From cooperative partnership to strategic competition: a review of China–U.S. relations 2009–2019

Abstract

From 2009 to the first half of 2019, China–U.S. relations have experienced a gradual yet sustained downturn. Particularly since 2017, the bilateral relationship has suffered a rapid downward spiral in almost every dimension. By early 2019, more and more Chinese and American observers are warning that the two countries may be moving toward a long-term, full-scale confrontation. This article reviews the 10-year deterioration of bilateral ties in three stages and analyzes the context behind and reasons for the steady downturn. Internal developments in the two countries have driven the changes in U.S.–China relations. Bilateral tensions in the realms of geostrategy, ideology, economics and trade, and international security are escalating and intensifying. Such a trend is unlikely to be reversed without major changes in world politics or the two countries’ domestic politics. The greatest probability, as we see it, will be a continued downturn in the U.S.–China relationship with many bumps and stumbling blocks along the way. The best prospect both sides can hope for may be the Chinese saying dou-er-bu-po, or “fighting without breaking.”

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

References

  1. Allison, Graham. 2012. Thucydides’s Trap Has Been Sprung in the Pacific. Financial Times. https://www.ft.com/content/5d695b5a-ead3-11e1-984b-00144feab49a. Accessed 11 Oct 2018.

  2. Bader, Jeffery A. 2012. Obama and China’s Rise: An Insider’s Account of America’s Asia Strategy. Washington DC: Brookings Institution Press.

    Google Scholar 

  3. China Daily. 2018. Xi, Trump have telephone conversation, agree to implement consensus in Argentina meeting. China Daily. http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/a/201812/30/WS5c27adc5a310d91214051c34.html. Accessed 30 Dec 2018.

  4. Haass, Richard N. 2012. Foreign policy begins at home: The case for putting America’s house in order. New York: Basic Books.

    Google Scholar 

  5. Huntington, Samuel P. 2004. Who are we? The challenges to America’s national identity. New York: Simon & Schuster.

    Google Scholar 

  6. Lampton, David Mike. 2015. A Tipping Point in US-China Relations is Upon Us. https://www.uscnpm.org/blog/2015/05/11/a-tipping-point-in-u-s-china-relations-is-upon-us-part-i/. Accessed 17 Oct 2018.

  7. Lieberthal, Kenneth and Jisi Wang. 2012. Addressing U.S.–China Strategic Distrust. The Brookings Institution. https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/0330_china_lieberthal.pdf. Accessed 17 Oct 2018.

  8. Tellis, Ashley J. and Robert D. Blackwill. 2015. Revisiting US Grand Strategy Toward China. Council on Foreign Relations. https://www.cfr.org/report/revising-us-grand-strategy-toward-china. Accessed 17 Oct 2018.

  9. The White House. 2017. National Security Strategy of the United States of America. https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/NSS-Final-12-18-2017-0905.pdf. Accessed 22 Oct 2018.

  10. The White House. 2018. Remarks by Vice President Pence on the Administration's Policy Toward China. https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/remarks-vice-president-pence-administrations-policy-toward-china/. Accessed 24 Oct 2018.

  11. U.S. Chamber of Commerce. 2017. Made in China 2025: Global Ambitions Built on Local Protections. https://www.uschamber.com/sites/default/files/final_made_in_china_2025_report_full.pdf. Accessed 19 Oct 2018.

  12. U.S. Department of Defense. 2018. Summary of the 2018 National Defense Strategy of the United States of America: Sharpening the American Military’s Competitive Edge. https://dod.defense.gov/Portals/1/Documents/pubs/2018-National-Defense-Strategy-Summary.pdf. Accessed 22 Oct 2018.

Download references

Acknowledgements

The authors are indebted to Zhao Jianwei for his contribution to the writing of this article.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Wang Jisi.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Jisi, W., Ran, H. From cooperative partnership to strategic competition: a review of China–U.S. relations 2009–2019. China Int Strategy Rev. 1, 1–10 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s42533-019-00007-w

Download citation

Keywords

  • China–U.S. relations
  • Strategic distrust
  • Domestic politics
  • Foreign policy