Bridging the Ocean

On 3 December 2015, AICGS convened a seminar with DAAD/AICGS Research Fellow Dr. May-Britt U. Stumbaum, who presented her findings on the benefits and challenges of transatlantic cooperation on China. With their diverging response to the Chinese-initiated Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) seen as backlash to the transatlantic relationship, the United States and Germany have recently become more aware of their shared interests in policies concerning China and the costs of non-cooperation. The trend is furthered by a generational change with more cooperation-minded people assuming policy positions and has come on the heels of expanding globalization.

Both countries stand to gain from coordinated policy on both business and security fronts—the overlapping political interests are manifold. However, transatlantic cooperation on China has been rare and fleeting. In the short term, competition is an easier and more attractive choice, and it is difficult for political leaders to focus on long-run policy. There have been attempts at alignment, but those have been hindered by overlooked cultural differences in Washington and Berlin and further overshadowed by the ongoing crises ranging from Syria to Ukraine and refugees that demand attention and resources. Moreover, paradigm divergences have made it difficult for the two powers to come together.

However, it is possible to confront these difficulties and expedite a path to cooperation. The United States and Germany should take proactive steps to get China relations on the transatlantic agenda. That can include setting up regular meetings on the working level with, for example, German and American government Asian specialists meeting their counterparts in Washington, DC and Berlin and creating concrete initiatives—all with the intended goal of making the topic more salient and mainstreaming it into transatlantic routines. Cooperation is, after all, of long term benefit to the transatlantic partners, as they can achieve more by coordinating their initiatives in order to promote shared interests in and with an ever-stronger China.

The discussion mainly centered on Germany’s approach to China and its concurrent ascending to a leadership position in the European Union (EU). Historically, the Federal Republic of Germany has shied away from assuming a leadership role, but necessity compelled German leadership in dealing with the euro crisis. Since then, the country has adopted a more strategic outlook and increasingly an active role on other issues as well. Transatlantic cooperation on China will help both Germany and the United States, to increase their influence on China in pursuit of common goals and interests. Please see Dr. Stumbaum’s AICGS article on the topic here.

Please contact Ms. Elizabeth Caruth with any questions at

December 3, 2015