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Trust and Distrust in Sino-American Relations: Challenge and Opportunity (Paperback) ...

Chapter 1:  Introduction
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Trust and Distrust in Sino-American Relations:

exploit its vulnerabilities. In Addressing U.S.-China Strategic Distrust, Lieberthal and Wang report pervasive misgivings held by their respective governments’ officials regarding their counterparts. For instance, Chinese officials perceive that the U.S. is trying to encircle China, and conversely, American officials are concerned that China is seeking to eventually displace U.S. leadership in East Asia. Both sides hold these views despite the other’s reassurances to the contrary. But are each party’s concerns and perceptions unwarranted and if so, how can one tell? Moreover, why have their reciprocal reassurances thus far evidently turned out to be unpersuasive to the other side?

In addition to the possibility of mutual trust and that of mutual distrust, one country can trust the other but the latter does not trust the former in return—hence the possibility of one-sided trust. For instance, one can well imagine that Adolf Hitler knew about his own untrustworthiness and actually believed in Winston Churchill’s trustworthiness.3 He might also have believed that Churchill had understood him accurately and thus knew him to be untrustworthy. In this case, he could expect Churchill to distrust and resist him, and Anglo-German hostility would ensue even though Hitler had thought Churchill could be trusted and even though Churchill had understood Hitler accurately.

It is true that distrust can stem from a lack of sound understanding, and it can have a corrosive effect on a relationship that can otherwise be mutually rewarding. But misplacing one’s trust in another leader or state is dangerous, if this target of one’s attribution turns out to be a “wolf in sheep’s skin.” Neville Chamberlain is remembered by history for his naïve faith in Adolf Hitler’s trustworthiness. He was taken in by Hitler’s reassurances that Germany had only limited territorial and political ambitions. Therefore, not only distrust may be grounded in cogent arguments and valid evidence, but mistaken trust can also exact very high costs. The management of peaceful and stable interstate relations entails more than just the removal of distrust—or even gaining the other side’s trust.