Russel said President Trump was elected at precisely the same time as U.S. and international frustrations with China were reaching a boiling point. The Trump administration believes attempts by previous administrations at persuasive dialogue and engagement with Beijing were unsuccessful, but Russel argued that the current strategy of publicly admonishing and punishing China has not been effective. Instead, Russel argued that an effective approach should balance leverage, pressure, negotiation, and diplomacy. Russel agreed with Haenle that current tensions have the potential to structurally change the relationship for the long term, especially if the next generation of U.S. and Chinese policymakers enter office with hardened views toward each other. Cooperation brings out the best in both counties while rivalry brings out the worst, Russel contended, and policymakers must consider whether they are setting the relationship on a path toward strategic coexistence or rivalry.
Paul Haenle holds the Maurice R. Greenberg Director’s Chair at the Carnegie–Tsinghua Center for Global Policy based at Tsinghua University in Beijing. His research focuses on Chinese foreign policy and U.S.-China relations.
Daniel Russel is vice president for International Security and Diplomacy at the Asia Society Policy Institute (ASPI). A career member of the Senior Foreign Service at the U.S. Department of State, he most recently served as the assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs.