America's Vision for a China Partnership

James Steinberg

Following are remarks delivered by Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg at the Center for a New American Security.

It's a great pleasure to be back and to be here at this CNAS event. It's great to see, although I had no doubt about it, that CNAS is still thriving despite the Obama Administration's best efforts to deprive you of each and every one of your leading lights. And every meeting I go to seems to be populated by so many of the good people - not only Kurt and Michele, obviously, but Jim Miller and so many others who made CNAS so successful, and the really remarkable achievement in such a short period of time that CNAS has become an indispensable feature on the Washington landscape, no mean feat with the number of competitors that you all have out here, including some that I used to work for. And I think that this study that you're launching today really is a reflection of the continued critical role that CNAS plays in creative and timely work that you do.

Obviously, as everyone in this audience knows, and we will be seeing a lot of it in the coming week or so, this year marks the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China, which, of course, is part of the reason you scheduled this event now. As we think back on those 60 years, for about half of them - for about 30 - the relationship between the United States was not exactly the best, ranging from hostile at its worst, to nonexistent through much of the time.

And so in some ways, from a policymaker's perspective and from a U.S. perspective, the more significant and momentous anniversary is not so much the 60 years since the founding of the PRC, but the 30 years since the United States and China normalized relations under President Carter and Deng Xiaoping in 1979. And I think it's not entirely coincidental that if you look for a date, that you could roughly time the rise of China and its remarkable transformation - it's about that time as well that the rise began - part of which having to do with the bilateral relationship and obviously largely to do with decisions China made about its own internal developments.

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I think it's fair to say that despite - I know, the great ambitions and hopes of Kurt and Michele, I don't think even they, perhaps, would have guessed how far CNAS has come. And in the same way, I think those who were present in 1979 probably could not imagine how far China has come in those 30 years. It's really truly a remarkable story. And for those of us who have been visiting China over the years, it's just amazing, each time you visit, how much change you see happening right before our eyes.

It is a remarkable period to reflect back on and the decisions that were made during that period and the transformation of the U.S.-China relationship, and the great insight that began with President Nixon and followed through by President Carter was the fundamental recognition that the long-term interests of the United States were better served not by trying to thwart China's ambitions, but rather to explore the possibility of whether China could become a partner with the United States. And while the motivations for those decisions in the 1970s were largely rooted in the dynamics of the Cold War, when we were focused on getting Chinese help encountering the Soviet Union, it is even more important in today's reality that we recall that basic insight.

Secretary Clinton described that reality recently in her Council on Foreign Relations speech as a reality characterized by two inescapable facts, and I'm quoting her: "First, no nation can meet the world's challenges alone," and "Second, most nations worry about the same global threats."

In this world, and under those circumstances, the logic of international cooperation is overwhelming. Countries have a great deal to gain if we can work together, and much to lose if we don't. But applying this insight to our relations with China poses a fundamental conundrum. Given China's growing capabilities and influence, we have an especially compelling need to work with China to meet global challenges. Yet China's very size and importance also raises the risk of competition and rivalry that can thwart that cooperation.

Now, you all know I'm a part-time academic and so I can't resist this part of the speech, but historians since Thucydides have pointed to a long string of conflicts generated by the emergence of rising powers that disturb the old order and challenge the existing power structure and predict the same gloomy future for China's rise. Political scientists and IR theorists talk darkly of security dilemmas that lead nations to take actions to protect their own security against potential adversaries, and that, by taking those actions, fuel the very conflicts they were hoping to avert.

These academic perspectives obviously have strong resonance in the political debates we hear not only in the United States, but in China today. So how do we square this circle? Adapting to the rise of China, as well as other emerging powers like India and Brazil, while protecting our own national interests. This, I believe, is one of the key strategic challenges of our time. And the key to solving it is what I would call strategic reassurance.

Strategic reassurance rests on a core, if tacit, bargain. Just as we and our allies must make clear that we are prepared to welcome China's "arrival", as you all have so nicely put it, as a prosperous and successful power, China must reassure the rest of the world that its development and growing global role will not come at the expense of security and well-being of others. Bolstering that bargain must be a priority in the U.S.-China relationship. And strategic reassurance must find ways to highlight and reinforce the areas of common interest, while addressing the sources of mistrust directly, whether they be political, military or economic.

Now part of this reassurance comes from sustained dialogue. It's important to recall, and Secretary Kissinger just reminded me of it a few days ago, that we began the new era of our relationship with China with some 25 hours of extended dialogue between Henry Kissinger and Zhou Enlai. And the importance of broad-ranging dialogue is at the core of our decision to elevate and broaden the strategic and economic dialogue between the United States and China. Part of achieving strategic reassurance comes from enhancing transparency.

But if our efforts are truly to be successful, they must go beyond words to actions that reassure. We must each take specific steps to address and allay each other's concerns. The first eight months of the Obama Administration, building on the important efforts of our predecessors - and I want to stress the importance of continuity in the U.S.-China relationship, which has brought us to this very important stage today - have provided solid evidence that there is a reason to believe that this approach can bear fruit.

