U.S.-China Relations According to Tsinghua Professor Da Wei

Dr. Da Wei is a professor of international relations and director of the Center for International Security and Strategy at Tsinghua University. He recently led a group of Tsinghua students to the U.S. and they visited several cities on the East Coast. This was the first Chinese student delegation to visit the U.S. since the pandemic. Editors of U.S.-China Perception Monitor recently sat down with Professor Da Wei and discussed this trip and his view on the current US-China relations. The interview is comprised of three parts. In the first part, we focus on the role of educational exchange, its impact on bilateral relations, and the challenges to tackle. In the second part, we focus on China’s global standing and U.S.-China relations. In the third part, we focus on the volatility of the Taiwan issue and how to manage it. 

You were just in the U.S. with a group of Tsinghua students. We assume this was your first trip to the U.S. since the pandemic. How was your trip?

I led a student delegation on a U.S. visit from Boston to Charlottesville, Virginia. The visit took place from July 27th to August 12th. It was a long but exciting trip. We were likely the first student delegation from China to visit the U.S. after the pandemic.

Furthermore, this trip marked my first visit to the United States since the pandemic began in early 2020. The students enjoyed a profoundly memorable and enriching experience, engaging with Americans from think tanks, NGOs, and various universities. They interacted with professors, students, scholars and even government officials.

For the students, the signals they received were mixed. On the one hand, they encountered specific challenges. For instance, during the planning phase of the trip, they had to deal with the complexity of obtaining visas and enduring lengthy interview queues. Here I should thank the US embassy in Beijing for helping us to shorten the process. Additionally, airfare was quite costly. Compounded with this, our flights involved multiple transfers, given the limited travel options between the U.S. and China. In addition, five out of the fourteen students experienced secondary inspections upon entering Customs and Border Control. Some of my American friends and colleagues also complained to me that they experienced a similar situation when they entered China’s Border Control, but I have to say that based on my limited experience, the percentage of Chinese visitors who encountered this experience when entering the U.S. is much higher than that of the U.S. visitors entering China.

However, once we were on U.S. soil, the experience was fantastic. The individuals we encountered—students, professors, scholars, practitioners, and diplomats—displayed remarkable warmth and openness toward my students. These encounters made it very clear that the people-to-people connections, educational ties, and academic exchanges should not be compromised despite the complex governmental and political dynamics between the two nations. This overarching sentiment emerged consistently in our discussions with various individuals during our visit and it was very encouraging.

Overall, my students departed with a distinctly positive impression of the U.S. and the American people.

During your trip, what was the most memorable moment?

During my time in Philadelphia, amidst numerous meetings, I led my students to connect with my personal and long-standing friend, Mr. Woody Goldberg and his wife. Woody was the former senior aide to the late Secretary of State General Alexander Haig. He has maintained a deep and enduring friendship with China, advocating for sustainable people-to-people engagement and durable military cooperation. He graciously hosted us for a beautiful dinner that touched all of us deeply. The evening was intimate, and the food delicious. Woody’s toast for a better and more productive bilateral relationship moved some of my students to tears.

In bilateral relations, discussions between the officials or scholars often revolve around interests and values. However, within the context of that meeting and the subsequent dinner, we experienced the potent force of sentiment and emotion as well as the power of the individual. Despite the manifold differences between our two nations, encountering friends like Woody, individuals who possess a genuine warmth and represent the everyday, benevolent American spirit, instills a renewed belief in the potential of a positive future for our bilateral relations.

This people-to-people connection forms the bedrock upon which meaningful bilateral ties are built. We are human beings and are subject to emotional swings. This is why I say this was the most memorable moment of our trip. It was the softest, most tender and human part of this visit, but I do believe that this “soft” force of human emotion will have the strongest, and most enduring impact on my students for a very long time.

We interviewed Ambassador Julia Bloch back in 2020. She referred to the US-China education exchange as the last pillar of the bilateral relationship and warned that this pillar is in jeopardy. Given that the bilateral ties are so hostile, how much hope do you have that the educational exchange can mend this relationship?

Actually, I don’t think educational exchanges can mend this relationship. It’s important not to overstate the impact of educational or people-to-people exchanges. While we might establish robust educational or interpersonal connections, these ties alone won’t significantly alter the broader relationship between the two countries. As an example, the economic interplay, technological competition, geopolitical tensions, and security rivalry are dimensions that remain largely immune to the influence of educational or interpersonal connections.

