Will the Pacific Ocean be the epicenter of this new century? To hear Barack Obama tell it, such a development is inevitable. “The relationship between the United States and China will shape the 21st century,” declared the American president as he inaugurated a “strategic and economic dialogue” designed to reinforce cooperation between the two countries. At first glance, the prediction is not particularly audacious. The rise to power of the planet’s most populous country is ineluctable (China will soon be the second largest world economy) and the United States will remain the sole global superpower for many years to come.

The two countries are the principal polluters of the planet and have both been hit strongly by the economic crisis. There is a certain logic to the collaboration of these two mastodons in order to boost commerce and at the same time fight against global warming. Some in the United States want to believe in the necessity of a G2 that would drive the world, harmoniously, rather than an agonizing G8. The Chinese media are calling for an era of Pax Americhina or Chinamerica that would dominate the geopolitics of the 21st century.

Is this scenario realistic? It is doubtful. While Beijing and Washington might share the same strategy for economic growth since China’s joining of the market economy, their political visions remain essentially antagonistic. 2009 marks the thirtieth anniversary of a normalization of relations that resulted in global relief despite a few passing cold spots. Still, suspicion is alive and well on both sides of the Pacific and the risks of confrontation are as numerous as the reasons to collaborate.

And besides, would such a G2 be desirable? Certainly not. Must we recall that capitalism’s current failure is also explained by a crisis of over-consumption for which the Sino-American couple is in large part responsible? After the binary world of the Cold War and the end of the illusion of the American “hyperpower” of the Bush years, the time has come for multilateralism and for a G20 including the ensemble of major world actors. While it is true that “Chinese-American relations will shape the 21st century,” Barack Obama himself has added–and it is all in this nuance–that this places them “among the most important bilateral relations in the world.” No more, no less.