Wednesday July 15, 2020

Reflections on the 40th Anniversary of U.S.-China Normalization
March 14, 2019, Washington, DC

US-China Relations at 40 (Source: USCPF)

Full panel video here:

On Thursday, March 14, the U.S.-China Policy Foundation hosted a panel discussion on the 40th anniversary of normalization of relations between the United States and the People’s Republic of China. In attendance were students scholars, foreign embassy officials, and representatives of the media. Our expert panel discussed the past, present, and future of U.S.-China relations, as well the impacts of China’s economic rise, new leadership dynamics, and the changing perception of China in the United States.

Former U.S. Ambassador to China J. Stapleton Roy looked back on the bilateral relationship over the forty years since normalization, emphasizing that none of the American personnel involved in the normalization negotiations would have anticipated how dramatically China would change during this time. He credited former president Jimmy Carter for having the political courage to pursue normalization knowing that doing so would not be politically popular. He cautioned against the strong rhetoric the Trump administration is directing at China, and emphasized that while China does pose strategic threats to the U.S., it does not mean the two countries cannot continue to pursue positive relations and engagement.

Dr. Yukon Huang, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment, discussed the economic relations between the two countries, a pertinent subject given the ongoing trade war. Huang posited that the main reason tensions between China and the U.S. have only emerged in the last 20 years is due to economics, and that perception plays an arguably larger role than reality. Huang criticized the trade war as “nonsensical,” as the trade balance between the two countries are not fundamentally linked and cannot be addressed by tariffs. The emergence of new technologies and the ambition of both countries to dominate this sector are contributing to economic tensions. Huang recommended that the U.S. address China’s illegal trade practices with legal remedies, unfair trade practices with bilateral and multilateral treaties, and that the remaining economic issues come down to competitiveness.

Mr. Douglas Paal, a distinguished fellow at the Carnegie Endowment, discussed Xi Jinping and his perception in the United States. The U.S. has a tendency to personalize relations with China by attributing China policy almost exclusively to a single person. Paal explained that Americans tend to attribute much of current China policy, such as the militarization of the South China Sea, aggression with Japan, the Belt and Road Initiative, and increased authoritarianism, with Xi Jinping, even though all of these policies emerged under Xi’s predecessor. Xi reflects the long-view of China’s foreign policy, but he does not drive it. Paal also argued that Xi will not be remembered for his foreign policy, and that under his rule China has not contributed imaginative solutions to world problems.

Dr. Robert Sutter, a professor at George Washington University, examined China policy under the current U.S. administration. He noted that the rhetoric towards China has hardened to an extent not seen in the last fifty years. The administration seems to have taken the view that not only is China the main danger to the US, but that it will require a whole-of-government approach to address the danger. In Congress, there appears to be growing, bipartisan agreement for strong views and approaches to China policy. Above all else, Sutter noted that the sense of urgency as reflected in the discourse surrounding China policy is a new phenomenon and is no longer limited to just China hawks and extremists. The public is also becoming more aware of China and how the government is approaching China policy through increased media exposure. Looking forward, Sutter proposed that the hardening of rhetoric and policy might ultimately soften once Americans begin to realize the expense of such a policy and the potential costs of Chinese retaliation.

Following a brief Q&A, the event adjourned next door for a reception. The U.S.-China Policy foundation would like to thank Madelyn Ross, Associate Director of China Studies at Johns Hopkins SAIS, for moderating the event, and the Johns Hopkins SAIS China Program.

Media Links

US-China engagement ‘not a failure” (China Daily)

芮效儉答中評:擺弄一中框架 台灣可能生戰” (China Review News Agency of Hong Kong)

美国前驻华大使芮效俭:对美中关系未来发展保持乐观” (China News Service)

 “美前駐華大使芮效儉:擺弄一中框架台灣恐生戰” (ET Today)

美前駐華大使芮效儉:美中之間沒有戰爭冲突問題” (DW News)