Toward a U.S.-China Partnership

By Bonnie S. Glaser
Senior Associate, Center for Strategic and International Studies

Speech delivered at the Global Summit on China¡¯s Peaceful Unification

Rockville, Maryland, U.S.A.
November 16-18, 2007

[Express thanks to: the National Association for China¡¯s Peaceful Unification 
in Washington D.C., Xin Qi (China Association for Promotion of Culture), 
Ye Kedong (Vice Minister, TAO), Han Yuanxiu (Deputy Secretary General, Council 
for the Promotion of Peaceful National Unification)]

China and the United States have traversed a rocky road in their relations. 
 Soon after the founding of the People¡¯s Republic of China, our two countries 
fought a hot war on the Korean peninsula.  Over a decade later, we engaged 
in a proxy war in Vietnam.  Then the pendulum swung in the other direction. 
 In the early 1970s, President Nixon opened the door to rapprochement and 
the U.S. and China cooperated against the Soviet Union.  

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, China and the United States have 
been striving to achieve a new post-Cold War relationship.  When Bill Clinton 
was president, he declared that the United States and China were building 
toward a constructive strategic partnership.  President Bush termed the 
bilateral relationship constructive, cooperative and candid.  President Hu 
Jintao maintained that our two countries are not only responsible stakeholders,
 as former Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick suggested, but also 
constructive partners.  

Regardless what label is assigned to the bilateral relationship, U.S.-China 
ties have become crucial to both countries¡¯ national interests.  Moreover, 
they have become indispensable for the maintenance of stability, security 
and prosperity around the globe.  Indeed, it has become widely accepted 
that U.S.-China relations are one of the most important bilateral relationships 
in the world today.

While it would be naø‘e to suggest that U.S. and Chinese interests coincide 
on every issue, it is nevertheless true that our interests overlap to some 
extent on most important matters related to national security.  This includes 
curbing the proliferation of WMD globally, coping with climate change, and 
developing alternative energy sources to reduce reliance on fossil fuels. 
 Shared or overlapping interests underpin American-Chinese cooperation in 
many parts of the globe to resolve threats to regional stability¡ªranging 
from North Korea to Sudan to Iran.

Diplomatic interaction between the United States and China has expanded 
greatly in recent years to facilitate better coordination and cooperation. 
 Our presidents meet with each other several times every year.  Consultations 
take place by phone on a frequent basis at many levels, including between 
our top leaders and between U.S. cabinet members and Chinese ministers.  
A host of bilateral mechanisms have been established to promote mutual understanding.
  Economic and trade issues are being discussed biannually in the Strategic 
Economic Dialogue.  We confer on foreign policy challenges in the Senior 
Dialogue.  Military matters are addressed in the Defense Consultative Talks.

There are many reasons to be sanguine that relations between the U.S. and 
China will remain stable and continue to improve, despite persisting differences 
and areas of friction.

First, as Treasury Secretary Paulson noted in a speech delivered a few weeks 
ago at the 2007 George Bush China-U.S. relations conference, U.S.-China 
economic interdependence is deepening.  Our two countries need each other 
more and on a broader number of economic and economically consequential 
issues.  U.S.-China trade topped $343 billion in 2006 and is projected to 
reach $375 billion in 2007.

Second, our two countries recognize the danger that an adversarial relationship 
would pose to our respective national interests and to the world.  Military 
accidents such as those that occurred in 1999 when the U.S. accidentally 
bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade and in 2001 when a Chinese fighter 
collided with a U.S. surveillance plane have provided sobering lessons to 
American and Chinese leaders. Both countries are also careful to not challenge 
the other¡¯s vital interests.  

Third, regional and global problems increasingly require multilateral coordination 
and cooperation, especially between the United States and China.  Twenty-first 
century threats are unlike those of the preceding century.  Global pandemics,
 greenhouse gases, and environmental degradation cannot be addressed by 
any country on its own.

