On March 21, 2017, the Georgetown Initiative for U.S.-China Dialogue on Global Issues hosted a day-long exploratory workshop on the question of whether the United States and China can build strategic trust. Convened by Dr. Tom Banchoff and Professor Dennis Wilder, the meetings included nine leading U.S. and Chinese scholars, representing a wide range of geographic expertise in international relations including Africa, Europe, the Middle East, South Asia, Northeast and Southeast Asia. The discussion focused on three key research themes: the challenges to overcoming differences in history, culture, and political system to build trust, the lessons of building bilateral trust from various combat zones around the globe, and the dynamics making it difficult for the world’s preeminent power and the world’s rising power to build trust.
Developing Research Agenda and Topics
In their closed sessions, the working group developed several promising research themes for further exploration.
Analyzing the Persistence of Mistrust
Over the past forty years, the relationship between China and the United States has widened and deepened in many fields from bilateral trade and commerce to educational exchanges to international cooperation on regional hotspots. Yet, trust is an elusive commodity as China continues to fear that the United States seeks to keep it from assuming its rightful place as a great power and the United States worries that, once China is powerful, it will attempt to control the Western Pacific. Both side argue that the other’s perceptions are inaccurate but polling data in both countries shows that these perceptions are widely held. Can greater understanding of the origins of these perceptions lead to more confidence on both sides that the other’s intentions are benign? What can each government do to reassure the public in the other country of their good intentions?
Assessing Areas of Trust Building in the Global Ecosystem
There are an increasing number of regional hotspots where the United States and China have found that their common interests in international security and stability have lead to common cause. What are the key elements of those international situations where China and the United States converge? Why is it easier for the United States and China to cooperate in areas outside of East Asia? What are some of the areas of cooperation that can be strengthened in order to build strategic trust?
Exploring the Thucydides Trap
Some academics argue that strategic mistrust is inevitable between the world’s reigning power and the world’s next rising power. What can the United States and China do to avoid this outcome? Are there specific steps that each country can take that would reassure the other and build trust without compromising their national interests? Can greater dialogue between leaders in both countries reduce the mistrust?
Over the coming months, faculty from the Asian Studies and Security Studies Program will develop a plan for a formal research group to develop and pursue research in this arena.