William & Mary

US - China Relations at a Strategic Crossroads: What Comes Next for the Most Consequential Relationship in the World?

  • bonnie-glaser-accepts-a-gift-from-wmci-director-steve-hanson,-associate-director-ying-liu,-and-chinese-director-deliang-wang..jpg
    Distinguished Scholar Lecture  Bonnie Glaser accepts a gift from WMCI Director Steve Hanson, Associate Director Ying Liu, and Chinese Director Deliang Wang.  
  • bonnie-glaser-delivers-her-lecture-us---china-relations-at-a-strategic-crossroads..jpg
    Distinguished Scholar Lecture  Bonnie Glaser delivers her lecture 'US - China Relations at a Strategic Crossroads.'  
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    Distinguished Scholar Lecture  Bonnie Glaser and WMCI Director Steve Hanson open the floor to questions  
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On Thursday, February 21st, the William & Mary Confucius Institute welcomed Bonnie Glaser, Senior Adviser for Asia and Director of the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic & International Studies, to deliver this year’s Distinguished Scholar Lecture. Ms. Glaser is a renowned expert on US-China relations, and has even served as a consultant for various US Government offices, such as the Department of Defense and Department of State.

The lecture opened with a few welcoming words from WMCI Director Steve Hanson, who briefly introduced WMCI, the annual Distinguished scholar lecture, and Bonnie Glaser.

Following that, Ms. Glaser opened her speech by emphasizing its title—that US-China relations are indeed at a strategic crossroads.  The relationship has been strained, to say the least, under the Trump Administration, with the trade war, increased tariffs, and growing tensions in the China-US relationship.  Glaser went on to address a question that many news media have asked in these increasingly shaky times—are we heading into a second Cold War?

Glaser said that, despite the popularity of this question, the answer is probably no, but in order to understand why, we need to look at the history of US-China relations, and the various sources of tension arising from the nations’ intertwined histories in the modern age.  First, she detailed the US perspective.  Relations between China and the US were founded on the Sino-Soviet split in the 1950’s, after which China and the United States became allies, but following the fall of the Soviet Union, China and the US no longer had that commonality.  Tensions rose in the 1990’s over various events, but during the 2000’s and early 2010’s, the US and China began to find common footing on issues like climate change and economic deals. 

However, attitudes within the US became fractured as many jobs were outsourced to China. Some became wary of China, but others praised this shift for helping US consumers by lowering prices.  Additionally, while the Trump administration seems to paint China in a slightly more negative light, research has found that the majority of Americans do not see China as an enemy, and that most young people in America actually see China in a positive light.

Then, on China’s end, Glaser described a pervasive concern that the United States would interfere and try to change China’s system of government, much like the US did via CIA intervention during much of the Cold War.  As such, China does have reasonable grounds upon which to be concerned. 

In today’s political climate, however, it seems that Xi Jinping—and, increasingly, President Trump—are finding it in their best interests to negotiate with one another and talk out their differences.  In talking about the different routes that China and the US could take in the future, Glaser said that an ideal outcome would be China and the United States once again emphasizing their common footing on certain issues and working together on those fronts while resolving more tense points through dialogue.

As for the question of whether we are heading into another Cold War, Glaser said that a vital defining feature of the first Cold War was ideological competition between the United States and the Soviet Union, and that characteristic has not come into play between the US and China.  Additionally, China does not seem to be seeking out a sphere of influence or a bloc of allies in the way that the USSR did.  While there does seem to be a growing factor of competition between the two nations under the Trump administration, it would seem that it is in both nations’ best interests to negotiate with one another.  With negotiations and an end to this competition, it is possible that US-China relations—the relationship that Glaser called “the most consequential relationship in the world”—will be able to stabilize.

Following Glaser’s talk, the audience was practically overflowing with questions, and there was engaging discussion on a variety of subjects, from recent developments with Huawei to the future of Hong Kong.

We are thrilled with both the turnout of this lecture, and Glaser’s incredible delivery on such a pertinent and complex issue that is so vital on the world stage.