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The U.S.-China 50
Meet the people powering the world's most complex and consequential relationship.
By Tea Leaf Nation Staff | Illustration by Hylton Warburton
With the ascent of Donald Trump to the pinnacle of power, U.S.-China ties have entered a period of historic uncertainty. Trump famously accused China of currency manipulation and “raping” U.S. workers during his campaign, then shocked the world as president-elect when he questioned the “One China policy,” a core element of bilateral diplomacy. Yet as president, he has turned away from his most strident declarations — backing away from branding China a currency manipulator, for example — partly in an effort to entice a reluctant Beijing to help neutralize a fast-growing nuclear threat from North Korea’s mercurial regime.
It looks increasingly possible that in 2017, core elements of the long-held dynamic between the United States and China will shift — in some cases incrementally, in others tectonically. Yet while much attention has been paid to the “chemistry” between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping, whatever new status quo emerges is unlikely to be one forged by their fiat alone.
Summitry, propaganda, and presidential bluster may pepper newspaper headlines, but the deep bilateral relationship between the United States and China is fundamentally driven by individual actors from the public and private spheres in the course of their daily work. These include a newly tapped White House potentate with no foreign-policy experience, a Chinese startup founder who never went to college, and a Tiananmen protester turned nationalist provocateur.
Together, the 50 individuals profiled here illustrate the richness of the world’s most important relationship, and illuminate both its fragility and its signal accomplishment: decades of peace between the world’s greatest power and the world’s fastest-rising one.
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