The 20th century witnessed a massive strategic power shift from the established and long dominant superpower of the British Empire to the new, rising and younger superpower of the United States. The transfer of superpower status occurred during the Second World War and from the mid-1940s onwards the Western alliance was led by an American hegemonic world order with the United States the dominant military, economic, business, political, diplomatic and cultural nation. Harold Macmillan, Tory grandee and Prime Minister of Britain from 1957-1963 described this passage akin the handover of imperial pre-eminence between Ancient Greece to the Roman Empire. Macmillan hoped the UK could be to the neo-Roman Empire of the USA what the Ancient Greeks were and he worked hard to cement the new, post WWII «special relationship» between America and Britain, which had first be passionately and strategically championed and created by Sir Winston Churchill alongside President Roosevelt.
For Macmillan and his dealings with President Eisenhower and President Kennedy the central romantic and philosophical animating theme of the Anglo-American «special relationship» was that both Britain and America should treat each other based on mutual respect and mutual trust as each other's best friend and closest ally. Strategically this meant that the UK and US would work and partner closely together on a whole range of issues from intelligence sharing with hand in glove cooperation to nuclear deterrence, defence, trade, diplomacy, security et al and form a seamless bond of support on the United Nations Security Council and within the deliberations of NATO, G7 and the EU.
In terms of realpolitik it gave the Americans a strong base of intelligence and power within Europe and a trusted ally to make its representations within the councils of the European Union alongside international support and legitimacy at the UN and greater access to markets and politico-military resources in Commonwealth countries and former UK imperial colonies. Psychologically it confirmed for the United States it's coming of age while for Britain it allowed the political establishment, military leadership and intelligence/diplomacy community to still feel at the centre of world decision making and planetary geopolitical strategic power by having more influence and leverage with the White House than most other European, Asian, Middle Eastern or African allies.
The US-UK «special relationship» survived the merry go round of electoral multi-party democratic political systems making transitions from different administrations, Presidents, Prime Ministers and parties. Democrat and Conservative, Republican and Labour Governments worked at an institutional State to State level across the various sectors and fields of public policy while the American and British private sectors did a tremendous amount of business together. This alliance had great benefits and made important contributions to ensuring decades of relative peace and prosperity in war torn Europe. It helped to maintain an equilibrium during the Cold War thus averting an even more catastrophic global nuclear holocaust.
In 1776 George Washington might have had a hard time envisaging just how close and cordial the relationship between America and it's former Imperial master Great Britain would become. In many ways the transition and power shift and power sharing of the US-UK partnership is a model for relations between the current dominant and established superpower of America still in pole position militarily and economically and a fast rising superpower in the East, the People's Republic of China. The Thucydides Trap in international relations theory is derived from the Ancient Greek and dictates that a Established Superpower and a Rising Superpower will eventually come to blows. However, are China and America destined to fall into this pointless trap. I do not believe so. For one thing there is so much that the United States and the People's Republic have in common, perhaps more than they even realise.
Both are Presidential Republics founded on egalitarian principles with the American constitution proclaiming «all men to be created equal» and defining itself against monarchical British imperialism while the People's Republic of China striving to create an egalitarian, communist society with Chinese Confucian and Western capitalist influences. Both in their current incarnations are relatively young nation states. While the PRC may superficially be only 67 years old against the USA's 240 years Beijing is capital to a cradle of human civilisation with Chinese civilisation thought to be at least 5000 years in existence and China as a single, unified nation state at least 2000 years old. During those 2000 years China has undergone significant change and transformation and underwent many different incarnations and permutations.
At it's core however has remained a Confucian spirit, striving for harmony, which defines modern life in 21st century China perhaps even more strongly than Communist doctrine. Both Americans and Chinese are extremely hard working, dynamic and innovative peoples with the best work ethic and skills to create, build, produce and innovate of any nation on Earth. Both peoples take their work and their families very seriously and believe strongly in work, family, community and striving for excellence and happiness. Perhaps in China the emphasis is more on striving for harmony but they too are adopting the competitive forces of the private market place so there is a convergence here too. The quality and strength of American and Chinese academia, technology, industry, science and engineering is also of comparable calibre and each peoples take a strong interest and rigorous approach to these issues. Both the USA and PRC are large continent size countries who understand the challenges of governing and living in such a vast and large area of space with so many people. For China this is an even greater social, economic, and political challenge with it's 1.4 billion people than it is for America with it's 350 million.
There are some in the West who see everything through the fevered lens of competition and conflict. These types of people would like nothing more than a re-run of the Cold War of the 20th century between the USA and USSR. However, for a start, China is nothing like what the Soviet Union was. It is a completely different kettle of fish. The Chinese people are at their core an extremely peaceful and peace loving people. They are not interested in world domination or controlling large areas of territory way beyond their territorial sphere of influence and backyard. They are fascinated with Western culture and want to work in partnership, friendship and cooperation with the West, while primarily taking care of their people and building a better life for all in 21st century China. The planet is big enough to accommodate two superpowers and would benefit greatly from enhanced and close US-Sino partnership.
Of all the nations of the world in the 21st century the most important strategic bilateral relationship will be between America and China. To build more trust, understanding and respect into the evolving relationship US and Chinese policy makers should consider deepening collaboration in the defence and intelligence spheres. After the Cold War Russia and NATO set up a joint Russia-NATO council to increase cooperation within the politico-military field. A similar forum should be established to draw the Pentagon and PLA closer together enhancing military contacts. Furthermore, an intelligence sharing agreement should be drawn up between Washington DC and Beijing with regards to combating extremist Islamist terrorism.
The Nixon administration's creative diplomacy which led to the Opening to China in 1972 is precisely the kind of dynamic and wise foreign policy making that is required today to ensure that whatever differences or tensions that may exist between America and China are smoothed out leading to greater understanding and friendship. Despite his tarnished legacy due to the Watergate scandal, the world owes a great deal to both Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger for taking the brave and visionary step of reaching out to a former adversary and establishing diplomatic relations creating a new foundation for these two great countries of America and China to work together. A future Clinton administration would be wise to follow in the mould of the Nixon/Kissinger approach to China which has borne great dividends ever since President Nixon made his historic trip to China.