National Security Advisor Susan Rice Addresses U.S.-China Relationship

Ambassador speaks at GW ahead of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s state visit.

Susan Rice
Susan Rice stressed the need for determined, constant engagement between the United States and China in a 30-minute address Monday at GW. (William Atkins/GW Today)
September 21, 2015

By James Irwin

Speaking Monday ahead of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s state visit later this week, National Security Advisor Susan Rice stressed the need for the United States and China to continue a practice of sustained engagement despite their differences—and said it would be dangerous for the United States not to engage with China diplomatically.

“I know that some people question why we host China at all. That's a dangerous and short-sighted view,” she said. “If we sought to punish China by canceling meetings or refusing to engage them, we would only be punishing ourselves.”

Amb. Rice’s address at the George Washington University focused on the U.S.-China relationship, which she called “the most consequential in the world today,” and comes at a time when critics of President Barack Obama and his administration have called for President Xi’s state visit to be canceled after allegations of state-sponsored cyber-espionage by China against U.S. companies.

“Many global challenges today can only be met with China and the United states working in concert,” Amb. Rice said in a 30-minute speech that touched on the recent volatility of the Chinese economy and efforts the United States and China have taken to create stability in the Pacific region. “We reject reductive reasoning and lazy rhetoric that says conflict between the United States and China is inevitable, even as we have been tough with China where we disagree. This isn’t a zero-sum game. Our capacity to manage our differences is greater than that.”

America’s concerns regarding China, she said, are real. She spent several minutes outlining economic disagreements between the two nations and was plainspoken when addressing cybersecurity.

“State-sponsored cyber-enabled economic espionage must stop,” she said. “This is an economic and national security concern to the United States. It puts enormous strain on our bilateral relationship and is a critical factor in determining the future trajectory of U.S.-China ties.”

Pursuing a productive relationship with China is a critical element of America’s larger strategy in the Asia-Pacific region. The White House hosted Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in April and will welcome South Korean President Park Geun-hye for a state visit in a few weeks. President Xi travels to Seattle on Tuesday to begin his first state visit and will arrive in Washington Thursday.

Talk Monday repeatedly returned to the need for the United States and China to work together in areas of mutual interest.

“Nothing is more important to the immediate and long-term future of our nation and the world than the evolving relationship between the U.S. and China,” George Washington President Steven Knapp said in his introductory remarks ahead of Amb. Rice’s address. “This is a particularly critical moment in that evolution.”

Amb. Rice offered a long list of examples where the two countries have banded together, ranging from joint efforts to drive down carbon emissions and continued negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, to student and cultural exchanges. From 2009 to 2013, according to the Institute of International Education, the number of Chinese students studying in the United States increased from 98,000 to more than 274,000. And the U.S., Amb. Rice said, has already exceeded President Obama’s goal of sending 100,000 students to study in China.

“As two nations that will shape the direction of this century, we want our young people to learn together,” she said Monday.

Another area of mutual interest, she said, is in nuclear non-proliferation, specifically in the Middle East and the Korean peninsula. China and the United States, she stressed, are firm in their agreement that a nuclear-armed Iran would “pose an unacceptable threat to the world.” The two nations also are “united in demanding the complete and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean peninsula,” she said.

The disputes between the two nations—regarding “persistent human rights violations,” economic policies that impede the free flow of commerce and blocking free access to the internet—are all the more reason that determined, constant engagement is necessary, Amb. Rice said.

“This is a vital relationship of the 21st century,” she said. “And we have to be upfront about our differences, because they are preventing us from reaching the true potential of our cooperation. China cannot expect to wield influence selectively or lead only when it is convenient, opting in or out of international norms at will.

“We want the Chinese people to succeed. When China and the United States work together, the world is more secure and more prosperous.”