Event Summary

On May 23, Susan A. Thornton of Yale University and Thomas J. Christensen of Columbia University joined AEI’s Oriana Skylar Mastro to discuss negotiating with China in peacetime, crisis, and conflict.

Dr. Mastro began by discussing her latest book, “The Costs of Conversation: Obstacles to Peace Talks in Wartime” (Cornell University Press, 2019)She described the factors necessary to bring an adversary to the negotiating table, highlighting the need to ensure the adversary does not interpret openness to negotiations as a sign of weakness. She also noted that, due to the lack of negotiations in previous conflicts, tensions live on. She thus made the case for negotiations with China now, in peacetime, to ensure we can maintain open lines of communication throughout tensions in the relationship.

Dr. Christensen and Ms. Thornton agreed diplomacy with China is crucial. Dr. Christensen asserted that the US should avoid hedging with China because it creates barriers to good diplomacy. Ms. Thornton noted that diplomacy is not popular in Washington now and that we are currently not engaging with the Chinese in this way. Both speakers pinpointed the ongoing trade talks as an example of how the two countries could better set rules for cross-administration negotiations.
— Annie Kowalewski

Event Description

While there is no shortage of discussion about how war between the US and China could break out, few have asked how such a war might end. During crisis or conflict, how can we draw China to the negotiating table? How has China historically ended its wars, and how might this inform how the US approaches China diplomatically in peacetime, crisis, and war?

In her new book, “The Costs of Conversation: Obstacles to Peace Talks in Wartime” (Cornell University Press, 2019), Oriana Skylar Mastro asks: How can we get from fighting to talking? Join Dr. Mastro, Susan Thornton, and Tom Christensen as they discuss US diplomacy with China in an era of great-power competition.

Join the conversation on social media with @AEI on Twitter and Facebook.


2:15 PM

2:30 PM
Welcome and summary of the book:
Oriana Skylar Mastro, AEI

2:45 PM
Panel discussion

Thomas J. Christensen, Columbia University
Susan A. Thornton
, Yale University

Oriana Skylar Mastro, AEI

3:30 PM

4:00 PM

Event Contact Information

For more information, please contact Annie Kowalewski at [email protected], 202.862.4885.

Media Contact Information

For media inquiries, please contact [email protected], 202.862.5829

Speaker Biographies

Thomas J. Christensen is professor of public and international affairs and director of the China and the World Program at Columbia University. He arrived in 2018 from Princeton University, where he was William P. Boswell Professor of World Politics of Peace and War. From 2006 to 2008, he served as deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, with responsibility for relations with China, Taiwan, and Mongolia. His research and teaching focus on China’s foreign relations, the international relations of East Asia, and international security. Dr. Christensen also taught at Cornell University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is the chair of the Editorial Board of the Nancy B. Tucker and Warren I. Cohen Book Series on the United States in Asia at Columbia University Press. Dr. Christensen is a life member of the Council on Foreign Relations and a nonresident senior scholar at the Brookings Institution. He received a B.A. with honors in history from Haverford College, an M.A. in international relations from the University of Pennsylvania, and a Ph.D. in political science from Columbia University.

Oriana Skylar Mastro is a Jeane Kirkpatrick Visiting Scholar at AEI, where she focuses on Chinese military and security policy in the Asia-Pacific and rising power challenges to the international order. She is also assistant professor of security studies at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University and concurrently serves in the United States Air Force Reserve as a senior China analyst at the Pentagon. Previously, Dr. Mastro was a fellow in the Asia-Pacific Security program at the Center for a New American Security. In her military career, she has served as a political-military affairs strategist at Pacific Air Forces, a reserve air attaché for the Asia-Pacific region, and an Asia-Pacific and China strategist at the Pentagon. Dr. Mastro has a Ph.D. and an M.A. in politics from Princeton University and a B.A. in East Asian studies from Stanford University.

Susan A. Thornton is a retired senior US diplomat with almost 30 years of experience with the US State Department in Eurasia and East Asia. Until July 2018, she was acting assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific affairs at the Department of State and led East Asia policymaking amid crises with North Korea, escalating trade tensions with China, and a fast-changing international environment. She is currently a senior fellow and research scholar at the Yale University Paul Tsai China Center and a nonresident fellow at the Brookings Institution.

Related Material

The Costs of Conversation: Obstacles to Peace Talks in Wartime
Oriana Skylar Mastro | Cornell University Press | March 15, 2019

Negotiating with North Korea, competing with China, and another Trump-Kim summit: A conversation with Oriana Skylar Mastro
“Banter” | February 26, 2019

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