Shi pointed to two important turning points in China’s shift to a more assertive foreign policy; the 2008 global financial crisis made it clear that China’s economic development was an important engine for global growth, and Xi’s rise to power signaled China’s more ambitious international approach. Shi said China has undertaken a number of new foreign policy initiatives with regard to the South China Sea, relations with Russia, and the Belt and Road Initiative. Despite these developments, China is now at a stage where it should assess the successes and failures of its recent policies. Beijing must be willing to be flexible and adjust its future international engagement to reflect the realities of the evolving geopolitical environment. At home, Chinese policymakers should implement much broader and deeper reforms to ensure stable economic and financial systems. This includes increasing market access, giving equal treatment to private and state-owned enterprises, and addressing core demands laid out in the USTR Section 301 Report. Time is running out, Shi argued, and China needs to act quickly before it becomes too difficult to implement further economic reforms. Shi said that there is a need for “prudent pessimists” to think through urgent issues in the bilateral relationship and keep it from continuing down a dangerous path.
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.
Shi Yinhong is the director of the American Studies Institute at Renmin University and the Academic Committee of the School of International Relations.