The purpose and scope of dialogues Dialogue has been a central feature of Sino-Amer ican relations since the United States and China opened relations under President Richard Nixon and Chairman Mao Zedong in the early 1970s. Often broad-ranging interchanges between elites in the two administrations have been complemented by legislative exchanges and interactions between other influential government and non-governmental groups. After the US cut back a variety of government exchanges with China following the Tiananmen crackdown in 1989, the two governments eventually saw the wisdom in using a few and over time more bilateral dialogues in order to reaffirm common ground and deal constructively with differences. Dialogues developed in an ad hoc way and came to be more formally structured. The two sides focused at first on such sensitive issues as human rights, but broadened the scope to entail over 60 dialogues by the first decade of the twenty-first century, capped by the annual wide-ranging leadership exchanges seen in the US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED) initiated in 2009.2 The explicit motives of the two administrations in pursuing dialogues during the past two decades were similar to earlier rationales. The exchanges were seen to help to deal with and hopefully reduce differences and gaps in interests and perceptions that divided the two countries. Some of these differences remained very sensitive and needed careful management through close leadership attention, notably during deliberations in the dialogues. Amer ican leaders and other elites at times articulated the view that Amer ican persuasiveness in the dialogues, backed by the forces of modern globalization and other circumstances, would help to persuade Chinese leaders to follow policies in line with USsupported norms. Chinese leaders generally were more circumspect regarding their motives in engaging in the dialogues, though practice showed the utility of these vehicles in managing problems in relations with the US. There were numerous less explicit objectives in the dialogues. According to US participants in dialogues, US representatives tended to be the demanders, seeking to use the dialogues to solve problems perceived by the US.3 The Chinese side was more inclined to use the channels to manage sensitive issues, without seeking the difficult decisions needed to solve the problems. The Amer icans also

saw the channels as means to compel the often poorly coordinated Chinese international affairs apparatus to involve all relevant stakeholders in the Chinese administration, thereby smoothing the way to effective implementation of agreements made during the dialogues. The dialogues also required effective coordination among Amer ican government representatives in dealing with the issues addressed in the scope of specific dialogues with China. Meanwhile, Amer ican participants judged that both the Chinese and US administrations saw dialogues as useful ways to identify senior officers on each side who had the authority and inclination to solve problems that continued to emerge in the ever-broadening Sino-Amer ican relationship. These so-called “go-to” officials were sought out during crises or other stressful circumstances to help calm disputes and facilitate resolutions. Other less explicit but broadly recognized motives of both sides in pursuing dialogues and exchanges had to do with building Sino-Amer ican interdependence in ways that would constrain one side from taking actions detrimental to the interests of the other. Amer ican specialists identified an enduring strategy involving dialogues and other exchanges used by the US, its allies, and associated states to build growing webs of relationships with rising China that would incline or compel the Chinese government to see its interests better served by cooperation rather than confrontation with them.4 As noted above, Chinese elites and specialists were less forthright about their motives, but in practice China used dialogues and other behavior to build a range of interdependencies with the US, especially economic interdependence, that served to constrain US leaders from taking actions strongly challenging or confronting Chinese interests.5 Also less explicitly recognized was the common tendency of both sides to favor generally secret dialogues as ways to deal with sensitive issues out of public view. This process limited the ability of forces in both societies that opposed Sino-US collaboration and compromise on these subjects to muster support for their harder line or to otherwise complicate bilateral relations over the issue at hand. The responsible officials in these dialogues thus had more freedom of action to explore options for greater cooperation and compromise with one another, freer from constraints that would have prevailed in public discussions. The process of the various dialogues, even without meaningful progress, also was useful at times in fostering publicity that showed one side or the other was taking action on issues of importance to their respective domestic constituencies, thereby assuaging at least temporarily the pressure of these constituencies for more confrontational approaches. Thus, for example, the process of dialogues on human rights and on trade issues was useful to US administration officials seeking to assuage domestic US pressure in Congress, the media and public opinion for tougher action toward China on these issues while avoiding legislation or other substantive steps that would jeopardize broader administration interests in sustaining constructive relations with China.6 In recent years, the scope of the many dozens of dialogues has broadened widely, involving most relevant senior official representatives in the two countries. The scope has grown in line with the rise of China and the importance of

US-China interchange on a host of wide-ranging global and regional as well as bilateral issues. In the decade after the Tiananmen crackdown, majorities in Congress registered opposition and wariness to any engagement with China seen as beneficial to the Chinese administration. Over time, Congressional opposition declined and Congress created a variety of formal exchanges enhancing dialogue and interchange with Chinese counterparts. The notable exception in the pattern of growing Sino-Amer ican official dialogues has been in exchanges between the two militaries, which are covered in depth in Christopher Yung’s contribution to this volume (Chapter 10). Briefly, the US cut military exchanges with China after the Tiananmen crackdown. Senior-level official dialogue between the defense organizations of China and the US was slowly restored in the following decade. The dialogue was significantly constrained under the leadership of US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld (2001-6) but was strongly encouraged under US Defense Secretary Robert Gates (2006-11) and Leon Panetta (2011-13) and enjoys the strong support of current Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and his Chinese counterparts.7 China at times has used cuts in and suspension of military exchanges to register its opposition to US decisions providing arms to Taiwan, but it has supported such exchanges more strongly over the past two years.8 The overall record of dialogues shows that they are important instruments in the policy “tool kit” of each side to deal with salient areas of common interests and disagreement that have broadened in scope as a result of China’s rising international importance and the increasing salience of an ever-wider range of issues in US-Chinese relations in the twenty-first century. Both sides view these policy instruments positively; they serve as shock absorbers in periods of difficulty, provide the basis for actual or potential channels of informal communication in times of crisis, and promote efforts to broaden common ground in US-Chinese relations. The checkered record of military exchanges is among the array of evidence showing the reality that dialogues are subservient to the respective interests of the leaders on either side. Dialogues are instruments of improved relations but they do not compel improvement, which at bottom is decided by policy elites in Beijing and Washington. After 40 years of efforts to normalize US-China relations, those elites cooperate closely on a wide range of issues but also reflect wariness toward one another that underlines important diverging interests and differences dividing the two powers. Specialists on both sides of the Pacific have had a tendency recently to stress the competitive aspects of Sino-Amer ican relations. The year 2012 saw a strong emphasis on mutual distrust, and developments that year tested the durability of Sino-Amer ican engagement. As shown below, dialogues were among the means used by the two powers to manage the competition and pragmatically build ties amid sometimes adverse circumstances. This chapter briefly reviews highlights of the role exchanges and dialogues have played in US-China relations since President Nixon’s visit to China in 1972. Against that background, it examines the process and significance of recent dialogues. It forecasts the likely continued importance of the dialogues, as

they help to build growing common ground and deal with an ever-widening array of differences and issues prompted by China’s rising international impact and the overall importance of Sino-Amer ican relations.