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  • Trust and Distrust in Sino-American Relations: Challenge and Opportunity by Steve Chan
  • Richard Hu (bio)
Steve Chan. Trust and Distrust in Sino-American Relations: Challenge and Opportunity. Amherst, New York: Cambria Press, 2017. 261 pp. Paperback $35.00, isbn 978-1-60497-997-8.

In a widely cited report Addressing U.S.-China Strategic Distrust, a serious question about trust and distrust in Sino-American relations was raised by [End Page 187] Kenneth Lieberthal and Wang Jisi. The question is why the two countries hold profound strategic distrust of each other despite their reciprocal reassurances over years. This issue is not simply how the two countries perceive each other; rather, it is more about why their mutual reassurances turn out to be unpersuasive to the other side. Building on the discussion on this issue and trying to bring it further into a more academic direction, Steve Chan's Trust and Distrust in Sino-American Relations: Challenge and Opportunity focuses the debate more on the issue of why states should trust others' intentions and where trust comes from. Distrust can stem from a lack of understanding. Yet a distrust of another state does not necessarily reflect misunderstanding or misperception. It is instead legitimate concern on the other states' motivation and intention. Chan's book is enlightening. It focuses on the issue of trustworthiness in international relations and goes into tremendous depth on the source of interstate trust and distrust.

Trust is one's subjective assessment of the other's future intention. It is a belief about someone's intention and performance in the future. The stronger the belief, the more confidence one has over the other's future intention. The trust a state vests in another state provides the basis for the future relationship between the two states. Among various definitions of trust in the international relations literature, the author'sdefinition is relatively simple and straightforward. To him, "trust refers to a general confidence about another state's future intentions which are seen to be benign or at least not hostile" (p. 16). He argues that trust is built on the basis of equity, parity, empathy, and reciprocity. Furthermore, how a state acts in stressful situations or crisis can reveal its true character and hence its trustworthiness.

The book has six chapters. Chapter 1 introduces main arguments and the structure of the book. Following the introduction, Chapter 2 "Gauging Another State's Trustworthiness" analyzes how to assess whether the other side deserves to be trusted or not. To understand the other party's trustworthiness, we tend to consider a variety of indicators and evidences, such as words and deeds, historical record, and credibility. Turning to Sino-U.S. relations, the natural question arises: should we trust each other's declared policies or should we pay more attention to each other's actual force deployment and weapon acquisition? In the past, to what extent have the two countries have kept their promises? In this chapter, both countries' treatment of their weak neighbors and domestic minorities is also discussed, as it reveals their true character and fundamental values.

Trust exists as a matter of degree. To measure different levels of trust, the author develops a layered approach to the issue of trust in international relations. As the author argues, at least three forms of trust could be identified depending on how the party making the attribution of trustworthiness sees the main source of the target state's future disposition. The three forms of trust, [End Page 188] psychologically termed as "predictability," "credibility," and "good intentions," are examined in the book, respectively. The three forms indicate different degree of confidence. While "predictability" refers to a sense that a state's behavior is predicable, "credibility" is a stronger sense of confidence on another state that its pronouncements to commitments are trustworthy. The strongest one among the three identified forms refers to a state that is always expected to have benevolent intentions and refrain from exploiting one even when given the opportunity to do so.

Chapter 3 examines the weak form of trust reflecting external compulsion. The author argues that Beijing and Washington are "predictable" to each other in a sense that they...


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pp. 187-190
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