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Redefining Engagement with China

Current geopolitics requires a policy of engagement toward China driven not by a desire to change the country, but by the imperative to cooperate in tackling global challenges. In their recent virtual summit, both US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping appeared to understand what is at stake.

MADRID – Ever since then-US National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger visited China in 1971, engagement with the People’s Republic has been a fundamental feature of US diplomacy. Yet the deterioration of US-China relations in recent years suggests that this policy may have reached its end.

Last week’s virtual summit between US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping can be interpreted as a last-ditch attempt to save the bilateral relationship. This is a positive step: engagement has played a crucial role in discouraging confrontation between the United States and China. That is why the US should recommit to engagement, but with an updated approach that takes into account an increasingly global agenda.

During the Cold War, the US envisioned engagement with China as a way to integrate the country into the international system, rather than containing or isolating it. In a 1967 essay in Foreign Affairs, future President Richard M. Nixon argued that, “We simply cannot afford to leave China forever outside the family of nations, there to nurture its fantasies, cherish its hates, and threaten its neighbors.”