- NBR - The National Bureau of Asian Research

Expert Voices: Strategic Domains and the Obama-Xi Summit

In advance of the summit meeting between President Obama and President Xi, project experts from NBR’s ongoing project U.S.-China Relations in Strategic Domains discuss the significance of and challenges to the U.S.-China relationship in four strategic domains and two modes of exchange: space, nuclear, cyber, maritime, military-to-military and people-to-people. The experts identify areas of cooperation and mechanisms for managing tensions that the two presidents should consider at the upcoming summit.

The following quotes drawn from their short issue briefs highlight the importance of each domain to the U.S.-China relationship and touch on the papers’ findings about the challenges inherent in each domain.


Both building cooperation in areas of shared goals and agreeing on mechanisms to manage tension and crises are urgently needed to complement existing approaches to U.S.-China military relations.

ROY D. KAMPHAUSEN, Senior Vice President for Research, The National Bureau of Asian Research, in "Enhancing U.S.-China Military-to-Military Exchanges"


Although the maritime domain is the realm with the greatest potential for cooperation and mutual benefit between the United States and China, it also poses some of the greatest perils to the bilateral relationship. It is through the maritime domain that the two powers derive a substantial share of their economic prosperity; at the same time, it is in this domain that the two countries are likely to rub up against one another and even potentially clash.

CHRISTOPHER D. YUNG, Donald Bren Chair of Non-Western Strategic Thought, U.S. Marine Corps University, in "Assessing the Sino-U.S. Strategic Interaction in the Maritime Security Domain"


The massive changes in the space domain and China’s growing capabilities have affected the U.S.-China relationship in space. There is growing mistrust between the two countries...compounded by a misalignment in political and strategic priorities: China is focused on developing and increasing its capabilities in the space domain, whereas the United States is focused on maintaining and assuring access to its space capabilities.

BRIAN WEEDEN, Technical Advisor, Secure World Foundation, in "An Opportunity to Use the Space Domain to Strengthen the U.S.-China Relationship"


Traditionally a somewhat marginal element of the U.S.-China relationship, nuclear weapons are gradually increasing in importance in it for an interrelated set of political, strategic, and military reasons.

ELBRIDGE A. COLBY, Robert M. Gates Senior Fellow, Center for a New American Security (CNAS), in "Promoting Strategic Stability in the Midst of Sino-U.S. Competition"

To maintain strategic stability, China and the United States should reach a common understanding on strategic offensive and defensive capabilities. For example, the United States could limit its missile defense—enough to counter North Korea’s unsophisticated missiles without threatening China’s more advanced strategic missiles. In return, China could agree to refrain from expanding its nuclear arsenal.

WU RIQIANG, Associate Professor, School of International Studies, Renmin University, in "Stabilizing China-U.S. Nuclear Dynamics"


It is unlikely that the summit will produce new cooperative measures on cybersecurity, given the high degree of mistrust between the two sides and the growing political pressure in the United States to sanction China for the recent hacks. Perhaps the most that can be expected is that Washington and Beijing will signal a willingness to continue substantive discussions to manage disagreements and prevent escalation of events in the cyber domain to actual conflict.

ADAM SEGAL, Maurice R. Greenberg Senior Fellow for China Studies and Director of the Digital and Cyberspace Policy Program, Council on Foreign Relations, in "Stabilizing Cybersecurity in the U.S.-China Relationship"


In order to decrease rivalry and manage the growing number of strategic and economic challenges facing the bilateral relationship, P2P [people-to-people] activities must be expanded beyond the realm of cultural exchange to include strategic issues.

TRAVIS TANNER, Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, 100,000 Strong Foundation, in "Countering U.S.-China Strategic Rivalry by Elevating People-to-People Exchange"