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Blog | How to Head Off Trouble in U.S.-China Relations: Q&A with Carter Center Expert Ying Zhu

The world’s two great superpowers could achieve more progress if there were less suspicion and more cooperation between them, participants in a series of bilateral Carter Center forums say.

Since 2012, The Carter Center has organized four U.S.-China Relations Forums co-sponsored by the Center’s China Program and the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries. The most recent session was held at the Center in November. Ying Zhu, senior program associate, offered details:

Q. Why are these forums needed?

President Carter’s historic decision in 1979 to normalize the relationship between the United States and the People’s Republic of China had dramatic repercussions for both nations. Although the relationship has become interconnected politically, economically and socially, there are still mutual suspicions and misunderstandings. These closed-door forums allow opinion-shapers from both sides to have candid, in-depth conversations that foster greater understanding.

Q. Who attended the November forum?

Twenty-nine leading scholars, journalists, practitioners and diplomats from both the U.S. and China attended and made presentations. The theme was “Managing Differences in Developing Strong U.S.-China Relations.”

In November 2015, the Center’s China Program and the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries convened the fourth annual Forum on U.S.-China Relations. Watch introductory remarks from the forum, held at The Carter Center in Atlanta, Georgia.

Q. What are some of the highlights?

In his opening remarks, President Carter said that during his presidency, the United States and Japan developed a good model for resolving disputes. A committee of elders from both sides would meet whenever tensions arose between the two countries. The elders would then advise the two leaders on how to handle the disputes amicably. President Carter would like to see a similar U.S.-China committee today that has the complete confidence of both President Obama and President Xi Jinping.

Forum participants acknowledged that the bilateral relationship remains at risk of deteriorating because economic ties alone can neither sustain relations nor prevent conflict; strategic trust between the U.S. and China is lacking; and prejudices on each side run deep.

Q. What are prominent sources of disruption in U.S.-China relations?

Challenges include: failure by China to pursue political reform, cyber security, maritime confrontation in the East and South China Sea, and new leadership in Taiwan.

Q. What do participants recommend to improve relations?

They recommend that the caretakers of the relationship agree to disagree and learn how to better manage crises when they occur. Participants also suggest while there are issues on which the governments are far apart, they need to give priority to working together in response to global challenges such as climate change, terrorism, extremism, and cyber security.

Q. How will these recommendations be communicated to political leaders of both countries?

Attendees will use their private and scholarly networks to relay the recommendations to the Chinese Foreign Ministry, embassy and consulates, as well as the U.S. State Department and think tanks.

Q. Will there be more such forums?

The next forum will be held in China later this year. We are working with partners in China to make this an annual event that continues indefinitely.

Related Resources

Learn more about the Center’s China Program >

Learn more about the Forums on U.S.-China Relations >

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