Paper Tiger/Porcelain Dragon: Sino-American Competition for Global Leadership | Wilson Center
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Paper Tiger/Porcelain Dragon: Sino-American Competition for Global Leadership

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Webcast Recap

At the end of 2017, it is clear that the broad framework of U.S.-China relations is a global competition to shape norms, institutions, and values… if the United States is still interested in international leadership. The U.S. asserts prerogatives based on assumptions about its primacy that much of the world may no longer share. China is more confident of its international role, but confidence doesn’t necessarily make it more capable.

The Wilson Center's Kissinger Institute hosted its annual "Year in U.S.-China Relations Review," with this year's event directly following the release of President Trump's National Security Strategy. This discussion looked at Chinese and American aspirations, progress and missteps, and interests and illusions, as the countries navigate a relationship that is both bilateral and worldwide.

This event was co-sponsored by The Stimson Center.


Key Quotes


Robert Daly

“The competition arises from normal national behaviors against the background of China’s rise. I think this is perhaps the most glaring oversight in the National Security Strategy document, in which it is everywhere implied that Russia and China’s international actions, their foreign policies, are in the first instance aimed at harming the United States… I see no reason to believe this is true.”

“…These have all been successes of China during the past year and, of course, they happen against the background of serial American failures and retreats, almost all of which were self-inflicted. Indeed, the White House would reject the ‘self-inflicted’ language [and say that] these are victories – the withdrawal from the TPP, the withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement, the skepticism cast on the Iran agreement. Even smaller retreats, like America’s pulling out of UNESCO, all give China opportunities to step up.”

“Listening to our Chinese interlocutors [during recent meetings in Beijing], I had the very strong sense, and this is anecdotal, that we have gone from ‘America the obstacle’ to ‘America the merely annoying’ in China’s estimation – that they are not as concerned about our ability to counter. And in some important arenas, most notably in Eurasia, with Belt and Road, we’re not even annoying. We’re more or less ignorable.”

“I think [the U.S.-China relationship] is tracking adversarial. I think it’s too soon to say this is an adversarial relationship, but the trajectories are poor in almost every area of our relationship.”

“One of my big takeaways from [the National Security Strategy] is that – it doesn’t say this, but it implies – that the United States must now adopt the Chinese model of comprehensive national power. It links security with economic interests with values and ideology – none of these things very clearly defined – but makes it clear that they are all part of this competition.”

Yun Sun

“There is a strong sense from the Chinese side that no matter what concession or what compromise China is willing to make, it’s never enough for Trump.”

“The Chinese cannot really determine whether Trump is really looking for a fight or he’s really looking for a deal. His tactic on China seems to suggest that he is looking for deals everywhere – on trade, on North Korea – but the strategy, as stipulated by the [National Security Strategy] yesterday, suggests that he seems to be looking for a fight.” 

“Trump seems to have a very clear understanding of the preferences of Chinese leaders and makes a distinction between building a good relationship with the Chinese leaders [and] having that realpolitik and a condemning tone towards China on the bilateral level.”

“I believe that China must have a lot of confusion or questions and also a sense of contradiction and internal conflicts regarding Trump’s policy towards China.”

“[China] is partially able and partially willing [to take on a global leadership role]. It’s certainly willing… but according to the Chinese definition and according to the Chinese pace – at a level and at a pace that China finds comfortable enough.”




  • Robert Daly

    Director, Kissinger Institute on China and the United States
  • Yun Sun

    Co-Director, East Asia Program and China Program Director, Henry L. Stimson Center