A New Model of Major Power Relations between China and the United States

Submitted on December 6, 2014 as an essay for a politics course at HKU.

Since Deng Xiaoping’s policies of “reform and opening up”, China has gradually risen to become a major power in world politics. Its interdependence and cooperation with the United States can be demonstrated by the trade value between the two countries, which reached about US$600 billion in 2013. Militarily, the Chinese military budget will rise by more than 12% to US$131 billion this year, making China’s military spending the second largest in the world behind the United States. (Martina, 2014). All these show that China is now catching up with the United States. In international politics, scholars have generally concluded that global wars were inevitable for a change in global leadership and power in the past. (Modelski) Hence, in order to avoid a major power, it is important for China and the United States to come up with a set of relationship between the two major powers.

In this essay, the writer shall first examine Xi Jinping’s idea of “New Type of Major Power Relations”, suggest how both countries can build the new model of power relations, explain how the model is different from the US-USSR relationship during the Cold War, and explain why both countries see their relationship differently.

Xi Jinping proposed the idea of “New Type of Major Power Relations” in 2012 when he met US President Barack Obama. Some scholars believe that Xi proposed the new type of great power relations because he is dissatisfied with the existing model under the status quo. (White, 2014) Various interpretations into the meaning of this idea have been proposed by different scholars. It is argued that this relationship is characterized by the notion of “peaceful coexistence and cooperation”; defuse tense relations, mutual respect of other’s political and social systems, and enhance mutually beneficial cooperation. (Cheng, 2013) However, since the proposal is ambiguous and unclear, the United States is generally not interested in Xi’s proposal of the set of relationships that guide the two countries. The United States is more concerned about dealing with the concrete issues surrounding the relationship between the two countries. (Cheng, 2013) Hence, in order to enforce the idea of new type of major power relations, it is necessary to have a clearer and more concrete proposal on how the relationship between the two countries should be.
To begin with, the writer believes the two countries should work on identifying the areas of cooperation where mutual benefits can be readily attained. That is because both the US and China are now suspicious of others’ intentions, with the US afraid of increasingly assertive China, and China suspects the US of pursuing the policy of “China containment”. (Wei, 2014) Since it is unlikely that their differences will disappear, both countries should focus on areas of mutual cooperation, so as to help manage and control their differences. (White, 2014) Identifying mutual benefits and areas of cooperation can show the general public that building a new model of relations can have direct benefits to both countries. (Center for American Progress, 2014) The writer generally agrees with the ideas put forward by David Lampton, which argued the Sino-US relationship should be built with both countries increasing their foreign direct investment towards each other, augmenting crisis-management capabilities, establishing institutions to strengthen military and strategic dialogue, and building international economic and military organizations that include both countries. (Lampton, 2013)

The writer believes that both countries can make use of existing communication channels between them, such as APEC and US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue. That has proven to be quite effective in strengthening economic and strategic ties between the two countries. However, it is also noted that new channels that can further strengthen cooperation between China and US in different global issues may be needed, such that they can coordinate on world issues such as terrorism and public health. The writer agrees with Hugh White that both countries need to work together so as to make mutual concessions for cooperation. It is vital for them to share responsibilities in different issues, so as to avoid major conflicts and disasters. (White, 2012)

From the liberalist point of view, world order is built on shared values and beliefs, whereas realists believe that balance of power is the essence of international order. The writer believes both perspectives can be applied to analyze the formation of a new type of relations between China and the United States. For instance, in economic and diplomatic terms, both countries can identify similar values and beliefs in order to work together on different issues. In military terms, however, it is undeniable that both countries would inevitably have to compete against each other in order to reassure their interests. Both countries would continue to invest militarily under the umbrella of this major power relationship.

The relationship between the two countries will always be competitive. The significance of building relationships between them is, therefore, to allow both countries to continue to trade, cooperate strategically and maintain a stable world order despite the competition. (White, 2012) To further study how US and China can cooperate together, the writer believes it is important to look at the relations between the Soviet Union and the United States during the Cold War period.

Scholars have identified the problem that undermine US-USSR cooperation was that both countries were not willing to accept each other’s power, and they both do not wish to accept equality between them. (Kiernan, 1987) Bette Kiernan then went on to argue that if the United States and Soviet Union faced any common concern that made them unite and cooperate, it might have been able to defuse the tension that existed between the two countries during the height of cold war. Hence, this also supports the idea of United States and China have to identify areas of cooperation where they can get mutual benefits, such that that can build trust through mutual cooperation on common concerns.

However, despite the pledge by both the United States and China to establish relations with each other, their agendas behind the new model of major power relations are very different. The writer shall explain this by looking at their different views of world order and their foreign policy principles below.

