We can’t let differences lead to a disruption in China-US relations: Chinese, US experts
Published: Oct 31, 2023 05:46 PM
The North Pavilion Dialogue was held by Peking University in Beijing on October 27. Photo: Courtesy of the North Pavilion Dialogue

The North Pavilion Dialogue was held by Peking University in Beijing on October 27. Photo: Courtesy of the North Pavilion Dialogue

Editor's Note:

As China-US exchanges have intensified, including California governor Gavin Newsom's visit to China and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi's trip to the US, the bilateral relations and contacts have attracted great attention worldwide. What challenges lie ahead for China-US relations? How should China and the US cope with these challenges? Experts at the North Pavilion Dialogue held by Peking University in Beijing recently discussed these issues. The Global Times selected the opinions of three experts. 

Joseph Nye, former dean of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and former US assistant secretary of defense

The focus should be on the future of China-US relations and the Indo-Pacific region. Some Chinese friends said this new term, the Indo-Pacific, must be an American plot to exclude China from the region. My reply to that is no, it's impossible to exclude China from the region. China is the biggest economy in the region, so it makes no sense to exclude China. It's to include India. In that sense, the term "Indo-Pacific" focuses on broadening. And that leads to the comments I'll make about the China-US relationship. We are going through a period that has been difficult for the last several years. Sometimes people say it's a "new cold war," but I think it's a great mistake to see the Indo-Pacific area broken into blocks like in the Cold War.

The metaphor of the Cold War is highly misleading, because, unlike the US-Soviet relationship, the China-US relationship has a very deep economic interdependence, and efforts to decouple will be devastating for the American economy, the Chinese economy and the world economy. The metaphor of the Cold War exaggerates the similarity, because in the real Cold War, there was no such economic event. 

Referring to the relationship of the US and China, the Biden administration called it competitive coexistence. There will be areas where the two countries differ. The South China Sea is an example, but there are areas where we have to cooperate, such as the transnational threats. And we have to work together to make sure that we don't stumble into a conflict that neither of us really wants. These are the challenges we face.

It makes no sense to talk about [having] power over other countries. You can only solve issues by [sharing] power with other countries. We're going to have to learn to appreciate others and understand that, in a sense, we need to develop our soft power in both countries.

John Negroponte, former US deputy secretary of state

I think right now we are going through a period of some tension in the relationship, but I sincerely believe that we will find ways to get past this. These are not easy. I know the Taiwan question, the South China Sea issue and other differences are sources of friction. 

But if you think about the logic of the situation, we cannot let these kinds of differences lead to a disruption in the relationship and a threat to world peace. I think that we are destined as two countries, given the importance of our economies and the weight of our influence in the world, to have to work together. 

It's not only that we want to solve some of the existing tensions and avoid any possibility of a conflict between our two countries, which would be absolutely in no one's interest. But it's also that only through the solution of these kinds of differences, are we then going to be able to realize the real potential of our bilateral relationship and the opportunities for cooperation between us on some of the major issues in the world.

We have been encountering some difficulties and challenges in our relationship. However, I'm optimistic about the long-term future. And I hope that all of us keep alive the hope of serious progress in our relationship so that we can fully recognize the potential of China-US cooperation. 

Wang Jisi, founding president of the Institute of International and Strategic Studies at Peking University

When I was in the US, the word I frequently heard was stability. For some strange reason, they didn't talk about improvement. Why? One think-tank person told me that if they were talking about the improvement of China-US relations, they might be criticized or even attacked in the US. And they don't talk about deterioration, because the deterioration of the bilateral relationship would also hurt. That's why they are talking about stability. 

But I ask myself whether stability can be achieved in the next few months. I hope so. When I talked to an American official, he said he described the China-US relations today as cautiously optimistic, and he asked me how I felt about the relationship. I said that I'm only cautious, I'm not optimistic. The reason is that there are a lot of things that will happen in the next few months. Based on my talks with American officials, I expect that Chinese President Xi Jinping will probably go to San Francisco for the APEC summit.

I still hope there will be some general consensus on the overall picture of world politics, and some specific issues will be discussed, but there are still uncertainties. Next year, the US will see elections. Before that, there will be local elections in Taiwan island. Therefore, there will be a short period of sensitivity in the cross-Straits relations, as well as in the relationship between the US and China.

China will most likely be a hot topic in the US elections. That may not be very pleasant for us. But I think the resumption of contact will provide a better atmosphere in the bilateral relationship.

Looking at the future, we need two things. The first thing is joint efforts on both sides to increase cooperation. The second thing is luck. If anything happens similar to the balloon incident, such an accident would interrupt the atmosphere and the possible stability between the two sides.