Skip to Initiative for U.S.-China Dialogue on Global Issues Full Site Menu Skip to main content
January 18, 2022

Responding To: Georgetown Students Share Thoughts on Exchange with Peking University

How to Make Competition and Cooperation Coexist?

Rena Sasaki

With the rise of China, the world is once again moving toward bipolarity. Kenneth Waltz, in “Stability in a Bipolar World,” argued that a bipolar international order under U.S.-Soviet confrontation would be most stable if the two countries were geographically and economically independent. However, although the U.S. and China are geographically far apart, the U.S. benefits from trade and investment flow with China, and the two countries are economically interdependent. Some scholars argue that the U.S. and China should decouple because this economic interdependence hinders stable bipolarity, but cooperation between the U.S. and China is essential to deal with global issues such as climate change. In order to avoid such an all-out confrontation and to cooperate in areas where cooperation is possible, it is important to understand the differences in values between the U.S. and China and to recognize each other.

The differences in thinking between the U.S. and China were highlighted in the three series of dialogue with students from Peking University. Here, I introduce three fundamental differences in values.

Law vs. Norm

In contrast to U.S. students' insistence on disciplining the state with international laws and sanctions, Chinese students argued that norms can discipline the behavior of the state. This is a particularly interesting difference because global governance needs an effective mechanism to ensure enforcement.

Solidarity vs. Pluralism

In contrast to Western countries that seek to universally spread certain values and norms, China seeks to maintain the values and norms of its own country and civilization. It is worth noting that the west, including the U.S., tends to pursue a solidarity-based international society and deems that interventions are sometimes necessary for non-compliant states, while emerging countries such as China tend to prefer a more pluralist version of international society that allows different interpretations of shared values and norms and limit interventions.

Market Economy vs. Central Planning

The U.S. makes decisions based on market economy principles while China makes decisions based on the central government’s planning. For example, regarding clean energy, the student from the U.S. said that it would spread if it became less expensive than existing energy sources, while the student from China said that it would spread if the government decided to introduce it.

The values of the United States and China differ in this way, but I believe that continued dialogue based on an understanding of these differences on both sides is the first step for peace and prosperity for both countries and the Asia-Pacific region. It is more tempting to point out and emphasize the divergence of views but the experience from the U.S.-China dialogues convinced me that we can produce creative solutions so that both the U.S. and China can work together on important global issues if both sides acknowledge such divergences and understand why such divergences exist.

Rena Sasaki (MSFS'23) is pursuing a master's degree in the Georgetown University Walsh School of Foreign Service with a concentration in global politics and security.

Other Responses