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Sino-US Dialogue: Sino-US Relations and Globalization Trend from the Macro Perspective during the COVID-19 Epidemic



The Grandview China-U.S. Dialogue was successfully held on 10 May. The talking points of the four speakers are published in the following: 

William Overholt, Senior Research Fellow at Harvard University

China and America in an era of geoeconomics

International relations theorists and many contemporary officials see Sino-American relations through the lens of studies by Mearsheimer, Allison, and others who analyze pre-World War II competition between rising powers and established powers and conclude that war is likely. But pre-World War II geopolitics focused on powers using their military to seize territory from neighbors. Post-World War II geopolitical competition has been far more defined by economics, where both sides can win.

 The U.S. won the Cold War with an economic strategy based on the Bretton Woods system together with various aid, institution building, and diplomacy institutions. It created a sustaining and expanding network of prosperous allies and friends. The Soviet Union bet everything on its military and essentially went bankrupt, something both American and Chinese leaders tend to forget. Having won, the U.S. allowed its key geoeconomic institutions to atrophy. Its national security policy became truncated to a primarily military policy, driven by domestic Congressional politics rather than any grand strategy.

China’s Belt and Road Initiative, BRI, essentially tries to fill a vacuum left by US gutting of its Bretton Woods strategy. BRI emulates Bretton Woods—development banks funding infrastructure plus efforts to create common standards and liberalize international trade and investment.

The current U.S. response to economic relations with China has been to ignore the overlaps of Bretton Woods and BRI, to ignore common interests in the success of BRI, to ignore many of benefits of Sin-American collaboration, and to treat Chinese efforts in areas like standards-setting as illegitimate challenges to the established order. It has failed to invent a strategy for the era of geoeconomics, leaving China as the only power with a leadership vision.

China’s BRI vision is inspiring, but it is beset by contradictions between China’s desire to retain all the advantages of small power and its desire to be treated as a global leader. With the developed world, China wants its companies like UnionPay and Huawei to have the opportunity to dominate their global sectors, while crippling Western competitors by denying access to the Chinese market.  Given China’s current scale, this creates a life and death crisis for a wide range of Western companies and Western governments will act decisively in response, defeating China’s ambitions to be accepted as a global leader.  Toward its maritime neighbors, China behaves as if it were a small power like Malaysia, grabbing everything it can without regard for the interests of its neighbors; this defeats the BRI effort to build Chinese leadership around the concept of a community of common interests.

Because the U.S. and China are both pursing deeply flawed strategies, they both fail to achieve their goals, and they gratuitously enhance conflict with each other.


Thomas Fingar, Professor at Stanford University

US-China Relations During and After the US Election

China will be criticized by both candidates during the US presidential campaign but foreign policy in general and policy toward China, in particular, will have little impact on the outcome of the election.  Domestic issues and judgments about the character and capabilities of Trump and Biden will be far more important to American voters.  Criticism of China is a “freebie” for both candidates and a box each has to check but what is said during the campaign will be a poor guide to the policy after the election.  If Trump wins, we can expect more of what we have seen during the past three years but he will be a lame-duck from day one, especially if the Democrats win the Senate.  If Biden wins, his immediate focus—likely to last for his entire term—will be on rebuilding the capacity of and confidence in the federal government and repairing damage to the rules-based order and US influence.  Domestic issues—economic recovery, inequality, healthcare, infrastructure, etc.—will drive the agenda and demand resources.

       Biden’s own background (many years on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee) and America’s inescapable international interests and responsibilities will be secondary to domestic concerns but more central to policymaking than it has been under Trump.  In contrast to Trump, who has pursued a nationalist agenda, Biden would seek to protect and advance US interests by working within and through the international system.  He would seek to repair alliances, partnerships, and multilateral institutions and to tackle common challenges like an infectious disease, climate change, water quality and availability, and proliferation of dangerous weapons by working with as many nations as possible.

       Policies toward China will be subordinated to both domestic priorities and the restoration of US leadership and international cooperation.  The real issues in the US-China relationship, which center on fairness and asymmetries of access (e.g., to markets and information) will remain on the US agenda but Biden would pursue them differently than Trump.  Rather than a go-it-alone approach, Biden would act in concert with other countries that have the same or similar concerns about Chinese actions.  The goal would be to resolve specific issues, not to contain or constrain China, to change behavior not to change China.  There is much about Chinese behavior that Americans do not like (e.g., treatment of Uighurs, suppression of dissent, the abridgement of human and civil rights), but Biden, like Trump, will not make Beijing’s treatment of Chinese citizens a major focus of US policy.  Washington’s approach is likely to be one that treats issues individually, seeks opportunities to cooperate, and eschews manifestations of decoupling or containment.  But the default setting in US-China and other bilateral relationships is likely to move from acceptance of asymmetries that favor the other party to explicit or de facto demands for reciprocity.  The rebuilding of US military capabilities will continue to treat the PLA and its weapons systems as the most capable potential adversary.