Throughout history, China has envisioned world order under the Tianxia principle. Tianxia is a more-inclusive worldview that addresses world issues from a “worldwide” perspective, such that the general wills of the people can be expressed and benefits for all countries can be strived for. (Callahan, 2008) The Chinese view of Tianxia is demonstrated through her struggle for a multipolar world, rather than a unipolar world led by one or a few superpowers. This is best supported by the fact that former premier of China, Wen Jiabao, rejected the concept of Group of Two (G2), and claimed that “it is totally ungrounded and wrong to talk about the dominance of two countries in international affairs”. (Jian, 2009) In fact, China enforced the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence in her foreign policies, which included mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial rights, mutual non-aggression, non-interference in others’ internal affairs, equality and peaceful coexistence. (Nathan, 2009) Hence, the way that China views their relations with the United States is on mutual respect. It is believed that when Xi Jinping proposed the idea of “New Type of Major Power Relations”, one underlying notion is the need for both countries to respect the other’s social and political systems, their path of development, and the core values of the other country. (Cheng, 2013)

These principles largely guided how China responded to various world issues. For instance, China has frequently used the principle of “non-interference in others’ internal affairs” to accuse the US of meddling in issues of other countries. In fact, some of the principles are in direct conflict with how the United States responded to foreign affairs in the past.

The United States has long been putting forward the principle to advocate and support the implementation of universal values in the world, such as human rights and freedom. This is best demonstrated when the United States launched the Iraq War, with then-president George W. Bush claimed that the objective is to “plant the seeds of democracy” to the “entire region of authoritarianism”. (Engdahl, 2005) Recently, the White House also responded to the protests in Hong Kong, saying that the 2017 Chief Executive Election should provide a “genuine choice to citizens”. The United States is willing to speak out for these universal values, often times on other countries’ domestic issues. Hence, it can be seen that the United States does not agree with China on the principles of mutual respect for other’s social and political systems. Their views on what the world order, and hence how both countries should establish their relationships, are entirely different.

In addition, the United States has had a deeply rooted belief that it is the only superpower in the post-Cold War world. Martin Jacques have described that the relations between the US and China have been unequal for so long, that the United States is still very much unwilling to treat China in equal terms. (Jacques, 2012) Hugh White has also argued that Obama’s aim in developing the relations between the two countries is primarily at maintaining the status quo of US leadership, whereas China aims at playing an equal leadership role in the world stage with the United States. (White, 2014) Thus, it can be seen that US disagrees with the Chinese principle of equality, and hence they see their relationship differently.

To sum up, the writer believes China and the United States have to work together in search for a kind of relationship that can avoid future conflicts between the two countries. The writer believes that the best way to achieve the new model is by identifying areas of cooperation that leads to mutual benefits, such that they can manage and control their differences effectively. Only in this way can international order and peace be sustained.



Callahan, W. A. (2008). Chinese Visions of World Order: Post-hegemonic or a new Hegemony? International Studies Review, 10, 749-761.
Center for American Progress (2014). Moving U.S.-China Relations Toward a New Model of Major Power Relationship [Press release]. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.eproxy1.lib.hku.hk/docview/1500660620?accountid=14548
Cheng, T. Y. (2013). US-China Relations: A New Type of Great Power Relationship? Paper presented at the 2013 Taiwan-US-Japan Trilateral Security Dialogue. http://www.aei.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/-chenguschinarelationstaiwanusjapantrilateral_155200357110.pdf
Engdahl, F. W. (2005). Iraq and Washington’s ‘seeds of democracy’. Current Concerns, 5.
Jacques, M. (2012). When China Rules the World. London: Penguin Group.
Jian, J. (2009). China says ‘no thanks’ to G-2. Asia Times. Retrieved from http://www.atimes.com/atimes/China/KE29Ad01.html
Kiernan, B. U. (1987). A Systems Perspective on Soviet-American Relations. Political Psychology, 8(2), 245-247.
Lampton, D. M. (2013). A New Type of Major-Power Relationship: Seeking a Durable Foundation for U.S.-China Ties. Asia Policy 16.
Martina M., L. H., Ben Blanchard. (2014). China says 2014 military budget to rise 12.2 percent. Reuters. Retrieved from http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/03/05/us-china-parliament-defence-idUSBREA2400H20140305
Modelski, G. Long Cycles in Global Politics. from Encyclopedia of Life Support Systems
Nathan, A. J. (2009). Principles of China’s Foreign Policy. Retrieved from http://afe.easia.columbia.edu/special/china_1950_forpol_principles.htm
White, H. (2012). The China choice: why America should share power: Black Inc.
White H., C. W., Wu Jianmin. (2014). A New Type of Great Power Dialogue. Foreign Policy.
Wei, Z. (2014). A New Model for China-US Relations? The Diplomat.

Submitted for HKU course: China and World Order (CCCH9012).

Copyright © 2015 Eric Cheung. All rights reserved.
Please note that copying without proper acknowledgement (plagiarism) is a very serious offence in the academic world.


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