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Oct 15, 2015
by Heather Jaber
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Wang Dong - China and the US must strive for co-evolution, not collision

Wang Dong, an associate professor school of international studies at Peking University, discussed the co-evolution of China and the United States in a globalized landscape

A hot topic in international relations today is the evolving relationship between the US and China. How can these global powers maintain their national interests but avoid a collision course? Wang Dong, associate professor school of international studies at Peking University, commented on these issues at the latest Salzburg Global Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA), The Search for a New Global Balance: America's Changing Role in the World.

Dong is also deputy director of the Institute for China-US People to People Exchange at Peking University. His areas of focus include American foreign policy, US-China relations, Chinese foreign policy, and international relations. He was part of a panel discussion which looked at policy trends in China, India, Japan, and the West.

In his view, there are three main perspectives on America’s changing role in the world: that it is in a state of decline and is no longer hegemonic, that it remains vibrant and prosperous, and a third and perhaps more nuanced view, which falls between the two. Dong belongs in this academic camp. “They acknowledge there’s a relative decline of American power in certain aspects,” he said, “but while believing that on an overall power basis, America remains the most powerful country in the world.”

Economically speaking, he said, the world is becoming more multipolar. While US GDP currently surpasses China’s in terms of world GDP, estimates say that in the next decade, Chinese economy will overtake the American economy as the largest in the world. Still, American military spending and its network of allies makes it perhaps the most preponderant global power, he said. “China, in my view…is transitioning from a regional power to a global power,” said the Fellow, “but that process probably will take another 20 years or even longer for China really to learn how to…behave as a global power.”

Some of the biggest obstacles in balancing between a US-led alliance system and China’s growing influence in the region, said Dong, come in the form of misconceptions. From an American perspective, there may be fears of China pushing America out of Asia, and from a Chinese perspective, of American containment. These misunderstandings must be dealt with through pragmatic cooperations, said Dong.

Here, strategic communication is key. “I think they should try to increase their strategic trust and try to avoid misperceptions and misunderstandings about each others intention.” An example of this, he said, was in the recent meeting between US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping on issues of cyber security.

Co-evolution and not conflict or confrontation is key, he said. In order to co-evolve without running on a crash-course, the powers must instead identify mutual interests in order to work together. The meeting between the nations’ presidents then reflects this co-evolution, showing that “…together they are able to work together to try to solve the global and regional challenges and to demonstrate that there are more constructive ways to think about US China relations going forward.”

For more on China’s transitionary path to becoming a global power and its relationship with the US, listen to the interview below.

Wang Dong was a participant at the Salzburg Global Program The Search for a New Global Balance: America's Changing Role in the World, which was held by the Salzburg Global Seminar American Studies Association (SSASA). The session was hosted in partnership with the Roosevelt Study Centre. More information on the session can be found here: