At the height of the Cold War, the United States made a bold political gamble to engage with an underdeveloped and politically isolated China. Engagement policy transformed not only the Cold War political landscape, but the trajectory of history: China is now one of the largest and most powerful economies in the world, and is widely considered by Americans to be a rival.  

In this new era of U.S.-China relations, “engagement” has become a target for criticism in American political circles. Does it deserve this reputation? In an interview recorded on December 12, 2023, Diana Fu and Yun Sun discuss the legacy of engagement policy and what lessons Americans can learn from the past five decades of relations with China. 

U.S.-China Counterpoints explores common perspectives on the U.S.-China relationship held by those in both countries. Guided by leading experts, this series examines the facts behind common viewpoints, and the details that shape U.S.-China relations behind the headlines. 

Diana Fu

Diana Fu is associate professor at The University of Toronto in the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy and Political Science. She is a non-resident fellow at the Brookings Institution, a China fellow at the Wilson Center, and a National Committee on U.S.-China Relations Public Intellectuals Program fellow. Her research examines civil society, popular contention, state control, and authoritarian citizenship in China. She is the author of Mobilizing Without the Masses: Control and Contention in China. Dr. Fu’s commentary has appeared on BBC, Bloomberg TV, CBC, CNN, NPR, and in Foreign Affairs, US News & World Report, and The New York Times, among others. She was guest host of the TVO documentary series “China Here and Now” and of POLITICO’s China Watcher. 

Professor Fu received her doctorate in politics from Oxford University, where she was a Rhodes Scholar, and currently serves as national co-secretary of the Rhodes Scholarship for China. 

Yun Sun

Yun Sun is a senior fellow, co-director of the East Asia program, and director of the China program at the Stimson Center in Washington D.C. Her expertise is in Chinese foreign policy, U.S.-China relations, and China’s relations with neighboring countries and authoritarian regimes. She was previously a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution, focusing on Chinese national security decision-making processes and China-Africa relations, and before that was the China analyst for the International Crisis Group based in Beijing, specializing on China’s foreign policy towards conflict countries and the developing world. Ms. Sun earned her master’s degree in international policy and practice from George Washington University, as well as an M.A. in Asia Pacific studies and a B.A. in international relations from the Foreign Affairs College in Beijing.