Nonetheless, I must emphasize that educational exchanges, along with the broader scope of people-to-people interactions, serve as a foundational element. Often, we refer to economic connections as the stabilizing force in bilateral relations. Let’s consider a scenario in which both interpersonal ties and economic relations are absent: such a situation could potentially lead to a Soviet-US style Cold War. Within the current context of China-US relations, the role of people-to-people connections and educational exchanges is indispensable. Without these elements, we would be exposed to significant peril.

Based on your assessment, what is the current state of US-China educational exchange? 

While I acknowledge that these educational exchanges cannot single-handedly change the overall bilateral relationship, I agree with Ambassador Bloch’s assertion that these exchanges face considerable challenges, and the pandemic has only exacerbated these challenges.

On one hand, there’s been a notable decline in the number of American students studying in China. Many students and scholars have concerns about their personal safety when thinking about traveling to China. Additionally, numerous American professors have conveyed that interest in China, Chinese language studies, and regional studies of China has declined significantly within the U.S.. Furthermore, the enrollment of Chinese undergraduate students in U.S. universities has seen a decline of approximately 13% in 2022 incomparison to the previous year. It’s evident that we confront substantial difficulties.

Nevertheless, I remain optimistic that these challenges within educational exchanges can be mitigated in the near future. As the pandemic slows down, I anticipate a limited resurgence in the number of American students studying in China.

It’s my sincere hope that both governments collaborate to change this situation. The presence of Chinese students is crucial for American universities, both in terms of tuition revenue and their contributions to research and development. It’s a win-win aspect of this bilateral relationship. China wants more American students in China, and the U.S. university needs Chinese students. Both demands are palpable. That’s the fundamental reason the educational ties could recover to some extent in the near future. To reach this goal, both sides must collaboratively come up with a comprehensive plan to facilitate student and scholar exchanges, mitigating major security concerns.

The lack of direct flights remain a significant barrier in U.S.-China relations. Before the pandemic, there were 350 weekly flights connecting the two countries, and there are only 48 now. Why do you think we are in this deplorable situation?

From my discussions with Chinese government officials, it’s evident that they are keen about welcoming more American visitors, including students and scholars, to China. The Chinese government actively promotes this initiative and encourages universities in Beijing and other cities to extend invitations to American scholars for meetings and workshops. This unequivocal stance signals China’s commitment to fostering academic and educational exchanges with the United States.

In terms of direct flights between the two countries, my understanding is that it is the U.S., not China, that is the main obstacle. One contributing factor is that many U.S. airlines have shifted their operational focus toward trans-Atlantic flights during the pandemic. This transition makes it challenging for them to pivot back to trans-Pacific routes in a short time.

The other main factor is the ongoing Ukraine conflict. The U.S. government does not allow American commercial planes to fly over Russian airspace. In contrast, Chinese airlines face no such restriction. This asymmetry has led U.S. airlines to perceive an inequity, as Chinese counterparts enjoy the benefits of shorter routes, fuel savings, and reduced operational costs.

Addressing this disparity requires both sides to engage in a constructive resolution. Cooperation is essential to overcome these challenges and reestablish balanced air travel connections between the two nations.

Your institute has recently conducted a survey on Chinese people’s international outlook. How do the survey results reflect China’s international position today?

We conducted this survey in late 2022 and published the findings this year. We intend to conduct this survey annually in the upcoming years to monitor potential shifts in the international outlook of the Chinese populace. Furthermore, this survey was designed to encompass the entire Chinese society. We were making sure survey sampling adhered to the demographic profile of the Chinese population. It’s worth noting that ordinary Chinese people’s perspectives often diverge from those of intellectuals or elites within China.

Despite these distinctions, the results clearly indicate a strong confidence among ordinary Chinese people regarding their country. A considerable majority expressed that China is notably secure, even safer than it was five years ago, and this sense of security is anticipated to improve further in the next five years. As for China’s international standing, the majority believes that China holds a prominent position on the global stage. When asking to give a score for the influence of some countries, 53.4% gave China the highest score of 5, and 32.7% gave a 4, while 52.1% give the U.S. a 5, and 27.7% a 4. Other interesting findings include that the majority of those being polled (68%) believe that globalization is in China’s interest, most participants support international scientific cooperation (92.2%), economic opening-up(91.7%), more foreigners working and studying in China (84%), and more Chinese students going to Western countries (75.6%).

