As the bilateral relationship between the United States and China grows increasingly global in nature, the two nations’ leaders have acknowledged the need to create a new, more constructive bilateral framework that encourages cooperation to deal with international issues. Such a framework is necessary to avoiding major competition between a rising and a status quo power, especially in the security arena. 

The Carnegie-Tsinghua Global Dialogue’s plenary session examined the key characteristics required to successfully put a new model of major power relations into practice. The session included keynote remarks by former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd followed by a discussion with CCTV’s Rui Chenggang and a dialogue between Carnegie-Tsinghua’s Yan Xuetong and Carnegie’s Douglas H. Paal, moderated by Carnegie-Tsinghua’s Paul Haenle. 

A Global Relationship

  • Developing New Relations: Rudd proposed three ways to develop a new framework for U.S.- China relations: regular working-level summits, an agreed-upon working agenda on common policy projects, and the appointment of point people within both administrations to manage the relationship. Paal emphasized the importance of the new framework in dispelling any points of tension between a rising power and current power. 
  • Need to Govern Security Issues: Yan explained that healthy competition will continue to play a major role in the relationship between China and the United States, but a new framework is necessary to resolve real international security issues such as cybersecurity. 
  • The Importance of Sunnylands: Paal cited the recent U.S.-China summit at the Sunnylands Estate as a sign that the United States and China both have peaceful goals. Moving forward, Paal added that both Xi and Obama must guide their respective military and diplomatic departments toward reducing points of friction between the two countries. Rudd noted that the Sunnylands summit was a positive example of diplomacy and highlighted the summit’s themes of mutual respect and cooperation. 

Operationalizing A New Relationship

Speakers agreed that the new relationship between China and the United States must be operationalized incrementally. Paal recommended increased collaboration in naval security as one possibility, while Haenle stressed the importance of U.S. policymakers being more open to Chinese suggestions during summits and meetings. 

  • Cybersecurity as a Starting Point: Yan emphasized the importance of U.S.-China cooperation on cybersecurity and recommended that bilateral negotiations between the two powers start with this issue. He added that the economic relationship between the countries was already, in comparison to security issues, relatively open. Creating new security norms starting with cybersecurity is crucial to bringing cooperation between the two countries to the next level, said Yan. 
  • Improving Military Cooperation: Despite recent advancements in military-to-military collaboration, China and the United States need to improve communication and openness between their respective militaries. Paal suggested that U.S. military schools accept more Chinese students for exchange programs and that both countries navies should visit the other country’s Air Defense Identification Zone centers in order to build practical exchange and improve understanding of the other side’s military capabilities and objectives.  

Points of Caution

  • New Great-Power Relations: Rudd stated that while the idea of “a new type of great-power relations” is an important step forward, it is still primarily a headline-grabbing concept waiting to be filled with content. Haenle noted that the phrase itself raised suspicions in the United States when Xi first floated the idea, as many worry it is simply an effort by China to compel the United States to concede to China’s core interests. 
  • Importance of Diplomatic Transparency: Rudd explained how the fundamental basis of former U.S. president George W. Bush’s foreign policy was “no surprises” and that this emphasis on diplomatic transparency was still important. Paal said China’s recent announcement of its Air Defense Identification Zone was a misstep and highlighted the need for diplomatic transparency; the United States and other nations were not briefed beforehand and could not react in a constructive manner. 
  • Managing Frictions Between Militaries: Rudd pointed out that military moves often hijack diplomatic moves. As the power gap between the United States and China closes, the points of potential military conflict will increase. Thus, Rudd explained that areas of conflict, such as territorial disputes between China and Japan, need to be stabilized. Paal added that the U.S. industrial military complex also contributes to this friction. For China’s part, as its economic, political, and military capacities grow, the country will begin to assume greater responsibility in its regional neighborhood. Speakers agreed that both the United States and China need to be cautious of potential frictions. 

 See attached for former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd’s keynote remarks.