The U.S. withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) and the expiration of the New START treaty in 2021 threaten to derail decades-long efforts to maintain an effective global arms control regime. In this episode, Tong Zhao spoke with Richard Weitz, senior fellow and director of the Center for Political-Military Analysis at the Hudson Institute, about the deterioration of global arms control institutions and its effects on U.S.-China relations and regional nonproliferation efforts to contain North Korea and Iran's nuclear ambitions.
Weitz argued that the U.S. withdrawal from the INF treaty stemmed from Russia’s repeated violations of the agreement and had little to do with China. Weitz said, however, that Beijing must be included in any new negotiations despite the difficulties of implementing trilateral arms control agreements. Furthermore, Weitz highlighted Beijing’s crucial role in either resuscitating the crumbling Iran nuclear agreement or negotiating a new one. On North Korea, Weitz said a lack of forward momentum in diplomacy could lead to increased tensions with Pyongyang. Though measured sanctions relief might be necessary to prevent a return to the brinksmanship of 2017, Weitz cautioned against any such actions that do not include safeguards that prevent Pyongyang from reneging on its commitments.
Recent speeches by Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reiterated the Trump administration’s China-related grievances, yet they also revealed a new openness to engagement with China. Paul Haenle spoke with Michael Swaine, senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, about how a more thoughtful approach to the bilateral relationship might look, as well as what recent changes in the Trump administration’s rhetoric about Beijing reveal.
Swaine said Beijing’s transformation into a more ideological, party-driven, assertive, and capable power has raised questions in the United States over the efficacy of engagement. The Trump administration, however, has been too simplistic in its assessment of China and presented a one-dimensional “cartoonish” picture of Beijing. In doing so, it has failed to articulate a nuanced approach that addresses the real challenges China pose. Recent polls highlight that most Americans still prefer positive relations with Beijing but are concerned about China’s more assertive behavior at home and abroad. Different definitions of human rights, among other issues, limit the possibility of future cooperation. However, Swaine argued recent speeches by senior Trump administration officials may indicate a new attitude toward Beijing–one that does not completely reject engagement. Swaine argued this shift in tone is due to the administration’s realization that American allies and partners have serious misgivings about its zero-sum view of its relationship with China. Swaine cautioned, however, that U.S.-China relations are unlikely to improve substantially in the near future, especially if Beijing continues to be unwilling to take greater responsibility to address growing international concern surrounding its rise.
The U.S. strike on Qasem Soleimani took the world by surprise and has enormous implications for U.S. relations not only with Iran, but also with the rest of the Middle East and the international community. How have news of the attack and other related developments been received in China? Just days after the January 3rd strike, Paul Haenle spoke with Jin Canrong, associate dean of the School of International Studies at Renmin University, to discuss China’s view on the killing of Soleimani and developments since.
Is the current downturn in U.S.-China relations different from anything the two countries have experienced before? Paul Haenle sat down with Daniel Russel, vice president for International Security and Diplomacy at the Asia Society Policy Institute and former assistant secretary of state for East Asia and Pacific Affairs, to reflect on why bilateral relations have deteriorated and what each country can do to right the ship, as well as expectations for diplomacy on the Korean peninsula in 2020.
Russel said the ongoing downturn in U.S.-China ties is different from past pendulum swings and that there is a real possibility the two countries could enter a downward spiral that would be difficult to reverse. He attributed part of the deterioration to China’s growing assertiveness and exploitative economic practices, many of which have provoked the United States, as well as other countries, to push back. Russel also highlighted the Trump administration’s abandonment of a multilateral, deliberate, and solutions-oriented approach to foreign policy. The administration has taken a “wrecking ball” to China policy solely to halt Beijing's rise and express American grievances, Russel said. Escaping this negative spiral will require good-faith actions from both countries. Beijing needs to recalibrate its feedback mechanisms, which have prevented it from understanding how other countries perceive its actions, and should narrow the “say-do” gap that has eroded China’s credibility in the United States and around the world. Along with revising its wrecking-ball approach, the Trump administration needs to resist the temptation to adopt illiberal tactics, such as restricting Chinese investment and limiting people-to-people exchanges. On North Korea, Trump has humiliated American allies, ignored Pyongyang's violations of United Nations Security Council resolutions, and ceded important leverage to Kim Jong-un, Russel said. Put simply, Kim has demonstrated he has a strategy while Trump has demonstrated he does not.
Shortly before the United States and China announced that they had reached a “Phase One” trade deal, Paul Haenle sat down with Andy Rothman, principal advisor at the investment firm Matthews Asia and former head of macroeconomics and domestic policy at the U.S. embassy in Beijing. The two discussed the trade dispute, whether the U.S. policy of economic engagement with China failed, and the trade deal.
Rothman argued that, contrary to the dominant narrative in Washington, engagement has accomplished many of the goals it was designed to achieve. China has dramatically liberalized its economy, is one of the largest markets for U.S. companies, and is a source of cheap goods for American consumers. He argued decoupling is both impractical, given how integrated the two economies have become and how much U.S. companies rely on the Chinese market, and politically unfeasible, insofar as U.S. allies would be reluctant to back the effort. A more viable strategy would be to focus on achieving limited goals, such as securing increased market access and IP protection, rather than a structural overhaul of the Chinese economy. However, Rothman said that the first step should be securing a “Phase One” deal.
