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On December 15, 1978, the United States and China announced the establishment of diplomatic relations between our two countries, ending almost three decades of official estrangement. Since then, the U.S. and China have developed a highly complex and mutually beneficial relationship, albeit with frictions and substantial differences. The U.S.-China relationship has evolved from Cold War competition toward cooperation in dealing with global hot spots, nuclear proliferation, climate change, and the challenge of reshaping the world financial system. Arguably the transformation of the U.S.-China relationship has been the most important geopolitical development of the last third of the 20th century, and the relationship between our two countries will be a powerful vector in shaping the world of the current century.
On December 10, several of the key actors in creating the modern U.S.-China relationship – General Brent Scowcroft and Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski — spoke at Brookings about what the relationship has meant, means, and will mean. In addition, one of America’s foremost scholarly experts on China, Professor Jonathan Spence, offered an assessment of these last several decades in the broad sweep of China’s relationship with the U.S. and the West.
John L. Thornton, chairman of the Brookings Board of Trustees, opened the session. Carlos Pascual, vice president and director of Foreign Policy, and Jeffrey Bader, director of the John L. Thornton China Center, introduced the speakers and moderated questions from the audience.
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While there’s some debate about the precise state of North Korea’s missile capabilities, including the new hypersonic missile it claims to have tested, what is clear is that North Korea’s continued advancement of its nuclear and missile programs are exacerbating the security dilemma in the region. Because diplomacy has failed thus far to restrain Pyongyang, Northeast Asian states, especially South Korea and Japan, feel as if they have no other choice but to increase their own military capabilities and joint capabilities with the United States to deter, or in the worst case, preempt, a North Korean attack. Beijing, however, claims these moves shift the military balance in the region in a way that threatens its own security, and that it must continue to advance its own strategic capabilities in response. In sum, North Korea’s ever-advancing missile and nuclear programs are creating major ripple effects on the region.