Post Cold War Era China and US: Strategic Balancing

BUAzRA TARHAN 20100503093

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Modern international political arena is highly wired and dynamic in many dimensions. In the contemporary international system and power politics, a stable hierarchic order no longer exists as interdependence and globalisation increases their roles on decision making processes both in internal and external relations of political actors. The political theater China and United States play and the metamorphosis of China and United States relations in an ever changing world with its political instability and unpredictability is one of the most remarkable and consequential processes in post-Cold War era. Certain significant factors began to affect directly the power politics between China and United States as the cumulative effects of their long-lasting historical interactions. 9/11 attacks and United States’s invasion of Afghanistan its aftermath, United States’ another possible intervention over the region with its global war against terror doctrine as an instrument of its foreign policy, China’s distinctive and significant involvement in power politics and its increasing influence both in the region and global order, bilateral economic relations, domestic political processes and the consequential actions of the key individuals can unquestionably be mentioned within the leading factors that set up the current political structures and contributed to the momentum of the relations between China and United States.

The ability to recognize a potential conflict or cooperation among China and United States and to be able to decide and develop an appropriate policy analyze requires an informed understanding of their international political behaviour. In conducting its international relations, modern China acknowledges its enormous potential to be the new, global rivalry for power and influence, to be the new economic competitor against United States and recognizes the importance of globalisation hence, started to play a more significant and distinctive role in the global organizations. China and United States must mutually and carefully consider the consequences of their judgments before taking action as the impact of a possible clash will be immense on international politics. If conflict arises, parts of Eurasia might be divided at the dawn of a possible Cold War, while a deepening China and United States cooperation will bring with it many beneficial outcomes. To name a few, increased chances for the peaceful resolution and the successful management of pressuring global and regional disputes as well as rising economic growth and global wealth.

Before proceeding further to post-Cold War analysis, it is vital to explain the China and United States historical background during the Cold War to be able to understand the circumstances better that today’s interactions are built on.


Since 1949 to present, China and United States relations evolved on a line that included tense deadlocks, intensifying diplomacy, increasingly interconnected economies and noticable growing international rivalry.

In October 1, 1949, Chinese Communist Party Leader Mao Zedong proclaimed the establishment of the People’s Republic of China after Communists defeated the Nationalist government of Chiang Kai-shek, caused Nationalists to fled to Taiwan. United States did not recognize Mao’s regime. These incidents set the stage for several decades of limited China and United States relations due to Mao’s intention on leaning towards the side of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and United States’ support on Chiang Kai-shek’s newly formed Nationalist government in Taipei.

Start of the 1950 Korean War brought China into the conflict and triggered the first military clash between the People’s Republic of China and United States, as China supported the Soviet-backed North Korea while United States and the United Nations counter supported South Korea.

In August 1954, First Taiwan Strait Crisis occurred. Chiang Kai-shek forces deployed troops and unload military equipment in Quemoy and Matsu, islands in the strait between China and Taiwan. As a respond, China threatened the Nationalist forces off-shore and United States responded by actively intervening on behalf of the Chiang Kai-shek Nationalist Government and threatened China back via nuclear blackmail.

In 1955, the United States Government confirmed its commitment to defend Taiwan by enacting the Formosa Resolution.

During 1959 Tibetan uprisings, United States along with the United Nations condemned China for human right abuses in Tibet.

During 1964 Vietnam War, the large and growing United States presence in Vietnam posed a potential threat to China in which resulted China to send more military and technical assistance to support North Vietnamese. Within same year, China also conducted its first test of an atomic bomb, increasing tensions over the escalating conflict in Vietnam.

In 1969, a long-standing dispute contained differences over security, ideology and choice of development between China and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics broke into localized armed conflict. While Chinese – Soviet relations worsen, United States took advantage of the conflict and took initiative to improve its relations with China in order to pressure and isolate the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics further.

In 1971, the term Ping-Pong Diplomacy was created after the Chinese ping-pong team invites members of the United States’ team, which signaled the initial signs of the warming relations between China and United States. Shortly after, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger made a secret trip to China in order to meet Chinese leaders and pave the way for an incoming visit by President Richard Nixon.

Under the influence of these events, by a vote of the United Nations General Assembly, the Chinese seat in the United Nations was transferred from the Nationalist Government in Taiwan to the People’s Republic of China.

On February 21, 1972, President Nixon was arrived in Beijing as the first United States President whom ever to set foot on China. Nixon, Kissinger and other United States officials met Chinese leaders and Shanghai Communique was signed to improve relations deeper and further. In the document, Chinese and United States stated their positions on a number of issues including joint opposition to the Soviet Union and United States’ intention to withdraw its military from Taiwan. Process of normalization of formal diplomatic relations and reopening of communication channels began after more than twenty years of non-recognition.

It is quite challenging to predict accurate statements regarding the future of China and United States relations in post-Cold War period due to the dynamic flow of interactions. At any given time in the future, the route of affairs may change in a spectrum that extends from a high level of cooperation to a high level of competition and conflict. The future can be marked by either convergence towards a strengthening alliance, stability and peace or deterioration, increased conflict, perhaps even war. To explain further some of the possible pathways that are being offered, I will limit my research of analyzing the longer-term future of China’s foreign policies on the theoretical basis of two main International Relations theories, Realism and Liberalism, in comparison with Confucianism and how their synergy might lead China’s involvement and influence in global order. Incoming chapters will separetely focus on distinctive factors that will help me to develop the structure of this study. I will start the following chapter by explaining the theoretical frameworks of Realism, Liberalism and Confucianism. In each theoretical background, its leading perspectives will be analyzed seperately. Following chapter will explain the post-Cold War social and political development process in China in order to get a better grasp of the current circumstances which China and United States relations are building on. As for my final chapter before my final critic, in accordance with China’s foreign policy decision-making, dependable examples within world politics and international relations will be given to explain each theoretical backgrounds’ influence on Chinese foreign policies in post-Cold War era.