U.S. vs. China Relations: Misconceptions

Continuing my penchant for attending OU’s “Lunch and Lecture” series, today I listened to a seminar presented by Georgetown University’s Dr. Andrew Scobell.

Scobell gave an interesting lecture over some common misconceptions about the current U.S.-China interactions.

It is no secret that the United States fosters a guarded attitude towards China. While many security deals and agreements went into place in 2017 and are planned for 2018, Scobell posits that the friendly relations are largely a gilding.

In fact, the current U.S. security doctrine defines China as being the single greatest long term threat to the wellbeing of the U.S. The Pentagon currently subscribes to a “4+1” view of national threats: Russia, China, Iran, North Korea + VEOs (Violent Extremist Organizations). However, while Russia rates as the most imminent threat in the near future, China is still considered to the be the greatest liability through the long haul.

This rivalry is not one-sided. China holds a four-pronged view of national security, categorizing their interests into concentric rings of territory:

  1. Homeland: The most prevalent Chinese security interests are domestic. This starts with the streets outside the policymaker’s window and extends to all lands controlled by Beijing.
  2. Periphery: China lives in, as Scobell put it, a “rough neighborhood”. Of the 14 countries that border it, China has gone to war with five years and many more are fragile, threatening collapse.
  3. Regional: There are six geo-political regions surrounding China. Think of this as the general Pacific-Asian “zone”.
  4. Global: China entered the global conversation in the 1990s, primarily in the realms of commodities, new markets and overseas investments.

There’s only one country that China feels can threaten it in all four of these “spheres”–the United States.

Interpreting the relations between the United States and China is tricky. There are three major schools of thought amongst Chinese leaders–opposition to Western thought, global hegemony, a resurgence of Confucianism, etc.–but they can be difficult to translate into the American political understanding.

As for the future, Scobell isn’t sure what’s to come. In fact, he doesn’t believe China knows exactly what they want either. That being said, he believes that taking steps to better understand the other nation’s mindset is essential to achieving international prosperity in the long run.

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