Citizens of any nation will naturally rally around their flag when they believe they are under attack, have been offended, or want to flex their muscles. Doing so has implications well beyond their borders when the country in question happens to be a global power, such as in the case of China and the United States (U.S.). That said, there are a variety of dynamics at play that help to shape public opinion, particularly when ‘flag waving’ is at the heart of the issue. Citizens of any country tend to react when they believe they have common cause, their beliefs are correct, and others’ beliefs are wrong.
Deng Xiaoping, the chief architect of modern China, said “the China-U.S. relationship can never be too good or too bad”, meaning their leaders and people should be realistic about how close their bilateral relationship can be at any given point in time, and should never let their disagreements get so out of hand that it threatens the general peace and prosperity of the two nations. While seemingly simplistic, the quote does accurately encapsulate the general nature of relations between the two nations since Richard Nixon and Mao Zedong first commenced the modern bilateral relationship in 1972.
As noted by Singapore’s former foreign minister George Yeo, China is not by self-proclamation a missionary power like the U.S.; While both nations have much in common, this is sometimes lost in the bigger picture. As the number one and two economies, the world relies on them, and vice-versa, for national and global economic prosperity. They both compete, in a variety of ways, in the economic, political and military spheres. Both nations have strategic interests and global reach, although they may go about achieving them in different ways. They share an obligation to act responsibly and reasonably toward their neighbors and the world more generally. They also share an astonishing trade and investment relationship with the rest of the world.