In his July call with Chinese President Xi Jinping, U.S. President Barack Obama again called for an improved U.S.-China relationship defined by “increased practical cooperation and constructive management of differences.” But between territorial issues, cyber espionage, air-to-air standoffs, and countless other flare ups, there are few reasons to be optimistic about U.S.-China relations in the short or medium-term.
One area where progress has been particularly slow is the strategic relationship. Throughout the Obama administration, Washington has called for an official, Track-I discussion centered on nuclear weapons and strategic capabilities—to include nuclear weapon posture, missile defense, and long-range conventional strike—but Beijing has declined. Chinese interlocutors maintain that China, as the weaker power, has not reached the point where such discussions with the United States are appropriate.
Yet both sides acknowledge that the United States and China have a shared interest in improving strategic communication. In April, U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Chinese Minister of Defense Chang Wanquan proposed a “military notification mechanism of major military activities.” Advance notification would allow the two countries to avoid misperception, miscalculation, and inadvertent escalation in times of crises.
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