US v. China: The “Frenemy” Showdown

Donald Trump has said China is “raping” the US.  He accused China of perpetrating the greatest heist in history by taking wealth from the US.  Then he broke 40 years of diplomatic protocol by taking that call from Taiwan’s president.  For their part, the Chinese, since Trump was elected, have sailed an aircraft carrier through disputed waters, seized a US naval drone, and told Mr. Trump they’re already sick of the tweeting. 

 

Ali v. Frazier: Heavyweights squaring off over many issues

 

The bell hasn’t even rung for the upcoming relationship reset showdown between the US and China and tensions are already rising.  Think about it.  We’ve got the largest economy in the world against the second largest.  The largest military in the world against the fastest growing one.  The only remaining superpower against the next potential superpower.  The country that defined the 20th century against the one that is trying to define the 21st.   Jobs.  Technology.  Currency wars.  Cyber wars.  Fake islands.  National sovereignty.  National debt.  International law.  Rogue nuclear states and missile defense systems.  With all that’s at stake, between these two global heavyweights, maybe I’m reaching but it has me thinking of Ali-Frasier, most definitely a high-impact and memorable contest, to say the least. 

 

With friends like this…

 

Of course, this is just a diplomatic showdown, and if we’re lucky it will remain just a diplomatic showdown.  But, the stakes are high and the outcome is difficult to predict because this is arguably unlike any diplomatic showdown we’ve seen in sometime, maybe in history.  Why so unique?  A few reasons.  Let’s start with the “frenemy” relationship between China and the US.  With the Soviet Union, the roles were clear.  We were adversaries, competing diplomatically and militarily with no economic relationship of any consequence.  With China, it’s more complicated.  China is deeply integrated into the global economy.  You could argue that, between trade and investment, China and the US are joined at the hip.  That’s the “friend” part of the relationship, although it doesn’t seem too friendly right now.  On the other side of the equation, relative to a host of political, national security and military issues, China and the US simply don’t see eye to eye.  That’s the “enemy,” or at least the “adversary” part of the relationship.  Economic mutual interdependence combined with a potential military stand-off—that’s definitely “frenemy” territory, and it will likely be delicate to navigate. 

 

Besides this “frenemy” aspect of the relationship, there is also the fact the fact that China is a developing country and China is a post-communist country, both of which make it more difficult to anticipate how China will react.  We’ll get to those topics in future posts.  For now we suggest you get ready for one heck of a diplomatic bout.  If the fight is as intense as the weigh-in has been, this should be interesting.