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Time to Defriend China

Authors: Elizabeth C. Economy, C.V. Starr Senior Fellow and Director for Asia Studies, and Adam Segal, Maurice R. Greenberg Senior Fellow for China Studies and Director of the Digital and Cyberspace Policy Program
May 24, 2010
Foreign Policy

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"This is not a G-2." With those words, Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg finally sounded on May 11 at the Brookings Institution the death knell for the much-touted, if misguided, idea that China and the United States would band together to solve the world's problems.

The idea of a "G-2" was first introduced by C. Fred Bergsten, director of Peterson Institute for International Economic, as a mechanism for promoting agreement between the two sides primarily to address international economic issues. However, it migrated to strategic issues, championed by old Washington hands like Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski. The idea resonated with the White House and Foggy Bottom, where hopes were high for joint efforts to solve the financial crisis and address climate change. As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton remarked in a February 2009 visit to Beijing, "The opportunities for us to work together are unmatched anywhere in the world."

That hope was short-lived. It has become painfully clear during the first year of Barack Obama's administration that mismatched interests, values, and capabilities make it difficult for Washington and Beijing to work together to address global challenges. China's unwillingness to sit down with the United States and its maneuverings with India, Brazil, and South Africa to undermine a larger agreement at Copenhagen were clear signs that building a special relationship would not be easy. America's approval of arms sales to Taiwan in January and the Dalai Lama's visit with Obama in February returned both sides to old suspicions and sensitivities.

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