On 21 April 2023, RSIS, the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and Peking University (PKU) held a trilateral exchange on “US-China Relations: The Future of international Order.” The exchange sought to understand the impact of US-China competition on the international order and examine constructive means of managing this competition while promoting cooperation between the two powers.
During the four panel discussions, American and Chinese academics exchanged concerns about each other’s countries. American academics called for greater clarity and consistency in China’s support for the international order, calling for guardrails, or commonly understood “rules of the road,” as a minimum basis for the relationship. Chinese academics criticised “political provocations” such as technological restrictions and the Taiwan issue, warning that US actions were eroding China’s investment in the international order.
Still, academics expressed hesitation at describing the US and China as being in a Cold War. They observed that the current relationship is significantly different from Moscow and Washington’s earlier relationship, which saw a lack of economic interdependence and the formation of cohesive blocs, though it is moving in that direction. While there is merit in studying how Washington and Moscow managed to avoid major wars despite competing for over 40 years, there is also a danger of the “Cold War” label becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy if applied carelessly. Multiple scholars called for a more accurate label to be created.
Local academics expressed their desire to maintain ties with both powers and uphold ASEAN’s centrality in the region. They expressed concerns about the effect of decoupling on downstream industries but suggested that it would be limited by the complexity of existing networks and economic imperatives. They also expressed hope that Washington and Beijing would delink contentious issues, or at least continue engaging each other in the hopes of finding common ground.
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