At the beginning of 2019, Paul Haenle and Tong Zhao, Carnegie–Tsinghua Center Senior Fellow, discussed the outlook for denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula on the China in the World podcast. As 2019 draws to a close, Haenle and Zhao sat down again to analyze developments involving North Korea, the United States, and China over the past year and discuss Kim Jong-un’s end of year deadline for the United States to change its approach to denuclearization negotiations.
Zhao pointed to Trump and Kim’s failure to reach an agreement at the Hanoi Summit as the biggest surprise in developments relating to diplomacy on the Korean Peninsula in 2019. In the wake of the summit and following a series of unproductive working-level talks, Kim is ramping up pressure on the United States to extract concessions, Zhao said. Pyongyang only wants a limited agreement from Washington that would see the relaxation of the most stringent United Nations Security Council sanctions in return for some controls on North Korea’s nuclear program. Zhao argued the United States and the international community no longer have the coercive ability to force North Korea to take significant actions that would circumscribe its nuclear program. As we approach North Korea’s end of year deadline, Zhao said he is uncertain to what extent Pyongyang will ratchet up tensions if a deal cannot be reached. However, he noted that Kim is increasingly adept at ensuring provactive actions such as missile tests do not irritate Russia or China, while applying greater pressure on the United States. North Korea increasingly views Trump as a paper tiger, Zhao said. Facing domestic pressures and unwilling to go to war, many in Pyongyang believe Trump will eventually lower his demands and agree to a lesser deal.
In October 2019, Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Delaware Senator Chris Coons, delivered speeches laying out their respective visions for the U.S.-China relationship. In this episode, Paul Haenle spoke with Robert Daly, director of the Kissinger Institute at the Wilson Center, about American and Chinese reactions to the speeches and the implications for the bilateral relationship.
“America has woken up to the dangers of China,” Daly said. There is agreement that the bilateral relationship will be more competitive but a lack of consensus on a comprehensive strategy going forward. Daly argued the speeches by Pence, Pompeo, and Coons articulated different strategies for future engagement. Coons laid out an approach in which competition and cooperation with China are not mutually exclusive. He advocated for the United States to revitalize domestic policies that spur economic growth and uphold U.S. values. Alternatively, Pompeo and Pence put forth more confrontational visions for the relationship in line with those of individuals like Steve Bannon and Senator Tom Cotton who view China as an existential threat. Americans must understand that either competition or outright rivalry with China will incur significant costs for the United States, Daly argued, but the latter approach is likely to be more costly in the long term.
Discussion of U.S.-China-Russia relations often focuses on how American policy is driving Moscow and Beijing closer together. This analysis, however, ignores important factors limiting cooperation between China and Russia and preventing the two countries from forming an alliance. Paul Haenle sat down with Carnegie scholars Dmitri Trenin, Eugene Rumer, and Alexander Gabuev to discuss constraints on the China-Russia relationship and their implications for U.S. policy.
Trenin, Rumer, and Gabuev agreed that there are clear limits to further China-Russia cooperation. Trenin characterized the relationship as an “entente” driven by a high degree of mutual strategic understanding on common core interests. Gabuev argued that China’s rapid pace of growth relative to Russia’s has led to insecurities in the Kremlin despite their growing economic, military, and technological ties. Russia does not want the relationship to become too asymmetrical and fears becoming overly reliant on Beijing for economic and technological support. Rumer argued neither side is looking for an alliance, as both Moscow and Beijing want to maintain positive relations, but at an arm’s-length. Haenle highlighted that Russia and China hold divergent views of the international system, leading to fundamental disagreements over whether to reform or undermine the global order. He argued that China is increasingly frustrated by Russian attempts to further its geopolitical aspirations by exploiting global instability.
The U.S.-China relationship is bad, and it’s getting worse. In part two of this two-part podcast, Paul Haenle sat down with Da Wei, assistant president and professor at the University of International Relations in Beijing, to discuss evolutions in China’s politics, economics, and foreign policy affecting the U.S.-China relationship.
Da Wei argued that shifting domestic politics in China and the United States are negatively impacting bilateral ties. In Washington, there is no longer widespread support for engagement with China. In Beijing, debates over the role of the state in the economy, driven by a fear of falling into the middle-income trap, are limiting progress in implementing economic reforms. In the international sphere, China has abandoned its policy of “hide and bide” and is pursuing a more active foreign policy representative of it growing strength. The confluence of the above factors is exacerbating tensions between Beijing and Washington, as well as between China and other countries in the Asia-Pacific. No matter who wins the next U.S. election, Da Wei argued, China’s focus will be on creating a more stable and predictable relationship. Specifically, this will require Beijing and Washington to focus on defining clear areas of competition and cooperation.
The U.S.-China relationship is bad, and it’s getting worse. In part one of this two-part podcast, Paul Haenle sat down with Da Wei, assistant president of and professor at the University of International Relations in Beijing, to discuss Chinese perceptions of the Trump administration one month after the August 1st tariff announcements.
Da Wei said the Trump administration has focused China’s attention on the need to address underlying issues in the bilateral relationship, but that it has overstepped. President Trump’s use of tariffs has hardened Chinese views and limited Beijing’s ability to make concessions, even if they are in China’s self-interest, without appearing weak. Trump’s decision to impose new tariffs on China following the Osaka G20 meeting and Shanghai negotiations reinforced Chinese views that Trump is unreliable and may even change his mind even if a deal is struck. Da Wei argued Trump’s objectives are different from those of his advisors. Officials in the administration have a range of economic and security goals that are not necessarily aligned with Trump’s. However, Da Wei said that a majority of Chinese people now believe that the United States seeks to undermine China’s rise.