The Future of U.S.-China Relations Under Xi Jinping: Toward a New Framework of Constructive Realism for a Common Purpose

The future relationship between China and the United States is one of the mega-changes and mega-challenges of our age. China’s rise is the geopolitical equivalent of the melting polar ice caps – gradual change on a massive scale that can suddenly lead to dramatic turns of events.

In this Summary Report of a longer forthcoming work, former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, a senior fellow at the Belfer Center, asks if this defining trend of the 21st century can be managed peacefully. He argues that it can – if Washington and Beijing commit to placing their relationship on a stable, long-term footing.

Rudd’s findings emerge from a major study he led at the Belfer Center on the possibilities and impacts of a new strategic relationship between China and the United States.

The choice is stark: Either China and America will author a common narrative of mutually beneficial achievements, or they will drift toward conflict. While the likelihood of near-term conflict is low, leaders on both sides of the Pacific are well aware of “Thucydides’ Trap,” the historical pattern of conflict when rising powers rival ruling ones.

Avoiding that trap means answering key questions about U.S.-China relations:

  • Is China’s economic rise sustainable?
  • How will China exert power differently under Xi Jinping?
  • What does Beijing regard as Washington’s grand strategy toward China – and vice versa?
  • What are the risks of armed conflict?
  • How will China’s growing clout impact the regional and global order?
  • Can both sides develop a common strategic narrative?

There is no deficit of analysis about these issues. The purpose of this report is to help policymakers synthesize that analysis to better anticipate and respond to one of the great challenges of our day.


As to whether recommendations contained within this report are adopted by the two governments is a matter for them. The report argues that a new conceptual framework for the relationship is necessary that is capable of embracing, simultaneously, apparently intractable problems with real opportunities for policy progress in difficult areas, without one becoming permanently hostage to the other. The report also argues for the evolution over time of a substantive sense of common purpose for the relationship centered around the idea of preserving and reforming a functioning global order for the future, as opposed to the incremental drift toward the absence of order and the emergence of chaos. Finally, the report argues for a partial reform of the bilateral machinery of the relationship in order to achieve the above. The last two years of President Obama’s second term, and the rapid consolidation of President Xi Jinping’s political authority during his first term, provide a unique political opportunity to place the U.S.-China relationship on a stable, mutually beneficial long-term footing.

There is a range of different scenarios for U.S.-China relations. The difficulty lies in the fact that these are very much shaped by different assumptions, different variables and their interaction with one another. Nonetheless, given what we know, a number of broad scenarios suggest themselves for the decade ahead.

First, we can imagine a cooperative scenario in which the dynamics of an increasingly globalized economy, and growing interdependencies between the United States and China across multiple policy domains, encourage both leaderships to: avoid any possibility of armed conflict; focus on their respective domestic policy priorities; and maintain a geopolitical status quo in the region. This scenario could also feature more concerted action on individual global challenges like climate change.

A second more collaborative scenario is possible, one which resembles a more ambitious and activist version of the first scenario above. In this, both Beijing and Washington conclude that, in order to deal with a range of underlying, structural difficulties in the relationship, they must not only manage their differences, but also collaborate in difficult policy domains to resolve them. This might include: a bilateral or multilateral agreement on cyber security; an agreed strategy on North Korea with the objective of achieving the denuclearization of the peninsula; and a joint determination to rejuvenate the G20.

Third, a competitive scenario in which fundamental differences are managed, but not resolved. In this case, China and the United States would compete for strategic influence across Asia and around the world, with both sides accelerating their military preparedness to guard against the possibility of long-term conflict.

Fourth, a confrontational scenario, which sees Asia dividing between groupings increasingly aligned to either Beijing or Washington because creative ambiguity on both security and economic issues on the part of regional states is no longer tenable. In such a scenario, incidents in the East and South China seas would increase and escalate to the point that conflict between China and a regional friend or ally of the United States would become increasingly conceivable. A fully internationalized RMB would begin to challenge the privileged status of the USD as one of a number of global reserve currencies. Globally, the contest between China and the United States would become increasingly ideological between their respective democratic capitalist and state capitalist models.

Fifth, and last of all, there is the implosion scenario. In this hypothetical future, political tensions and structural economic imbalances within the Chinese system would ultimately fracture, causing China to comprehensively and radically adjust its national development strategy. This report does not regard this outcome as a credible possibility.

