Sun & Star Symposium | Opening Dinner & Discussion: Conflict or Cooperation

Managing Sino-American relations in the 21st century

Wednesday, September 18, 2013 (6:15 PM – 9:00 PM)
Ernst & Young Gallery, Fincher Building, Cox School of Business (map)

S&S save the Date

In recent months, tensions have flared over a smattering of islands in the East China Sea and the South China Sea.  Several Asian nations, including China, Japan, and Southeast Asian countries, have identified the ownership of rocky shoals in the region as matters of grave national interest to each of them.  Because these uninhabited spits of rock allegedly sit astride valuable caches of oil, gas, and fishing rights, several in proximity claim ownership.  Not surprisingly, these competing claims have caused these nations not only to squabble diplomatically but also to show off military might and nationalistic bravado in hopes the other interested parties will back down and change the status quo.  In the East China Sea, China and Japan have nearly come to blows over islands called the Senkaku by Japan and the Diaoyu by China.  Japan has long-governed those islands, but China claims that ownership was wrongfully established.  In the South China Sea, China is arguing primacy for the ownership of the whole Spratly Islands , while Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam all claim some right to the islands.

Along with the rise of China, these rising tensions between China and many other Asian nations have potential to do significant damage in the region, from a souring of relations to prompting an arms race, from diplomatic showdowns to the potential for military conflict.  While the disputes are allegedly over the oil, gas, fishing and mineral resources, in fact there is more to it.  Simmering beneath the surface, there are hard feelings over past Japanese imperial conquest and fears over China’s goal to become the undisputed superpower in the area.  Thus far, diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis have come to naught, and saber-rattling has become the preferred course of action.  Although the world would like to see a China confident in its presence in international society and working with other countries to solve global problems as a responsible stakeholder, in reality the China that has caused various conflicts with the U.S. and other foreign countries is on the rise because the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has found it increasingly difficult to deal with its domestic problems.  As a result, China has become a “revisionist power” that challenges the status quo power balance in world politics.  The recent emphasis by President Xi Jinping on the “great restoration of the Chinese race” (Zhonghua minzu de weida fuxing) has exacerbated global discomfort with the potential negative impacts of China’s rise.  Moreover, the challenges that the CCP has faced, such as rural uprisings, workers’ strikes, and ethnic conflicts, seem to have enhanced the fragility of the one-party rule.

Given these significant and current challenges in the region, the John G. Tower Center for Political Studies at Southern Methodist University plans to bring together a diverse group of experts—both historians as well as political scientists—who have observed the conflict and cooperation in the region, to examine the critical issues posed by the territorial disputes over these island chains, focusing on what implications China’s rise brings to these contested waters.  Among the central questions that will be addressed are:

  • What have the historical claims to these islands been, and how did the ownership become so contested over time?
  • Do the islands matter less for the oil, gas, minerals and fish located in and around them than they do for power struggles and primacy in the region?  What implications does China’s rise have on this issue?
  • What are the strategic interests of the United States in these disputes, and what should the U.S. foreign policy response look like given the political issues surrounding the various claims?
  • Given the rise of China, how do the conflicts over the contested waters in the East and South China Sea influence the U.S. strategic interests in East Asia and the Asia-Pacific?

Opening Dinner & Discussion




Keynote Dinner

“Conflict or Cooperation: Managing Sino-American relations in the 21st century”

Keynote Speaker: The Honorable James B. Steinberg, Dean of the Maxwell School, Syracuse University

220px-Jim_SteinbergSecretary Steinberg is Dean of the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University, and University Professor of Social Science, International Affairs, and Law. Prior to becoming Dean of the Maxwell School in 2011, he was Deputy Secretary of State, serving as the principal deputy to Secretary Clinton. From 2005 to 2008, he was Dean of the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs; previously he was vice president and director of Foreign Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution, where he supervised a wide-ranging research program on U.S. foreign policy. From 1996 to 2000, he served as deputy national security advisor to President Clinton. During that period, he also served as the president’s personal representative to the 1998 and 1999 G-8 Summits. Prior to becoming deputy national security advisor, he served as director of the State Department’s policy planning staff and as deputy assistant secretary for analysis in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research. Previously, he was Senator Edward Kennedy’s principal aide for the Senate Armed Services Committee and minority counsel, U.S. Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee. His most recent book is Difficult Transitions: Foreign Policy Troubles at the Outset of Presidential Power (2008) (co-authored with Kurt Campbell).

Program Partners





Keio Research Institute at SFC (KRIS)
Japan Studies Platform Laboratory