Fourth, the U.S. and China are doing a better job managing their differences 
on the only issue that could bring the two countries to blows¡ªTaiwan.  
Since the title of this conference is ¨¯Global Summit on China¡¯s Peaceful 
Unification,¨­ I would like to discuss Taiwan and the U.S.-China relationship 
in greater detail.

There is no shortage of differences between the United States and China 
on the issue of Taiwan.  Although our two countries agree on the importance 
of preserving the status quo in the Taiwan Strait, we disagree on the definition 
of the status quo.  China maintains that the status quo is that Taiwan and 
the Mainland are part of one China.  In the Shanghai Communiqu¨¦ the U.S. 
acknowledged China¡¯s claim that Taiwan was part of the PRC, but to this 
day Washington does not recognize Chinese sovereignty over Taiwan.  Rather, 
it considers Taiwan¡¯s status to be unsettled and insists that differences 
between the two sides of the Strait be settled peacefully.  

The United States remains legally obliged to provide Taiwan with defensive 
weapons¡ªwhich Beijing strongly opposes.  From the U.S. perspective, a vulnerable 
and insecure Taiwan invites instability in the Taiwan Strait and diminishes 
the prospects for resuming cross-Strait dialogue.  From China¡¯s perspective,
 U.S. weapons sales and military cooperation with Taiwan inhibit the potential 
for reunification and embolden some on the island to seek independence.  
China views its military buildup opposite Taiwan, including but not limited 
to the deployment of almost 1000 short range ballistic missiles, as necessary 
to deter Taiwan independence.  From the U.S. point of view, that military 
buildup is excessive and counterproductive.  

Despite these differences, there is nevertheless important common ground 
between the U.S. and China.  Neither country sees benefit in a military 
conflict over Taiwan; both Washington and Beijing favor a peaceful resolution.
  Although China still refuses to rule out the use of force against Taiwan, 
Beijing¡¯s increasing emphasis on seeking peaceful reunification is both 
noteworthy and welcome.  In his political report delivered to the 17th Party 
Congress, General Secretary Hu Jintao proposed the establishment of a framework 
of peaceful development across the Strait and repeatedly emphasized the 
importance of ¨¯peace¨­ in cross-Strait relations.  He called for upholding 
the principles of peaceful reunification, advancing the process of peaceful 
reunification, and never abandoning efforts to achieve peaceful reunification.
  He stated that China would ¨¯firmly grasp the theme of peaceful development 
in cross-Strait relations and work for peace in the Taiwan Strait.  Hu Jintao 
also proposed holding consultations on formally ending the hostility between 
Taiwan and the Mainland and signing a peace agreement.  Hu also introduced 
the ¨¯three whatevers,¨­ saying that China ¨¯will make every effort to achieve 
whatever serves the interests of our Taiwan compatriots, whatever contributes 
to the maintenance of peace in the Taiwan Strait region, and whatever facilitates 
the peaceful reunification of the motherland.¨­

Insisting on and promoting a peaceful resolution between the two sides of 
the Strait lies at the core of U.S. policy.  Indeed it is process that the 
U.S. has focused on¡ªnot outcome in its policy toward cross-Strait relations.
  There is a widespread belief in China that the U.S. views reconciliation 
between Taiwan and the Mainland as contrary to American interests.  Many 
Chinese experts contend that the U.S. would go so far as to take action 
to prevent the two sides of Strait from improving ties.  I believe this 
is an egregious misunderstanding of American policy and interests.  There 
is every reason to expect that the United States would accept any arrangements 
worked out peacefully and non-coercively by Taiwan and the Mainland.  That 
includes not only ultimate resolution of cross-Strait relations, but also 
interim measures such as agreements to end the state of hostilities or to 
implement confidence-building measures.

