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China-US Relations: A Way out of the Abyss? China-US Relations: A Way out of the Abyss?
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The US-China relationship has become the world’s most important bilateral relationship, encompassing the two largest economies on earth. Their relations during the post-Mao era have fluctuated between good and poor. The relationship reached a new trough during the Trump Administration, which took office as many observers concluded that contrary to US hopes, China had become more authoritarian and aggressive as it grew wealthier and more powerful. Trump highlighted the large and chronic US trade deficit with China, while his senior officials took a tougher strategic and ideological posture toward China than previous US governments. The results were a minor “trade war,” greater emphasis on the adversarial aspects rather than the cooperative aspects of US-China relations, and movement toward economic decoupling.

Chinese officials saw a sudden US departure from the previous arrangement of “focusing on cooperation and managing differences” along with sharp new US attacks in especially sensitive areas: upgraded US-Taiwan contacts, US criticism and even sanctions over the “internal matters” of Xinjiang and Hong Kong, and outgoing US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s call for the overthrow of the Chinese Communist Party. At the same time, they perceived that the United States was in decline, as evidenced by the 2008 financial crisis, poor US management of the pandemic, and political turmoil within the USA. They concluded America was making a last, futile push to prevent China from ascending to regional and global leadership.

The Biden team, however, maintained a largely adversarial stance. Biden declined to remove the Trump-era tariffs. Initial high-level meetings, such as the Alaska meeting in March 2021 and Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman’s visit to China in July 2021, went badly and hardened attitudes on both sides. Two phone calls and a virtual summit meeting between Biden and Xi in November 2021 made no significant breakthrough. The relationship is no longer in freefall, but tensions remain high over a collection of strategic, economic and political issues. The two countries’ Asia-Pacific agendas appear to be in irreconcilable conflict. How can Beijing and Washington reach a mutually acceptable understanding on what roles each country should play in the region?

Speakers

  • Rick WATERS, Deputy Assistant Secretary for China, Taiwan and Mongolia, Bureau of East Asia and Pacific Affairs, US Department of State, Washington, DC, USA @USAsiaPacific
  • Mingjiang LI, Associate Professor and Provost’s Chair in International Relations, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore @JackLi72342096
  • Yun SUN, Senior Fellow and Co-Director, East Asia Program and Director, China Program, Stimson Center, Washington, DC, USA @Stimson_EAsia

Moderator

  • Julie MCCARTHY, National Public Radio (NPR) Southeast Asia Correspondent, Manila, Philippines @JulieMcCarthyJM

Click here for headshots and biographies.

The US-China relationship has become the world’s most important bilateral relationship, encompassing the two largest economies on earth. Their relations during the post-Mao era have fluctuated between good and poor. The relationship reached a new trough during the Trump Administration, which took office as many observers concluded that contrary to US hopes, China had become more authoritarian and aggressive as it grew wealthier and more powerful. Trump highlighted the large and chronic US trade deficit with China, while his senior officials took a tougher strategic and ideological posture toward China than previous US governments. The results were a minor “trade war,” greater emphasis on the adversarial aspects rather than the cooperative aspects of US-China relations, and movement toward economic decoupling.

Chinese officials saw a sudden US departure from the previous arrangement of “focusing on cooperation and managing differences” along with sharp new US attacks in especially sensitive areas: upgraded US-Taiwan contacts, US criticism and even sanctions over the “internal matters” of Xinjiang and Hong Kong, and outgoing US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s call for the overthrow of the Chinese Communist Party. At the same time, they perceived that the United States was in decline, as evidenced by the 2008 financial crisis, poor US management of the pandemic, and political turmoil within the USA. They concluded America was making a last, futile push to prevent China from ascending to regional and global leadership.

The Biden team, however, maintained a largely adversarial stance. Biden declined to remove the Trump-era tariffs. Initial high-level meetings, such as the Alaska meeting in March 2021 and Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman’s visit to China in July 2021, went badly and hardened attitudes on both sides. Two phone calls and a virtual summit meeting between Biden and Xi in November 2021 made no significant breakthrough. The relationship is no longer in freefall, but tensions remain high over a collection of strategic, economic and political issues. The two countries’ Asia-Pacific agendas appear to be in irreconcilable conflict. How can Beijing and Washington reach a mutually acceptable understanding on what roles each country should play in the region?

Speakers

  • Rick WATERS, Deputy Assistant Secretary for China, Taiwan and Mongolia, Bureau of East Asia and Pacific Affairs, US Department of State, Washington, DC, USA @USAsiaPacific
  • Mingjiang LI, Associate Professor and Provost’s Chair in International Relations, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore @JackLi72342096
  • Yun SUN, Senior Fellow and Co-Director, East Asia Program and Director, China Program, Stimson Center, Washington, DC, USA @Stimson_EAsia

Moderator

  • Julie MCCARTHY, National Public Radio (NPR) Southeast Asia Correspondent, Manila, Philippines @JulieMcCarthyJM

Click here for headshots and biographies.

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Designed for multinational journalists and informed audiences, EWC Seminars Live is a monthly webinar and briefing series that seeks to inform, connect, and source media stories.

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