The United States’ foreign policy toward the People’s Republic of China has been inconsistent and led to lack of trust between the two nations. The U.S. and China are two of the world’s foremost superpowers. Trust and healthy relations between the two are imperative to ensure good faith between them and, more importantly, to ensure what can currently be described as a geopolitical rivalry does not devolve into something much more deadly.
There are several things the United States could do to achieve the above ends, some completely on their own and others through cooperation with the Chinese government.
- American leaders could temper the language they use when talking about the Chinese government. President Trump and some of his supporters have used vitriolic language when discussing China, and have even implied that the Chinese government is wholly responsible for the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Whether or not that is true is irrelevant, we should not be blaming our most powerful rival for an “act of God” such as a new virus. American leaders need to think before they speak about China.
- American politicians could stop making China a partisan issue. American leaders seem to think of China as a partisan issue, meaning if you are Republican you must believe the rise of China is bad and they are a terribly nation that needs to be dealt with aggressively. If you are a Democrat, you believe the opposite. How to deal with China is not a partisan issue, it is an American issue and needs to be dealt with as such, with compromise and cooperation between the two parties. American leaders need to treat China as an issue that effects the entire country.
The above points illustrate simple ways America could help build trust with China by small alterations of behavior and putting aside some of the vitriol held so tightly between the two political parties. However, one sided changes to behavior may not be enough to help mend the broken trust between the U.S. and China. There has to be some cooperation.
- America could work with China to clear space debris from low-earth orbit. The possibility of an object floating around in low-earth orbit getting caught and pulled back to the surface at an uncontrolled speed by earth’s gravity is a real danger. Even a small piece of debris impacting a major metropolitan area like New York or Shanghai could be devastating, and could come with little or no warning. The removal of such debris (much of which has been put there by the U.S. and China anyway) benefits both nations and, indeed, the whole world. American should reach out to China and suggest a joint operation to safely clear space debris.
- America could reach out to China regarding information about the COVID-19 virus. This one is trickier, thanks in large part to the rhetoric of President Trump and other Republicans, but it is worth considering. The ongoing COVID pandemic is a matter of great import to every nation on earth. The more effective treatments are found the better. The more we understand about the virus the better. The virus originated in Wuhan, China and some reports put the first cases as early as November of 2019. China also claims they have done an excellent job tamping down the disease that ravaged them initially. The fact is, very little is still known about this virus. If we want to treat it effectively and save lives we need to work together. China may have information about the virus and its pathology unknown to the U.S. that could aide in treatment and vice versa. America should reach out to China and attempt to work with them to develop and distribute treatments and vaccines.
Recent decay of relations between the U.S. and China are tied closely to the COVID pandemic and the current (as of this writing) administration here in the United States. President Trump infamously referred to COVID as “the Chinese virus” several times in the pandemic’s earliest stages. His opinions on whether or not China was being helpful or harmful also seem inconsistent (I have outlined previous inconsistencies in China policy in previous posts). Initially, Trump claimed China was being very transparent and helpful regarding the virus. However, his tone changed and he became increasingly hostile and suggested China was lying about their numbers. Why would China want to build trust and good relations with a nation whose leader blames them for what can only be described as an act of God and changes his opinion on them and their word seemingly on a whim?
Another blockade for trust and cooperation is the “Wolf Amendment”. Found in a spending bill, the clause was inserted by Congressman Frank Wolf (R-VA) and prohibits any joint venture between NASA and The People’s Republic of China. While Wolf may have had valid personal reasons to distrust China, the clause is not conducive to building and healthy relationship between China and the U.S. It needs to be repealed or struck from the bill.
All this is not to suggest that China is not a rival or even potential enemy of the United States of America. Rather, because China is a rival we need to have a good relationship and trust. China and the U.S. are two of the world’s most populous, largest, wealthiest, and most powerful nations on the planet. To neglect the relationship between them would be malpractice. If a healthy relationship with consistent policies is not established, relations between the two nations will continue to devolve into mutual distrust. This can and will lead to espionage, lies, and a mutual distaste that will bubble to the surface and force the United States and China into a second “cold war”. Who is to say a second one will not have a different outcome than the first?