Center for American Progress

RELEASE: CAP Experts on U.S.-China Strategy, Seizing the Opportunity to Refocus
Press Release

RELEASE: CAP Experts on U.S.-China Strategy, Seizing the Opportunity to Refocus

Washington, D.C. — Today, in anticipation of Xi Jinping’s visit to the White House, the Center for American Progress released “China’s Forthcoming Political Transition,” an issue brief on what China’s leadership transition means for U.S.-China relations; “Managing Insecurities Across the Pacific,” a report outlining how the United States should seize the opportunity to refocus its policy towards China by taking into account Chinese domestic challenges; and “China’s Quiet Role in Pressuring Iran,” a column on how this refocused U.S. strategy can help the global community avoid an accidental war with Iran.

“The Obama administration’s initiative to rebalance American diplomacy toward Asia again couldn’t be more important—it’s the right policy for America and its friends in the region, at the right time,” said CAP Senior Fellow Nina Hachigian. “But the steps they are taking are confirming for many Chinese that America is trying to keep it down. The visit of Xi Jinping will give American officials a chance to assure China that this is not the case. It will also provide an opportunity to begin discussions with China’s new leadership about many issues on which the United States and China must work together, like Iran’s nuclear ambitions and the untenable situation in Syria and North Korea.”

As China undergoes a significant leadership transition in the coming year, the United States must fully understand the personalities in power and the growing internal divides between where individual leaders, agencies, and regions stand on critical bilateral issues. “China’s Forthcoming Political Transition” explains how developing this awareness will not only lead the United States to avoid major foreign policy miscalculations, but will also allow the United States to successfully manage China’s growing pains. “As the Chinese people get rich, they are demanding more from their government, and many of the things they are demanding—clean air, safe food and drug supplies, protection from local official abuse—are the hardest things for an authoritarian regime to provide,” said Melanie Hart, CAP Policy Analyst for Chinese Energy and Climate Policy. “The Chinese Communist Party is gearing up for one of the biggest political experiments in history: trying to provide its citizens a modern-day, democracy-style quality of life without actual democratization. Whether they succeed will depend in large part on Xi Jinping and the other leaders who will take the stage later this year.”

Beyond understanding the individual personalities that will shape China’s international policies in the next decade, “Managing Insecurities Across the Pacific” suggests that the United States must also develop an awareness of China’s domestic challenges. These challenges span from flaws in their political system like endemic corruption, to dramatic economic trials including growing wealth inequality, a collapsing real estate bubble, and a future aging crisis. Given these internal shortcomings, the country’s concern about U.S. intentions makes more sense. And as Chinese leaders face a harder road meeting growing citizen demands, it is highly likely that they will try to deflect citizen attention from their own domestic challenges by continuing to point a suspicious finger at the United States.

China’s leadership transition presents the opportunity for the United States to calibrate its foreign policy and account for the misperception that America wants to check China’s economic growth and is practicing a strategy of containment. And as illustrated in “China’s Quiet Role in Pressuring Iran,” the threat posed by Iran is just one example of why the United States cannot afford to pass up the opportunity. The specter of an accidental war with Iran provides added impetus for the United States to successfully manage China’s anxieties so that the two countries can collaborate on urgent security issues like Iran’s nuclear threat. Recent moves by both the United States and China in the gulf highlights the urgency with which the United States should approach revitalizing a cooperative relationship with China.

In order to keep China’s insecurities about America’s intentions, and American insecurities triggered by China’s relative economic success, from preventing progress on shared problems, America and China need to increase ties between their militaries, make progress on cyber-security, better publicize the benefits of the relationship, continue to increase student exchanges and tourism, and encourage Chinese foreign direct investment that creates American jobs and does not cause security concerns. By taking these crucial steps, China can join the U.S. and international community to take on the escalating tensions in the Persian Gulf. The United States should seize upon the danger of the moment and the opportunity presented by China’s changing leadership to encourage China to play a constructive role in reducing tensions between Iran and the rest of the world.

Links to the full text of articles included:

To speak with CAP experts, please contact Christina DiPasquale at 202.481.8181 or [email protected].