Chief Strategist and Vice Chairman of Academic Committee at Grandview Institution, Academic Dean of the National and Regional Academy of Beijing Language and Culture University

n  On US-China competition/rivalry

1.       A dangerous tendency, with a catastrophic consequence, in US-China relations is that the focus/essence of “competition” is shifting from “what we want” to “who we are”. We can manage the former with compromise-making based on the mutually accepted rule of the game. But we will hopelessly fall into a zero-sum game that will inevitably lead to confrontation if the conflict is about “who we are”.

2.       A more urgent problem is that neither sides has worked out a comprehensive strategy, with consistent policy framework, for the emerging “strategic competition” (or even rivalry) between the two powers.  This has made both sides be ad hoc in dealing with each other.  More damaging is that the tit-for-tat interactions (the demonstration of ad hoc policy) has brought out the most hawkish and nationalistic elements/forces in policymaking in both sides.

3.       Both sides are facing formidable challenges at home, resulting in deep division (to various degree) on major issues in public opinion as well as policymaking.  Thus, being tough in foreign affairs becomes necessary for the leadership to manage internal division on the one hand, and to justify (controversial) decision making on the other hand.

4.       There is a rise of negative view and even hostility against the other side in both countries.  Such a rise appears more dramatic in China due to cross-board disillusion of America (which has remained a positive image among the Chinese public since Nixon’s visit to China in 1971) in recent years, especially Trump administration’s performance during coronavirus pandemic and its politically driven blaming of China.  This will have a long-term impact of the bilateral relationship down the road.

n  On future prospect of US-China relations

1.       It is unrealistic to turn the bilateral relationship around in the near future, given the political momentum in both countries.

2.       Ultimately, it takes the determination from the topmost leadership in both sides to improve the bilateral relationship, starting from stop negative mudslinging against each other.

3.       Still, rapprochement would be possible only when both sides make major policy shift in their approach towards the international affairs in general, and towards each other in particular.

4.       For US, the America-first unilateralism has to be replaced by a more proactive globalist approach aimed at maintaining/strengthening the present liberal international order, so as to turn hegemonism into global leadership.  Ironically, US unilateralism has enabled China to enhance the effectiveness of its insistence on multilateralism, which has in turn reinforced the US perception that China intends to take over the US leadership in global affairs.

5.       For China, the adherence to Deng Xiaoping’s policy of Reform and Openness is essential to convince the outside world, and the US in particular, that China is to develop into a “responsible stakeholder” of the existing international order.  The development of OBOR, for example, has to be driven by market force and managed by rule of law, so as to dilute the emerging image of “revisionist power”.

6.       In a long run, the outcome of the US-China competition is essentially determined by the internal changes in both countries.  Whoever can put its house in order (or reinvent itself) will gain initiative, if not clear upper hand, in the bilateral relationship and global affairs.


SHEN Dingli, Professor at Fudan University

The COVID-19 epidemic has sent a strong warning to contemporary globalization, forcing countries to balance economic security and health in the era of globalization, and objectively requiring redundancy in the adjustment of the production chain to avoid strategic fragility. International organizations such as the World Health Organization are facing accountability, showing the current lack of mutual trust among major powers.

 The competitive relationship between China and the United States in the contemporary world is already in a declining trend with increasing complexity, and it is currently deeply troubled by the COVID-19 epidemic. The global economic slowdown from the COVID-19 epidemic will inevitably shrink the scale of China-US economic and trade relations, and bilateral investment may partially retreat in a recent period. Implementation of the China-US Economic and Trade Agreement signed by the two countries on January 15 this year may face difficulties.

China-US political relations are struggling, and the bilateral mutual trust is now at a historical low since the two countries established diplomatic relations. Although the US intelligence system has proved it clear that the coronavirus is not artificially manufactured by China, the United States still suspects that the virus was unintentionally released by the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China, and seeks accountability for the suspicion that China may have covered up the epidemic at an early stage.

 At present, the top leaders of China and the United States urgently need to reach three consensuses. Firstly, both parties' judgment of each side must be based on facts, not speculation. Secondly, both countries should fully mobilize their medical resources to provide public products for global epidemic prevention and suggest the Chinese and US medical communities work together to develop vaccines. Thirdly, China, and the United States need to cooperate in partnership to stabilize the global economy.

 After the epidemic, both China and the United States should cooperate in the investigation of the cause of the coronavirus led by the United Nations. China and the United States should jointly promote a more effective international early warning system. As to the research and development of biosafety technologies, it is necessary to create a more open international inspection mechanism. The COVID-19 epidemic requires China and the United States to strengthen cooperation and work together to build a stronger international public health system.

The COVID-19 epidemic hits China and the United States simultaneously but does not give any party a "strategic opportunity" to deal with the other. Although Beijing and Washington DC have deepened strategic competition, they should still cooperate on strategic stability, including but not limited to the following: maintaining stability in the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea; promoting the peace process on the Korean Peninsula; and maintaining Iran ’s nuclear program to continue to be safeguarded; deepening bilateral nuclear disarmament cooperation between the United States and Russia, to create conditions for the multilateral process, including China.