On June 23, the Foreign Policy program at Brookings hosted a webinar on U.S.-China relations through the lens of great power competition as part of the “Global China: Assessing China’s Growing Role in the World” project. Among topics discussed was how China’s orientation to the war in Ukraine will impact its relations with the United States, the European Union, and others, and ultimately, what international order will arise from this crisis.
The event featured Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, chairman of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, who observed that the core of long-term national security competition with China is over dominance around technology and economic issues.
In conversation with Vice President and Director of Foreign Policy Suzanne Maloney, Warner emphasized the 21st century is going to be characterized by technology-driven competition, and if conflict arises, it likely will occur in the cyber domain. He outlined three recommendations for the United States and its partners and allies to respond to China’s technological ambitions: 1) identify what technology domains to invest in and who to collaborate with; 2) play a prominent role in standard-setting bodies; and 3) ensure values around transparency, democracy, and collaboration are maintained. Warner underscored, “this notion of technology alliances, investment in key technologies is not just an economic but a national security imperative.”
Regarding Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Warner applauded the U.S. intelligence community for its information sharing with allies and with the public. He noted the strong personal rapport between Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Xi Jinping of the People’s Republic of China and said that attention should remain focused on how the Sino-Russian relationship evolves in the coming months.
James Goldgeier, visiting fellow at the Center on the United States and Europe at the Brookings Institution, then moderated a panel of Brookings Foreign Policy experts.
Ryan Hass, senior fellow and Michael Armacost Chair, argued the U.S.-China relationship may be heading into a period of managed stalemate. He said the United States will need to find ways to collaborate more effectively with its allies and partners to outpace and outperform China over time. In addition, Hass noted the importance of Warner’s comments that the 21st century will be “India’s Century,” commenting that such an analysis undercuts China’s efforts to benefit from the shadow of the future.
On similarities between the conflict in Ukraine and a potential conflict over Taiwan, Hass said in both cases there are strong powerful authoritarian countries that covet weaker, smaller neighbors. However, there are important dissimilarities as well in terms of geography and that Taiwan is a consolidated democracy in a way that was not evident in the case of Ukraine. China is pursuing a long-term strategy of coercion without violence toward Taiwan; the United States will need to focus on countering that challenge over the long run.
Nonresident Senior Fellow Angela Stent said the war in Ukraine has strengthened the Russia-China partnership. She emphasized that for Xi it is important that Russia win the war and that Putin stay in power. However, their relationship has limits. China and Russia are not natural allies, and it is difficult for Russia to completely realign itself to be an Asian power.
Constanze Stelzenmüller, senior fellow and Fritz Stern Chair on Germany and trans-Atlantic Relations, argued that Europe views China through the lens of systemic rivalry. The Eurasian security sphere is increasingly fusing with Europeans’ perceptions of their interest in the Indo-Pacific — on trade relationships with Asian democracies and the security of Taiwan.