The USA and China: From Distant Strangers to Global Competitors

General Information
prof. Laurel Wei
October 2022 – January 2023
Number of Hours: 
Course Description: 

Zoom meeting ID: 206 748 2653. Passcode: 404761

Workshop General Schedule:

Friday – 21.10.2022

14.00 – 15.30 (Local time in Poland – CEST)  

Friday – 28.10.2022

14.00 – 15.30 (Local time in Poland – CEST)  

Friday – 04.11.2022

14.00 – 15.30 (Local time in Poland – CEST)  

Friday – 18.11.2022

14.00 – 15.30 (Local time in Poland – CEST)  

Friday – 09.12.2022

14.00 – 15.30 (Local time in Poland – CEST)  

Friday – 16.12.2022

14.00 – 15.30 (Local time in Poland – CEST)  

Friday – 13.01.2023

14.00 – 15.30 (Local time in Poland – CEST)  

Friday – 20.01.2023

14.00 – 14.45 (Local time in Poland – CEST)  

Session #1: Introduction; History and Normalization of US-PRC Relations 

Session #2: China’s Grand Strategy – 1 

Session #3: China’s Grand Strategy – 2 

Session #4: US and China: Security and Political Issues – 1 

Session #5: US and China: Security and Political Issues – 2 

Session #6: US and China: Economic and Environmental Issues

Session #7: US and China: Human Rights

Session #8: Wrapping Up

Bilateral relations between the USA and China have generally been seen as one of the most contentious and most dynamic issues of international relations (IR) today. The USA, being the world’s status-quo superpower, has arguably unparalleled comprehensive national power in the world. China, in contrast, did not emerge as a rising great power until the 2000s. During the past two decades of the 21st century, the world has witnessed China’s rapid rise in power, wealth, and influence. Not only has China risen to the world’s second largest economy but also, it is taking over the central stage in military power, science and technology, and many international institutions. Nowadays, it is no longer uncommon to see China being described as a superpower. Compared to the modest observer and participant of international society in the 2000s, today’s China demonstrates more confidence, assertiveness, and even aggression, the wolf-warrior diplomacy being a typical example. Between China and the US, the room for reconciliation and diplomatic maneuvering has increasingly become constrained. Competition and rivalry become the main theme whereas cooperation and coordination come to take a secondary place. At this point, the US-China relationship has been quite strained, and confrontation has emerged in more and more domains.  

To depict the US-China relations only in terms of inevitable tension and future war, however, might result in a bias. More accurately speaking, it is the relationship between governments that is characterized by rivalry. At the national level, US and China are treating each other with limited tolerance. Meanwhile, cooperation remains the central theme between the two societies. Although civic engagement has grown more challenging amidst political tension, the peoples of both sides still endeavor to maintain and expand cultural exchanges in various ways.  

Given the divergence in interests and rising tensions in almost all areas of bilateral relations, will the US and China become enemies? Will they fight a war, in whatever form, against each other? And globally, what are the possible implications of the development trajectory of US-China relations? Some might have expected cooperation in managing global pandemics, but it did not happen even during the peak of the Covid. Others might have expected the US and China to forge a partnership in space exploration, but it has not happened either. Recently, in response to Pelosi’s Taiwan visit, China unilaterally suspended many existing areas of cooperation, including climate change and anti-drugs. Many have predicted that today’s world resembles a Cold War 2.0, perhaps even more intense, since China’s rise has been supported by a much stronger economy than that of the USSR. The future of US-China relations will serve as an excellent case to test all the existing IR theories. Which mainstream IR theory can offer the most convincing explanation of this? Realism, Liberalism, Constructivism, or Critical Theories? 

With a focus on China’s grand strategy, this workshop offers a general introduction to contemporary US-China relations in three issues areas – security and politics, economics, trade, and environment, and human rights. On the side of China, we focus on the Xi Jinping era, which is 2013 to present. On the US’s side, we pay most attention to the China policies of three administrations – Obama, Trump, and Biden. The overarching goal is to examine current US-China relations and analyze the directions and trends and make informed predictions about the future. Students will learn about the overall picture of U.S.-China relations and will be exposed to many of the current issues facing both sides.

