The stakes of U.S. policy toward China have never been higher. In the five decades since Richard Nixon’s epochal visit in 1972, U.S.-China relations have emerged as arguably the most important bilateral relationship in the world. But in Washington, the post-Nixon “engagement” of China has now been labeled as naïve at best, or a failure at worst. Assertions that the U.S. did not change China enough in terms of democratic governance vie with claims that it changed China too much, fostering China’s powerhouse technological and military rise without constraining its ambitions. These narratives bear scant relation, however, to the goals and history of the engagement period that reflect a mixed picture of progress and frustrations overlaid with domestic political turmoil, sweeping technological change, and globalization.
On October 4, the John L. Thornton China Center at Brookings hosted a panel discussion with distinguished China specialists who have contributed to an insightful new book, “Engaging China” (Columbia University Press), and offered insights into how today’s policies toward China can learn from and build upon the past half-century of U.S.-China engagement.
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