After the Dialogue, Next Steps for U.S.-China Relations

The second U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue wrapped up this week in Beijing. In an interview with PBS News Hour, Kenneth Lieberthal assesses the status of U.S.-China relationship in light of the high-level exchange between the two nations’ top diplomats and economic officials.

RAY SUAREZ: And for more on that relationship, we turn to Kenneth Lieberthal, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and former National Security Council staff official dealing with China in the Clinton administration, and Ted Fishman, a journalist, former trader, and adviser to companies operating in China. He’s the author of “China, Inc.: How the Rise of the Next Superpower Challenges America and the World.”

Kenneth Lieberthal, you saw it, an enormous American delegation, a fleet of 50 cars to haul them from place to place. When you see a meeting like this, can you conclude that, for America, this is the most important bilateral relation in the world?

KENNETH LIEBERTHAL: I think, effectively, it is. China next year will have the world’s second largest economy, behind only ours.

Whatever global issue you think of, whether it’s nuclear proliferation, touching on North Korea and on Iran, whether it’s global climate change, where China is the largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world, ahead only of us, or whether it’s the major economic issues of our day, the capacity of the U.S. and China to work reasonably well together is crucial to managing those problems reasonably effectively.

If we go at cross-purposes, those problems become much more difficult. So, yes, I would say we have a number of very important relations, but if there’s one that stands out, it’s our relationship with China. 

RAY SUAREZ: Ted Fishman, do you agree?

TED FISHMAN: Yes, China is one of the three or four relationships which is our most important relationship.

Of course, it changes over time. Sometimes, it’s the strong player that we have to pay the most attention to. And, sometimes, it’s faltering players we have to pay the most attention to. And the United States is in the position of dealing with both kinds right now.

China helps in some of those relationships, and it’s all but irrelevant in some others. In most of our wars right now, China is really not a factor, but those are still very important relationships, and also very important in the backdrop of how China sees its growing power vs. the struggles we have around the world.

Watch the full interview on the PBS NewsHour web site »