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U.S.-China Relations: Toward a New Model of Major Power Relationship

China and U.S. flags

SOURCE: AP/Vincent Thian

Chinese and U.S. national flags are posted for the opening ceremony of the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue in Beijing in May 2012.

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  • U.S.-China Relations: Toward a New Model of Major Power Relationship
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In February 2012, during a Washington, D.C., visit, then Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping raised the prospect of “a new type of relationship between major countries in the 21st century.” As State Councilor Dai Bingguo said about the concept, “China and the U.S. must create the possibility that countries with different political institutions, cultural traditions and different economic systems can respect and cooperate with each other.”

A year later, President Barak Obama and President Xi Jinping conducted an informal, “shirt-sleeve” summit in southern California to establish a solid working relationship between the two presidents. Then National Security Adviser Tom Donlion described the challenge facing President Obama and President Xi at the summit as “turning the aspiration of charting a new course for our relationship into a reality and to build out … the new model of relations between great powers.”

We have been interested in the idea of a new model of major power relations ever since we attended the lunch in Washington when then Vice President Xi first raised it. We, along with our respective institutions—the Center for American Progress in Washington and the China-U.S. Exchange Foundation in Hong Kong—had already been engaged in track II high-level dialogue between Chinese and American scholars for several years by then. We were quite familiar with the challenge, as then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton put it, “to write a new answer to the age-old question of what happens when an established power and a rising power meet.”

In conjunction with the initiative of the two presidents, we proposed that our track II focus on the very topic that engaged the leaders: building a new model of major power relations between the United States and China. To prepare for the dialogue, experts in Washington, California, Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong drafted and exchanged papers, printed in this volume, on the U.S. and Chinese perspectives on what a new model of major power relations would look like in practice; how the bilateral relationship fits into regional and international structures; what governing principles for the relationship could be; and how to take steps towards a positive, constructive relationship. The two sides discussed their approaches and findings in a series of video conference calls through the spring and summer of 2013.

In September 2013, we convened a distinguished group of American and Chinese experts to discuss the concepts raised in the papers. The group is listed with their affiliations at the beginning of this volume.

Rudy deLeon is Senior Vice President of the National Security and International Policy team at the Center for American Progress. Yang Jiemian is the President of the Shanghai Institute for International Studies.

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