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Jim Steinberg | September 5, 2019


More event photos can be found on the AGS Facebook page.

Duke Chronicle: Former deputy secretary of state wonders whether US should cooperate with China.

AGS event summary by Victoria Sorhegui:

On September 5, 2019, former Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg discussed both past and current US-China relations with Dr. Peter Feaver. Much of this conversation focused on Deputy Secretary Steinberg’s thoughts regarding our current relationship with China and how it has changed over the past 50 years. Deputy Secretary Steinberg described the current moment as an inflection point—meaning that fundamental decisions about our relationship with China are currently being made. He further discussed the fundamental questioning of the value of this relationship with China, as well as the current debate on whether we should even maintain our relationship with China. These assumptions and questions, however, have surrounded the US-China debate for 50 years.

Beginning under President Nixon, the U.S. saw a foreign policy shift focused on China. Deputy Secretary Steinberg described Nixon’s interest in the country as the initial introduction to relations with China, and although this relationship was questioned by some at the time, Deputy Secretary Steinberg believes that it was worth it. Fast forward to China’s accession into the WTO during the mid-1990s, Deputy Secretary Steinberg asserted that although the U.S. could have likely pressed for more concessions from China, the WTO was better off with China involved. This new role made China a responsible stakeholder in the international community, and the U.S. believed that the rise and success of China would be equally as beneficial to its interests. Dr. Feaver and Deputy Secretary Steinberg further discussed the role of human rights in past and current administration decisions on China, like their accession into the WTO. Deputy Secretary Steinberg explained that the use of coercive leverage is effective to some extent regarding trade, for instance; however, for something as fundamental as changing the Chinese form of government and leadership, coercive leverage is quite ineffective.

The final segment of the conversation described the election of the decisive and confident President Xi Jinping as a turning point in Chinese politics, moving away from collective leadership to a more individualized leadership system. This new style of leadership has changed how the U.S. must approach China and has also changed how China views the international order and the current threat landscape. The Trump administration’s current strategic end-goal is unknown, but as Deputy Secretary Steinberg discussed, this moment is an important inflection point in our relationship with China. The next big question is how new cyber developments like 5G and artificial intelligence as well as internal friction may change our relationship with China in the near future.