Trump Administration Must Urgently Reassess US Policy Toward China

Failure to address contentious issues will undermine the overall relationship despite shared concerns


Newswise — With the United States-China relationship in a precarious state, the Trump administration must urgently reassess U.S. policy toward China, a group of prominent China specialists conclude in a new report, led by UC San Diego professor Susan Shirk.

The Task Force on U.S.-China Policy, convened by the 21st Century China Center at the UC San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy, and Asia Society’s Center for U.S.-China Relations, provides the Trump administration with a set of concrete policy recommendations for navigating future U.S.-China relations.

“We are at a critical moment for our two countries, a moment that calls for our government and the public to reassess and reexamine policy toward China,” Shirk said. “We are confident our recommendations will support a stable relationship that is in American interests and help the U.S. maintain an active, positive presence in the Asia-Pacific.”

Task force members include former government officials, scholars, and think tank researchers, many of whom have served under both political parties and every U.S. president since the Nixon administration.

According to the task force report, contentious issues like regional maritime disputes, trade and investment practices, human rights, and cyberespionage risk undermining the overall relationship despite cooperative successes in areas such as climate change and nuclear proliferation in Iran.

The administration’s challenge is to formulate “a revised U.S. strategy that addresses these growing concerns about China’s actions without unduly damaging the benefits the U.S. stands to gain from cooperating in areas where interests still converge.”

In its first year, the administration will confront six high-priority issues in U.S.-China policy, the task force co-authors state. Insufficient attention or missteps in dealing with these issues could undermine the foundations of the broader relationship as well as the position of the U.S. in Asia and the global order.

These six urgent priorities are to:1. Work with China to halt North Korea’s nuclear and missile program,2. Reaffirm U.S. commitments to Asia,3. Deploy effective tools to address the lack of reciprocity in U.S. trade and investment relations with China,4. Intensify efforts to encourage a principled, rules-based approach to the management and settlement of Asia-Pacific maritime disputes,5. Seek an easing of Chinese human rights and civil society policies that harm U.S. organizations and undermine public support for better U.S.-China relations, and6. Sustain and broaden U.S.-China collaboration on global climate change.

The report also presents analysis and recommendations on 10 broader and longer-term issues in U.S.-China relationship: cyber issues, energy and climate change, global governance, Asia-Pacific regional security, North Korea, maritime disputes, Taiwan and Hong Kong, human rights, defense and military relations, and trade and investment relations.

In addressing these challenges, the report states, the administration should be mindful of lessons from the past. In the sensitive question of Taiwan, the co-authors caution that unilaterally abandoning the long-standing One China policy would likely increase Taiwan’s vulnerabilities, destabilizing the Asia-Pacific region, and jeopardizing broad U.S. interests.

Over the past week, members of the task force have briefed senior officials from the administration and congress on the findings. Shirk of UC San Diego and Orville Schell of Asia Society serve as report chairs.

The task force co-authors are:• Charlene Barshefsky, WilmerHale• Kurt M. Campbell, The Asia Group• Thomas J. Christensen, Princeton University• Elizabeth C. Economy, Council on Foreign Relations• Karl Eikenberry, Stanford University• M. Taylor Fravel, Massachusetts Institute of Technology• Melanie Hart, Center for American Progress• Winston Lord, former U.S. ambassador to China• Evan Medeiros, Eurasia Group• Andrew Nathan, Columbia University• Orville Schell, Asia Society (chair)• David Shambaugh, George Washington University • Susan L. Shirk, University of California San Diego (chair)• James B. Steinberg, Syracuse University

The task force report was launched Feb. 7 at the Newseum in Washington. Additional public events are scheduled for Feb. 8 in New York City and Feb. 13 in San Diego.

Note: Task Force coauthors endorse the overall findings of the report, with individual dissents included at the end of the report. They participate in their individual, not institutional, capacities. Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Henry Luce Foundation, and other generous donors supported the Task Force on U.S.-China Policy.

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