Whither U.S.-China Relations?
NBR Analysis vol. 16, no. 4

Whither U.S.-China Relations?

by Kurt Campbell, Richard Baum, Robert S. Ross, and James A. Kelly
December 1, 2005

This NBR Analysis presents four essays on a speech by Secretary Robert Zoellick.

In the first essay, Professor Richard Baum, Director of the UCLA Center for Chinese Studies, suggests that Secretary Zoellick’s speech has inserted strategic clarity into often contradictory Bush administration statements on China over the past five years. He also appreciates the recognition given in the address to inevitable differences in national interests between the United States and China, and hopes that “Zoellick’s proposed framework is a concept whose time has come.”

Dr. Kurt Campbell, Senior Vice President at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C. and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asia and the Pacific, argues that the speech was directed specifically at domestic audiences in order to placate increasingly vocal concerns over China’s rise. He writes that the speech serves both as a timely reminder of the need for the United States to remain engaged in Asia and as a baseline from which Washington can recalibrate and clarify its China policy. He would like to see the address establish a pattern of considered discussion of China’s importance to the United States.

James Kelly, former Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, argues that minor changes amid overarching continuity have characterized U.S. policy toward China throughout three decades and seven presidential administrations. He writes that Zoellick’s speech has brought together disparate elements of U.S. China policy into a cohesive and comprehensive statement for the second Bush term, and that it properly raises concerns over opaque, yet ambitious Chinese foreign and defense policies. In addition, he cautions both countries to adjust their domestic economic policies to ameliorate growing trade frictions and stabilize the international economy.

In the closing essay, Robert Ross, Professor of Political Science at Boston College, contends that the speech’s lack of attention to Taiwan as well as its stress on China’s constructive role in the Six-Party Talks are both causes for optimism, as they reflect relaxed geopolitical tensions in these two areas. Likewise, the address unequivocally endorsed a renewed commitment to engage China. Professor Ross warns, however, that U.S. policy must “recognize…China’s legitimate interests,” and that China cannot be expected “to accommodate itself to U.S. values or conceptions of a just global order.”