China, US decoupling not a certainty in 2020
Published: Jan 01, 2020 07:33 PM

Photo: GT

Many years from now, when people look back on the political and economic evolution of the 21st century, they will view 2019 and the decoupling of the US and China as a decisive turning point.

We cannot yet measure the impact of decoupling, but people have felt its influence, and can see the future trajectory of the global situation.

Over the past 500 years, the world had been in a coupling process. Despite confrontation during the two world wars and the Cold War, decoupling at that time was temporary and was not irreversible. Moreover, after such decoupling, countries became more connected than ever.

Undoubtedly, the driving force came from globalization. Willingly or unwillingly, consciously or unconsciously, every corner of the world is proceeding along the path of globalization.

Now, decoupling places the US on the opposite side of China, and it will expand to all sectors including politics, economy and trade, and science and technology. No one can define the scope, rules and time frame of decoupling, not even the most boastful politicians. But the moves by all US government agencies seem to show that they are fulfilling a mission. These constant moves that guard against China and cut ties with China indicate that the China-US relationship cannot return to what it used to be.

Many lessons in world history have told us that confrontation between major powers led to wars. But that hasn't happened when two countries engage closely on one hand but begin to decouple on the other. What's more, China and the US exert the most influence on the current world. It can be predicted that when governments of other countries craft their policies in 2020, they must take this factor into consideration.

The experience in the history and theory of international relations can hardly explain the phenomenon, let alone provide tools to make predictions. Arguably, 20 years into the 21st century, China-US relations are entering an unknown sphere.

Although we cannot predict where the decoupling of China and the US will lead, it is certain that bilateral ties are unlikely to evolve into an all-out Cold War-like confrontation, given the trajectory of bilateral relations and the existing global pattern. No country wants to pick a side amid the predicament of China-US decoupling, and globalization can serve as a rulebook for the future direction of this relationship.

During the last night of 2019, when joyful people in the Big Apple cheered as the Times Square Ball dropped, they must be expecting the NASDAQ screen to display more exciting data in the new year, because it means more job opportunities, even as they feel uneasy about the future of China-US relations.

People in Beijing also don't know where China-US relations are heading, despite that the phase one trade deal seems to have been fixed. People have found that their metropolis, which has been plagued by smog for a long time, has sunshine nowadays.

Many years from now, when people recall 2020 perhaps they will find that as people from both countries were striving for their own countries' development, they were getting close, rather than drifting apart.

The author is a senior editor with People's Daily, and currently a senior fellow with the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China. dinggang@globaltimes.com.cn. Follow him on Twitter @dinggangchina