The COVID-19 pandemic has added another layer of complexity to an already fraught relationship between the United States and China, one that has been defined lately by competition rather than collaboration.
According to Avril Haines, the deputy director of Columbia World Projects, until recently US foreign policy toward China combined a firm stance on international disputes, ranging from maritime rights and climate change to recognizing the country’s growing economy.
But Haines, who worked as a deputy national security advisor and deputy director of the CIA in the Obama administration, explained that by 2017, China had already become more mercantilist in its economic strategy and authoritarian in its domestic politics.
Haines joined Christopher Thomas, a former McKinsey & Company partner and former general manager of Intel China, in a panel discussion on how the COVID-19 pandemic will further alter the US-China relationship. Wei Jiang, the Arthur F. Burns Professor of Free and Competitive Enterprise, moderated the discussion.
“The pandemic is an acceleration of trends that were already in place,” Thomas said. He expects that there will be a low level of economic integration in the coming year due to travel restrictions and health concerns.
Although Thomas thinks there will be efforts in the US to localize aspects of its economy in the near future, American firms that operate in China will be on the hunt for growth.
“As China recovers, global companies don’t want to pull back, they want to double down,” he said.
Thomas added that as exports diminish, there could be a shift by Chinese firms to focus on its own domestic economy.
Haines said that improvements in the US-China relationship will depend on leadership from the White House.
“One of the key issues is: who becomes president next year and what are their policies?” she said.
About the researcher
Wei Jiang is Arthur F. Burns Professor of Free and Competitive Enterprise in the Finance Division at Columbia Business School.  ...Read more.