Do the U.S. midterm election results have implications for the U.S.-China relationship? In this podcast, Paul Haenle spoke with Douglas H. Paal, vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, about the midterm elections and the status of pressing security issues impacting the bilateral relationship, including Taiwan, North Korea, and the South China Sea.

Despite Republican losses in the House and gains in the Senate, Paal said the bipartisan consensus in Washington over the need to take a tougher approach toward Beijing means the midterms will have little to no direct implications for U.S. foreign policy. Recent U.S. policies that have strengthened relations with Taiwan are directed toward Beijing, Paal argued, but Trump has yet to take any steps that would lead to a fundamental change in the status of cross-Strait relations. Over the past year China has been a “net winner” on the Korean Peninsula, improving ties with North and South Korea following a period of frosty relations. Alternatively, the U.S. has been a “net loser,” Doug argued, as the international community’s initial enthusiasm for the maximum pressure campaign has waned and alignment with allies like South Korea lessened. Most naval encounters in the South China Sea between the U.S. and China have been professional, Paal said, and the near collision between the USS Decatur and a Chinese warship is an anomaly. The resumption of the Diplomatic and Security Dialogue is an opportunity to prevent future miscommunications. Expectations for the upcoming G20 meeting between Xi and Trump should remain low as, Trump has domestic political incentives to keep applying pressure on China. With regard to the long-term trajectory of the relationship, Paal highlighted the generational difference between current and past generati U.S. government officials. He the cautioned Chinese government to recognize and acknowledge these differences going forward.

Paul Haenle

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.

Douglas H. Paal

Douglas H. Paal is vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He previously served as vice chairman of JPMorgan Chase International (2006-2008) and was an unofficial U.S. representative to Taiwan as director of the American Institute in Taiwan (2002-2006).