Sino -American Relations From Realistic Perspective

On July 6th, 2018, Washington imposed 25% tariffs on 34 billion of imported Chinese goods. In retaliation, Beijing also responded with a proportionate number of tariffs. Since then tension has been escalated between the two great powers. The development apprehended the global community at large, and some even start to talk about the possibilities of war.

By and large, this is an interesting scenario for political commentators and policymakers from both countries as well as for scholars in the discipline of international relations. However, the underlying question for all of them are, where this trajectory leads the world into? How the scholars in international relations interpret the recent scenario? Is trade a genuine reason for Americans or a pretext for something beyond and greater than trade? As a student of international relations

One of the all-time great army generals and skilled military strategist, Napoleon of France had prophesied exactly right about the great potential the Chinese have to move the world.

Indeed, the rise of China, perhaps, is the defining issue not only in East Asia but also at the global level.

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This augmentation in power and the expansion of Chinese influence on the world stage would have a significant impact and the ramification would change the structure of the international order.

As one would expect, the interesting and open question is how the United States of America will respond to the rise of China. And the school of realism and the wisdom its great thinkers the like of Thucydides and Morgenthau interpret the world politics as a struggle for power and unilaterally advantage.

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Although it is difficult to give a comprehensive interpretation of the current scenario from a single theoretical school of thought or perspective, as a student of international affairs, I believe the current power struggle between the two great powers; the United State of America and The People’s Republic of China, can be best understood from the realistic theoretical lens that offers a sound prediction on the direction of China’s rise. This essay narrates and analysis the Sino – American diplomatic relation retrospectively from the past into the present and suggests what the future holds for both countries.

Much has been written about China’s “rise.” But, from China’s perspective, what is taking place is the restoration not the rise of Chinese power. Since US President Richard Nixon’s historic visit to China in 1972, China–relations have gone through some fundamental changes. However, their relationship has been characterized by limited cooperation and mutual suspicion. The deepening Sino-American rivalry is the product of both changes in the distribution power, and of economic and ideational factors. Explicably, power politics played an immense role behind such a strained relation. To the credit of the realists, the main arguments are all about national interest, power struggle, security dilemma and balance of power among many others.

According to the thought of realism, national interest is one of the variables at the heart of their assumption. The Merriam Webster dictionary defines national interest as the interest of a nation as a whole held to be an independent entity separate from the interests of subordinate areas or groups and also of other nations or supranational groups. At this juncture, we need to reflect and pose a question. Which national interests are convergent and potentially ignite tension between the two great powers?

Although the United States acknowledges that all Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait maintain there is but one China and that Taiwan is part of China, it remains the bone of contention. Taiwan continues to represent what Chinese officials consistently say is the most important issue in Sino American relation. Taiwan is ‘‘the Gibraltar of the East’’ and holds the strategic central position off China’s mainland in the island chain overlooking the Western Pacific and so controls the throat of the Malacca Strait that is vital to Chinese economic prosperity. Beijing time and again asserted that Taiwan is as an integral part of its territory.

Conversely, Washington has the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) which was signed in April 1979 to engage with commitments and provide safety for Taiwan’s political, economic system and lifestyle. Recently both countries are locking horns on the issue of Taiwan as Washington planned a $330 million arms sale to Taiwan and Beijing reacted quickly. In addition to this, Dissidents groups in Tibet and Xinjiang receive moral and diplomatic support and sometimes material assistance from ethnic Diasporas and sympathetic governments abroad. Perceived U.S. interference in the issue, even in the form of criticism from American leaders of China's excessive use of force, could lead to a nationalistic Chinese backlash that negatively affects U.S.-China relation. Regardless of what happens in anarchic international order, both countries’ policy toward each other should be guided by a clear and firm sense of their respective national interests. Pursuing national interest is the hallmark of the realist school of thought that might draw the United States and China into a shooting war.

As Morgenthau argues, the important indicators in which realism find its way is through the concept of interest that defined in terms of power. The flourishing economy has provided the Chinese resources to invest in military modernization power, American superpower has been challenged by China, the greatest emerging power. Even the structural realist like John Mearsheimer sees the ultimate goal of power or being a great power is to gain hegemony as this is the only and best possible way for states to survive in the anarchy world. Although China’s leaders talk of a “peaceful rise,” and have spent considerable time pondering the lesson of the past and not deemed to repeat the blunder the Germany and Japan during their misfired ambition for great power.

According to the offensive realist, this not conceivable and sooner or later China will have the wherewithal to build a formidable military. This most certainly leads China to push the United States of America from her backyard in East Asia. China seeks to dominate East Asia for both security reasons and to affirm its status and prestige as America’s geopolitical equal. On the other hand, America unquestionably will not tolerate the Chinese move and work hard to contains a great power doesn’t allow to have peer competitors. Even the Chinese neighbors have reacted to its military modernization by adopting policies consistent with another Realist concept: balancing. They have upgraded their own militaries (internal balancing) and strengthened their alliance relationships (external balancing).

Updated: Jan 26, 2022
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Sino -American Relations From Realistic Perspective. (2021, Dec 09). Retrieved from

Sino -American Relations From Realistic Perspective essay
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