WASHINGTON, Feb 12—Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s trip to Asia next week recognizes the need for productive U.S.–China relations to make progress on a number of critical issues, including climate change, the global economic crisis, and the six-party talks on North Korea’s nuclear program. While President Obama inherits a cordial and generally stable relationship with China, building goodwill early on and cultivating direct personal ties with Chinese leaders will be the best way to continue the largely productive relations of the last eight years, according to a group of leading Chinese scholars.

The scholars, convened by Carnegie’s Beijing operation, offer unique perspectives from the region for the Obama administration, and include political scientists from Peking University’s School of International Relations, the Center for American Studies, and Shanghai’s Fudan University.

Key conclusions:

  • The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is not a monolith of unified consensus, and China policy must be crafted with an understanding of its varied priorities and motivations. As Internet access and awareness of international affairs expands in China, public opinion is an increasingly important factor in Beijing’s decision-making process.
  • Aggressive language in the United States on hot-button issues inflames nationalist sentiment in China and creates pressure on leaders to respond aggressively to perceived U.S. slights.
  • The Strategic Economic Dialogue (SED) has been a positive force not only for economic ties but also for the stability of the bilateral relationship. The administration should expand on the success of the SED and begin a wider-ranging dialogue on other issues.
  • China expects the United States to lead during the financial crisis and sees its own role as limited to stabilizing its own economy.
  • Chinese citizens view U.S. calls for currency revaluation as an attempt to limit China’s growth at a time when continued economic growth is vital and wastes U.S. political capital.

Tianjian Shi, director of Carnegie’s Beijing office, concludes:

“Confronting China publicly may score points in U.S. domestic politics, but to achieve positive results, officials at the highest level must engage each other and attempt to stay above the domestic fray. Political posturing by both sides has undoubtedly damaged relations between the United States and China in the past and has made measured response by China difficult. Chinese leaders will be more open to concessions when their legitimacy at home is not at stake.”

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NOTES

  • Tianjian Shi heads the Carnegie Endowment’s presence in Beijing and is a specialist in Asian security issues and political participation. He was associate professor and before that assistant Professor in Duke University’s Department of Political Science from 1993 to 2008. The author of several books including Lineage and Village Governance in Contemporary China: Multidisciplinary Research and Political Participation in Beijing, he also sits on the editorial board of Journal of Contemporary China.
  • President Obama has inherited a tougher foreign policy inbox than any president has faced since Harry Truman; establishing priorities among dozens of conflicts and crises requires new understanding of the most critical regions, the most salient issues within them, and the issues ripest for new direction. In its series, Foreign Policy for the Next President, the Carnegie Endowment’s experts endeavor to do just that. They separate good ideas from dead ends and go beyond widely agreed goals to describe how to achieve them.
  • The Carnegie China Program in Beijing and Washington provides policy makers in both countries with a better understanding of the dynamics within China and between the United States and China. In addition to books, policy briefs, papers, and other publications, the Program produces Carnegie China Insight Monthly, a Chinese-language e-newsletter, and hosts the Hong Kong Journal, an online quarterly covering political, economic, and social issues on Hong Kong and its relations with mainland China, the United States, and other governments and international organizations.