U.S.-China competition does not have to end in conflict, expert says

The U.S. and China relationship may focus on competition, but it’s possible for the Biden administration to handle that dynamic positively, according to an expert at a think tank.

Scott Kennedy, senior advisor and trustee chair in Chinese business and economics at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said he is somewhat optimistic about the new U.S. strategic approach toward Beijing.

“There are risks everywhere you look. Certainly, that’s the case and we have to be prepared for them. I would say I have some optimism on this,” told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Asia” on Friday.

“By and large the Chinese have been catching up but not surpassing. The U.S. just needs to sort of shore up itself. And to some extent, this is going to be significant competition. I think this competition can be managed constructively without necessarily resulting in conflict,” Kennedy noted.

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Kennedy pointed to recent remarks made by Kurt Campbell, the U.S. coordinator for Indo-Pacific affairs on the National Security Council, calling them the most comprehensive statement the Biden administration has made on China policy yet in a public setting.

During an online event hosted by Stanford University on Wednesday, Campbell said there was now a new set of strategic parameters when it came to China and that the period of engagement is over.

“The dominant paradigm is going to be competition. Our goal is to make that a stable, peaceful competition that brings out the best in us,” he said, while cautioning: “There will likely be periods ahead, in which there will be moments of concern.”

Relations between the U.S. and China worsened under the Trump administration. The two countries engaged in a damaging trade war, competed on technology and clashed over issues including human rights and the origins of Covid-19.

However, early signs indicate President Joe Biden’s team doesn’t intend to change the hawkish approach and agrees with the previous administration on several “extremely touchy” issues concerning China.

To counter China’s rising influence, the U.S. needs to build on its alliances globally and not act alone, according to Kennedy.

“In some places we are going to not have as much connectivity (with China) and that’s going to be done with allies and partners around the world, not just unilaterally by the United States.”

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