U.S.-China Relations Since the Sunnylands Summit: Managing Rising Tensions in a Troubled Region

U.S.-China Relations Since the Sunnylands Summit: Managing Rising Tensions in a Troubled Region

U.S.-China Relations Since the Sunnylands Summit: Managing Rising Tensions in a Troubled Region

Introduction: The 21st century will feature growing strategic competition between a rising China and a powerful America, especially in the Asia-Pacific region, but this competition need not lead to conflict if it is properly managed. The June 2013 summit between Presidents Barack Obama and Xi Jinping, in which the two leaders agreed to build a "new model of great power relations," was an important recognition of this proposition.

The NCAFP assembled an influential group of American and Chinese officials and scholars in New York on January 24, 2014 to discuss the state of bilateral relations since the  Sunnylands summit.

The meeting came at a time of rising tensions in Northeast Asia due to the downturn in relations between China and Japan and between Japan and South Korea, adverse U.S. and regional reaction to China's declaration of an "air defense identification zone" (ADIZ) that includes areas controlled by Japan and South Korea, and a continuing impasse in reviving the Six-Party Talks aimed at denuclearization of North Korea.

Participants from both countries agreed that the Sunnylands summit had given a new sense of direction to the bilateral relationship—one that incorporates three important elements: a mutual recognition of the need to avoid the so-called "Thucydides trap" in which a rising power and an established power inevitably come into conflict; a mutual agreement to try to increase cooperation in areas where there is a shared interest; and a common understanding that disagreements in one area of the relationship should not be allowed to damage the overall relationship.

There was also general agreement that although the relationship remains a mix of cooperation and competition, there are many potential areas for cooperation and a growing ability to manage a crisis should one occur. (As an American official said recently, the relationship is "increasingly mature.")  Also, both sides recognize that a pattern of robust economic interdependence adds ballast to the relationship.

The bad news is that strategic competition between the U.S. and China and between China and Japan is on the rise and managing this competition will be a real challenge.  The three most pressing issues are:  1. How to reduce China-Japan tensions and to improve the trilateral relationship; 2. How to bring North Korea back to the path of denuclearization it seemed to be on in 2005-07; 3. How to ease U.S. and regional concerns over China’s declaration of an ADIZ in the East China Sea and deal with territorial and maritime disputes in the South China Sea.

One real test of the two countries’ ability to build a "new model of major power relations" is whether they can find a cooperative path to address rising tensions in the region.

To view a PDF of this report, please click here.

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