Guest Opinion: Self-assertion and competitive cooperation promote U.S.-China relations


Handling U.S.-China relations requires a political philosophical approach, thinking dialectically about how to seek common ground while reserving differences, thereby actively promoting the development of U.S.-China political, economic, and cultural relations.

by Liu Hong

China and the United States are both major world countries, but in recent years, frictions and tensions between them have been on the rise. This is largely due to the inevitable clash between the United States as a global hegemon and a rising China. However, the fundamental ideological differences and oppositions between them cannot be ignored.

The United States is a long-established capitalist country that consistently protects the interests of a minority upper capitalist class. Alexis de Tocqueville noted that American democracy avoids the “tyranny of the majority,” reflecting the U.S. political and economic system’s protection of the upper bourgeoisie. Francis Fukuyama declared the end of history with the triumph of Western-style liberal democracy, predicated on the idea that people seek not equality, but superiority, meaning that the superior bourgeoisie should govern the country. Under the long-term influence of these cultural and ideological factors, socialism has never gained significant traction in the United States, making it a unique case in the capitalist world. In many countries, such as those in Europe, socialist parties have long existed and have come to power. Influenced by the United States, its ally Japan has also long been ruled by the center-right Liberal Democratic Party, while the former Socialist Party had become a “perennial opposition party.”

This photo taken on April 23, 2024 shows the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C., the United States.  (Xinhua/Liu Jie)

Due to the weak influence of socialist thought in the United States, it has become a typical right-wing capitalist state. Political scientist Steven Hill described contemporary American society as a “cancerous spread of oligarchic rule.” Nobel laureate economist Paul Krugman pointed out that U.S. government policies often go against the interests of the majority of middle- and lower-class citizens, making the United States resemble an oligarchy more than a democracy. In the U.S. Senate, policy preferences often reflect those of donors, and in the House of Representatives, “millionaires representing just 5 percent of the population receive twice the representation as the poorest 50 percent.” According to a report by Princeton and Northwestern universities, nearly 1,800 American policies do not represent the interests of the general public or mass organizations but rather those of economic elites and organized interest groups.

China, on the other hand, is a rising socialist power, adhering to the leadership of the Communist Party of China and practicing a socialist system with Chinese characteristics. Capitalism has never maintained a long-term dominant position in China. China is committed to safeguarding the fundamental interests of the majority and emphasizing the welfare of the majority, the highest embodiment of socialist principles and objectives. This has unique significance in the context of world history.

How to coexist with the United States has become an extremely important question, necessitating political philosophical reflections on how to seek common ground while reserving differences with others. This includes considerations such as the relationship between minorities and majorities, state and people, elites and masses, capital and labor, and tolerance and intolerance. Different people have different answers to these questions, and different responses lead to different outcomes. John Rawls, in “A Theory of Justice,” discusses how tolerance should treat intolerance, suggesting that when the tolerant sincerely and reasonably believe that their own safety and that of the institutions of liberty are in danger, they should restrict the freedom of the intolerant. Kent Calder posits that the bourgeoisie only compensates economically and materially when public dissatisfaction threatens to unseat them, as the so-called democratic age precludes the use of force to suppress the public. How should China respond to a United States long dominated by capitalism?

There are four possible modes of interaction with others: first, living in isolation; second, hostility and confrontation; third, abandoning one’s own stance and being completely assimilated by the other; fourth, emphasizing harmonious coexistence and seeking cooperation through competition.

In the history of U.S.-China relations, the first scenario occurred during the Cold War when the United States and China belonged to different camps and cut off relations. The second scenario often poses a risk, manifesting in partial or localized wars and conflicts, such as the Korean War. The third scenario includes the United States proposing the “peaceful evolution” of China. The fourth scenario, “self-assertion” and “competitive cooperation,” is the fundamental policy that the United States and China should adopt and needs to be increasingly accepted by the people of both countries.

In this article’s view, assimilation results in the loss of one’s nature and dignity, making it the least desirable option. Isolationism may protect oneself to some extent but does not align with the trends and dynamics of globalization, leading to frequent obstacles. Hostility and conflicts often result in significant loss of property and life, being a shared disaster for humanity that should be avoided. Insisting on “self-assertion” while advocating “competitive cooperation” can ultimately achieve peaceful coexistence and mutual benefit.

Both the United States and China should adhere to their self-assertion, choosing development paths that suit their histories, cultures, economies, and people. American culture emphasizes individualism, placing personal interests at the core and opposing centralization while pursuing equality. American culture often encourages individuals to be their true selves, reflecting positive aspects. The U.S. economy values the market, encouraging it to play the largest role in achieving efficient resource allocation. Experience has shown that this is the correct path for promoting economic growth and achieving national and personal prosperity. American society values the rule of law, which is the cornerstone of its society and government, ensuring fairness, justice, and order.

Chinese culture emphasizes collectivism, effectively inspiring individuals to contribute to the collective and the nation, playing a vital role in maintaining long-term development and unity. The core feature of China’s socialist system is the pursuit of the interests and happiness of the broad masses, fundamentally different from the capitalist system. As a large country with 1.4 billion people, this reflects China’s unique historical mission and makes significant contributions to global peace and development. China has consistently adhered to an independent and peaceful foreign policy, a core principle of its diplomacy and a common demand of the international community.

While maintaining their own systems, the United States and China should engage in “competitive cooperation.” The 20th-century international landscape shows that capitalism cannot rely solely on “accumulated advantages” to defeat socialism, nor can socialism replace capitalism in the short term without undergoing long-term historical development. Seeking cooperation amidst competition, while maintaining competition in cooperation, not only corrects the intrinsic development trajectory of capitalism but also has profound implications for the theoretical goals and practical paths of socialism.

This model of competition and cooperation not only benefits both countries but also provides more opportunities and benefits globally. As the two largest economies, the United States and China should demonstrate the ability to cooperate and coordinate in international affairs, jointly addressing global challenges such as climate change, trade imbalances, and geopolitical conflicts. This spirit of competitive cooperation helps maintain international peace and stability and promotes global economic prosperity.

(240630) — FUZHOU, June 30, 2024 (Xinhua) — A performance is staged at the opening ceremony of the “Bond with Kuliang: 2024 China-U.S. Youth Festival” in Fuzhou, southeast China’s Fujian Province, June 24, 2024. The “Bond with Kuliang: 2024 China-U.S. Youth Festival” concluded here on Friday. (Xinhua/Lin Shanchuan)

In conclusion, the United States and China, as major world countries, differ in many ways, even fundamentally. Beyond ideological opposition, there are many other significant differences. China is one of the oldest countries in history, while the United States is one of the youngest. China is the largest developing country, while the United States is the largest developed country. Therefore, handling U.S.-China relations requires a political philosophical approach, thinking dialectically about how to seek common ground while reserving differences, thereby actively promoting the development of U.S.-China political, economic, and cultural relations.

Editor’s note: Liu Hong is a research fellow at the Center for China and Globalization.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of Xinhua News Agency.■

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