There is a lot of hype about a new Cold War brewing between the United States and China

By: Dominick Harnett

When two people with alpha personalities are put in the same group for a project do they inevitably lead to conflict? Not necessarily. Although people with alpha personalities are competitive this does not mean they will be in opposition. In reality alpha personalities can compete without conflict, and make each other better through healthy competition.  Each alpha will learn the strengths and weaknesses of the other, but will not condescend nor patronize. There will be teasing, verbal provocation, banter, and boasting, but this is all just a playful game to figure out where one stands in relation to the other. Healthy competition between two alphas actually leads to both becoming better and those around them becoming better as well.

This is especially true when two alphas are in the same group and are competing against other groups. Their alpha personalities can create awesome teamwork in order to overcome the other teams. One needs to just look at sports teams and military units to know this is true. Sports teams will often have several alphas that will push each other by using verbal provocation because they know provoking is the best way to motivate each other to become better.

In the same sense, when two superpowers are competing does this inevitably lead to conflict? Again, not necessarily. Through competition between the United States and China the world can become a better place. Technology development is an excellent example. China is investing lots of their intellectual resources into developing new technology to compete with Silicon Valley dominance. This in turn provokes the United States to put more of their own resources into technology research to stay ahead. The results are wonderful new technologies being developed that can be shared with the rest of the world, and therefore improving the human condition for all.

No other partnership could outmatch the creative potential of both the United States and China working together towards a common cause. Take climate change as an example. The combined intellectual resources of both these countries (and, frankly, the whole world) working towards a single common purpose would be formidable. The massive influence each holds, technological prowess, and intellectual resources all working together to overcome a common cause would surely produce unimaginable results.

Admittedly, the above outlook may be too optimistic and a realist could reasonably argue will never happen. Just as two alpha personalities can work together in healthy competition, so too can they devolve into violent conflict. Any attempt to deceive the other will lead to a breakdown of trust.Once this happens it becomes infinitely more difficult to work together. Each government will work in a purely self-preservation mode and will actively work to prevent the other from advancing too much. They will question each other’s motives, and be suspicious of technological progress by the other side.

That is why it is deeply important that the United States and China avoid policies that breakdown trust.  A breakdown of trust leads to greater rifts that will make it more difficult to work together on important matters such as climate change. A lack of trust will lead to policies that attempt to constrain, such as banning Huawei from building 5g networks in the United States out of pure distrust for the other’s intent. The United State’s distrust of the Chinese government influenced the decision to block Huawei from building 5g networks in the United States. Reducing competition in the 5g network market hurts the consumer.

Unhealthy relationships would look like two superpowers implementing massive tariffs on each other’s goods. The entire purpose of a tariff is to reduce competition to protect one’s own self-interest. And the loser in all trade wars? The consumers of both countries. Neither country benefits from a trade war, or any war for that matter.

Building a trusting relationship and finding common goals to work towards must be the driving ideology if conflict is to be avoided. The United States does not consider British telecommunication companies building infrastructure in the United States as national security threats because both countries have a trusting and working relationship. The United Kingdom has no ill intent and the United States has no reason to believe they do because of the relationship that has developed over the past century. The United States and China are clearly not at that point of trust, but at one point neither were the United States and the United Kingdom.

So how do two countries go about building a trusting relationship? This is done through a process of cultural exchange and working together towards common goals. The United States and United Kingdom were once enemies, but through common cultural understandings and a common goal of defeating the Germans in World War I and World War II a deep and lasting relationship exists today. The United States and Japan were once enemies, but through cultural exchange and a common goal of defeating communism a lasting bond between the two nations exists today.

The United States and China are on a similar path today. The obsession of China in the United States has lead to greater interest in Chinese culture and understanding. The same is true in China as American movies and culture are absorbed into Chinese society. The current difficulty comes in finding a common goal that both countries can work together on, but an obvious one should be climate change. Each country also has strong incentives to maintain a peaceful and stable world that will provide markets to sell their goods to.

Great teams are full of alphas working together towards a common purpose. The greatest team in the world would be a team consisting of the United States and China working towards a common goal. Road bumps in this partnership are inevitable, but conflict is not. Both have common goals and both know conflict benefits no one and will thus avoid it.

Dominick Harnett studies International Political Economy and Diplomacy at the University of Bridgeport.