China’s increased assertiveness at home and abroad has significant implications for its relations with the world’s great powers. How these powers position themselves within the intensifying U.S.-China competition will influence the evolution of the international system in the years ahead. On February 25, a panel of experts examined the differing perspectives from Russia, Japan, India, and European countries in response to China’s rise as well as their distinctive approaches to managing their relationships. The event highlighted the next installment of papers published as part of the Global China paper series which focuses on China and the great powers.
At the outset, Brookings Fellow Ryan Hass stated that economic issues are no longer a ballast in the relationship, but are among the principle drivers of Sino-U.S. competition. He further argued that both Washington and Beijing are dissatisfied with the status quo and the current distribution of power in Asia. Nonresident Senior Fellow Angela Stent commented that Moscow and Beijing both face growing tensions with Washington and share hopes for a post-Western world. These factors are bringing China and Russia closer together in what she described as a “strategic and pragmatic” partnership. Stent believed that the tightening relationship was partly due to the trade war between China and the United States, sanctions on Russia over its 2014 annexation of Crimea, and strengthened personal relations between Presidents Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin, among other factors.
Turning to Japan, Senior Fellow Mireya Solís believed that a pragmatic readjustment of Sino-Japan relations is largely driven by the desire of both to cope with unpredictability and protectionism in the United States. She argued against characterizing Japan as a “has-been” country, particularly because when it comes to development finance and infrastructure building, Japan rivals China as the leading country in Southeast Asia. She argued that the trust that Japan has garnered among Southeast Asian countries partially compensates for the lack of U.S. regional engagement.
Next, Senior Fellow Tanvi Madan illustrated that India has pursued “competitive engagement with Indian characteristics” with China. This reflects the fundamental competitive relationship and distrust between the two countries that stems from long-standing geopolitical and territorial struggle, but also the areas of common interest, particularly on economic issues. Indeed, Madan argued that as India builds up its own domestic capacity, it has sought closer economic ties with China, while simultaneously maintaining defense and security relationships with the U.S. and like-minded allies.
Finally, Senior Fellow Thomas Wright provided a European perspective on China. He argued that on one hand, there is a sense that European countries need to be more united in terms of dealing with China; on the other, there is still deep internal division as to how to engage with China, particularly on technology.
In conclusion, the panelists generally agreed that the overall relationship between the United States and China would increasingly form the structure within which the other great powers maneuver.
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With the downward trajectory in [U.S.-China] relations, the incoming ambassador ideally will need to have a visible connection to the president and his senior advisers, familiarity with the range of issues that comprise the relationship, and a future in American politics. The more the ambassador is seen as likely to wield influence in the future on issues affecting China, the higher the cost and risk for Beijing to mistreat him/her.