Incompatible Partners

The Role of Identity and Self-Image in the Sino-U.S. Relationship

Published in: Asia Policy, no. 13, Jan. 2012, p. 133-165

Posted on RAND.org on January 01, 2012

by Lyle J. Morris

Read More

Access further information on this document at www.nbr.org

This article was published outside of RAND. The full text of the article can be found at the link above.

Many scholars and pundits have concluded that the noticeable downturn in U.S.-China relations in 2010 was merely an intermittent low in the broader "high-low" dynamic that characterizes the relationship. This article argues that recent tensions can also be understood as part of larger, macro-level suspicions stemming from the disparate identities that pervade bilateral relations. Analyzing the historical processes that have helped shape these identities and using four case studies to illustrate this phenomenon in action, this article argues that China and the U.S. have produced incompatible self-images, which, when interfaced, work at cross-purposes with each other. These dueling identities, if unmanaged, have the capacity to undermine cooperative relations in the long term. However, both countries could mitigate the identity variable by acknowledging the historical and cultural barriers precluding greater cooperation, as well as by utilizing multilateral mechanisms to address issues of common interest.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation external publication series. Many RAND studies are published in peer-reviewed scholarly journals, as chapters in commercial books, or as documents published by other organizations.

The RAND Corporation is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.