The 21st century will be defined by the relationship between the American superpower and rising China. A new Cold War would threaten the world order while a mutually beneficial association could bring all prosperity. The latter scenario is more likely. The geography, economies, and energy resources of the US and China align their “core interests.”
First, geography. The US is located on the most resource and capital-rich continent, North America. The American Midwest consists of valuable arable land and is bisected by the world’s largest navigable rivers, allowing the export of food and products at bargain prices. Nearby nations have either historically been on friendly terms (Canada) or lack the ability to present a threat (Central America and the Caribbean) without an external sponsor. This benign environment has allowed America to focus on projecting power and dominating global merchant marine traffic. Since China lies across an ocean dominated by the American Navy, neither directly threatens the other.
China, meanwhile, is a populous and vast land power with a long coastline. Yet China’s focus has historically turned inward, with only sporadic efforts to build a naval presence. China’s heartland is exposed to Russia from the north, Japan to the east, various fractious states to the west, and the rising powers of Thailand, India, and Vietnam to the south. In other words, China is surrounded, and its biggest threats are from other land-based powers, particularly Russia and India.