- War talk no way to conduct foreign policy, Stapleton Roy, one-time US ambassador in Beijing, says
- ‘North Korea and climate change’ are just two areas where Washington and Beijing could be talking more
US President Donald Trump's lack of understanding about China is to blame for Washington's deteriorating relationship with Beijing, two former senior US diplomats said.
"There (used to be) presidential guidance in terms of how to handle the (foreign policy) issues," said Stapleton Roy, a former ambassador to China, at an event hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) think tank in Washington on Wednesday. "We don't have that type of leadership at the present time."
Roy, founding director emeritus of the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States at the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars policy forum, said "there's a lot of talk about war with China" when it came to containing Beijing's ambitions to replace the US as the dominant power in East Asia.
He was referring to US' belief that it could have East Asian countries flocking to its side because they would want its military to help stop China's rise.
"But we can't have war with China without it being suicidal," Roy said. "We didn't talk about war with the Soviet Union during the Cold War because we recognised it was too dangerous.
"The part of the problem is (that) we are not electing presidents capable of addressing that issue. The state department can't work out those types of issues. There has to be a higher level of guidance."
Roy spoke out a week after Trump led the US into a long-anticipated phase one deal with China that helped put a brake on their escalating trade war. But another observer said the conflicts between the world's two largest economies were nowhere close to being resolved.
"(The disputes) will continue in some dimension or other … but (we have) no collaboration with China," said Robert Blackwill, Henry Kissinger senior fellow for US foreign policy at the CFR, at the event. "Diplomacy is missing largely from US-China relationship.
"I'm quite struck by the fact of how little diplomacy there is between the two nations," Blackwill said. "Never before in human history have you had two major nations capable of either stabilising world order or disrupting it whose every move is a topic of general conversation.
"We need a president who will have the leadership first to understand the point that (US-China relations are) the biggest challenge the United States is going to face in your lifetimes," said Blackwill, who wrote a recently released report called "Implementing Grand Strategy Toward China: 22 US Policy Prescriptions".
"In olden days, this was called presidential leadership."
Collaboration could be expanded in areas such as climate change, economics, health and any other common challenges, both diplomats said.
The US should also engage China more on North Korea, they said.
"It's bewildering why the administration is not deeply involved with China in trying to reach an interim agreement with North Korea, because we all know that there will be no agreement unless China strongly supports it," Blackwill said.
The US should also look to engage more with China on its Belt and Road Initiative, a strategy adopted by Beijing in 2013 to help build infrastructure such as shipping lanes, railways, and airports in Asia and Europe.
US won't cut more China tariffs until after presidential election
The US warned that the initiative was China's way of using money to increase its global power.
At the Washington event, Jamie Horsley, visiting fellow of John Thornton China Centre at the Brookings Institution, called the belt and road "a brilliant project" as "everyone needs infrastructure".
The problems, she said, were that China "was not doing it in accordance with internationally accepted standards. There's also been the financial sustainability issue, as well as corruption."
Although, she said, if China recalibrated the initiative, the US should reconsider joining it.
The project "is not going to go away", Horsley said. "It's (Chinese President) Xi Jinping's signature foreign policy initiative. There's a lot of reputational costs involved.
"We should rethink joining the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB)," Horsley said, referring to the US. The AIIB is a multilateral development bank with 76 members that aims to support the building of infrastructure in the Asia-Pacific region.
The bank "ended up being a respectable multilateral development bank following international standards", Horsley said.
Wide-ranging collaborations can be difficult because "the present circumstance is that we don't have the domestic environment at the moment", Roy said.
"China is an enormous geopolitical challenge for us," Blackwill said. "If you go back to the last three (US) administrations before this one, the emphasis was primarily on cooperation and love. But (China) didn't hold up its half of the bargain."
Blackwill said it was important to realise that "world order cannot be stabilised for the period ahead in a situation of perpetual US-China confrontation".
"The price of failure is global in character, and would eventually reach even more Americans than it already has through the trade war," he said.
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