Written by Zafar Sultanov

Historical Background

The centuries-old and complex relationship between China and the United States has seen significant changes during the past century. The Treaty of Wanghia, which began communication between the two nations in 1844, was the result of US efforts to establish trade ties with China in the 19th century. However, political unrest and conflicts in both countries—particularly China's civil war and the rise to power of the Chinese Communist Party in 1949—led to a period of separation.

As the People's Republic of China (PRC) took power on the Chinese mainland during the Cold War, the US regarded Taiwan as the genuine government of China. President Richard Nixon's trip to Beijing in 1972 heralded a diplomatic milestone and the beginning of thawing relations, which transformed the situation. Diplomatic links have been developed and the PRC was formally acknowledged as China's sole legitimate government by the US in 1979.

The economic relations between China and the United States became stronger throughout the 1980s and 1990s as American companies looking for new markets and less expensive production options were drawn to China's fast economic expansion. Political difficulties, however, have emerged recently, notably in relation to topics like trade imbalances, intellectual property theft, human rights, and regional territorial disputes.

Political Dynamics

A blend of collaboration, competition, and rivalry best describes the current political dynamics between China and the United States. Both nations have a tremendous impact on world affairs and are key global powers.

The United States is worried about potential threats to its global leadership as a result of China's growth as an economic and military force. Questions have been raised concerning China's regional aspirations and territorial claims due to its strong foreign policy, particularly in the South China Sea and Taiwan. In response, the US has established a "pivot to Asia" strategy, reiterating its dedication to the security of the region and fortifying alliances with regional allies.

To balance each other's dominance, both states have also formed strategic relationships with other countries. In order to ensure regional stability, the United States has developed relationships with nations like Japan, South Korea, Australia, and India by forming the Quad. On the other side, China has pursued the Belt and Road Initiative, establishing economic ties and infrastructural projects with nations all over the world and strengthening its soft power.

Tension is only one aspect of the US-China relationship. The interests of the two nations intersect in areas including the fight against terrorism, the environment, and nuclear non-proliferation. These sectors have given the two countries the chance to work together and communicate.

Economic Relations

China and the United States have established a complicated and intertwined economic relationship. The US has the biggest economy in the world, with China coming in second. As a result, their economic linkages have significant worldwide effects.

Since the beginning of diplomatic relations, trade between China and the US has increased dramatically. China is now the US's biggest trading partner for products, while the US is China's biggest export market. In 2020, bilateral commerce was close to $600 billion. However, lingering trade imbalances have harmed this economic partnership. Due to the US's significant trade deficit with China, there are worries about the loss of American employment and unfair trade practices.

Furthermore, disputes have arisen around intellectual property theft and coerced technological transfers. China is allegedly accused by the US of failing to defend intellectual property rights sufficiently, which has resulted in conflicts at the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the imposition of taxes on Chinese exports.

By working to safeguard intellectual property and provide market access for international businesses, China has attempted to allay some of these worries. However, the tensions resulting from economic concerns between the two nations have not entirely subsided as a result of these actions.

Diplomatic Initiatives

China and the United States have cooperated and disagreed on diplomatic initiatives. Both countries have undertaken numerous rounds of strategic and economic discussions to address various challenges over the years. The Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED), a high-level forum for debating a wide range of bilateral, regional, and international issues, was created in 2009. The conversation has seen hurdles recently, too, with each side blaming the other for not participating productively.

The US imposed taxes on Chinese exports, and China responded by retaliating in kind, dominating the international landscape. These trade disputes have affected the world economy and raised doubts for traders and investors everywhere.

Both nations have taken action to fight climate change and have ratified the Paris Agreement. China has committed significantly to cutting carbon emissions and funding renewable energy sources. Under President Biden, the US rejoined the Paris Agreement after leaving under the Trump administration, showing a renewed commitment to collaboration on climate challenges.

Threats to International Security

The Sino-American relationship poses risks to global security, particularly in the Indo-Pacific area.

China's territorial claims have raised tensions with neighbors including Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Brunei in the South China Sea, which has become a significant flashpoint. In contested waters, China has restricted fishing, erected military facilities, and engaged in significant land reclamation operations. The US has expressed worry over these activities, seeing them as a threat to regional stability and freedom of navigation.

