Redefining Pragmatic Engagement: The “New Model” of U.S.-China Relations and the Opportunity of Shared Consequences

By Ryan Mitchell

A response to this piece written by Doug Strub can be found here.

Abstract:Since the 2013 meeting of Presidents Barack Obama and Xi Jinping in Sunnylands, California, one phrase has come to define both the vast potential for bilateral cooperation and the failure to realize that potential: the Chinese proposal for a “new model of major country relations” (新型大国关系). While China has presented the concept in terms of “win-win” cooperation, U.S. skepticism has broadly centered on two critiques. First, U.S. policy makers are concerned that associated language regarding “respect for core interests” represents an attempt to procure concessions regarding longstanding differences of opinion on Taiwan, Tibet, and similarly fraught topics. Secondly, the United States has made clear its position that bilateral ties “should be based not on slogans but on the quality of the cooperation”: pragmatic, concrete results should come before rhetoric.

This article compares three different ways of understanding this
“concrete” dimension of political engagement: 1) Policy
“realism,” as manifested in dominant strains of policy analysis in
both the United States and China that, while distinct, share many important common premises; 2) the “empiricist” positions of those who argue the need to take into account various underlying trends which counterbalance realist considerations; and 3) the more thickly “pragmatic” model proposed here, in which rhetorical factors rejected in the above models are themselves regarded as empirically significant in the conscious development of “public, objective and shared consequences.” Embracing China’s “new model” language may, itself, thus enable otherwise unlikely pragmatic achievements.

About the Author:Ryan Mitchell has earned a J.D. from Harvard Law School and a B.A. from the New School. He is currently a Mellon Foundation Humanities Fellow and Ph.D. in Law Candidate at Yale University, researching early 20th century political philosophy, international law, and comparative constitutional theory. He has studied and worked in various parts of China, and is fluent in Mandarin. He is also a member of the State Bar of California.

Photo by Flickr user richie c is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0. Image cropped.

Download PDF: 

About Us

The International Affairs Review is a graduate student-run publication of the George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs in Washington, D.C.

Follow us on:

Submission Guidelines

The International Affairs Review is currently accepting article submissions. Submissions for the website are accepted on a weekly basis with a deadline of 5 p.m. Eastern Standard Time each Thursday. Submissions for the print journal are accepted continuously, with article selection occurring at the beginning of each semester.

Click here for more information


Opinions expressed in International Affairs Review are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of International Affairs Review, The Elliott School of International Affairs, The George Washington University, or any other person or organization formally associated with International Affairs Review.

Click here for more information

Contact Us

Please feel free to contact our team with any questions or concerns.

Print Journal:

The Elliott School of International Affairs
George Washington University
1957 E Street, NW
Room 303-K
Washington, DC 20052