Jisi Wang: Beijing and Washington should recognize they share common interests
We speak with Jisi Wang, President of the Institute of International and Strategic Studies, and Professor at the School of International Studies at Peking University, as he delves into bilateral relations between the two global powerhouses and discusses major obstacles faced in rebuilding trust.
How can China and the US rebuild their relationship?
Jisi Wang: China and the United States have had a challenging relationship where trust has been elusive. My American colleague, Professor Kenneth Lieberthal, and I co-authored a long essay in 2012 entitled "Addressing US-China Strategic Distrust". Nine years have passed since then, but the distrust has deepened and broadened rather than reduced. China is convinced the US wants to weaken China and change its political system, whereas the US believes China desires to challenge the US-led world order.
To me, therefore, the real issue is not whether they can trust each other. Rather, the two governments should develop measures to prevent mutual distrust from leading to deeper conflict and possible confrontation. Beijing and Washington should also recognize they share some common interests like fighting the COVID-19 pandemic and coping with climate change, as well as maintaining trade, investment, and humanitarian exchanges.
To what extent will domestic politics influence the US-China relationship?
Domestic politics is the main determinant in shaping a bilateral relationship. To depict the other side as a major threat – and a formidable one at that – is useful in uniting a country and there are times when great powers need an adversary. In recent years, both China and the US have undergone considerable changes in their respective domestic politics. China increasingly sees the US as trying to destabilize its domestic order. And surging nationalism in China discourages any softening of the country’s attitude toward America. Meanwhile, rising US economic nationalism and protectionism has led to the perception of China as an economic threat. The widening wealth gap within America has not helped this view.
To depict the other side as a major threat – and a formidable one at that – is useful in uniting a country and there are times when great powers need an adversary.
Jisi Wang, President of the Institute of International and Strategic Studies and Professor of School of International Studies, Peking University
Are there areas in which the two countries can and will cooperate?
Jisi Wang: The two countries potentially could cooperate on climate change, the environment, and public health. However, they appear to be making parallel efforts in those areas rather than joining forces. Meanwhile, bilateral trade continues to be strong, and economic and financial cooperation is likely to be sustained. Student exchanges may resume when the COVID-19 pandemic eases. However, it is worrisome that technological decoupling is happening, which hinders educational collaboration. And it may take years for tourism to boom again.