New Research: Exclusion is Driving the U.S. and China Toward War — but Common Good Diplomacy Can Thwart Disaster 


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WASHINGTON, DC – Direct conflict between the U.S. and China is inevitable unless the relationship between Washington and Beijing changes course, according to new research released today by the Quincy Institute’s East Asia program Research Fellow Jake Werner. 

Werner’s complimentary research briefs— Competition Versus Exclusion in U.S.–China Relations: A Choice Between Stability and Conflict and Common Good Diplomacy: A Framework for Stable U.S.–China Relations — examine the dynamics driving Beijing and Washington toward war, and imagine new ways to transform the relationship through win-win diplomacy.

“Both the U.S. and China are status quo powers, sharing a deep interest in a stable global security environment and an open global economy,” Werner writes. “Yet both are prone to exclusionary impulses that threaten to ruin the possibility of a shared reform agenda and instead throw the world into conflict.”

While the Biden administration’s recent attempts to re-invigorate U.S.-China diplomacy — such as Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo’s recent trip to China — are welcome, Werner’s research emphasizes that any emerging détente can be easily overwhelmed by expansive national security fears that exacerbate tensions and drive both countries toward conflict, warning that “The two countries are caught in an escalatory cycle of exclusion and retaliation that risks hardening zero-sum pressures in the global system into a permanent structure of hostility.” 

Instead of reflexively seeking to “counter China” in all aspects of the relationship, Werner argues Washington should adopt a framework of “common good diplomacy” that distinguishes between areas where engagement with China can create mutually beneficial outcomes, and areas where the Chinese government’s problematic behaviors can be addressed by drawing Beijing into the international order, rather than excluding it.

“The central focus for common good diplomacy is actions that would reduce zero-sum pressures, institutionalize restrained multipolarity on all sides, and open up possibilities for mutual gain,” Werner explains. By building a stable architecture for U.S.–China relations, Washington would “not only avoid great power war and put us on the road to a peaceful, prosperous, and revitalized global system. It would also allow the United States to pursue healthy forms of both competition and cooperation with China that are currently being rendered toxic by the project of excluding and subordinating China.”

Werner’s research at the Quincy Institute is focused on the emergence of great power conflict between the U.S. and China and developing policies to rebuild constructive relationships. His analysis has been featured in CNN, The New York Times, The New Republic, the Nation, and more.

Links to Briefs:

  • Brief No. 45: Competition Versus Exclusion in U.S.–China Relations: A Choice Between Stability and Conflict

  • Brief No. 46: Common Good Diplomacy: A Framework for Stable U.S.–China Relations