Do you think the survey reflects the popular support for China’s foreign policy in the past 10 years? How do you explain the sharp gap between how people in developed nations see China and how Chinese people see where China is internationally?

Remarkably, there is a robust endorsement of China’s foreign policy, with many expressing a desire for China to adopt an even more proactive approach. This sentiment contrasts with external criticisms, particularly from the West, which often labels China’s foreign policy as being too assertive. The divergence between how the developed world views China and how the Chinese people perceive the outside world is an important reason for conducting this survey. We try to understand this gap.

Indeed, in the U.S., numerous polls have revealed a prevalent negative sentiment toward China among ordinary Americans, with over 80% harboring such views. Thus, we were naturally curious about the Chinese perspective of the U.S. and Western countries. Based on our findings, China’s view of the U.S. ranks as the most negative among the countries and regions in question, with almost 60% holding unfavorable opinions.

Evidently, there exists a shared negative perception of each other in both nations. This highlights the pressing need to delve into the reasons behind these negative perceptions, potentially rooted in mutual misperceptions. The stark disparity in these perceptions undoubtedly mirrors the strained official relationship between the two countries. As official governmental relations remain strained, it inevitably shapes ordinary citizens’ perceptions, and these misperceptions need to be addressed and mitigated.

A few days ago, President Biden said during a fundraiser in Utah that China is a “ticking time bomb”. He refers to what is believed in the West that China is going through a rough time in its economic sector. Do you think China’s economic difficulties are exaggerated by the China watchers in the West?

I don’t have an economics background. But my view on this is that firstly, I see what Biden said as campaign rhetoric. He seemed to exaggerate the challenges China faces, likely due to campaign and political considerations. However, I don’t believe this fully reflects reality.

Based on my conversations with various China experts in the U.S., most of them don’t conclude that China has necessarily peaked economically. Rather, they believe it’s premature to make such a declaration. Drawing a definitive conclusion might take years.

A comparable viewpoint in China is the concept of “dongsheng xijiang” (东升西降), signifying the East’s rise and the West’s decline. I similarly believe it’s too early to ascertain. I cannot pass judgment on whether the West is declining or the East is in ascendance. It will take a lot of years to reach a more informed conclusion.

While these discussions center on the long-term, in the short term, I do acknowledge China is grappling with certain economic challenges. It’s evident when examining statistics from the Chinese government. The numbers are not particularly favorable. The Chinese government is actively working to enhance economic performance. While the effectiveness of their efforts remains uncertain, it’s apparent that China is contending with immediate or medium-term hurdles. China is a country with a population of 1.4 billion, most of them are at a medium or low income level. This means it’s a country with great potential. Any prediction that denies its long-term growth needs to be very cautious.

If there are glitches in China’s economy, is it more caused by sanctions imposed on China by the U.S.-led West or by China’s own domestic dynamics and structural deficiencies?

Given China’s immense economic size, U.S. sanctions can impact specific companies or industries, but I doubt they possess the capacity to significantly hamper the overall Chinese economic performance. The sanctions and restriction may or may not prevent China’s high-tech development in some areas, but the key issue here is, China’s economic development is not equal to high-tech development. There is vast economic terrain that China can develop itself. The primary goal of Chinese government is not to prevail over the US in high-tech competition or become the dominant power to replace the US, but to lead the country out the danger of “middle-income trap” and develop the nation into a more well-off one. Not all countries can produce chips or be good at AI, but that won’t prevent those countries from being prosperous and strong. China’s development is more related to China’s own economic policies rather than Western sanctions and restriction. China possesses its own set of structural issues. We need to reconsider some policies and further stimulate China’s economic performance. Solving our economic issues hinges on self-reform and our own efforts. 

President Biden signed an executive order on August 9th to restrict certain American investment in high-tech sectors in China. If we consider other similar policies, do you think this will leave China in a place that is growing isolated technologically from the West?

I believe that the chip and high-tech restrictions imposed by the U.S. have indeed been detrimental to China’s technological advancement.