The instructor reserves the right to make revisions with prior notice.


Session 1: Introduction. History and Normalization of US-PRC Relations

  • Overview of the course
  • Getting to know your professor and classmates
  • A very brief history of US-China relations
  • The rapprochement and establishment of diplomatic relations 


  • Sutter (2018), Chs. 1~4.

Session 2: China’s Grand Strategy, Part I.

  • China’s military grand strategy
  • China’s economic grand strategy
  • Xi’s vision of Chinese foreign policy


  • Denoon, et al. (2021), Introduction-Ch. 3 

Session 3: China’s Grand Strategy, Part II.

  • China’s grand strategy in selected regional cases: NE Asia, Russia and Europe, Africa, and North America.


  • Denoon, et al. (2021), Chs. 4, 8, 9.
  • Carr, et al. (2021), Ch. 5.

Session 4: US and China: Security and Politics, Part I.

  • National security
  • Regional dynamics
  • Identity and ideology


  • Vinodan & Kurian (2022), Ch. 5, 6.
  • Sutter (2018), Chs. 6, 7, 8. 

Session 5: US and China: Security and Politics, Part II.

  • Global competition
  • Confrontations: South China Sea, Taiwan, etc. 


  • Carr, et al. (2021), Chs. 9, 10.
  • Sutter (2018), Ch. 10.
  • Vinodan & Kurian (2022), Ch. 2.
  • Carr, et al. (2021), Ch. 7 (suggested).

Session 6: US and China: Economic and Environmental Issues

  • Interdependence and decoupling 
  • The trade wars
  • Cooperation and disputes over environmental issues 


  • Vinodan & Kurian (2022), Chs. 3~4.
  • Sutter (2018), Ch. 9
  • Carr, et al. (2021), Chs. 1, 3, 8.

Session 7: US and China: Human Rights

  • Fight for democracy 
  • The Uyghur camps 
  • Crisis in Hong Kong
  • Shame amidst glory – the global resistance of the Beijing Winter Olympics, 2022.


  • Sutter (2018), Ch. 11.


Session 8: Wrapping Up

  • Individual presentations
Aims of the course: 

Upon successful completion of this course, students should be able to:

  • Identify and outline major issues and questions pertaining to US-China relations.
  • Identify and analyze key events in US-China relations and explain their significance.
  • Critically evaluate the pros and cons of some of the arguments advanced by experts on US-China relations, using various IR theoretical perspectives.
  • Make reasoned predictions about the future of US-China relations and explain global implications.
Teaching methods: 

Real-time virtual meetings plus online assignments and activities

All the class meetings will be conducted in this Zoom meeting room.

Zoom meeting ID: 206 748 2653. Passcode: 404761

Evaluation & Completion: 

Assignments & Activities

Point Value of Total Grade

Due Date (subject to change w/ notice


80 pts, 10 pts each session.

Throughout the semester

Participation (discussions, etc.)

80 pts, 10 pts each session.

Throughout the semester

Individual Presentations 

200 pts.

Throughout the semester


360 pts

Throughout the semester

Grading Scale: 

How do your points translate into the letter grade?

A – 95% ~ 100%, 5.0

B – 90% ~ 94.5%, 4.5 

C – 80% ~ 89.5%, 4.0 

D – 70% ~ 79.5%, 3.5 

E – 60% ~ 69.5%, 3.0

F – 59% or below, 2.0 


Explanation of Each Component of Your Grade:

Attendance, 80 pts in total

Attendance of each class meeting is required. We have a total number of eight real-time meetings. In each session, you are asked to come on time. Regularly arriving late or leaving early will result in reduced points. Although this is a virtual class, your physical presence is essential. During the class meeting, please keep your camera on and your microphone muted. Please also mute all your electronic devices to avoid any distractions. If you would like to speak up, please use the ‘Raise Hand’ button on Zoom. 

Anyone who has come to the class with their camera turned off will be counted as absent. There is no way for me to verify if you are actually there or not, so there will be zero attendance grade. 

