Shaping U.S.-China Relations

A Long Term Strategy (A Study Group Report)

January 01, 1997


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United States

Politics and Government


The rise of China in world affairs is a major feature of our era. An increasingly contentious debate has erupted in the United States over how to respond to this development. Figuring out a successful policy toward China is no easy task, but any sound strategy must be rooted in a sense of history.

The death of Deng Xiaoping, the visits to China by Vice President Gore and President Clinton, a reciprocal state visit to Washington, the reversion of Hong Kong to Chinese rule on July 1, 1997, the convening of a Party Congress in late 1997, and a new National People's Congress in early 1998 guarantee that China and U.S. policy toward it will attract scrutiny in 1997-98. In anticipation of these events, voices are already calling for a reappraisal of a policy adopted only a year ago.

A sure recipe for a failed policy would be to base America's approach toward China on either the events of the last weeks or even the last few years or on unproved fears or hopes about the future. The most sensible perspective would consider the last 25 years, the period during which China has emerged or re-emerged into Asia and the world as a major power. During that period, the leaders of China and the industrial democracies have sought to establish a mutually satisfactory framework for peacefully integrating China into the evolving international security, economic, and political systems. And the core question is whether basically to persist on the path pursued since 1971.

China and America each find their relations with the other wanting. Both realize that the toughest problems between them lie ahead. But over the last 25 years, both countries have made enormous strides toward better understanding of the other and better management of conflicting interests.