China's Search for Stability With America

AFTER 9/11

The United States is currently the only country with the capacity and the ambition to exercise global primacy, and it will remain so for a long time to come. This means that the United States is the country that can exert the greatest strategic pressure on China. Although in recent years Beijing has refrained from identifying Washington as an adversary or criticizing its "hegemonism" -- a pejorative Chinese code word for U.S. dominance -- many Chinese still view the United States as a major threat to their nation's security and domestic stability.

Yet the United States is a global leader in economics, education, culture, technology, and science. China, therefore, must maintain a close relationship with the United States if its modernization efforts are to succeed. Indeed, a cooperative partnership with Washington is of primary importance to Beijing, where economic prosperity and social stability are now top concerns.

Fortunately, greater cooperation with China is also in the United States' interests -- especially since the attacks of September 11, 2001. The United States now needs China's help on issues such as counterterrorism, nonproliferation, the reconstruction of Iraq, and the maintenance of stability in the Middle East. More and more, Washington has also started to seek China's cooperation in fields such as trade and finance, despite increased friction over currency exchange rates, intellectual property rights, and the textile trade.

Although there is room for further improvement in the relationship, the framework of basic stability established since September 11 should be sustainable. At least for the next several years, Washington will not regard Beijing as its main security threat, and China will avoid antagonizing the United States.

THE LONELY SUPERPOWER

To understand the forces that govern U.S.-Chinese relations, it helps first to understand U.S. power and Washington's current global strategy. Here is a Chinese view: in the long term, the decline of U.S. primacy and the subsequent transition to a multipolar world are inevitable; but in the short term, Washington's power is unlikely to decline, and its position in world affairs is unlikely to change.

Register Now
Non-Subscriber
Register now to get three articles each month. Join us as a paid subscriber and get unrestricted access to all of Foreign Affairs, including on our iPad app.
Please note that we will never share your email address with a third party. Read our privacy policy.
Register for free to continue reading.
Registered users get access to three free articles every month.

Or subscribe now and save 55 percent.

Subscription benefits include:
  • Full access to ForeignAffairs.com
  • Six issues of the magazine
  • Foreign Affairs iPad app privileges
  • Special editorial collections

Latest Commentary & News analysis