Towards a New Model of Major Power Relations

Towards a New Model of Major Power Relations
John Podesta, C.H. Tung, Sandy Berger, Wang Jisi
Center for American Progress

February 2014

Growing concern about the state of the US-China relationship is bringing the pundits out in force. Former Clinton Administration officials John Podesta and Sandy Berger got together with former Hong Kong Chief Executive C.H. Tung and Peking University’s Wang Jisi to try to figure out a new framework for the relationship.

In Towards a New Model of Major Power Relations, published by the Center for American Progress, they have produced a list of recommendations for US and Chinese diplomats to follow in an effort to stabilize the relationship.

The report makes for thoughtful reading, and offers hope for those who despair of the current state of play between the two countries. It will no doubt attract its share of criticism.

The most obvious problem is that the report gives but passing acknowledgement to the importance of domestic politics in both countries in setting the tone of the bi-lateral relationship. This is unrealistic What we need is a framework that is not based on domestic politics the way we wish they would be and that treats them as an afterthought, but that begins with our respective domestic challenges and mutual misperceptions and grows from there.

The second problem is that there seems to be an implicit assumption in the document that China actually wants a positive relationship with the US, and vice-versa. That remains unclear. China appears to be moving beyond the era of the “Peaceful Rise” to what I wild call “Assertive Breakout.” It is based in part on a perception of a declining US that recent US actions would appear to support.

As such, these recommendations are premature. Until both sides signal that they are really ready to sit down, we need a path to get to where Podesta, Tung, Berger, and Wang seem to think we are.

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