Enhancing U.S.-China Strategic Stability in an Era of Strategic Competition
U.S. and Chinese Perspectives
Monday, April 26, 2021 / BY: Edited by Patricia M. Kim; Contributing Authors: Brad Roberts, Li Bin, Patricia M. Kim, Jiang Tianjiao, Zhao Tong, Bruce MacDonald, Frank Rose, Guo Xiaobing, Jinghua Lyu, Adam Segal, Qi Haotian, Lora Saalman
As strategic competition between the United States and China intensifies, preventing a destabilizing arms race and lowering the risk of military, especially nuclear, confrontation is critical. The essays in this volume—based on a series of workshops convened by USIP’s Asia Center in late 2020—highlight both the striking differences and the commonalities between U.S. and Chinese assessments of the root causes of instability and the drivers of conflict in the nuclear, conventional missile and missile defense, space, cyberspace and artificial intelligence realms.
Flags at a U.S.-China bilateral meeting during the G20 summit in Osaka, Japan, in June 2019. (Erin Schaff/New York Times)
As strategic competition between the United States and China intensifies, the danger of a U.S.-China military confrontation is no longer a far-fetched scenario. Despite recognition in both capitals of the growing risks of major power conflict, the United States and China have few, if any, effective mechanisms to resolve their differences peacefully. Enhancing strategic stability by lowering the risks of military, and especially nuclear, conflict; managing emerging technologies and new frontiers of conflict such as those in space and cyberspace; and preventing a destabilizing arms race are now more critical than ever to ensure that the United States and China can compete without disastrous consequences.
As the essays in this volume make clear, U.S.-China relations are beset by a profound lack of trust and mutual skepticism of each other’s strategic intentions. Stark differences in the two states’ nuclear doctrines, policies and interests in arms control pose significant challenges to pursuing strategic risk reduction. In addition, an action-reaction dynamic is laying the foundation for a dangerous and costly arms race. U.S.-China strategic stability discussions are further complicated by the fact that they are not just bilateral in nature, but also have critical implications for third parties, especially U.S. allies, and are intertwined with other regional challenges. The sharp deterioration in the broader U.S.-China bilateral relationship and disappointment with past bilateral exchanges have impeded meaningful dialogue on security-related issues and diminished the political appetite for cooperative measures.
While each essay in this report advances distinct policy recommendations, the authors broadly recommend that to strengthen strategic stability in the near term, the United States and China should jointly affirm that nuclear war should never be fought and work together to reduce the dangers posed by nuclear weapons; initiate sustained and substantive official bilateral dialogues and parallel track 1.5 efforts to increase mutual understanding and begin exploring risk reduction and arms control measures; establish norms of behavior and transparency measures, especially to govern the use of emerging technologies and to regulate developments in space, cyberspace and AI; and engage other key states to strengthen global strategic stability.
About the Report
In winter 2020, the United States Institute of Peace convened a series of workshops with U.S. and Chinese security experts to discuss how Washington and Beijing can strengthen strategic stability amid growing strategic competition. This report presents essays by the twelve participants who examine the perception gaps, challenges and opportunities for enhancing stability in the nuclear, missile and missile defense, space, cyber and artificial intelligence realms.
About the Editor
Patricia M. Kim is a senior policy analyst on China at the United States Institute of Peace. Her areas of expertise include China’s foreign policy and regional security dynamics in East Asia. Previously, she was Stanton Nuclear Security Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a research fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. She received her Ph.D. in politics from Princeton University.
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Thursday, June 10, 2021
Over the past week, members of China’s ethnic Uyghur minority have provided moving testimony about their persecution to the Uyghur Tribunal, an unofficial, civil society-led investigation into possible genocide and crimes against humanity committed by Beijing. Although the “people’s tribunal” is not backed by any government and its findings will not be binding on any country, the hearings play an important role in providing recognition to victims’ suffering and in strengthening the legal argument for a U.N. Commission of Inquiry or other international accountability mechanisms. As such, the tribunal serves as an important tool for civil society to move atrocity prevention efforts forward when U.N. or international court action is blocked.
Tuesday, June 8, 2021
In making major deals with Myanmar’s military rulers, China seems to be violating its official guidance for investment abroad: Avoid conflict zones. Although Myanmar is in a state of collapse and widening rebellion, China continues to advance plans for a complex economic corridor in the country with the military unveiling steps to move ahead with big joint-venture projects. The generals’ bid to appear in control of things is obvious. China, on the other hand, seems to have fallen into a trap. Cozying up to the junta puts its investments at immediate and long-term risk and erodes its standing in regional organizations. To protect its interests, Beijing should press the junta to curb its rampant violence against the population and to restore the elected government.
Thursday, June 3, 2021
The Biden administration has adopted an overarching strategy of renewing relations with allies and partners to counter China where necessary, while also cooperating with Beijing when it is in the United States’ interest to so. As competition between Washington and Beijing heats up, however, avenues to resolve conflicts peacefully between the two major powers remain limited. A recent USIP report brought together U.S. and Chinese authors to offer recommendations on how the two powers can enhance strategic stability. But how do U.S. allies and partners factor in and what steps would they like Washington and Beijing to take to prevent conflict and manage crises?
Friday, May 28, 2021
The suspicion that China approved the military coup against Myanmar’s elected government runs deep among Burmese resisting their new dictatorship. Perhaps proof of such meddling will emerge someday. For now, what seems clear is that China would not have chosen to knowingly embroil its interests in Myanmar in the chaos that has followed the army’s power grab. On virtually every front, from public health to national security, China now faces new threats created by the post-coup breakdown in governance and the rule of law. As these consequences come into focus, Beijing will have to decide whether to maintain its tacit acceptance of the generals’ regime or take a different policy tack to protect investments in its neighbor to the south.
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