U.S.-China Relations in the Twenty-First Century: Policies, Prospects, and Possibilities

By Harris, Stuart | The China Journal, July 2004 | Go to article overview

U.S.-China Relations in the Twenty-First Century: Policies, Prospects, and Possibilities


Harris, Stuart, The China Journal


U.S.-China Relations in the Twenty-First Century: Policies, Prospects, and Possibilities, edited by Christopher Marsh and June Teufel Dreyer. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2003. xvi + 179 pp. US$75.00 (hardcover), US$24.95 (paperback).

A fundamental question for foreign-policy analysts is how the US and China will manage their relationship in coming decades. China is, after all, the only country that prospectively could challenge America's power and economic strength. Will the relationship be a cooperative one (as it seems at present), a competitive one, or a mix of both?

This short but excellent edited book contains a number of contributions that point to the elements which are likely to affect the answer. A useful introduction by the editors emphasizes the need to see US-China relations within an historical and cultural context, and a general overview by Strobe Talbott notes the major past swings in the relationship. Five subsequent chapters by distinguished China specialists examine various aspects of China's development that affect the Chinese side of the equation, while a round-up chapter again explicitly addresses the relationship.

A preliminary question is what China itself will look like in the coming decades. Andrew Nathan argues that the Chinese regime has proved remarkably resilient, primarily because of the institutionalization of the state organization, developing formal and informal rules of behavior: a norm-bound succession politics, the growth in relative importance of merit in determining who leads, the growing separation of Party and government, and a combination of political reforms and economic development that has maintained regime legitimacy. The US, in his view, should not see China's authoritarianism as necessarily unstable.

Carol Lee Hamrin discusses the social revolution underway in China. Looking in some depth at the growing role of civil society, she points to the economic importance of globalization. This is leading China to a new level of international integration, which is giving birth, in turn, to social, cultural and eventually political pluralism. This has significance for international human rights policies toward China, in what she sees as a shift in authority to the provincial level.

For Minxin Pei, to achieve America's hopes of democracy in China, with a consequent change in US-China relations, would require China's complete political transition. Despite a transformed Chinese society, economy and, to a degree, politics, many doubt that a transition to democratic institutions, including protection of human rights, is imminent. Yet China may be facing tensions between its fast-changing, increasingly mobile and pluralist society and its closed political system. America's 'hedged engagement' remains the best policy but needs more resources than at present to be effective.

The question of Chinese nationalism, which emerged particularly after the Tiananmen crackdown, is discussed by Suisheng Zhao. He notes that although this nationalism was stimulated in part by China's leaders, they tried to keep it under control because it could turn into criticism of the Party and because of a need to maintain the US-China relationship. …

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