America: Don’t Be Fooled by China’s Calls for a ‘New Type of Major Power Relationship’

Daniel Blumenthal – resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute – wrote a piece for Foreign Policy’s website posted on Feb. 11 arguing that America’s acceptance of China’s so-called “new type of major power relationship” is a mistake and that U.S.-China relations are in fact an old type of power relation.

To summarize the article, Blumenthal first argues that one cannot criticize Chinese President Xi Jinping’s advocacy of a “new type of major power relationship” within U.S.-China relations. He also states that from President Xi’s perspective, it is reasonable for China to demand America’s acceptance of China as a major Asian power without the attendant responsibilities, power competition and potential conflict, and that it is Obama’s administration that is acting foolishly.

Blumenthal next argues that the idea of a “new type of major power relationship” stems from the Chinese Communist Party’s fears of two historical events: the fall of the Soviet Union and the blocking of rising powers by established powers. He says that President Xi is seeking to avoid similar outcomes by securing legitimacy of the Chinese Communist Party as the vanguard of nationalist revival, as well as by fending off containment.

However, Blumenthal next writes that China’s strengthened position without shouldering global responsibilities is not in America’s interests. He further says that the U.S. should not act foolishly by first giving China this stronger status and next believing that acceptance of Chinese rhetoric means a reduced change of competition and conflict. Even if there is a new formulation of U.S.-China relations, intensification of competition within U.S.-China security agreements will not disappear.

Blumenthal states that the slow acceptance of President Xi’s framework further carves out an unproductive side of U.S. policy toward China since the 19th century, which should be called China exception to U.S. statecraft. In his explanation, the U.S. holds a romanticized view toward China, complete with unrealistic expectations. But he says the historical lesson in the China exception to U.S. statecraft is the more you believe in the doctrine, the more you will be disappointed. Chinese slogans on international relations have a nice ring to American ears, but China is no exception to the basic tenets of foreign policy.

Blumenthal further writes that while China is strengthening its power and reputation, it is nothing more than a run-of-the-mill one-party state. He believes U.S. relations toward China will be extremely competitive, affected by shared economic interests, and antagonistic due to differing political values in the future. This, he says, is an old type of great power relations, and therefore, the U.S. does not need new slogans toward China. What is needed, Blumenthal concludes, is a calculated foreign policy, which seeks cooperation even while competing for power and influence and without resorting to conflict.

Source: Daniel Blumenthal,‘Old Type Great Power Relations’(Foreign Policy, February 11, 2015)


Understanding emerging-nation power politics with the U.S. and China situated as hegemonic powers is a standard view in the realist camp of international relations. In that context, this opinion piece does not offer anything new. However, the point of the argument – that this “new model of great power relationship” does not exist, and that we should not buy into Chinese sloganeering that suggests it does exist – is exactly right. We must see that the limits of Americans who are apt to “romanticize” China are revealed as this point of view toward China is still being seriously debated among experts in the USA.

President Xi stated that “The vast Pacific Ocean has enough space for the two large countries of China and the United States,” but you can see China’s true intent within that view. The same sentiment was displayed when during the end of Hu Jintao’s term, a People’s Liberation Army commissioned officer suggested to the U.S. secretary of defense to partition the Pacific Ocean, using Hawaii as the midpoint, with everything east of it as the USA’s, and everything west of it as China’s.

We must see that China was seeking approval for its “sphere of influence” from the U.S. more than anything when President Xi talked of a “new type of power relationship.” There is no doubt that China has aims on the East and South China Sea first, and then the First Island Chain, and the waters China looks to control within it. Also of great importance are China’s self-styled “core interests,” which consist of Taiwan, Tibet and the Uighur areas. China aims to keep issues surrounding those interests internal and without interference from the USA. Of those three areas, Taiwan – not being under the direct rule of China – is of special importance.

An incomplete refusal of a “new type of great power relationship” by the Obama administration suggests partial acceptance of Chinese sloganeering in U.S.-China relations, and is a major failure in policy. However, the Obama administration is placing stronger demands on China to abide by existing international norms. In a speech this year, President Obama questioned if it was a good idea to let China rule Asia, the most flourishing part of the world. As China gains more power and tries more and more to create new international norms, the U.S. should, and in fact, has no other choice, than to draw a hard line as the dominant power in the current international system.

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  1. President Obama wants a peaceful reconciliation between America and China’s rising power. We are not enemies and we don’t want to be. Nevertheless the U.S. has made a “rebalancing” of its military and diplomatic power to Asia and the Pacific. Whether China truly wants a “peaceful rise”, or tries to push its weight around, America is prepared.

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