How the US and China Can Avoid Conflict

By Yetiv, Steve | The Christian Science Monitor, June 17, 2010 | Go to article overview

How the US and China Can Avoid Conflict


Yetiv, Steve, The Christian Science Monitor


If China and America are to maintain cooperation, both need to manage China's rise effectively. The oil arena is an important place to start.

From Washington to Bejing to Paris, leaders are asking a defining question of our times: Are China and the United States more likely to cooperate or to become serious rivals?

A lot hangs in the balance - including the ability to deal with global financial crises; America's massive debt; global energy security; climate change; nuclear proliferation and rogue countries, such as North Korea.

Relations depend largely on how Washington and Beijing read and manage China's rising status and oil interests.

China has revived itself as an economic powerhouse and a world power. The CIA's World Factbook forecasts that by the middle of this century China's economy will surpass that of the US in size, though China's per capita income will remain lower. Of course, as China continues to grow it will compete with the US on multiple levels, including strategic control of oil in the Middle East.

Deng Xiaoping, the famous political leader, launched China's Open Door policy in 1978 to open China to the world, partly in order to catch up with Western economies.

But China's economic success has also dramatically increased its oil demand. If current trends continue, China will rely on the Persian Gulf for one-third or more of its oil by 2025. This realization has pushed China to refashion its approach toward that region.

Over the past 25 years, China has significantly expanded its political relations, economic trade, and arms transfers to countries in the Middle East, and especially to Saudi Arabia and Iran. But, to America's chagrin, that means China's oil and gas interests in Iran have made it reluctant to take a serious stand against Iran's nuclear aspirations.

Also, in the past, China had no military capability in or near the Gulf. Now, it aims to project naval power well beyond its coast, not just to the shipping lanes of the Pacific but also to the Middle East. Beijing calls this new approach: "far sea defense."

China has been building naval forces to serve its new strategy - warships that can project its national power. Over the past few years, it has also built a port at Gwadar, Pakistan, which is largely commercial but may become a strategic foothold near the Gulf. In late March 2010, two Chinese warships docked in the United Arab Emirates - the first time the modern Chinese Navy made a port visit in the Middle East. …

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