Robert Blackwill: The Future of U.S.-China Relations

Author:Robert Blackwill Date:2019-11-23

On the evening of Nov. 18, 2019, the Institute of International and Strategic Studies (IISS), Peking University (PKU) held the 40th lecture from the "North Pavilion Seminar" lecture series . Robert D. Blackwill, who is the Henry A. Kissinger senior fellow for U.S. foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), former Vice President of John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard Kennedy School (HKS), and the U.S. ambassador to India, gave a lecture on “The Future of U.S.-China Relations”. The lecture was hosted by Gui Yongtao, Vice President of IISS and Vice-President of the School of International Studies (SIS), PKU.


Mr. Blackwill first answered the question of why Sino-U.S. relations are deteriorating. According to him, the most fundamental reason is that, on the one hand, both of them want to be the most important countries in Asia, but, on the other hand, they refuse to admit their ambitions to gain the position of "primacy". If the two countries continue to do so, the confrontation between them will naturally take place. However, confrontation is not inevitable, and the trend of Sino-U.S. relations depends on the political leadership of Washington and Beijing. Today, the interaction between China and the United States lacks some guiding principles, including (1) having a deep dialogue on vital national interests; (2) using diplomatic means to avoid confrontation between them in the issues of these national interests;  (3) not testing the strength of each other on major issues; (4) stop using aggressive rhetoric; (5) finding areas where deep cooperation can be carried out; and (6) accepting the reality that their political systems are not compatible with each other.


Blackwill continued by stating that even if both countries have reached a consensus on the above-mentioned principles, China and the United States will continue to be "strategic adversaries" in the foreseeable future, but reviving diplomacy will improve the highly vulnerable bilateral relations. Blackwill recalled the four historical stages of Sino-U.S. relations and concluded that further deterioration of Sino-U.S. relations is likely to trigger a crisis due to misjudgments. The bilateral cooperation is a good solution to improve relations, and the communication between leaders is of great importance.


During the discussion, Blackwill exchanged ideas and discussed with the teachers and students such topics as national interests, what is the "primacy", the "decoupling" of the Sino-U.S. economy, the impact of the U.S. election on foreign policy, etc. (Contributed by Zeng Chuyuan)


Editor: Li Fangqi   Photographer: Zheng Peijie 

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