Asia In-Depth Podcast: Orville Schell on 20 Years of U.S.-China Relations

Bill Clinton and Jiang Zemin

U.S. President Bill Clinton and Chinese President Jiang Zemin make a toast at the State Banquet on June 27, 1998, in Beijing's Great Hall of the People. (Luke Frazza/AFP/Getty Images)

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In June 1998, on a visit to China, U.S. President Bill Clinton met with his Chinese counterpart Jiang Zemin in Beijing at what proved to be a remarkably open and relaxed summit. Nearly two decades later, President Donald Trump traveled to China in 2017 for a meeting with Xi Jinping, the country's most powerful leader in decades. All the warmth evident at the previous summit, however, was gone — along with much hope for progress on a range of key issues.

The two events reveal more than just the differences between the leaders themselves. They also serve as a useful barometer of how the U.S.-China relationship, one filled with optimism at the turn of the century, has become fraught with such tension.

Orville Schell, a longtime expert on China now serving as the Arthur Ross Director of Asia Society’s Center on U.S.-China Relations, attended both summits. In the latest episode of Asia In-Depth, Schell reflects on how Sino-American ties have frayed over the past 20 years and what — if anything — can be done to mend the relationship.

About the Author

Profile picture for user Matt Schiavenza

Matt Schiavenza is the Assistant Director of Content at Asia Society. His work has appeared at The Atlantic, The Daily Beast, The New Republic, Fortune, and strategy + business among other publications.