Biden must avoid cold war with China, says Rice U. expert

Flags of China and USA on Grunge Texture

Biden must avoid cold war with China, says Rice U. expert

HOUSTON – (Nov. 12, 2020) – With U.S.-China relations at their lowest point since the Cold War, President-elect Joe Biden’s expected approach to the world’s most populous country will likely exacerbate tensions, according to an expert at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy.

“A cold war with China would limit possible cooperation with China on a broad range of international issues," wrote Joe Barnes, the Bonner Means Baker Fellow at the Baker Institute, in a post on the institute's blog. "True, the United States did cooperate with the Soviet Union during the (first) Cold War. But this cooperation was very narrow and largely confined to arms control. With China, the need for collaboration is far more urgent and comprehensive. This is particularly true when it comes to the pressing global issue of climate change.”

Chess peices representing the US and CHina
Credit: University

Barnes, who is available to discuss U.S.-China relations with the news media, argues that the current geopolitical climate does not bode well for another American cold war victory.

“To fall back into a simplistic historical analogy risks launching the United States on a path that constrains our options in managing a complex, fraught relationship with a rising superpower,” he wrote.

China, unlike the former Soviet Union, has one of the largest economies in the world. A policy of “containing China” would carry potentially huge economic costs for the U.S. and its allies, Barnes argues.

“In other words, (China) enjoys the prerogative of great power status that the United States has exercised for decades,” he wrote.

“China’s economic model — one that has raised hundreds of millions of its citizens out of poverty — is surely admired. And autocrats around the world are observing, with interest, China’s deployment of state-of-the-art technology to control its population. But today there is little of the fierce ideological rivalry that existed during the Cold War,” Barnes wrote.

The U.S. and its allies won the Cold War, “but victory in the 40-year struggle exacted a terrible human cost," Barnes wrote. "We should nurse no nostalgia for it." He argues the Biden administration would be best served by “nuanced diplomacy and restrained rhetoric” in dealing with China.

“A Biden administration will no doubt bring more subtlety and coherence to U.S. policy towards China. But avoiding conflict with Beijing will depend upon accepting unpleasant realities about Beijing's power,” he said.

From 1979 to 1993, Barnes was a career diplomat with the U.S. State Department, serving in Europe, Africa, the Middle East and South Asia. His research focuses on international economics and the geopolitics of energy. In addition to numerous institute studies, his work has appeared in The New York Times, the Houston Chronicle, Oil and Gas Journal, Energy Markets, the Newsletter of the Royal United Services Institute and the National Interest.

To schedule an interview with Barnes, contact Avery Franklin, media relations specialist at Rice, at or 713-348-6327.


Related materials:

Baker Institute blog post:

Barnes bio:

Founded in 1993, Rice University’s Baker Institute ranks as the No. 2 university-affiliated think tank in the world and the No. 1 energy think tank in the world. As a premier nonpartisan think tank, the institute conducts research on domestic and foreign policy issues with the goal of bridging the gap between the theory and practice of public policy. The institute’s strong track record of achievement reflects the work of its endowed fellows, Rice University faculty scholars and staff, coupled with its outreach to the Rice student body through fellow-taught classes — including a public policy course — and student leadership and internship programs. Learn more about the institute at or on the institute’s blog,