Center for American Progress

United States and China Have Different Ideas About Global Responsibility
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United States and China Have Different Ideas About Global Responsibility

Reconciling the Chinese and American ideas about global responsibility involves questions of sovereignty as well because China has become, like the United States, a country on whose actions the health of the whole system depends.

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Chinese President Hu Jintao arrives in Washington for a state visit later this month, with hopes high in both capitals that his trip may serve to smooth out the edges of a U.S.-China relationship that has frayed over the past year. Clashes over security, the global economy, and differing political values challenge the relationship today. At the heart of many of these disputes are conflicting understandings about how a great power should act in the 21st century.

Washington and Beijing have different conceptions of global responsibility. Washington has spent decades since World War II investing in an international architecture of economic and security accords that delivered stability and enabled China’s growth. Now Washington wants Beijing to play by the rules, help improve the international system, and contribute to solving urgent global problems—many of which China helps to create, among them economic imbalances and global warming.

The United States believes China’s incredible growth rate, astronomic foreign currency reserves, and track record of making successful investments in its national priorities means it is more able than most nations to contribute to the needs of the global community. In contrast, China suspects America’s desire to see it play a larger global role is part of a strategy designed to stifle its growth and challenge its autonomy. Beijing wants to remain highly focused on its domestic problems and argues that it is being internationally responsible in many ways, whether or not it is fulfilling America’s wishes.

Reconciling the Chinese and American ideas about global responsibility involves questions of sovereignty as well. This is because China is now a “systemically important” player in many areas. In the international economy, global climate concerns, Asian regional security, cyber security, space, pandemic prevention, and other arenas, China today is more than a regular “stakeholder.” China has become, like the United States, a country on whose actions the health of the whole system depends.

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