Report on 2021 U.S.-China Strategic Policy Dialogue

May 27, 2021

By Zoe Leung, Cameron Waltz and Eric Yang

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Executive Summary: The Biden Administration has inherited the U.S.-China relationship at an inflection point. The bilateral ties are shifting in fundamental ways, with the traditional framework of engagement and balancing called into question. U.S. President Joe Biden frames the relationship with China as a competition between autocracy and democracy, while keeping Trump-era tariffs and technology restrictions in place. Meanwhile, Beijing is speeding up its push toward technological independence, seeking to cut loose U.S. barriers on its high-tech development. Both countries consider stable bilateral ties vital and are open to cooperation where possible, but tension remains high across many strategically competitive sectors. On Indo-Pacific security, the Biden Administration strengthened the Quad and reaffirmed its commitment to Taiwan as well as Japan and the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, which the Chinese view as efforts to unilaterally change the status quo. Gearing up for the U.S. midterm elections and the Chinese Communist Party’s 20th Central Committee next year, neither side seems prepared to enter into fruitful negotiations, evident from the Anchorage summit that leaves no clear path to reinstitute high-level political and security dialogues between the two governments.

Amidst the heightened uncertainty, the George H. W. Bush Foundation for U.S.-China Relations co-hosted the U.S.-China Strategic Policy Dialogue in May 2021, in concert with the Institute for Global Cooperation and Understanding at Peking University, to discuss the implications and ramifications of a protracted strategic competition between Washington and Beijing. The discussion covered a range of issues relating to politics, security and trade as well as the implications of escalated strategic competition between the two countries.