The Pivotal Relationship: How Obama Should Engage China

Discussion Paper | February 13, 2009

As U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton left for her first trip to Asia as Secretary of State, EWI released the report of two prominent experts—China’s Xuecheng Liu and America’s Robert Oxnam—on the Obama administration and China.

The stakes are high, the authors argue, because the United States cannot move forward on its most pressing economic and foreign policy concerns unless it builds more intense engagement with China. In releasing the paper, EWI's Deputy Director of Policy Innovation Jacqueline McLaren Miller cautioned that the authors are asking for a change of mind-set from many on both sides of the Pacific. "Oxnam and Liu recognize that important differences still divide the two countries," Miller said. "But they are hoping that the United States and China will approach each other with a focus on overarching strategic concerns, such as the global economic crisis.”

Oxnam urges the United States and China to develop what he calls the “world’s first green relationship” to lead global efforts on climate change issues, which would dovetail with the Obama administration’s stated goal to make this one of its top domestic and international policy priorities. Liu warns that “Obama’s position on Taiwan and Tibet could cast an unpleasant shadow” over bilateral ties. But he too singles out energy and climate change as an important new area of collaboration.

EWI regularly convenes private meetings involving leading figures and officials from the United States and China, including a U.S.-China High Level Security Dialogue. In-house specialists on China include Dr Greg Austin, Dr Stephen Noerper, and Ms Piin-Fen Kok. EWI’s Board of Directors includes Ambassador Ma Zhenggang, President of the China Institute for International Studies, and Ambassador Zhang Deguang, President of the China Foundation for International Studies.