The future of US policy toward China

The People's Republic of China flag and the U.S. Stars and Stripes fly on a lamp post along Pennsylvania Avenue near the U.S. Capitol in Washington during Chinese President Hu Jintao's state visit, January 18, 2011. Hu arrived in the United States on Tuesday for a state visit with U.S. President Barack Obama that is aimed at strengthening ties between the world's two biggest economies. REUTERS/Hyungwon Kang (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS CITYSCAPE) - GM1E71J0K0R01

In recent years, U.S.-China relations have grown increasingly rivalrous. The incoming administration will inherit a bilateral relationship in which areas of confrontation have intensified, areas of cooperation have shrunk, and the capacity of both countries to solve problems or manage competing interests has atrophied.

To address these challenges, the incoming administration will need to develop new thinking on how most effectively to address the myriad challenges and opportunities of the U.S.-China relationship. Whether for strengthening coordination with allies on China, addressing security challenges, or advancing American interests in the areas of economics, technology, and rule of law, fresh ideas will be needed to adapt American policy to meet the competitive and complex nature of U.S.-China relations.

The Paul Tsai China Center at Yale Law School, directed by Paul Gewirtz, and the John L. Thornton China Center at Brookings, directed by Cheng Li, have drawn upon the expertise and experiences of their scholars and other outside experts to compile a monograph geared toward providing policy recommendations for the next administration. Edited by Ryan Hass, Ryan McElveen, and Robert D. Williams, the monograph offers array of affirmative and pragmatic proposals for how the United States should adapt its policy toward China to respond to current realities in a manner that best protects and promotes America’s security, prosperity, interests, and values.


Chapter 1

Meeting the China challenge

A strategic competitor, not an enemy

Authors: Jeffrey A. Bader

Jeffrey A. Bader provides a framework for understanding the current state of the U.S.-China relationship.


Chapter 2

Avoiding three traps in confronting China’s party-state

Authors: Cheng Li

Cheng Li identifies three traps that the next administration should avoid in its conception and execution of a coherent China policy.


Chapter 3

Designing a new diplomatic framework for dealing with China

Authors: Ryan Hass

Ryan Hass encourages the next administration to settle on a pace and level of diplomatic interaction with Chinese leaders that is reflective of — or not in conflict with — the views of the American public and of American allies and partners on China.


Chapter 4

Working with our (European) allies

Authors: Paul Gewirtz

Paul Gewirtz identifies five promising areas for collaboration with European allies: economic issues, technology issues, human rights, reinvigorating the international system, and climate change.


Chapter 5

Developing a new US approach to China and COVID-19

Authors: Thomas J. Christensen

Thomas J. Christensen notes that the failure of Washington and Beijing to cooperate during the COVID-19 crisis has increased the suffering of the Chinese and American populations and urges a new U.S. administration to take steps to adjust its approach.


Chapter 6

Rebooting US-China climate engagement

Authors: Todd Stern

Todd Stern observes that reviving climate coordination will depend both upon getting the mix of competition and collaboration right in the overall relationship and upon the extent to which both countries are prepared to dramatically ramp up their climate action.


Chapter 7

Getting human rights right

Consistency, patience, multilateralism, and setting a good example

Authors: Andrew Nathan

Andrew J. Nathan argues that human rights have grown in importance in the U.S.-China relationship and that U.S. policy on China must be updated to demonstrate America’s strong, consistent, and patient support for Chinese human rights defenders and change advocates.


Chapter 8

Evolving the US base structure in the Indo-Pacific

Authors: Michael E. O’Hanlon

Michael E. O’Hanlon argues that the next administration should be deliberate and methodical about making any adjustments to U.S. force posture in Asia in response to China’s expansion in military capabilities.


Chapter 9

Averting conflict in the South China Sea

Steps to restore rules and restraint

Authors: Susan A. Thornton

Susan A. Thornton proposes a “cooperation spiral” that could lead China and the United States, together with ASEAN South China Sea claimants, to restore trust and reestablish law, rules, and restraint in this vital waterway.


Chapter 10

Competing with China in Southeast Asia

The economic imperative

Authors: Jonathan Stromseth

Jonathan Stromseth argues that Washington needs to improve its economic game in Southeast Asia by operationalizing infrastructure coordination with allies and partners, including Japan, Australia, and Singapore.


Chapter 11

Contending on the periphery

Taiwan and Hong Kong

Authors: Richard C. Bush

Richard C. Bush argues that the next U.S. administration will face decisions regarding whether to change policy toward Taiwan and Hong Kong in order to secure its interests.


Chapter 12

Testing the possibilities of renewed cooperation with China on North Korea Policy

Authors: Jonathan D. Pollack

Jonathan D. Pollack concludes that the Trump administration’s failure to achieve any of its declared denuclearization objectives requires a careful reassessment of credible policy goals, the mechanisms needed to advance them, and steps to be avoided.


Chapter 13

Improving risk reduction and crisis management in US-China relations

Authors: Rush Doshi

Rush Doshi argues that U.S.-China crisis management and risk reduction should be a point of emphasis for the next U.S. administration.


Chapter 14

Forging an alternative economic strategy for dealing with China

Authors: David Dollar

David Dollar calls on the next administration to end the current “managed trade” approach to the U.S. economic relationship with China.


Chapter 15

Crafting a multilateral technology and cybersecurity policy

Authors: Robert D. Williams

Robert D. Williams argues the U.S. should seek to protect American intellectual property and strategic technologies while sustaining and strengthening the innovation ecosystem that makes those technologies possible, while upholding American values of human rights, democracy, and rule of law.


Chapter 16

Addressing the data security risks of US-China technology entanglement

Authors: Samm Sacks

Samm Sacks argues that U.S.-China technology interdependence creates a suite of challenges for cross-border data flows, data privacy, and data security that extend beyond the traditional risks of cyber espionage and protecting intellectual property.


Chapter 17

Revitalizing law and governance collaboration with China

Authors: Jamie P. Horsley

Jamie P. Horsley urges the next administration to strengthen official U.S.-China legal cooperation to support China’s efforts to establish rule of law and good governance.