments today.

The underlying reason for the mutually beneficial U.S.-China relations since the Nixon visit is quite clear. The two countries shared important interests: security against the Soviet threat during the Cold War and growing economic benefits from trade and investment after the Cold War.

March 6, 2014 at 05:52

Mr. uri, I believe otherwise. America does not want any war with China. It is contrary to your charge that “it is obvious that America wishes to start a war with China, etc. ” To understand my point is to understand why America is allied with Japan. The purpose for joining hands to form an alliance is to prevent war, not to start war. The American-Japanese alliance shows to the Chinese there is a strong obstacle ahead, just like the North Atlantic Treaty has done to the Soviet Union. And there has been talking that America should expand the alliance to include other Asian countries threatened by the Chinese. All is for preventing a war, not to start any war with China.

February 25, 2014 at 10:01

“If anything, strategic competition will most likely become the principal feature of U.S.-China relations for the foreseeable future – as long as China’s one-party state remains in power.”

The importance of China’s one-party statehood is overstated, and its effects presumptively stated.

Likely China’s one-party statehood is conducive to peace.

Armed conflict between China and the US is very unlikely. The USA and China are both sane and, especially the US, decent.

One should not overestimate US dogmatic commitment to the rest of the world re China.

China will likely achieve enough of its objective without actually using much force.

Japan is economically very fragile; Taiwan is very irresolute when facing an overwhelming Chinese mainland.

The institution of diplomacy, as opposed to ideology, will be dominant. China will adhere to diploamcy. This is because it will be a great power but the rest of the world combined will always be greater still.

Gaurav Singh
August 8, 2012 at 10:21

Why The Hell is China even compared to US which maintains several 100 millitary bases around the world.
TF 74 is enough alone to take on CHina.

WITHOUT HAVING A SINGLE POLLUTING FACTORY US economy is 3 times the size of China with 5 times lesser population and A MUUUCCCHH STABLE POLITICAL SYSTEM which does depend on Army and Tianmenn square massacres….

What Kind of Competition are You talking about
US is a generation ahead of Russia WHICH ITSELF IS 2 generations ahead of China…

WTF The weapons which China is still developing…US HAS RETIRED 2 GENERATIONS OF THEM..

SOme of the US allies are alone capable of Fending off China..

I think People want to give false Overconfidence to China and Make it commit a mistake…

China is still a developing country where 40% of the people have no proper housing and an Average US cititzen buys 4-5 houses in his life.

Establishing Insitutions like California inst of Technology MITs and Harvard take 100s of Years and China has been in existence only for 60 years…WTF man..

PS- I am not demeaning China I think it has done a fantastic job lifting millions out of poverty but talking about US is too muchh
US is a 400 yr old democracy and every 13th person in the world wants to settle there…..Except NORTH KOREANs NOBODY DREAMS OF SETLLING IN CHINA and thereby making a last choice of its life…

Mike Hwang
March 25, 2012 at 11:11

Fully agree with URI.The US ,intoxicated with its overwhelming power has nothing better to do than poke its nose in the the affairs of other countries.Millions of Americans are homeless and without mecicare.Do the politicians bother?No they are out to line their pockets by cozying up to the military industial complex.The mic is out to start the next war in the name of defending US interest ie attacking defenceless Iran.NK is a different case. The fact it can destroy Seoul and cause thousand of US casualties is a small deterrent.
The US is devising new weapons to neutralise the PLA.Try as it might,it will never achieve 100% one hundred per cent immunity.The Chinese aint dumb and having lived under the shadow of the US nuclear threat since the Korea war ,they will make 100% sure the US will suffer a damaging counter attack if attacked.
Now let’s say the roles were reversed. Assuming you have PLA destroyers roaming off California,the Pentagon would invest in counter measures.
So the Chinese have every right to get the wapons to defend themselves.And don’t give the bull shit that the US is a force for the good of the world and Asia.China is not out to attack Japna or US. They want to make absolutely sure the US will suffer unaccetable damage /punishment if it starts a war with China.

March 9, 2012 at 01:13

I question the caption for the article. Why is China destined to clash with America? Why would China wish to clash with the U.S.? It is obvious the U.S. wishes to start a war with China and have it become a vassal with no freedom, independence and sovereignty. I question Mr Pei .. why would a Chinese like him lay the groundwork for a future American attack on China by writing such an article? Such a person can only be termed a traitor in my books. The aggressor, and on a global basis, is America. Washington has gone mad .. literally and power mad. And Pei seemed to be part of that foolish evil conspiracy.

ke si qian
March 8, 2012 at 10:45

I agree with your comments. The 21st century will be a multi polar world. Big powers will be EU (if they can stay united and consolidate further), USA, China and other powers such as Russia, India, Brazil.

March 8, 2012 at 05:29

Hello Duke.
How much American life lost in Vietnam? Did we got anything except the painful memory. Is that propaganda?
We got ourselves in this great recession by get into Iraq and we must dig ourselves out of it.
Do you think we will get anything more by confronting a nation with 1.4 Billon people this time?
We should compete with them economically and do our best take their market opportunity. We cannot afford make 1.4 billion Chinese people our enemy.


