Bush China Foundation Brief: Outlook for U.S.-China Cooperation

February 18, 2021

by: Zoe Leung

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Executive Summary: The U.S.-China relationship deteriorated rapidly in 2020, following a gradual erosion of mutual trust on all fronts. Recently, Washington and Beijing clashed over human rights in Hong Kong and Xinjiang and remained caught in confrontations over trade and the coronavirus pandemic while ratcheting up competition in high-tech infrastructure and standards. Although the public health and economic crises stemming from COVID-19 presented the greatest challenges for both leaderships, the mutual mistrust and heated rhetoric largely obstructed any potential for closer coordination. In spite of innumerable areas of common concern and interest, the adversarial element of the relationship has dominated bilateral interactions and will likely remain so, while real opportunities for charting a more constructive U.S.-China relationship were rejected.

To fill this gap, the George H. W. Bush Foundation for U.S.-China Relations (Bush China Foundation) convened a series of focus groups with experts and practitioners from the United States and China to discuss the prospects and challenges for U.S.-China cooperation in the coming years. This project, occurring at a time when the relationship was locked in a precarious downward spiral, examined important policy areas for potential collaboration. The focus groups met virtually between September and December 2020 on three specific topics—global public health, energy trading and business innovation—that were identified by internal and external stakeholders as areas most conducive to U.S.-China cooperation. The discussions identified opportunities for confidence-building measures and generated ideas for impactful programming.