The United States' containment policy against China isn't realistic and it is not in the U.S.' own interests, a China expert said, adding that the U.S. government must return to diplomacy to address bilateral tensions.
"I don't think at this point that (containment policy) is a very good strategy," Susan Thornton, a former U.S. diplomat and senior fellow at Yale Law School's Paul Tsai China Center, said during a recent webinar.
Under its so-called containment policy, the U.S. has labeled China as an adversary, and tried to isolate and contain it, she said, emphasizing that the approach is not a "positive one for the U.S." and it won't pay "big dividends" either.
According to Thornton, the thinking among U.S. political elites that China can be systemically weakened isn't realistic, and it is not going to leave a lot of room for bilateral talks or cooperation.
It is critically important to normalize regular official meetings between Washington and Beijing, the former U.S. diplomat said, warning that otherwise there would be "a very dangerous escalatory security dilemma that will lead to conflict".
"In the absence of constructive official discussions, I think it's really important that we try to keep up other connections. This (China) is the most populous country in the world, the second-largest economy; it's not going anywhere," she said. "We need to figure out how we're going to coexist with China. We're not going to defeat them. We're not going to overturn their government. We're not going to invade them."
Thornton suggested keeping people-to-people and business connections going, and attempting to find some areas in multilateral talks where the two countries can work together.
A major problem in U.S.-China relations is the Taiwan question, she said, adding that people in the U.S. unfortunately don't understand how provocative and threatening U.S. actions with regard to the island are for China.
"We have to take their (other countries') concerns seriously, or we may end up in a situation that we really didn't design and didn't want to be in," Thornton said.
"In the past five years, the careful management of this issue has been dropped, and we have been using it as a kind of a cudgel in the U.S.-China relationship, which has deteriorated. ... I think this is extremely dangerous, for Taiwan especially, but also for the U.S. and China, and the rest of the world," she said.
Thornton said there are still many areas in multilateral forums where the U.S. could cooperate with China. She cited the recent negotiation over a United Nations treaty on the high seas, where U.S. and Chinese delegates worked together to get the agreement across the finish line.
In addressing climate change and other challenges, the two countries are expected to work together toward making progress in their parallel tracks, she said.
"There's the obvious area of commercial cooperation and trade. Last year, U.S.-China trade hit a record high, so in spite of all the sanctions and recriminations, we still manage to keep commercial relations going," she added.