China Leadership Monitor

PRC Security Relations with the United States: Why Things Are Going So Well

Thursday, October 30, 2003

My first contribution to China Leadership Monitor was completed 10 days before the terrorist attacks in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania. In that essay, I laid out reasons for optimism and pessimism about trends in People's Republic of China (PRC) security relations with Taiwan, the United States, and U.S. allies in the region. If we apply the template laid out in that essay to the contemporary setting, it is quite clear that U.S.-PRC relations are more stable and constructive than they have been at any other time since the period prior to the Tiananmen massacre of June 4, 1989. In fact, on issues such as North Korea, Washington and Beijing are closer to the long-term goal of a security partnership, articulated by the Clinton administration, than anyone could have expected when the Bush administration first assumed office. The early months of 2001 saw tough rhetoric on China out of Washington and a brief crisis in bilateral relations following the collision of a People's Liberation Army (PLA) jet fighter and a U.S. Navy EP-3 surveillance plane. Since fall 2001, however, relations have improved dramatically. There are still problems, of course. For example, there is still much improvement to be made on issues such as PRC weapons proliferation. That having been said, cooperation in the war on terrorism has been real, as I have outlined in previous editions of CLM. Beijing was also not very vocal in its opposition to the war in Iraq. Moreover, in the past several weeks Beijing has been extremely helpful to Washington in addressing the North Korean nuclear crisis and pressuring Pyongyang to accept a multilateral forum for negotiations. This cooperation has led to the assessment by Secretary of State Colin Powell that U.S.-PRC relations are at their most constructive "in decades." In this essay, I lay out the reasons for this basic turnaround in U.S.-PRC bilateral relations.