The benefits of engagement with China, defined: An audit of the S&ED


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This week on the Sinica Podcast, Kaiser welcomes former Acting Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs Susan Thornton to discuss a recently published audit of the Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED), the annual set of high-level meetings with Chinese officials that were convened during the Obama administration by the U.S. Departments of State and the Treasury. The audit’s two lead authors, representing the two organizations behind the audit, the National Committee on U.S. Foreign Policy and the American Friends Service Committee, also join the conversation. Rorry Daniels is the Deputy Project Director at the National Committee on American Foreign Policy’s Forum on Asia-Pacific Security, where she organizes research and Track II discussions on security issues and conflict mediation in the Asia-Pacific. Daniel Jasper is the Public Education and Advocacy Coordinator, Asia, for the American Friends Service Committee, where his work focuses on China and North Korea. Susan, Rorry, and Dan make a strong case that, contrary to an emerging bipartisan consensus in Washington that engagement with China was a failure, the policy of engagement actually bore substantial fruit.

6:12 – The SED and the S&ED — why the ampersand matters

10:37 – The rationale behind the S&ED

16:15 – In the room at the S&ED meetings

30:12 – Critiques of the S&ED process

36:47 – The mechanics of the S&ED audit

44:13 – Five major accomplishments of the S&ED

1:01:38 – Other surprising U.S. gains from the S&ED

1:10:51 – How could the process be improved?

A transcript of this interview is available on


Rorry: The Good Place (a TV show by Michael Schur) and the eponymous podcast hosted by Tara Brach.

Dan: Silence: The Power of Quiet in a World Full of Noise, by Thich Nhat Hanh, and The China Hustle, a documentary on China-focused short sellers, by Jed Rothstein.

Susan: The Incredible Dr. Pol, a reality show about a veterinarian on National Geographic; Hidden Forces, a podcast hosted by Demetri Kofinas; and China and Japan: Facing History, the last book by the great scholar Ezra Vogel.

Kaiser: Wildland: The Making of America’s Fury, by Evan Osnos, especially in audiobook form, read by the author, and Grand Tamasha, a podcast about current affairs in India, hosted by Milan Vaishnav.