Dialogue between the U.S. and China about Taiwan has played a positive role 
in the bilateral relationship.  It has increased understanding of our respective 
policies, perspectives, and interests.  Importantly, dialogue has reduced 
the possibility of misunderstanding that could result in miscalculation. 
 But bilateral dialogue cannot and should not aim at a resolution.  Ultimately 
the differences between Taipei and Beijing must be worked out between themselves,
 not between the U.S. and China.  I have confidence that both sides of the 
Strait will successfully find ways to ease tensions and promote their mutual 
interests.  The appropriate role for the United States is to encourage and 
support this process.

Now let me turn to what I view as the greatest challenge confronting the 
U.S.-China relationship.  Despite frequent communication between our leaders 
and high-level officials; despite the creation of mechanisms for strategic 
dialogue; and despite the establishment of habits of cooperation on regional 
and global issues that are yielding tangible results, the greatest problem 
our two countries face is that we lack mutual trust.  Even worse, we harbor 
suspicion toward each other¡¯s intentions.  

Many in China continue to claim that the United States seeks to thwart China¡¯
s emergence as a great power and contain China strategically.  Chinese experts 
accuse the U.S. of using Taiwan as a card to keep China divided and distracted.
  Some charge that U.S. efforts to persuade China to revalue the renminbi 
are motivated by a desire to prevent China from getting too strong economically.
  Some experts even suggest that the U.S. has ulterior malevolent motives 
in criticizing China¡¯s food and product safety standards.  

An examination of the record of U.S. policy toward China under the last 
seven presidents reveals little if any evidence of a policy of containment 
or one that seeks to prevent China¡¯s rise.  For the past two decades, the 
U.S. has actively supported China¡¯s integration into the global economy 
and international regimes.  The Bush administration in particular has strongly 
encouraged China to play a bigger role in strengthening the international 
system and promoting regional peace and security.  Containment would require 
a series of political, economic, and military policies such as the U.S. 
pursued toward the Soviet Union during the Cold War.  Such a strategy toward 
China would be futile and contrary to American interests.  Many U.S. presidents 
have openly welcomed a stable, strong, and prosperous China.  It is time 
for Chinese to abandon this notion and develop a more sophisticated understanding 
of U.S. policy. Steps taken by the U.S. to hedge against an uncertain Chinese 
future should not be confused with a policy to contain or inhibit China¡¯
s rise.

Many Americans also have an incorrect understanding of China¡¯s intentions. 
 At least for the next several decades and probably longer, Beijing has 
no interest in confronting U.S. interests or challenging U.S. supremacy. 
 China would be foolish to seek to push the U.S. out of Asia and has no 
plan to do so.  The charge made by some Americans that China is seeking to 
forge a global coalition of anti-American states to counterbalance U.S. 
power has yet to be proven.  The U.S. cannot and should not rule out the 
possibility that China might pursue such a course in the future, but we 
must not assume it is inevitable or even likely.  Moreover, the U.S. must 
appreciate that while domestic factors in China are likely to be primary 
in shaping China¡¯s evolution and its future behavior, China will not develop 
its policies in a vacuum.  It will react to its perceptions of the external 
environment and, in that context, how the United States treats China will 
continue to be a critically important factor.

War between the United States and China is not inevitable.  Our two countries 
are not destined to become strategic competitors.  Not every rising power 
leads to war -- witness the United States overtaking Britain at the end 
of the 19th century.  There is also another lesson to be learned from relations 
between the U.S. and Britain:  Trust and confidence can only replace suspicion 
with time and experience.  It took the U.S. and Britain well over a century 
to build a trusting relationship after the revolutionary period and Britain¡¯
s military actions against the United States in the early 19th century. 
 But eventually mistrust was dispelled and a partnership emerged that has 
proved enduring and a significant source of broader international stability. 
 We can be hopeful that over time and through the joint efforts of our leaders 
and officials¡ªas well as the broader endeavors of the Chinese and American 
people¡ªthat relations between the United States and China can continue 
to evolve toward an enduring and trusting partnership.

Copyright(c) 2005, National Association for China's Peaceful Unification(NACPU), Washington D.C., USA. All rights reserved.