Asia Europe Journal

, Volume 4, Issue 2, pp 251–264 | Cite as

Strategic considerations in the US–China relationship and the role of European soft power

  • Sebastian BersickEmail author
Original Paper


This paper analyses strategic considerations within the conceptual, the policy and the systemic dimension of US–Sino relations. Furthermore, the role of the EU’s soft power in the context of US–China relations will be assessed. It will be argued that current US–China relations are mainly a function of the current US foreign policy towards China, which doesn’t take into account that an engagement policy towards China needs to be paralleled by an engagement policy towards the East Asian region. A functional equivalent of the EU’s soft power and its approach of bilateral and multilateral engagement of East Asian actors is a missing element in US–China relations. The thinking on China affairs in the USA can be broadly structured into two different schools of thought. On the one side there are those who favour an engagement policy vis-à-vis China. The engagement school argues that bilateral and multilateral cooperation with China needs to be intensified. Traditionally members of this school are found in the Department of State and the Bureau of the US Trade Representative. On the other side there are those who think of China as a threat that needs to be contained. The politicians and experts that belong to the threat school (e.g. in the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute) emphasize their fears of China’s future role on the regional and global level. Though China has supported the US’s “war on terrorism” after the attacks of 9/11, Beijing’s increasing military budget, its neglect of non-proliferation agreements (e.g. in its relations with Pakistan) and its behaviour within the Six-Party Talks are taken as examples of the China threat. Security policies do not solely determine the relationship between the USA and China. The US China policy is a function of both the US’s economic and security interests. This explains why Washington follows a dual policy of simultaneous engagement and containment, i.e. a policy of hedged engagement. But the current state of affair of the Sino–US relationship does not reflect the rise of China as a de facto hegemon of an East Asian community. It is the inherent danger of the current US China policy that the missing regional component in US–China relations could facilitate the formation of a fortress Asia. Since Beijing holds the key to Asian regionalism, China should be the main target of European soft power in Asia by exporting the principles of regionalism and multilateralism to Asia. To what extent the EU and its model of intraregional cooperation and integration can influence the objective and trajectory of Asian regionalism will demonstrate partly the extent of Europe’s soft power in the international system.


Foreign Policy East Asian Regionalism Soft Power China Policy East Asia Summit 
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.European Institute for Asian StudiesBrusselsBelgium

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