The United States and China both stand at the threshold of major transitions. In Beijing, newly selected leader Xi Jinping is set to assume the Chinese presidency this month, charged with navigating a complicated international environment and significant domestic challenges. Here in Washington, as the Obama administration begins its second term, John Kerry, the newly sworn-in Secretary of State, inherits a fraught relationship between the two Pacific powers.
U.S.-based China experts have lamented that the two countries lack a "shared vision" for the future of the world's most crucial bilateral relationship. They are correct. But seeking common ground does not mean abdicating the United States' unique role as exemplar. More than other nations, the United States strives to speak directly to citizens around the world, not just their governments. Precisely for this reason, familiarity with citizen voices abroad, and the ability to leverage grassroots sentiment to amplify diplomatic impact, is a vital prerequisite for Washington's unique brand of engagement.