U.S.-China relations are at a critical juncture as increasing global competition and high trade tensions leave many wondering whether a new equilibrium is possible in this great power relationship, or whether the rivalry between the two greatest economic powers presages a new Cold War. Professor Dennis Wilder, managing director of the Georgetown University Initiative for U.S.-China Dialogue on Global Issues, partnered with Professor Wang Jisi of Peking University’s Institute of International and Strategic Studies to convene a day-long workshop that featured systematic explorations of U.S.-China relations by panels of prominent U.S. and Chinese academics. The goal was to glean insight from not only the history of U.S.-China relations, but also from global history to see how a more adversarial relationship can be managed. The following day Georgetown University invited three of China’s most renowned “U.S. watchers” to engage in a public dialogue on the trajectory of U.S.-China ties.
Leading Chinese and U.S. Academics in Dialogue
Will the increased U.S.-China competition on the world stage spill into open conflict or can the competition be managed to benefit global peace and prosperity? Will the pending trade deal help to ameliorate the tensions or simply paper over the broader and deeper differences between the world’s status quo power and the emerging power? Is China a revisionist power seeking to shape a world antithetical to U.S. values and interests? Does China seek to displace the United States as the major power in East Asia? Or are some in the United States overstating China’s goals and ambitions in order to create a new strategic opponent?
In order to deepen the dialogue on these important questions and leverage Georgetown’s unique convening power in the nation’s capital, the Workshop on Managing Competition and the Future of U.S.-China Relations brought together U.S. and Chinese scholars to discuss and debate the different facets of managing competition between the two great powers. While many divergent views were expressed, there was widespread agreement among the participants that the relationship has been altered from the status quo of the past 40 years–characterized by more cooperation than competition–to a relationship where competition is more prominent.
Redefining the Relationship
The participants concluded that, while lessons can be learned from Soviet-U.S. competition during the Cold War, that model is not directly applicable because the United States and China are far more integrated on economic and cultural levels than were the Soviet Union and the United States. Moreover, the Cold War was an explicitly ideological struggle in which the Soviet Union sought the overthrow of non-Communist governments and the establishment of a new world order. Most of the participants agreed that the trajectory of U.S.-China bilateral relations in the next 40 years will be determined by how both sides handle issues of mutual mistrust, and whether the great power rivalry can be kept in check by instances of cooperation on such global priorities as countering climate change, lifting populations out of poverty, checking the spread of infectious diseases, halting the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and defeating terrorism.
Prospects for Future Collaboration
The participants agreed that the workshop’s substantive deliberations merited transformation into an edited volume of papers by scholars from the United States, China, and elsewhere. The volume will illuminate the trajectory of U.S.-China relations and offer ideas that policymakers in both capitals can use to manage bilateral ties, maximize positive outcomes for the Chinese and American peoples, and maintain peace, stability, and prosperity for all in East Asia.
8:30 a.m. - 10: 00 a.m. | Managing Strategic Competition in Global History and Implications for U.S.-China Relations
- Hal Brands, Henry A. Kissinger Distinguished Professor of Global Affairs, Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies; Senior Fellow, Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments
- Wang Jisi, Professor in the School of International Studies, President of the Institute of International and Strategic Studies, Peking University
- Discussant: David Edelstein, Vice Dean of Faculty in Georgetown College, Associate Professor in the Department of Government and in the Center for Security Studies in the Walsh School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University
10:15 a.m. - 11:45 a.m. | Current Dynamics in U.S.-China Relations: Where Are We?
- Evan Medeiros, Cling Family Distinguished Fellow in U.S.-China Studies, inaugural Penner Family Chair in Asian Studies at the Walsh School of Foreign Service, Senior Fellow for the Initiative for U.S.-China Dialogue on Global Issues, Georgetown University
- David Edelstein, Vice Dean of Faculty in Georgetown College, Associate Professor in the Department of Government and in the Center for Security Studies in the Walsh School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University
- Wu Xinbo, Professor and Dean for the Institute of International Studies, Director at the Center for American Studies, Fudan University
- Discussant: Yang Xiyu, Senior Fellow, China Institute of International Studies
11:45 a.m. - 1:30 p.m. | Working Lunch: Reflections on the Morning
- Richard Betts, Director of the Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies, Columbia University
1:30 p.m. - 3:30 p.m. | Economy and Technology
- Joanna Lewis, Associate Professor of Science, Technology and International Affairs in the Walsh School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University; Faculty Affiliate in the China Energy Group, U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
- Wendy Cutler, Vice President, Asia Society Policy Institute
- Elsa Kania, Adjunct Senior Fellow with the Technology and National Security Program, Center for a New American Security
- Xue Lan, Cheung Kong Chair Distinguished Professor, Dean of the Schwarzman Scholars, Tsinghua University
- Li Wei, Professor at the School of International Studies, Renmin University of China
- Discussant: Dennis Wilder, Managing Director for the Initiative for U.S.-China Dialogue on Global Issues, Assistant Professor of the Practice in Asian Studies in the Walsh School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University
3:45 p.m. - 5:15 p.m. | Managing Competition and Assessing the Future of U.S.-China Relations: Looking out to 2035
- Michael Green, Director of Asian Studies, Chair in Modern and Contemporary Japanese Politics and Foreign Policy in the Walsh School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University
- Guan Guihai, Associate Professor and an Executive Vice President of the Institute of International and Strategic Studies, Peking University
- Lei Shaohua, Assistant Professor at the School of International Studies, Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of International and Strategic Studies, Peking University
- Discussant: Wang Jisi, Professor and Dean for the Institute of International Studies, Director at the Center for American Studies, Fudan University
5:15 – 5:45 p.m. Discussion of Way Forward
6:00 - 9:00 p.m. Dinner Discussion with Officials from the East Asia and Pacific Bureau, U.S. Department of State