National political leadership in both Beijing and Washington, and the leadership they choose to deliver to the future direction of their bilateral relationship, can have a major, and possibly decisive, effect on which of these scenarios, or blend of scenarios, becomes the more probable. There is nothing determinist about the future relationship between China and the United States. It is a matter for leaders to decide on an approach, and to execute it, either con-jointly or separately. That is why the narrative they use to describe their relationship to each other, and to their respective political constituencies, is important. And that is where the current U.S.-China relationship is lacking.

This report has focused on one such possible scenario for the future (namely the second scenario), and how it might in practical terms be brought about. If a new approach of “Constructive Realism for a Common Purpose” is to have any real chance of success, it will require a change in the political psychology or the “way of thinking” of the relationship. As noted above, the Chinese call this “siwei.” At present, the “siwei” between the two is overwhelmingly “realist” to the point that it is almost Hobbesian in its fatalism. The Chinese equivalent would be to run international relations according to the most pessimistic tradition of the “Legalist” (fajia 法家). This permanently assumes the worst of the other party and over time becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The report does not argue for the abandonment of skepticism in international relations. In fact, it argues for the retention of a realist premise concerning the hard security issues that currently separate the U.S. and China and will continue to do so for a considerable time. However, the report also argues that we should leaven the realist loaf with a level of constructive cooperation at multiple levels to build strategic trust over time. This will not require the wholesale abandonment of traditional strategic thinking or “siwei.” But it will require an adjustment to allow for the possibilities of constructive engagement changing deeply grounded strategic mindsets over time.

The report also departs from traditional strategic thinking in another way. At one level, there is a debate in the international community today about the type of global order we would like for the future: minimalist, maximalist global governance, realist, liberal internationalist, so-called “variable geometry,” etc. This seems to miss the point in the present international environment. We may no longer have the luxury of a sumptuous global smorgasbord of options to choose from. In truth, we now find ourselves confronted by multiple external challenges to an international order of any description. The enemies of “order” are there for all those with eyes to see:

• Violent, global jihadism seeking to destroy the very notion of secular states or any society of states;

• New weapons of mass destruction in the form of cyber terrorism, cyber crime and state-based cyber attack against critical infrastructure;

• A new generation of global pandemics;

• Existential threats to the planet through irreversible climate change; and

• Associated crises in food, water and basic energy supply.

These are attacks against “order” itself. They should, as a matter of both reason and emotion, cause states to conclude that whatever differences they have between them, these are now smaller than the common threats we now face together as a society of states and our U.S.-China 21: The Future of U.S.-China Relations Under Xi Jinping common need to defend the order itself. This should particularly apply to both the United States and China, given their respective levels of national vulnerability to all the above, as well as their sense of responsibility to other members of the international community. It is this consciousness, driven by the realities of globalization and interconnectedness, and the opportunities and now extreme vulnerabilities that arise from the same, that form a rational basis for at least some change in the traditional American and Chinese strategic mindsets or “siwei.” And that is the ultimate basis for the type of “Constructive Realism for a Common Purpose” recommended in this report for the two most powerful countries in the world today, who now share unique responsibilities on behalf of us all. In other words, to work together to defend and strengthen “an order” against those forces, political, climatological or biological, that would destroy order altogether.

Full Summary Report: U.S.-China 21 (PDF)

Chinese Version: Full Summary Report: U.S.-China 21 (PDF)

Press Predominantly Negative Regarding US-China Relations 2019

Xinhua View

A more positive outlook by Kevin Rudd

The Honorable Kevin Rudd, Former Prime Minister of Australia
President of the Asia Society Policy Institute in New York

A balanced view on China’s Intention for 2019

The Diplomat

Asia Times

Trump Has No Middle East Strategy. He Acts on Impulses.


Why Britain [Was] Protesting Trump

Insider article.

—Begin of Quote—

Some thought naively that the White House would change Donald Trump, but high office doesn’t change your character, it reveals it. Only last month, he ordered US government agents, on the southern border, to separate migrant children from their parents. Frightened and helpless toddlers were held in wire cages, with no proper registration. There’s reason to fear that many of these almost 3,000 children may never again see their parents. As a parent myself, this conscious cruelty appalls me.

Yet, what was Trump’s response?

He said: “These aren’t people, these are animals.”

