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What Is the Future of U.S. – China Relations?

A recent NYTimes article “Can the U.S. and China Get Along?” by Orville Schell, a longtime China observer and director of the Center of U.S.-China Relations at Asia Society, is an interesting read.

The author lists a range of old and new challenges in dealing with China, from Taiwan, to human rights, to disputes in the South China Sea, to cyberattacks, and more. At the center of these problems is China’s new leader Xi Jinping’s increasing assertiveness. He has called for a “China Dream” to restore China’s pre-eminence in the world with a focus on prosperity, national unity, and greater global influence.

That is a departure from what America had hoped for: with economic reforms and social exchanges, China will eventually become a country of “greater openness and constitutionalism.” In another words, it will become more like America. Now, America finds it’s hard to deal with a country that has a very different political system, history, and values.

What are the solutions moving forward? Letting the US-China relationship fall into an abyss like the US-Russia relationship is not an option. Schell proposes a number of hard choices that America must make, such as giving climate change a higher priority – at least as high as democracy and human rights, acknowledging China’s influence in the South China Sea, refraining US military ships cruising near China’s coastal waters, etc.

Schell acknowledges that such dramatic changes in China policies are difficult. But the alternative – containment and confrontation – is worse. Schell ends his article by saying “If there is still a peaceful way for the United States to accommodate China’s rise, it will involve a judicious mix of resistance and compromise.”

Interestingly, I came across another article “How China and the United States Can Learn to Get Along” by Doug Bandow, who is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and a former special assistant to President Ronald Reagon. The article is a review of Lyle Goldstein’s book “Meeting China Halfway.” Goldstein is a professor at the National War College. I have not yet read the book, but the article indicates that the policy changes proposed by the author are even bolder.

For example, Goldstein urges the U.S. to end arms sales to Taiwan. In return, China should reduce military threats to the island and allow Taiwan to have greater international presence. In Southeast Asia, Goldstein argues that Washington should recognize the legitimacy of Beijing’s territorial claims, and reduce American military activities. To reciprocate, China should offer greater naval cooperation and transparency, and scale back its own military activities as well.

The book proposes other policy changes across a variety of international issues, including policies related to Africa, the Middle East, and Japan. These changes would be painful, if not impossible, for both sides. However, as Goldstein points out, compromise and cooperation are the only realistic paths for U.S. and China relations.

The United States is by far the world’s strongest country, allied with most industrial nations and friendly to most Asian countries. It is in an “almost unassailable strategic position.” Therefore, the U.S. should lead for peace. If the U.S. takes the first positive step, according to Goldstein, China will likely reciprocate, resulting in what he called upward “cooperation spirals.” I am looking forward to reading this book!

What do you think? I’d like to hear your opinion on this matter. Please leave comments below.

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