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How to Improve U.S.-China Relations

Council on Foreign Relations 2015-09-22

Interaction between China and the United States is expanding. Bilateral economic and trade ties have deepened and continue to be mutually beneficial. The China-U.S. security relationship is developing, too. Beijing and Washington collaborate on a number of international security issues, including anti-terror initiatives, and nonproliferation.

As the two broaden their security ties, Beijing and Washington also confront increasing challenges. China’s rising power makes some of its neighbors wary of China’s aspirations and next moves. Asia-Pacific's security order is evolving. China, through its declaration of an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) in the East China Sea and its land reclamation in South China Sea, has actively changed the region's security landscape, potentially boosting its strategic position.

China argues that such moves are justified. Leaders in Beijing argue that if Japan can “nationalize” the disputed Diaoyu/Senkaku islands, why should China not be able to send its government vessels to these waters? Why was China's ADIZ condemned, if the United States, Japan, and others have declared similar zones? Why should China not engage in land reclamation efforts in the South China Sea, if Vietnam, the Philippines, and other claimants have long pursued such activities?

Historical narratives in Beijing, Washington, and other capitals in the region reflect diverging views over what Asia's security order should be. Will the Asia-Pacific region's security be contingent on ongoing American dominion or will a Chinese-led security architecture emerge? This very question tests Washington’s willingness and ability to accept Beijing's proposal for a “new type of major power relations.”

To overcome mutual suspicion, both parties should follow some guiding principles:

·abide by international law, establish common standards of action in the Asia-Pacific, and improve communication lines and increase transparency;

·preserve as much as possible the status quo. The use or threat of force undermines the existing security order;

·maximize efforts to manage and resolve differences through peaceful means;

·notify one another ahead of any major security move to bolster mutual confidence and collaborative security.

China and the United States should seize opportunities to work together and to benefit mutually from a stable security environment.