—End of Quote—

Trump’s Asia Trip

A friend of mine just asked me if I would write my article ‘Donald Trump vs. Adolf Hitler’ still in the same way, or if I would change it now, after 9 months went into the land? I replied I would have taken it off the Internet if I thought differently now about the matter. And I pointed him first of all to this passage in the article that I believe is the most important:

Donald Trump, after all the profile studies I did about him, clearly turns out to have the profile of a social-minded business person who is able to build lasting relationships both professionally and privately, and who achieves his goals by acting by and large within the rule of law. He certainly does not have the profile of a psychopath, dictator, political tyrant or mass-murderer-in-spe. He has the profile of a showman and a smart deal-maker, also of a versatile negotiator, while his day-to-day attitude can be erratic, unpredictable, and brusk, sometimes even harsh!

Now we have of course the scandals, we have the FBI search into election meddling by the Russians, sexual harassment claims, we have his racism, which is why he does as good as nothing for Puerto Rico, we have his totally stupid and infantile behavior toward the leadership of North Korea, and so forth, wall with Mexico, travel ban, chaotic Twitter behavior, etc.

But he is still not for that matter a psychopathic mass murderer as were Hitler and Stalin, as was Mao, as was Pinochet, and so many more. And do what you will, he will also in the future to be such kind of man, for he has no psychopath profile. This is simply so, whatever the press smears around about him.

And we do not really know if he wants war with North Korea, for if you are familiar with his negotiation style, as he used it in all his business dealings, his tactics was always to get the other party down on their knees through pressure and more pressure, in order to finally negotiate from a position of strength.

Now the Asia trip will be crucial in my opinion for his entire career as a president, for his public imagine namely to go up, or to go even further down. Despite all, I believe that he will not very long endure as a president. Mueller’s Russia probe threatens very really to make an end to his political career, or he will be out as a consequence of impeachment.

He has too little support from his own people and not to forget, his foreign policy lacks predictability and consistency. Some say he has no clues at all and is just improvising in this respect. But still, Rex Tillerson is a very good man in his job, but Trump made him down in public by saying that he was ‘wasting his time’ negotiating with North Korea. Not to forget also that Trump has against him the intelligent women’s movements in America, as well as the Hispanics.

He is not politically smart, and is likely to make history as the American President with the lowest smart. Rex Tillerson called him a ‘moron’ in public. This is novelty in the entire American history, that a secretary of state called his president a ‘moron.’

And last not least: since Trump is President of the United States, he has lost 600 million USD, his fortune having gone down from an estimated 3.7 billion to only 3.1 billion because of mismanagement of his hotels and golf courses. For example in Scotland they make only losses. In addition, the population there is against the environmental impact of his golf courses. The same happened in Bali against his new hotel project there.

I think he has bad karma and this because of his almost asocial behavior toward others and his notorious narcissism. He simply has no compassion at all with people, except his nuclear family.

Donald Trump vs. Adolf Hitler

Adolf Hitler was a man from the small bourgeoisie in Austria, his father was a government employee. Hitler was heavily abused by his father as the Swiss psychoanalyst Dr. Alice Miller has analyzed in one of her books, and his childhood was one big trauma. Hitler was never successful in making any money, for years living as a poor artist and clochard before he got the idea to enter politics. Newer research found that Hitler was close to mental retardation with an IQ around or under 80. Hitler was a loner and never had any significant relationships, neither with men nor with women. His ‘love’ with Eva Braun was never ending in a consummated marriage as Hitler was sexually impotent.

Eva Anna Paula Hitler (née Braun; 6 February 1912–30 April 1945) was the longtime companion of Adolf Hitler and, for less than 40 hours, his wife.

Donald John Trump was born into a wealthy family, his father having been a very successful real estate developer in NYC. He was a constructive while strict personality and gave Donald a good education and the chance to get into real estate developing early in life, around the age of 10.

Donald proved to be a ‘real estate genius’ in the admiring words of his father and early succeeded in building a brand and an empire. He was unusally successful and turned out to be very sturdy psychologically when in 1989 his ventures turned into disaster and he was at the brink of bankruptcy. Yet he held through and convinced the banks to give him another chance which they did, trusting his hard-working mentality, his word, and also, admittedly, his brilliant showmanship.

From that time on, nothing could stop Trump to become a world-famous billionaire who set buildings, towers and golf courses in the world that have gained the appreciation of other developers, the rich elite, comments from designers of renown, and the world at large.

