History tells us that, when a rising great power approaches the standing of the dominant system-shaping great power, conflict is inevitable, either directly or in such regions where their two spheres of influence intersect. The great counterexample is the acceptance by a "rising" America of the late-19th century of Great Britain's implicit offer of a "special relationship," which allowed the latter to punch above its weight throughout the 20th century. That alliance was subsequently forged in opposition to common enemies: first the Kaiser and then Nazi Germany, followed by the Soviet Union.
China and the United States have no such common enemy of that stature. Lacking an obvious evil to fight, we are left with only an obvious collective good to preserve: globalization. This fortunate reality nonetheless encourages zero-sum thinking: China's inevitable rise is America's inevitable decline. Instead of a world to be shared and shaped, expert voices increasingly warn of a world to be divided and destroyed by wars over resources.
To present an alternative to such zero-sum thinking, I've spent the past several months working with the Beijing-based Center for America-China Partnership and its chairman, John Milligan-Whyte, drawing up a proposed "China-U.S. Presidential New Grand Strategy Agreement." The document -- which Whyte and his partner, Dai Min, published in People's Daily Online last week -- proposes a diplomatic and economic "grand bargain" between China and the United States, one that breaks through the rising hostility and mutual suspicions that define the world's most important bilateral relationship.