It’s Too Soon to Announce the Dawn of a Chinese Century – Jacobin magazine


It has definitely had an impact, but not on the long-term direction of US-China relations. As I have often argued, US-China relations have shifted from a kind of honeymoon situation to a more rivalrous relationship, starting with the Obama administration. It was after the global financial crisis that the Chinese state became more aggressive in securing a domestic market share for particular state-owned enterprises in China itself, later even expanding overseas to compete with foreign corporations — including, of course, US ones.

This intensifying inter-capitalist competition between Chinese and US corporations, as well as other corporations from Europe and Japan, was the underlying force behind the souring of relations between the United States and China. It all started in the second term of the Obama administration, which did a lot of things to change the direction of Washington’s China policy.

This included the pivot to Asia, with the deployment of more military aircraft carriers and Navy groups to the South China Sea to counteract China’s claims of sovereignty against its neighbors. At the same time, Barack Obama also sped up the TPP, the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiation. He had the intention of lining up US allies (and some not-so-allies) in a free-trade package, excluding China, in order to put pressure on the latter.

In other words, they had all the practical measures that signaled this change, but diplomatically, the Obama administration continued to use very polite rhetoric when discussing issues with China. Interestingly, in the early days of his administration, there were signs that Donald Trump might be softer on China than Obama. For example, in the first half year after he was inaugurated in 2017, the Trump administration stopped the freedom of navigation operation in the South China Sea. They didn’t send warships there for a few months.

Some of the Republicans, as well as Democrats, worried that this might be a sign of Trump being too soft on China. However, although Trump might have come in as a softer president when it came to China, that underlying inter-capitalist competition between the United States and China didn’t abate. In the end, Trump also had to get tougher on China — on trade and many other issues.

The big difference between Trump and Obama was that his rhetoric was rawer and used a lot of colorful language that made an impression on people and raised their awareness of what he was doing. As a result, there is a popular perception that US-China relations only took a turn for the worse under Trump, when in fact it started under Obama. The Biden administration is basically continuing many Obama-era approaches to China.