What road ahead: scenarios for future United States-China relations 2001-2010

What road ahead: scenarios for future United States-China relations 2001-2010

Drawing lessons for now from possible futures: policy recommendations for US-China relations

This paper describes four 10 year scenarios of the possible future US-China relationship. The four scenarios were generated over the course of two three-day workshops attended by US and Chinese analysts. Each scenario is framed by one of the four possible paired combinations of the two critical uncertainties identified by participants:

  • whether China's economic reform process is smooth or highly turbulent and destabilising politically and socially
  • whether the United States sustains economic growth or slides into recession

Assuming goals of peace, cooperation and mutual welfare, the scenarios offer six policy implications:

  • economic engagement is not enough, the US and China need to identify common security interests - for example mitigating the impacts of climate change - that will allow the relationship to weather economic downturn
  • US "congagement" (containment and engagement) of China is the wrong approach. Rather than seek to contain China's stature, status and capabilities the US should prepare for China's emergence as a regional and global power
  • the United States should abandon occasional badgering on human rights in favor of a consistent and constructive human rights policy towards China and China should engage in a consistent, constructive dialogue about human rights with the United States and the international community
  • bilateral relations could be greatly enhanced by increased transparency, especially in China
  • civil society interaction should be encouraged as greater understanding ‘from below’ between the two deeply different cultures will greatly help to shape more subtle and effective policies and diplomacies.
  • seek common ground over Taiwan, maintaining the status quo politically while encouraging cross-strait economic and civil society interaction might yield a political resolution in the long run
  • a unilateral approach to US defence and diplomacy could be dangerous in the long run, there is a need for increasing cooperation in a broad range of issues
  • leaders and citizens of both countries need to see each other not as threats but as neighbours and potentially partners

[adapted from authors]

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