I have read all of Trump’s books, and more importantly, the books written by George H. Ross, Esq., his long-term lawyer and friend, who was able to put some sort of objective focus on him, while not hiding his admiration for his smart in developing real estate.

Trump was depicted by Ross as a ‘master of the deal’ and more importantly, a deal maker, not a deal breaker. What does that mean? It means first of all that when Trump makes a deal, as hard as he can be on the conditions, he will stick to it and stay behind it, and carry it through. He has gained an aura of respectability in this quality of his, not only in the flashy NYC real estate world but also around the world and regions that many other Western real estate developers know little about, such as the Middle East and Russia.

And I repeat myself when stating once again that today business principles reign politics more than any time before in human history, except perhaps the governance of ancient Rome and ancient Venice. In all our major conflicts in the world, there were no solutions for decades, think only of the Israel-Palestine conflict. And why? Because there were no politicians involved both locally and internationally who have a track-record as deal-makers and who are master negotiators as are Trump and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

Donald Trump, after all the profile studies I did about him, clearly turns out to have the profile of a social-minded business person who is able to build lasting relationships both professionally and privately, and who achieves his goals by acting by and large within the rule of law. He certainly does not have the profile of a psychopath, dictator, political tyrant or mass-murderer-in-spe. He has the profile of a showman and a smart deal-maker, also of a versatile negotiator, while his day-to-day attitude can be erratic, unpredictable, and brusk, sometimes even harsh!

I have studied fascism over many years starting in the 1980s, in the framework of my studies of international relations and politics. Fascist leaders all come from the little bourgeoisie and all of them were poor when they were young. Include here Mussolini, Franco, Mao Tse Tung, Stalin, Pinochet, Bokassa, or any of the more recent vintage exemplars of the same stature. They were and are all bad in business, unable to negotiate because of their faulty personalities and their overly narcissistic egos, but also unable to build anything of value such a business empire. And they have poor social lives, unable to build valuable long-terms relations with people in all fields of life.

What is more, they had all bad intimacy relations and were not fully sexually potent with women, while Trump has a track record here that is flawless as a sexually healthy and active heterosexual man who has a strong attraction for the other sex, but is also actively desired by the other sex. In the words of his wife Melania:

— Many women come here to present their profile and services, and hope to get filed as service providers. What they more want from my husband I don’t know, but it’s a fact that they are lining up for it. (Quoted from memory).

By the way, sexology and neuroscience fully affirm today that men who are fully sexually engaged with women, and who attract women in turn, have a low violence potential. See the research on the roots of violence conducted by authorities such as Dr. James W. Prescott, Ashley Montagu, Bowlby, and already back in the 1930s, Dr. Wilhelm Reich.

This being said, I have never heard of a billionaire, sexually straight and respectfully raised by a caring father who suddenly turned into a psychopath and holocaust organizer. It’s not part of human history, because it’s not part of human psychology! And journalists who put up such comparisons only show what poor journalism they have learnt and that, besides, they have no idea of human psychology, nor of human history!

When people, especially and notoriously in America, even when they are journalists, equate Hitler and Trump, they are simply ignorant about the roots and structure of fascism, and the mental setup and personality profile of fascist rulers since time immemorial.

What I was exposing here are psychological facts, not in any way a ‘political’ opinion. Modern journalism is pretty much unbridled guesswork more than anything these days, and has little psychological understanding for the realities of leaders, good or bad.

I fully agree with your perception that the media engage in what may be called a negative obsession with Trump that has reached colossal dimensions. But as I know Trump, he will turn all of this to his favor, as he always used to say that negative publicity is better than no publicity at all. And he is not the originator of that saying of course, for it’s a truth that keeps all of the best public relation firms around the globe prospering and alive!

Italy Referendum

Have foreseen it of course, more than 30 years ago. All is going to a landslide fascism movement in Europe, social division, and civil war. You bet, I knew it coming since so long.

In France, the Far Right will be in power, in Italy now as well, in Austria and Hungary already, soon in Holland, but Merkel in Germany will resist and remain a balancing force. I would say the destiny of Europe is on Merkel’s shoulders which is no easy task and will immortalize her. She will really be the sentinel of European Values for the next years to come—I mean, until every little stupid frog will be a Fascist in the name of God and The Nation!

The right-wing forces get all their support now from the Election of Donald Trump while I would not even think that the real estate magnate has intended this landslide for Fascism. His character is not at all compatible with the character of Adolf Hitler. We have here two very different personality profiles.