Kevin Rudd, Senior Fellow, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs
The future relationship between China and the United States is one of the mega-changes and mega-challenges of our age. China’s rise is the geopolitical equivalent of the melting polar ice caps – gradual change on a massive scale that can suddenly lead to dramatic turns of events.
In this Summary Report of a longer forthcoming work, former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, a senior fellow at the Belfer Center, asks if this defining trend of the 21st century can be managed peacefully. He argues that it can – if Washington and Beijing commit to placing their relationship on a stable, long-term footing.
Rudd’s findings emerge from a major study he led at the Belfer Center on the possibilities and impacts of a new strategic relationship between China and the United States.
The choice is stark: Either China and America will author a common narrative of mutually beneficial achievements, or they will drift toward conflict. While the likelihood of near-term conflict is low, leaders on both sides of the Pacific are well aware of “Thucydides’ Trap,” the historical pattern of conflict when rising powers rival ruling ones.
Avoiding that trap means answering key questions about U.S.-China relations:
- Is China’s economic rise sustainable?
- How will China exert power differently under Xi Jinping?
- What does Beijing regard as Washington’s grand strategy toward China – and vice versa?
- What are the risks of armed conflict?
- How will China’s growing clout impact the regional and global order?
- Can both sides develop a common strategic narrative?
There is no deficit of analysis about these issues. The purpose of this report is to help policymakers synthesize that analysis to better anticipate and respond to one of the great challenges of our day.