News - Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School

U.S.-China Relations: Key Next Steps

| May 1, 2009

With the United States and China expected to be the two dominant powers in the twenty-first century, it is essential that they actively manage their relationship to avoid military conflict, a group of distinguished Chinese and American scholars said at a major conference in Washington, D.C. The scholars—from Harvard Kennedy School, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and elsewhere—have worked together for more than two years to create a blueprint for a new relationship between the two countries.

Professor Richard Rosecrance of Harvard Kennedy School's Belfer Center said at a panel session that, in many instances throughout history, a great power and a rising power tend to wind up at war. That makes it all the more essential to find ways to mitigate potential conflict between the U.S. and China today, he said.

Over the last two years, the Chinese and American scholars have engaged in a major research project, sponsored by the China-U.S. Exchange Foundation, to address major bilateral and global issues the two countries face. Rosecrance, a senior fellow with the Belfer Center's International Security Program, and Antony Leung, former financial secretary of Hong Kong, co-chaired the April 28 conference, "The United States and China: What Next?" at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C. The conference was focused around the recently published book, Power and Restraint: A Shared Vision for the U.S.-China Relationship, which features essays on global warming, trade relations, Taiwan, democratization, WMDs, bilateral humanitarian intervention, and more.

The conference, which was organized by the Asia Programs at Harvard Kennedy School's Ash Institute and the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States, and sponsored by the China-US Exchange Foundation, had two panels: "Can China and the United States Cooperate over the Long Term: Overcoming Historical and Military Challenges," which Rosecrance chaired, and "Working Towards Economic Recovery and International Balance," which Leung chaired.

Below are some of the individuals' key recommendations:

Strengthening Military Relations:

  • Strengthen confidence-building measures. (Gu Guoliang, Deputy Director of the Institute of American Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences)
  • Increase military-to-military exchanges; the U.S. makes excuses for not doing this, but it needs to happen more. (Jia Qingguo, Associate Dean of the School of International Studies, Peking University)
  • The U.S. must do a better job of communicating to China the reason for military actions near China and share information gained from those actions. (Jia Qingguo, Associate Dean of the School of International Studies, Peking University)
  • Have a realistic recognition of both countries' intentions and capabilities. (Gu Guoliang, Deputy Director of the Institute of American Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences)
    • China does not have the intention or capability to challenge U.S. power.
    • However, because of China's economic growth, it wants military growth to match.
  • Approach sensitive issues, such as Taiwan, cautiously and carefully. (Gu Guoliang, Deputy Director of the Institute of American Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences)
  • Look after mutual core strategic interests. (Gu Guoliang, Deputy Director of the Institute of American Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences)

Nuclear Issues:

  • The U.S. must "recognize China's right to having a credible nuclear deterrent capacity." (Gu Guoliang, Deputy Director of the Institute of American Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences)
  • The grade China and the U.S. each get for their dealing with North Korea for past eight years is an F. In future dealings with North Korea, President Obama should say to President Hu: "You have a better understanding of North Korea and more leverage with them—what can we do to help you?" (Graham Allison, Harvard Kennedy School's Belfer Center)
  • There is extensive room for collaboration to reach mutually shared goals related to countries' nuclear programs, such as Iran and North Korea. (Steven Miller, Harvard Kennedy School's Belfer Center)

People's Perceptions:

  • China's increase in soft power will help the U.S. overcome its fear of the perceived threat of China. (Joseph Nye, Harvard Kennedy School's Belfer Center)
  • The U.S. must be careful to not treat China as an enemy, because if it does, it will get an enemy. If the U.S. treats China as a friend, it might get a friend. (Joseph Nye, Harvard Kennedy School's Belfer Center)
  • The U.S. must not succumb to fear of China. (Joseph Nye, Harvard Kennedy School's Belfer Center)
  • If the U.S. convinces China it is a benign threat, China will treat it as such. (Jia Qingguo, Associate Dean of the School of International Studies, Peking University)
  • Both China and the U.S. need to look at situations from each other's perspective. (Gu Guoliang, Deputy Director of the Institute of American Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences)
  • "China and the United States should find means of differentiating their roles in the international system. Then they can complement rather than compete with one another." (Richard Rosecrance, Professor, Harvard Kennedy School)

Responding to the Global Economic Crisis:

  • China needs to increase consumer spending as a percentage of GDP and increase its spending on domestic infrastructure. (Antony Leung, Former Financial Secretary, Hong Kong, Senior Managing Director, Blackstone Group, Panel Chair)
  • Because of the $2 trillion partnership/link between China and U.S., the relationship has evolved from the Cold War's Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) to today's MADE - Mutually Assured Destruction of each other's Economy (Graham Allison, Harvard Kennedy School's Belfer Center)
  • Chinese mercantilism needs to come down and the U.S. needs to be more mercantile for a while. (David Richards, Independent Investor, California)
  • "China should stop ‘sterilizing' funds from its incoming surplus so they can circulate freely in the Chinese consumer economy. This will lead to a greater purchase of US goods." (David Richards, Independent Investor, California)
  • There should be a focus on regional integration and cooperation. (Zhang Yunling, Professor, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences)
    • President Obama should revitalize theAsia-Pacific Economic Cooperation.
    • The U.S. should not be concerned with other regional organizations China is involved in; although the U.S. is a global power, it doesn't need to be everywhere or do everything.

Potential Future Problems:

  • The slowdown in the economy could lead to U.S. protectionism. (Ezra Vogel, Professor of Social Sciences, Harvard University)
  • China's military power will increase and get closer to equal the U.S.'s military strength. (Ezra Vogel, Professor of Social Sciences, Harvard University)
  • A revival of Chinese pride. (Ezra Vogel, Professor of Social Sciences, Harvard University)
For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Maclin, Beth. “U.S.-China Relations: Key Next Steps.” News, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, May 1, 2009.

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