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Journalist speaking in Santa Barbara County says U.S.-China relations at critical juncture

Alejandro Luengo

Evan Osnos lived in China for a decade, and won a National Book Award for his work Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth and Faith in the New China.

An acclaimed journalist who’s covered U-S China relations for decades feels they are at a critical juncture.

"Vast change is underway in the U.S.-China relationship from what was essentially a half-century of engagement more or less...a cooperative but tense attitude...towards something that's more confrontational, and uncertain," said Evan Osnos, who is considered to be a leading expert on U.S.-China relations.

"That is the new phase in which we find ourselves, and will be for many of the decades ahead," said Osnos.

He lived in China for a decade, covering the country for the Chicago Tribune and The New Yorker magazine. He wrote Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth and Faith in the New China, which won a National Book Award.

Osnos is speaking at UC Santa Barbara Wednesday night. He said the relationship between the two superpowers is complicated, because they are so intertwined with each other.

"The U.S, and China find themselves in a very unusual kind of relationship," said Osnos. "It's not something that we've ever had in history, where we have these two large powers with distinct and often confrontational interests and agendas in the world, but at the same time, we are economically intertwined in really powerful ways."

"I mean, just to give you one example, Starbucks is opening a new coffee shop in China every 15 hours," said the journalist. "That presents a pretty complicated picture."

Osnos said there is a lot of uncertainty between the two nations.

"It's especially difficult for each side of this relationship to make sense of the other," said Osnos. "Our two political systems are so completely radically different. But so are our political cultures. These (are) two different worlds...each of which is straining, struggling honestly to make sense of the other side."

The journalist says there’s also a lot of tension. It isn’t getting the kind of attention that Ukraine, and the Middle East are receiving, but it’s a huge concern.

"The focus of much of that energy is around Taiwan. What will happen to Taiwan in the future? Will it remain essentially an autonomous region, or will China attempt to take control of it?" asked Osnos. He said there are also other contested areas in Southeast Asia.

Adding to the uncertainty for China is not knowing who they may be dealing with in a year, because of the U.S. presidential election.

The journalist said there are a number of potentially interlocking international relations issues. The U.S. has tried to balance its support for an independent Taiwan with a relationship with China, which wants it back.

He asks if the U.S. cut back its aid to Ukraine, would that convey a message about its commitment to countries under threat from superpowers, like Taiwan?

Osnos will speak about U-S-China relations Wednesday night, at UCSB’s Campbell Hall. The 7:30 p.m. UCSB Arts and Lectures event is open to the public, with tickets available online and at the door.

Lance Orozco has been News Director of KCLU since 2001, providing award-winning coverage of some of the biggest news events in the region, including the Thomas and Woolsey brush fires, the deadly Montecito debris flow, the Borderline Bar and Grill attack, and Ronald Reagan's funeral.