When Secretary Clinton traveled to China in February on her first trip as Secretary of State, she set out to demonstrate our commitment to this objective. When President Obama and President Hu met on the margins of the London G-20 in April, they pledged to work together to build a positive, cooperative, and comprehensive relationship for the 21st century. And we have seen in the subsequent meetings, including just the other day in New York and in the President's planned visit to China, our determination to sustain this momentum.

Now the global financial crisis has offered a clear example - both the importance of the United States and China working together and the real benefits that come from that cooperation. China and the United States have implemented the two largest stimulus packages in history - coordinating them with one another and with other governments around the globe. And as China leads the way with renewed growth, the good news is not just that we are seeing the beginnings of a turnaround in much of the world, but we are also beginning to see a new effort to find greater global structures to assure that this doesn't happen again. Just as we have said about getting our own house in order, China understands that it too must play its part by becoming a more important source of global consumption. There is a common commitment to putting growth on a stronger foundation, and we'll see this in the discussions in Pittsburgh.

Of course, this effort takes more than just the combined efforts of the United States and China, and that's why our global cooperation is so important. But without the United States and China working together effectively, the prospects of success would be much dimmer. We're building towards the same kind of cooperation on addressing climate change, driven by the knowledge that the United States and China are the two biggest emitters of greenhouse gases. We in the United States acknowledge our historic responsibility for the emissions that have created the dangers of climate change, the indispensability of our taking strong actions here at home, and the need to accommodate China and other developing countries' legitimate development goals.

At the same time, China is increasingly acknowledging that it must find a way to mitigate the climate effects of its continued development. A memorandum of understanding signed at the Strategic and Economic Dialogue demonstrated a joint commitment to expanding cooperation on low carbon growth and forging a successful international agreement on climate change, a task that we will pursue together in Copenhagen. And the statements of both President Obama and President Hu at the UN Climate Summit, I think, reinforced this sense of mutual commitment.

Our cooperation has also been an essential in forging a common front in response to North Korea's recent missile and nuclear tests. Working with our partners in the Six-Party Talks, we forged a unified position leading to a presidential statement after the missile test, and UN Security Council Resolution 1874 following the nuclear test. And since the adoption of that resolution, we have worked effectively together to implement strong measures, which we hope will lead to a resumption of Six-Party Talks and the North Koreans' recommitment to complete denuclearization.

Now, it will be important for us to demonstrate the same possibility of cooperation in dealing with Iran's nuclear programs through the P5+1. China has also played an active role in fostering security and stability along its western border in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and I'm not just talking about the economic investments that China has made, such as the Aynak copper mine. It's also played a role in training Afghans as well as Iraqis to diffuse landmines, and helping to work to encourage the Pakistan Government to step up its efforts against dangerous extremists.

China is demonstrating its willingness to play a constructive role in securing the global commons by contributing its destroyers to anti-piracy efforts off the Horn of Africa.

We've worked together to address the threat of transnational terrorism, and China has begun to do more to support the international nonproliferation regime, starting by joining the Nuclear Suppliers Group. We continue to work and encourage China to enhance export controls and other measures, but it is clear that in recent years, China is increasingly sharing our concerns and beginning to assume greater responsibility for addressing them.

Now, this growing list of areas of cooperation is impressive. But it is important that we neither overlook nor downplay the continued areas of mistrust and disagreement, many of which are highlighted in the volume that CNAS is launching today.

Reassurance is especially critical when it comes to military activities. I think it's timely that I came in just after the few words I heard of the previous panel. As China's economy has grown and its global interests have expanded, its military spending has quite naturally increased, and its capabilities have been extended at sea, in the air, and in space. And in some cases, these enhanced capabilities have been coupled with actions, such as China's over-broad assertion of its rights in the EEZs, that have caused the United States and China's neighbors to question China's intentions.

While China, like any nation, has the right to provide for its security, its capabilities and its actions also heighten its responsibility to reassure others that this buildup does not present a threat. That we have restarted high-level military-to-military dialogues is a positive step. And I'm hopeful that this will allow us to help resolve some of the ongoing tensions, for example, with respect to the South China Sea and the PLA Navy's activities. These discussions between us must be stable and ongoing, not a stop-and-start conversation easily derailed by disagreement.

We also are urging China to increase its military transparency in order to reassure all the countries in the rest of Asia and globally about its intentions, averting instability and tension in its own neighborhood. We're encouraged by the positive dialogue between China and Taiwan, and we encourage both China and Taiwan to explore confidence-building steps that will lead to closer ties and greater stability across the Taiwan Strait.

The risks of mistrust are especially acute in the arena of strategic nuclear weapons, space, and increasingly in the cyber realm. Achieving mutual reassurance in these areas is challenging, but as we learned during the Cold War, essential to avoiding potentially catastrophic rivalry and misunderstanding. Both sides need to devote creative thinking in how we might address these thorny challenges.

Resource competition is another area of concern. With its rapid growth and large population, China's demand for resources, whether oil, gas, or minerals, is surging, but resource mercantilism is not the appropriate response. China's moves in that direction have raised legitimate concern not only in the United States, but also among our other partners and among resource-rich developing nations.

