Recent interactions suggest a thaw in the long-standing tensions between China and the United States. Since the U.S. Secretary of State, Antony Blinken’s June visit to China, there has been an uptick in high-level exchanges. In August, U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, during her Beijing visit, revealed that both countries had agreed to hold regular talks on commercial issues. October saw China’s foreign minister Wang Yi visit the United States upon Secretary Blinken’s invitation, with China also extending an invitation to U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin for the 10th Beijing Xiangshan Forum; though he did not attend. Additionally, President Xi Jinping has hinted at a possible meeting with President Joe Biden at the upcoming APEC summit. These positive signals indicate an improvement and strengthening of bilateral relations. The question now is how the international community can leverage the thawing relations between the two superpowers to bolster global security and peace.
In recent years, the security and development of the current international order have fallen into a vicious cycle of instability. Nations, both large and small, are grappling with widespread insecurity. Previously, many policymakers and academics believed that the horrific experiences of World Wars I and II would prevent humanity from engaging in large-scale devastating conflicts. However, even events like the Russo-Ukrainian war and the Israel-Hamas conflict have dismantled these hopes, highlighting the fragility of security and peace. The world is now dotted with geopolitical “powder kegs” each with the potential to trigger new conflicts. This pervasive instability has seriously hampered the socio-economic development of countries worldwide. The logic is clear: without security, investment falters, and without investment, development stalls.
To break the cycle of global insecurity, a focus on Sino-U.S. relations is crucial, advocating for dialogue based on an “agree to disagree” approach. Such dialogue, aimed at achieving genuine multilateralism, can foster worldwide security. The current global landscape resembles a “re-feudalization” phase, similar to the Zhou emperor’s era in China’s Warring States period, where a diminishing central power leads to rising entities vying for dominance. In this context, maintaining constructive Sino-U.S. relations is crucial for stabilizing the international arena and safeguarding international security. As major powers, China and the U.S. have significant sway in international affairs. Effectively addressing conflicts like the Russo-Ukrainian war and the Israel-Hamas conflict requires communication, negotiation, and coordination between these two nations. Establishing a stable, mutually respectful dialogue mechanism between China and the U.S. is vital for the secure development of the world at large.
To establish a stable and open international order, China is actively contributing to the global community. This effort is what I call “the five-awareness framework,” a strategy that China is currently employing to play a constructive role on the world stage.
The second awareness is the importance of openness. As the world’s second-largest economy, China’s commitment to openness is a vital international public good. The U.S. has also demonstrated the strength that comes with an open stance. While China has long advocated open policies, following its twentieth congress last year, there has been an increased focus on institutional openness. At the third Belt and Road International Summit, President Xi introduced eight new initiatives, marking a transition to the second phase of openness. This shift moves from large-scale infrastructure projects to focus on the economies that directly affect people's livelihoods. This advancement toward high-level openness is crucial not only for China but also for all the countries involved in the Belt and Road Initiative.
The third awareness centers on globalization. Developing countries continue to rely on globalization for their growth. Modern development, including China’s, has been propelled by successive waves of globalization, which involves the relatively free flow of capital, technology, talent, and other production factors worldwide. There is nothing intrinsically negative about globalization. Despite accusations from the U.S. of economic nationalism, China remains committed to promoting its brand of globalization.
The fourth awareness relates to healthy competition. It acknowledges that while competition with the U.S. and other nations is inevitable, this competition should be diverse and inclusive. China champions the Belt and Road Initiative, and similarly, the U.S., Japan, and Europe are free to develop their versions of such initiatives. In line with Adam Smith’s concept of the “invisible hand,” healthy competition can lead to the creation of public goods. It is crucial to avoid vicious competition, particularly arms races, which can be damaging not only to the involved countries but also to the region and the world at large.
The fifth awareness is the principle of win-win cooperation. Emphasizing openness and cooperation is essential to shared prosperity. As China’s growth progresses, its integration into the global economy deepens, and its actions have far-reaching global impacts. Adopting a cooperative approach, particularly in areas like climate change, technology, and public health, can benefit all countries involved.
China’s development is inseparable from the world, and likewise, global prosperity also depends on China. The country consistently promotes the idea of a shared future for mankind. It underscores the principles of extensive consultation, joint contribution, and shared benefits while committing to new international relations based on mutual respect, fairness, justice, and win-win cooperation. These initiatives strongly contribute to advancing world peace and development.
The improving relations between China and the U.S. present hopeful prospects for global stability. By sustaining open dialogues, promoting healthy competition, and fostering a spirit of win-win cooperation, these two superpowers are poised to play a crucial role in overcoming the cycle of insecurity and stagnating development. This situation offers the international community a valuable chance to strengthen global security and peace.
*The author is grateful to Ms Anran Zhang for her effective research assistance. Ms Anran Zhang is Researcher of the Pacific Institution, Hong Kong.