Five Facts on the State of U.S.-China Relations

Five Facts on the State of U.S.-China Relations

The world’s most important relationship of the 21st century is also one of its tensest. Relations between the United States and China – which has rapidly developed its political, economic, and military influence – have steadily deteriorated over the past decade. With the recent visit to Beijing by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, observers are watching to see whether the two countries can find the kind of equilibrium needed to avoid a crisis.

Here are Five Facts about the state of the U.S.-China relationship:

1. Secretary Blinken was the first U.S. Cabinet member to visit China in four years.

Secretary Blinken's visit to China in 2023 marked the first time a U.S. cabinet-level official had visited the country since 2019, and the first Secretary of State visit since 2018. Blinken had initially been slated to visit Beijing while on a tour of the Indo-Pacific earlier this year, but that trip was scuttled after a suspected Chinese spy balloon was spotted over the U.S. Analysts are divided on whether the meeting between Secretary Blinken and Chinese President Xi Jinping will help thaw the frost between the two countries.

2. On at least four occasions, President Biden has said that the U.S. would defend Taiwan if it were invaded by China.

Taiwan has been governed independently of China since 1949, but Beijing continues to view the island as part of its territory and has vowed to eventually "unify" Taiwan with the mainland, even if force is necessary. Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, whose party platform favors independence, has rebuked Beijing’s efforts to undermine its democracy, leading to an escalation in political and military pressure from Beijing. Since the 1970s, the U.S. has maintained a policy of “strategic ambiguity” regarding Taiwan, acknowledging its right to self-govern while withholding U.S. support for full independence and leaving it unclear as to whether the U.S. would defend Taiwan. President Biden has notably made multiple statements contradicting that by indicating support for Taiwanese independence and vowing to defend it from attack, a red line that administration officials have tried to walk back in the face of Chinese outrage.

3. China has built up the capacity to directly strike U.S. territory.

China has significantly advanced its military capabilities and can now directly threaten U.S. territory. The Dongfeng-26 (or DF-26) ballistic missile, sometimes referred to as the "Guam killer", has a range of at least 3,100 miles, putting the U.S. island territory of Guam, which hosts both military and civilian populations, within striking distance from mainland China. This development has raised concerns in Washington and further complicated U.S.-China relations, as it becomes increasingly clear that a military conflict between the two countries could inflict significant damage to both sides.

4. Polling shows that most Americans have a negative opinion of China.

American views on China have eroded as relations between the two countries have worsened and more of the public has become aware of the human rights abuses carried out by the Chinese Communist Party. As of the most recent polling, only 15% of Americans view China favorably, with more than eight in ten U.S. adults holding a negative opinion of China. While polling in China is not as robust, analysts have noted a continued rise in anti-American rhetoric in Chinese media as tensions have become more strained.

5. U.S.-China trade totaled nearly $700 billion in 2022.

Despite the challenges in the U.S.-China relationship, the world’s two largest economies remain closely linked. In 2022, imports and exports of goods between the countries hit $690.6 billion, the highest figure on record, despite ongoing efforts to ‘decouple’ critical parts of the U.S. supply chain from the Chinese economy. These close ongoing economic ties could play an important role in maintaining the peace between the two countries, especially as China seeks to court more foreign investment to shore up its struggling economy.