The problem is not just that China's mercantilist approach disrupts markets; it also leads China to problematic engagement with actors like Iran, Sudan, Burma, and Zimbabwe, and undermines the perception of China as a country interested in contributing to regional stability and humanitarian goals.

The United States and China share an interest in stable and sustainable energy supplies. And far from seeing China as a competitor, we're eager to enlist China to help in developing well-functioning markets and bolstering our common energy security in the years ahead. China must, in turn, demonstrate that it will be a constructive participant in its efforts rather than seeking to secure its own energy needs at the expense of others.

Another area of frequent tension is our economic relationship. Our two-way trade and investment has benefited both of us enormously, and we both depend on it for our growth and prosperity. At the same time, it does create tension and misunderstanding. But that is why we have placed our economic relationship so central in our dialogue. And we're making progress, for example, on a bilateral investment treaty while China takes steps to become a constructive member of the global economic architecture, including its membership in the WTO.

I want to say something about the recent dispute about tires. That dispute highlights some of the risks of our economic relationship, and there's been no shortage of commentary warning of spiraling economic nationalism and a coming trade war. But it also is clear that this is a worst-case scenario, which is far from inevitable. We do disagree with the Chinese Government on the substance of this issue, which is why the President reached his decision, and we followed that decision with the imposition of a tariff.

But the important point is this all took place within the WTO framework accepted by the United States and China, as well as our own bilateral understandings. And I am convinced that both sides are intent on making sure that this particular disagreement does not spark a trade war or widespread protectionism. And if we succeed, it will be because we have established well designed avenues of cooperation and dialogue that allow us to handle these disputes in a broader context.

Now, some say that human rights have nothing to do with our strategic relationship, and therefore doesn't belong in the list that I'm discussing today. Indeed, some in China have even argued that our interest in human rights and ethnic minorities and religious freedom is designed to weaken China and so inconsistent with the basic bargain I've been talking about. But I couldn't disagree more.

Of course we stand up for human rights because, as President Obama has said, it is who we are as a people. But we also believe that a China that respects the rule of law and universal norms provides reassurance to others that it will bring the same approach to its international behavior, as well as providing greater stability and growth for its own people.

Now, strategic reassurance does not only apply to the relationship between China and the United States. Our partners, particularly in Asia, must have the same certainty that China's expanding role will not come at the expense of their interests. And this not only requires that the United States bolster its own bilateral relationships, especially with key allies like Japan, South Korea and Australia, but also that we lead in updating and strengthening the regional and international institutions that shape the context in which China's development occurs, so that change is constructive rather than destabilizing.

In what President Obama calls this new era of engagement, we are refining and reinforcing regional cooperation in Asia, which is why Secretary Clinton recently announced our accession to the ASEAN Treaty of Amity and Cooperation. And along with developing new forums for regional dialogue and cooperation, we will stay committed to our key alliances. They are consistent with a vision of a peaceful, stable Asia that we and China share.

When it comes to the international system, we must ensure that new powers like China - and there are others as well, of course - can take their rightful place at the table without generating fear or mistrust. That means making the institutions more inclusive so that they reflect the world of today, rather than the world of 1945 or the 1970s, and more effective so that we can collectively overcome the problems of interdependence. As we pursue these policies, we will be open to China's growing role, but we will also be looking for signs and signals of reassurance from China. If China is going to take its rightful place, it must make those signals clear.

In the face of uncertainty, policymakers in any government tend to prepare for the worst to focus on the potential threat down the road, and of course, some of that is necessary. But we also have to make sure that by preparing for the worst, we don't foreclose positive outcomes; that we leave ourselves open to the positive, and avoid the trap of self-fulfilling fears. Your volume quotes my predecessor Rich Armitage, "Nobody, including the leadership with China knows how it's going to come out. If it comes out badly, this is bad for us; if it comes out well, it can benefit all of us. And that's what we must dedicate ourselves to." A wise man, that Deputy Secretary. (Laughter.)

And as President Obama said at the opening of the SE&D*, "I believe in a future where China is a strong, prosperous and successful member of the community of nations, a future where our nations are partners, not out of necessity, but also out of opportunity. This future is not fixed, but it is a destination that can be reached if we pursue a sustained dialogue like the one that you and we will commence today, and act on what we hear and what we learn."

We in the Obama Administration will uphold the United States' side of this bargain. We are ready to accept a growing role for China on the international stage, and in many areas, we have already embraced it. China too needs to demonstrate the same commitment to doing its part - reassuring the United States, its neighbors in Asia, and the rest of the world that we have nothing to fear from a more influential China, that Beijing shares our vision of a new geopolitics of win-win solutions rather than zero-sum rivalries. With such strategic reassurance and a shared commitment to building an international system based on mutual trust, I have no doubt that we can succeed in our common interests, not just in common actions, and that will be a great benefit to us all. Thanks for your time, and I look forward to your questions.

 

James Steinberg is Deputy Secretary of State of the United States.

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