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Crises in US-China Relations: Lessons Learned from 40 Years of US-China Diplomacy

April 28, 2020

James Green, Johns Hopkins SAIS Alumnus ’95, Georgetown University Senior Research Fellow, and McLarty Associates Senior Advisor

The outbreak of the novel coronavirus originating in Wuhan, China has become a global pandemic affecting all major economies and societies. While confronting global health challenges had been a joint US-China effort in the past, this outbreak has led to bilateral finger-pointing and a further slide in relations. To understand how we got here and help guide us forward, James Green, joined a webinar to share insights from his US-China Dialogue Podcast series, where he has sat down with two dozen former senior officials including US ambassadors and cabinet secretaries to hear their reflections on their experiences and leadership during pivotal events in US-China relations.
During the webinar, Green discussed six issues on what has worked in the areas of diplomacy over the last forty years based on his interviews with the officials. The first area he identified was for the US to prioritize its issues of importance with China and effectively communicate this to them. Secondly, he noted that the US needs to have leadership buy in. Thirdly, US officials need to become better briefed on their Chinese counterparts and the inner workings of China. Fourthly, Green discussed public and private messaging between the two countries. He noted that a lack of private messaging has been ineffective in addressing the needs of either side. Fifthly, he noted that it is important for both countries to find the right negotiating partner. If you have one person on the other side of the table who wants to make progress, that makes a huge difference, Green said. The last point he touched on concerned building coalitions inside and out. Green referenced his interview with David Shear, a Johns Hopkins SAIS Alumnus and former US Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asia, who noted that you need to have a strategy of dealing with friends and allies in the region and with China directly to make clear to China what the trend line is and where things are heading.
Green concluded the conversation by providing his outlook on US-China relations, where he pointed to several challenges. One of them was US concerns about Chinese technology and military deployment, which Green said will outlast the Trump administration. He also noted that US-China relations will become an organizing principle for many parts of the US government that will continue regardless of who is in the White House. Lastly, he emphasized that future administrations will need to deal with the issue of China as a rising superpower, and what policies should be put in place.

Johns Hopkins SAIS Alumnus James Green shared insights from his podcast series focused on US-China relations.