Taiwan is still a touchy subject in Sino-US ties. China views Taiwan as a separatist province and has pledged to annex it using any means necessary, including force. The US continues to follow a strategy of strategic ambiguity, giving Taiwan backing and defensive weapons while also recognizing the "One China" doctrine. Any increase in Taiwan-related hostilities might seriously affect regional security.

The security environment between the two countries has also been made more difficult by cybersecurity threats and espionage worries. A climate of skepticism has been exacerbated by claims of state-sponsored cyberattacks, business espionage, and intellectual property theft.


The following suggestions can be taken into consideration given the complexity of China and the United States' relationship and their relevance for global security and diplomacy:

  • Engage in Strategic discussion: To address their differences and potential areas of collaboration, such as global health issues, non-proliferation, and climate change, both nations should place a priority on an honest and constructive strategic discussion.
  • Encourage Economic Cooperation: Addressing trade imbalances and disputes calls for a balanced strategy that takes both countries' interests into account. Trade agreements might be renegotiated, and intellectual property rights might be protected.
  • Enhancing military communication between the two militaries can help lessen the likelihood of errors in judgment and misunderstandings, especially in tense regions like the South China Sea.
  • Look for shared Interest Areas: Finding and pursuing shared interest areas can promote cooperation and increase confidence between the two countries. Examples include pandemic preparedness and climate change.
  • Encourage both nations to participate in multilateral forums and initiatives to open up chances for cooperation outside of bilateral relations and to advance regional stability.
  • People-to-People Exchanges: Promoting cultural and educational interactions between the two nations can help to narrow perception gaps and promote mutual understanding.
  • Address Human Rights Concerns: Promoting greater respect for human rights in China and improving relations can both be facilitated by polite and productive conversation on human rights problems.
  • Strengthen International Cooperation: Working together to combat global issues like terrorism, pandemics, and nuclear non-proliferation can help both nations better understand one another and foster cooperation.
  • Track Two Diplomacy: Supporting informal Track Two diplomacy initiatives that involve academics, professionals, and former government officials from both nations can provide creative solutions and create an atmosphere that is favorable for productive communication.
  • Establishing crisis management procedures can assist in handling possible conflicts and preventing an escalation of the situation when tensions are at their highest.

In conclusion, the security and diplomacy of the world depend greatly on the relationship between China and the United States. Their intricate interactions are marked by collaboration, rivalry, and competition, with far-reaching effects on world events. Through diplomatic initiatives and communication, trade imbalances, security issues, and areas of shared interest can be addressed, resulting in a more stable and positive partnership. China and the United States must work through their differences and collaborate on crucial global issues in order to protect international security and advance peaceful coexistence in the twenty-first century. Both countries recognize their shared responsibilities as significant global powers.


History of US-China Relations:

  • Cohen, W. (2018). America's response to China: A history of Sino-American relations (6th ed.). Columbia University Press.
  • Pant, H. V. (2015). The US-China relationship: A matter of trust. The Diplomat. [Link]

Political Dynamics and Strategic Alliances:

  • Allison, G. T. (2017). Destined for war: Can America and China escape Thucydides's trap?. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
  • Jisi, W. (2015). The end of strategic ambiguity? US policy toward Taiwan. The Brookings Institution. [Link]
  • Ratner, E. (2016). China's rise and the future of the US-Japan alliance. The Washington Quarterly, 39(1), 107-126.

Economic Ties and Trade Disputes:

  • U.S. Census Bureau. (2020). U.S. International Trade in Goods and Services. [Link]
  • Congressional Research Service. (2021). China-U.S. trade issues. [Link]

Diplomatic Initiatives and Climate Change:

  • U.S. Department of State. (2021). U.S.-China relations: Cooperation, competition, and conflict. [Link]
  • United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. (2015). The Paris Agreement. [Link]

Threats to International Security:

  • Council on Foreign Relations. (2021). South China Sea. [Link]
  • Office of the Secretary of Defense. (2021). Annual report to Congress: Military and security developments involving the People's Republic of China. [Link]
  • National Bureau of Asian Research. (2020). U.S. national security and defense strategies in an era of strategic competition with China. [Link]


  • Freeman, C. (2021). The United States and China: The challenge ahead. Council on Foreign Relations. [Link]
  • Glaser, B. S., & Nye, J. S. (2017). Understanding the US-China relationship. Council on Foreign Relations. [Link]
  • Bader, J. A. (2020). Crafting a US strategy for the China challenge. Brookings Institution. [Link]