The year 2020 has just begun. What signals will China-US relations release this year? This will likely influence the directions of bilateral relations in the entire 2020s.
The US defined China as strategic competitor at the end of 2017, launched a trade war against China in 2018 and further escalated it in 2019. Washington has also upped pressure on China in all areas, souring bilateral relations. But the two countries managed to agree on the text of a phase one economic and trade agreement at the end of 2019. Will this deal just flash by or is it likely to have long-term implications and impact on China-US relations?
If the phase one deal is successfully signed and implemented, it will offer a short respite from trade conflicts between the two countries. However, the main economic divergences remain unsolved. The phase one deal could be seen as the starting point of the exploration of a new behavior's boundary and interaction model between China and the US in the future.
The US mind-set of regarding China as a competitor in 2019 met strong resistance from China and caused large frictions between the two countries. On the one hand, the US is accustomed to imposing pressure on China. On the other, the two biggest powers are not allowed to easily go into a showdown. Where are the boundaries for their behaviors and interests? Exploration is bound to occur.
The year 2020 will see the US presidential election, meaning more noises over China in the US. But Washington will be awed by the price it must pay for keeping up the pressure on China. That being said, if a breathing spell occurs in China-US relations amid their tensions, it should not be surprising.
China must no longer fancy that the US treats it as a friend. China has already been labeled a competitor by the US. China should face this reality and adjust its actions and policies accordingly.
It means China must have a firm stance and be clear-minded over what is most important in China-US ties and what is less or not that significant. The US has offended China openly in terms of ideologies. It is no longer necessary to attach importance to US public opinions about China. But when it comes to China's core interests, China must have the courage to stick to its principles, without fearing a possible collision with the US.
We must have confidence in China's national strength as well as the capability to distinguish what is the real US threat against China and what are only fake tricks for political or public opinion purposes? Which US moves are precisely aimed at China and which are habitual US behaviors?
China is a nuclear power. Confronting China militarily is too risky. That's why the US has the willingness to make controlled military divergences with China. China is also a huge market. Keeping fighting the trade war against China will only lead to endless losses for the US side. That's why Washington has been maintaining negotiations with Beijing. As long as China excises restraint strategically while daring to play tough whenever its core interests are threatened, the US will be willing to explore a new boundary for its behavior and a new pattern of interactions with China.
In 2020, China will let the US know its strategic good faith as well as the fact that China is not to be trifled with. The US should be aware it must respect China as a major power. As China can bring the US benefits, it can also make the US suffer when the latter actively provokes the former.