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July 28, 2006

U.S. – China Relations
Former Ambassador J. Stapleton Roy

Ambassador J. Stapleton Roy began the sixth and final lecture of the Policymakers Seminar Series by posing the question, “How do we think about China?” In analyzing trends in U.S. – China relations, it is important to understand regional influences and global positions of both countries.

Ambassador Roy noted that western countries are losing power in Asia as Asian countries are gaining regional influence. Along with unprecedented economic growth, China has continued to open up and has experienced political reform to a very limited extent with a new technocratic regime, which has focused on economic development, replacing the totalitarian regime of the Maoist years.

The ambassador believed that in the future China will indeed see reforms within the Communist Party, but as global and regional power structures continue to shift, he noted that the end product may not be what the West expects. For example, China has experienced a very different rise than that of Japan (economic versus military). With the gradual rise of India as a major player in Asia as well, the shift in global power is now centering towards the Pacific and away from the Atlantic. Such a change, in combination with the rise in economic strength of both China and Japan, has contributed to increased tensions between the two countries. As a result, the world now faces a new phenomenon, a strong China and a strong Japan simultaneously.

Such regional power shifts are working to de-stabilize the big power relationships between the U.S. and China and China and Japan. Over the last decade, U.S. presence has been viewed as a potential threat in Asia. Asian groupings are emerging partly to counteract U.S. influence. For example, as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) continues to grow, ASEAN now acts as a mechanism for countries in Southeast Asia to balance other regional institutions. Furthermore, Japan, South Korea and China have joined ASEAN to make up ASEAN + 3.

Though China continues to have a dominant presence in the Asia, the country still faces a myriad of domestic problems, which may affect its international development and relations. As Ambassador Roy noted, if domestic factors infringe on China’s foreign policy, China’s development may falter.


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