Paul Yang
March 8, 2012 at 04:37

Mr. Pei, please think about the 3 blind spots in your logic:
1. Suppose China has some “evil design” to be the strongest nation on earth,
the only thing she needs to do is – NOTHING – Why she wants to risk a
clash with the US which has enough nuclear weapons to destroy the world
10 times over?
— ” Overwhelm the enemy soldiers without firing a shot” — Sun Tzu
You must know the above famous Chinese axiom, so do the CCP partycrats.
Don’t you think?
2. Suppose the US citzens answer you call to arms with complete victory, and
say, kill 200 million Chinese in a hot war, then … China will still be a
powerful nation, maybe just with a 30-year delay. Look aound your world map.
Chinese are always prosperous – Hongkong, Taiwan, Singapore, S.E. Asia –
when China re-emerges again with the memory of the blood hatred, how can the
world go on?
3. Yes, we do have issues with the CCP leaders, and lots of them. We need the
Chinese citizens to go back to the ancient wisdoms (Confucius, say) to view
the world with kindness and love, not suspicion and fear. We desperately need
to do this. Unfortunately, cheap talks of “clash” are making it more
difficult. Why do your conscience allow you to use your knowledge against the
future of mankind?

March 5, 2012 at 13:54

Cheap propaganda! The Pacific-Asia is so important militarily, economically & diplomatically to the US’s future in the world! If the US would like to recover from this ‘great recession’ it must work well with all of its allies and rivals (especially China) in this strategic region!

March 5, 2012 at 10:03

Hello Papa John:

I can tell you I’m a proud American. Just because I love this country that I want put the fact in front of us. Our interest should be our home. American military was in Asian countries, Vietnam, Korea, Philippine… Why we want going back there again? Our school need upgrade and out highway need repair. Let the Asian country work out between themselves with UN.
We American should not involve with that kind of issues. We do not have real reason, we do not have the resources, and we do not have the moral authority. We may achieve short term goals with this type of action but we will lose credibility as the world leader in the long run. Let make America strong at home first. If we do what we believe and act what we promote, America will always be the best.
I do not know why some people have to make 1.4 billion Chinese people our enemy? Show them our leadership, show them our value. Make them our friends.

March 5, 2012 at 00:52

@papajohn; where and how is the “red china” threatening our way of life? Talks like that are what increase radical thinking and that is what has put the USA in the position it is in right now. The issue with the USA right now is too many left or right wing activist and the none existence of a the “grey” area political leader. The radical thinking is what will push either side into acting not one of the three pillars listed in the above article. It will be one radical gaining power on either side and just not afraid of “pulling the trigger”. The only way to resolve any of this without both sides losing is for two “grey” politicians agreeing on a common ground like history has shown us.

papa john
March 4, 2012 at 13:49

You sound much like a typical mainlander Chinese than an American to me. It is like “hey, lets the Chinese do whatever they like with their own minorities and the South Chinese sea issue is of China alone. It is none of American business”. If you can’t stand with our American interests, then you should stay away from American part, go with the Chinese part alone.

March 4, 2012 at 10:35

I detect sarcasm, and irony.
Mao ensured Zhou’s death by refusing him surgical treatment for his illness, thus ensuring he would remain in power until his death. In regard Xiaoping, a bit hard to assasinate political rivals when one is locked up. And besides, to assasinate Mao would have been akin to assasinating himself and the lie that is the CCP’s formal history. Not to mention inadvertantly implicating himself in the process and, therefore, denying him the chance to take power.
A look at the political situation now and one could draw some similarities regards factions wrangling for power, and the use of anti corruption crusades in order to purge political opponents.

March 4, 2012 at 04:24

Hello Janbaz:
As personal experience I can honestly assure that the minority get better treatment in China. Like I said before, they should do better, especially the low level local government to better serve all the Chinese people.
At the same time, most Chinese’s people agree that if any party have set goal which is the separation the Tibet, XJ, or TW from China, than whatever the Chinese government do will not be enough. Period!
You talk about Tibetan monks kills themselves. What that will proof? There are much, much more suicide bombers attacking American interest all over the world, Is that mean we are wrong for their action? I really felt sick whenever a Monk burning themselves, there somehow always happen in front of foreign “media” to feed to YouTube.
Why not help the monk before it happen?

March 4, 2012 at 04:23

As personal experience I can honestly assure that the minority get better treatment in China. Like I said before, they should do better, especially the low level local government to better serve all the Chinese people.
At the same time, most Chinese’s people agree that if any party have set goal which is the separation the Tibet, XJ, or TW from China, than whatever the Chinese government do will not be enough. Period!
You talk about Tibetan monks kills themselves. What that will proof? There are much, much more suicide bombers attacking American interest all over the world, Is that mean we are wrong for their action? I really felt sick whenever a Monk burning themselves, there somehow always happen in front of foreign “media” to feed to YouTube.
Why not help the monk before it happen?

Leonard R.
March 3, 2012 at 13:09

Should read: “…no country, China included, has ever claimed sovereignty over the whole of the South China Sea…”

Leonard R.
March 3, 2012 at 13:07

Interesting piece in the Global Times today. Does it indicate softening of the PRC’s position? Is Xi starting to clean up Hu Jintao’s mess?

(emphasis added by me using caps)


“A Foreign Ministry spokesman said Wednesday that the CORE of the South China Sea dispute is about sovereignty over the NANSHA Islands and the DEMARCATION of territorial waters in South China Sea.

He added that NO COUNTRY, CHINA INCLUDED, has ever SOVEREIGNTY OVER the WHOLE of the SOUTH CHINA SEA. It caused much criticism from Chinese netizens, saying it shows a weakened stance on China’s territorial sovereignty.

The next day, the same spokesman stated that China has unquestionable sovereignty over Xisha Islands and its nearby sea areas and the remarks won enormous applause from the netizens, even though there was no conflict between the two statements and the second just merely sounded slightly tougher….

China cherishes a peaceful development environment and friendship with neighboring countries. It is reluctant to aggravate the situation. More importantly, China is clear that the best way to solve problems is to address them head on. ”

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