Absences: If you know that you will be unable to attend a class due to a medical condition, an emergency, or another documented reason, please contact me in advance. Otherwise, no excused absences will be given. If you have questions, please ask.

If, in any case, a meeting cannot be held due to any reason, updates will be provided in email. Students will be notified when the class will meet next time, and if there is any alternative class meeting to make up the missed session. 

Students who have missed a total of 4 class meetings without a legitimate reason will get a zero in attendance and zero or reduced points in participation (if they participate at all). Students who have missed a total of 5 class meetings without a legitimate reason will receive an F as the course grade. 

Participation, 80 pts in total

This is not a lecture-only workshop. Instead, it takes a seminar format, featuring conversations between the instructor and students, and among students. In this workshop, in-class participation is essential to successful completion. You must actively participate. The attention span of the average healthy adult is about 20 minutes, which means that during a 90-minute class, students may become absent-minded and disinterested. What is the best way to stay attentive? My answer is through active participation in in-class activities. This includes asking and answering questions, speaking up in discussions/debates, etc. Active participation can effectively motivate students to learn and foster a sense of belonging in the virtual classroom. In order get the most out of this 8-session class, I ask everyone to participate actively rather than just passively listening or taking notes. 

Your participation grade is 10 pts per session. If you remain silent throughout, you will get 3 pts of mercy grade. Average participation results in 6~7 pts, and excellent participation is 8~10 pts.

Your grade is primarily based on the quality rather than the quantity of your participation. Here is a guide to excellent participation:

  1. Read the required readings carefully before class and take notes in class. You should finish all the required readings before each week’s meeting.
  2. While reading the materials, take notes and carefully consider which arguments or interpretations might be most plausible, and why. Write down any questions or anything that intrigues you. 
  3. Pay full attention in class and volunteer to ask and answer questions. Speak up on behalf of your group in discussions and/or debates.
  4. Be outspoken and ready to challenge others’ viewpoints. Silence is not gold here.
  5. Throughout the course, I would like everyone to feel free to share their opinion in class. You are responsible for actively listening to others and treating others’ thoughts respectfully (from your peers and me), even if you disagree.

Participation grade follows the following scale: 

  • 90-100%: outstanding participation
  • 80-89%: excellent participation
  • 70-79%: average participation
  • 60-69%: below-average participation
  • 0-59%: lack of attendance & participation or no attendance

Our discussions include but are not limited to course readings. From time to time, we might discuss current events if anything important comes up. We just let the conversations go freely, without a definite topic.

Evaluation will be based on your critical engagement with the readings and the ability to convey ideas in an organized and thoughtful manner, using respectful language, and incorporating as well as responding to the ideas of your classmates.

Individual Presentation, 200 pts

Toward the end of the workshop, everyone is asked to make a presentation about a topic of their choice. Your presentation must include the following:

  • The topic you choose must be related to US-China relations and must be of academic or practical significance, or both.
  • PowerPoint slides. Share your screen during the presentation.
  • Each presentation may be 15~20 minutes. This depends on the actual size of the class.
  • In your presentation, please include the topic you are presenting, your main argument(s), some of the arguments in existing literature, your evidence and analysis, and conclusions. 
  • You will be asked to sign up for presentations. 
  • This is independent work. Everyone must present on their own. 
  • Each presentation is 200 pts. A presentation is evaluated based on the quality, duration, and clarity.

The presentation is the only assignment in this workshop. There are no papers or exams. This means that your grade exclusively depends on your active participation during the class.

Basic Literature: 

Sutter, Robert G. US-China relations: Perilous past, uncertain present. Rowman & Littlefield, 2018.

Denoon, David BH, ed. China's Grand Strategy: A Roadmap to Global Power?. NYU Press, 2021.

Vinodan, C., and Anju Lis Kurian. US–China Relations in the 21st Century. Routledge India, 2021.

Carr Jr, Earl A., ed. From Trump to Biden and beyond: reimagining US-China relations. Palgrave Macmillan, 2021.

All are in the PDF format. Students will receive copies via email, before the first session.