China’s successful economic development has elevated the country’s status on the world stage. To address twenty-first-century governance challenges, China will need to work closely with the United States to develop comprehensive bilateral solutions.

At Carnegie’s second Global Dialogue, Carnegie–Tsinghua’s Paul Haenle moderated a panel on evolving U.S.-China relations and how both sides can mitigate mistrust, manage tense bilateral ties, and contribute collaboratively to resolving global challenges in a world that is rapidly changing. The panel featured Carnegie’s Douglas Paal, Yan Xuetong of Tsinghua University, Yuan Peng of the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, and Tim Stratford of Covington & Burling LLP.

Discussion Highlights

  • Briefing the Presidents: In November 2014, President Xi Jinping and President Obama are expected to hold closed-door meetings following the APEC summit. Panelists advocated a return to “short-sleeve” diplomacy, involving frank discussions and constructive planning for the future in an intimate and informal setting. They highlighted how productive previous meetings of this nature have been in achieving progress on over ninety outcomes from the sixth Strategic and Economic Dialogue.
  • A New World Order:  Panelists discussed how China’s rise is often perceived as challenging the current balance of power. Some analysts, they said, believe an era of Chinese dominance in international affairs is unfolding. Several panelists asserted that China is not attempting to overturn the current international system, but rather to carve out its proper place within the existing structure and become a responsible global power. Panelists also criticized Washington's “pivot to Asia” for drawing unwanted attention and causing misperceptions of a hostile U.S. effort to contain China. They stressed that this global and interconnected era requires that cooperative efforts toward mutual stability and prosperity. Some panelists added that the U.S. rebalancing toward East Asia was just a recognition of the region’s growing prominence in international affairs.
  • Mistrust and Misunderstanding: Panelists observed that the China and the United States still do not fully trust each other and share different visions about the future and about how to achieve global stability. They discussed how mistrust and frequent misunderstandings have stymied efforts toward cooperation. While the chances of war or nuclear conflict remain very low, a Sino-U.S. rivalry will surely lead to military build-ups and possible escalation. According to panelists, specific areas that perpetuate mistrust on both sides include ideological differences, territorial disputes, media misrepresentations, and uncertainty about long-term intentions.
  • Avenues of Cooperation: Panelists stressed that mistrust and misunderstanding should not prevent China and the United States from working together on issues of mutual benefit. One such policy area is counterterrorism efforts to enhance stability in the Middle East. Although both sides define terrorism differently, such Sino-U.S. cooperation could build bilateral trust if successfully implemented. Panelists suggested developing inter-military professional codes of conduct to foster understanding and accomplish joint goals. In addition, the speakers identified humanitarian aid and disaster relief as avenues for increased cooperation with great potential for success. 
  • A New Great-Power Relationship: Panelists acknowledged that some friction in Sino-U.S. relations is unavoidable. They suggested that both countries can contribute more in potential areas of shared interest, such as counterterrorism and disaster relief. The panelists further challenged President Xi and President Obama to assess current global affairs and lead their states to develop joint capabilities and collaboration. By working from shared values rather than pure self-interest, panelists maintained, both sides can achieve a broader range of mutually desirable outcomes.