BC Expert: US-China Summit
Professor of Political Science Robert S. Ross
Professor Ross' research focuses on Chinese security policy, nationalism and Chinese defense policy, East Asian security, and U.S.-China relations. Ross is currently a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the National Committee for U.S.-China Relations and a senior advisor to the Institute for American Studies, Shanghai. He has testified before various Senate and House committees and the Defense Policy Board Advisory Committee and he advises various U.S. government agencies. He is the author/co-author of several books, including Chinese Security Policy: Structure, Power, and Politics; Negotiating Cooperation: The United States and China, 1969-1989, and Great Wall and Empty Fortress: China’s Search for Security. Ross is co-editor of the books: China’s Ascent: Power, Security, and the Future of International Politics; US-China-EU Relations: Managing the New World Order; and New Directions in the Study of Chinese Foreign Policy. Ross’ works have appeared in World Politics, The China Quarterly, International Security, Security Studies, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, The National Interest, and Asian Survey. His books and articles have been translated in China, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, and various European countries.
The leaders of the world’s two super powers will meet face to face in Beijing. However, with the conflicting agendas and interests of both China and the United States, it’s unlikely any significant breakthroughs will occur, but a thaw in relations is possible.
“As the Chinese have developed greater maritime capabilities and greater confidence in international affairs, U.S.-China competition has increased and there have been periods of heightened tension,” says Boston College Political Science Professor Robert Ross, Ph.D., who recently returned from a six month research trip in Beijing. “At this stage of the relationship, there is no returning to the earlier era of greater focus on cooperation. Going forward, there is going to be greater instability, greater competition, with greater frequency of tension, in large part because China is now more capable. China is going to be more proactive in pursuing its own interests. The challenge for the United States is to respond to a more capable China while maintaining cooperation. Similarly, China’s challenge is to find ways to use its greater capabilities without challenging US-China cooperation.”
After attending Monday’s Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit, President Obama will start an official state visit to Beijing where he’ll visit with Chinese President Xi Jinping. On the agenda will be developing cooperation on such issues as global warming, Ebola, and bilateral economics.
“It would be particularly helpful if China and the United States could make progress toward finalizing a bilateral investment treaty,” says Ross, who is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the National Committee for U.S.-China Relations. “Getting a statement about global warming and environmental cooperation would be helpful too. “
While there have been longstanding tensions between the two countries, Ross says both sides have been working to improve relations and points to last month’s visit of Chinese state councilor Yang Jiechi to Secretary of State John Kerry’s Boston home as an important step.
“Both sides are working to calm the waters and that’s always helpful. Relations have been improving,” says Ross, author and co-author of six books on China and Chinese relations with the world. “The challenge for the two sides is to take these opportunities to step back from the higher tension and move toward greater cooperation. There will be some success at that – we will set a new tone in Beijing. But it is not clear how long we will be able to sustain this instability, given the difficulties in the South China Sea and the growing U.S.-China competition throughout East Asia.
“In recent years the United States and China has been on opposite sides of the maritime territorial disputes in East Asia,” continues Ross, a senior advisor to the Institute for American Studies in Shanghai. “From the American perspective, China seems to be challenging American alliances; from the Chinese perspective, the United States is supporting its allies’ challenges to Chinese sovereignty. These contending perspectives are imbedded in the conflict and are not likely to change.
“The summit is an opportunity to enhance regional stability and to expand cooperation in various fields. The Obama administration has made clear that its Southeast Asia policy will not change. If the White House sees instability in the region and observes China using ‘coercive diplomacy’, it will respond in a tough manner. On the other hand, the administration wants to compartmentalize these issues and seek cooperation in a number of other areas, such as bilateral economics, proliferation, global warming, and ISIL. This will be a tough challenge because China will be reluctant to cooperate with the United States on other issues if it sees the U.S. challenging Chinese interests along its maritime periphery.”
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