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What Does the Future Hold for China and the World?

March 2, 1999
Council on Foreign Relations

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March 2, 1999— Ensuring that 21st century China will be a stabilizing force for global economics, peace, and security is one of the central goals that today's American policymakers confront. And with recent snags in U.S.-China ties, including the State Department's criticism of China's human rights record and the Pentagon's report on China's missile buildup, Congress is now questioning the efficacy of the Clinton administration's policy of strategic engagement in achieving this goal.

China Joins the World: Progress and Prospects, a new Council on Foreign Relations volume edited by Elizabeth Economy and Michel Oksenberg, offers fresh, timely insights into America's policy choices toward China by providing historical accounts of approaches that have worked and failed since the thawing of U.S.-China relations in the early 1970s, and by synthesizing these accounts to suggest the direction the United States should take today.

From Henry Kissinger's 1971 secret trip to the People's Republic to China's current negotiations to join the World Trade Organization, this volume traces China's participation in world affairs over the last quarter century, examining in eight case studies the areas of human rights, arms control, the United Nations, trade, banking, the environment, energy, and telecommunications.

From the findings of these studies flow the following policy prescriptions:

  • The United States must establish a set of priorities that contributes to PRC integration into the world community and serves as a benchmark for the relationship. These priorities include: enhancing mutual security, developing economic relations that benefit both partners more equally, and encouraging the rule of law.
  • The United States and China must pursue the most promising areas of cooperation aggressively, such as preservation of stability on the Korean peninsula, environmental protection, energy conservation, and improvement of China's monetary and financial system.
  • The United States must offer China a seat at the table when rules that affect its interests are decided; this is an important element in China's commitment to fulfilling its international agreements.
  • The United States must have the support of Europe and Asia in establishing a set of norms that will govern China and America's interaction in world affairs; the United States can lead, but it cannot dictate.

Finally, Economy and Oksenberg stress that the United States must take precautionary measures in the event that China turns disruptive and averse to international cooperation. These measures include: ensuring that U.S. policies flow from a sense of American priorities; retaining a robust military presence in Asia; maintaining strong relations with other nations in the Asia-Pacific region; and continuing to cultivate and reward U.S. experts on China.

Elizabeth Economy is Deputy Director, Asia Studies, and Senior Fellow, China Studies, at the Council on Foreign Relations. Michel Oksenberg is Senior Fellow and Professor, Asia-Pacific Research Center, Stanford University. Chapter authors include: Todd Johnson, Samuel Kim, Nicholas Lardy, Andrew Nathan, Margaret Pearson, Lester Ross, Michael Swaine and Alastair Iain Johnston, and Frederick Tipson.

The Council on Foreign Relations, founded in 1921 and based in New York, is a national nonpartisan membership organization and think tank dedicated to fostering America's understanding of other nations through study and debate.

To order a copy of the book, please contact Brookings Press at 800.275.1447.