May 29, 2013 5:06PM

Traversing Beijing: Whither the U.S.-China Relationship?

I’m in Beijing, having completed a brief conference on China’s development and U.S.-China relations.  The event was organized by the Communist Party’s International Department. Before our visit the department, which plays an important role in formulating China’s foreign policy, hosted a delegation from North Korea, the results of which were of great interest to the United States.

The American contingent contained people with a range of political views, but all agreed that it was imperative for the two nations to maintain good bilateral relations.  The existing super power must accommodate the rising regional, and potential global, power. 

My point of reference is the late 1800s, when Great Britain faced both the United States and Germany as rising powers.  Britain adjusted to the first, making America a friend and ally for decades to come.  Britain resisted the second, helping trigger two global wars.  Whatever the momentary disagreements and problems between the United States and China, the two governments must resolve their differences peacefully.

We finished our official sessions with a meeting with Wang Jiarui, Minister of the International Department of the Communist Party Central Committee and Vice Chairman of the Chinese People’s Consultative Conference.  He promoted the idea of a new kind of relationship between great powers.  He was friendly, but demonstrated the gulf between United States and Chinese policy when he talked about North Korea. 

He reported favorably on Pyongyang’s recent mission to his country and viewed as positive the North’s promise to return to the Six Party Talks.  Alas, few in Washington expect any serious results from any new round of talks. 

Minister Wang also treated as equally provocative routine U.S.-South Korean military maneuvers in the South and the North’s recent flurry of promises to nuke the United States and South Korea.  Although the former are unnecessary—in fact, American forces should be brought home, since the Republic of Korea could defend itself—the operations reflect a history of North Korean aggression, advanced military deployments, and constant saber-rattling.  It is Pyongyang’s behavior that generates the allied response which Beijing criticizes.

The best chance of transforming the so-called Democratic People’s Republic of Korea—or, at least, ending its nuclear ambitions—is closer cooperation between the United States, its allies, and China.  However, that would require Washington to address Beijing’s interests. Particularly, the United States needs to respond to China’s fear of a North Korean collapse and its opposition to a unified Korean nation allied with America.  Developing a strategy that might attract Chinese support will be the subject of my next Cato Policy Analysis.