In the area of high-tech, if the present trajectory continues, it’s plausible that parallel standards, technological ecosystems, and environments may emerge. These technologies could end up being incompatible with each other—a trend that the U.S. might want to see.

However, whether this results in China becoming technologically isolated or prompts a surge in our own innovation remains uncertain. Notably, this situation has already initiated substantial efforts within China to drive self innovation. Working in a university, I’ve observed Chinese universities and research institutes intensively engage in tackling the technological challenges presented by the West.

What are the possible scenarios for China facing the US’s high-tech restrictions?

The possible outcomes for China are varied. Ideally, China would maintain strong connections with Western nations wherever possible, fostering collaborative technological development while also facing a limited degree of isolation. This scenario would be the most favorable for China.

On the other hand, if China were to become quite isolated and reliant only on internal resources, I still aspire to see our scientists, engineers and companies overcome obstacles and develop advanced technologies in some selected key areas and on the basis of market economy. This will support China’s own high-tech industries and deter the U.S. from further suffocating China’s development space.

The least desirable outcome would be if China struggles to make significant breakthroughs in numerous fields, leading to technological regression and impairing long-term economic potential. It’s imperative to recognize that scientific research and technological advancement in today’s world are deeply interdependent. Singular nations are unlikely to achieve comprehensive progress in every sphere solely on their own. China needs to concentrate its resources and effort on the key areas that are plausible based on rules of sci-tech innovation and market economy.

My hope lies in the best or second-best scenario. The possibilities are manifold, but what truly matters is the competence of Chinese scientists, engineering firms, research institutes, universities, and their collective success.

America’s three major chip CEOs recently went to Washington DC and met with the Biden officials, urging them to restrain from rolling out further restrictions on China. The chip CEOs argued that the China market could provide a big chunk of the revenue for them to further invest in chip research and development. To what extent do you think the chip companies’ pressure on the US government can change the course of the chip war between the two countries?

This is a very difficult question. It’s essentially a negotiation inside U.S. domestic politics. However, I believe your question touches upon an important aspect. The effort towards decoupling is potentially detrimental to both China and the U.S., including American companies.

Consequently, such restrictions not only affect China’s interests but also have a direct negative impact on the U.S. This, in turn, triggers internal negotiations within the U.S. We’re not envisaging a scenario where China resides on Mars and the U.S. on Venus. Both countries coexist on Earth. The decoupling, or de-risking as per the newly adopted term on the U.S. side, will not translate into absolute isolation. Rather, I think the situation is quite complicated.

Historically, the US-China interaction since 1949 could be divided into two periods. The first 30 years (1949-1979) saw confrontation and separation. The second 30 years (1979-2009) witnessed co-prosperity and peace. What do you think the next 30 years will look like (from 2009 to 2039)?

I am not sure if the third phrase will be limited to 30 years or so. As we know, the Cold War lasted more than 40 years. But I very much agree that we are entering a relatively prolonged phase. The duration is uncertain; it could last until 2039, 2049, or perhaps 2059—only time will tell. We are in a new phase of China-US relations, distinct from the period spanning from 1979 to 2009.

The question here lies in defining this new era. This aligns with your question: How do we characterize this third 30-year span? The US refers to it as “strategic competition.” On the contrary, China consistently asserts that it rejects the use of the term “strategic competition” to define bilateral relations. However, I don’t possess an answer to how China defines this relationship, as the Chinese side has yet to provide a clear stance. I’m personally dissatisfied with the US-coined term “strategic competition.” In truth, this is not a competition.

My American friends often ask me why we can’t approach it as a competition akin to the Olympic Games, as competition is generally seen as beneficial. I respond by highlighting the difference: Can we envisage one athlete preventing another from purchasing a pair of running shoes in the Olympic Games? That scenario is implausible. It’s not mere competition.

Some scholars, including some in the U.S., suggest that the U.S. government is containing China. I’m rather hesitant to employ the term “containment,” which harks back to the Cold War era. Occasionally, we hear assertions that the U.S. is trying to curb China’s progress, suppress it, or even strangle it. However, these terms might also be overly negative or intense.

Currently, we lack precise terminology to define the upcoming phase, or perhaps I should say the next chapter of the third 30 years. The picture isn’t clear. Nonetheless, it’s undoubtedly a period characterized by negativity, surpassing the boundaries of competition. Although I lack a definitive answer, I can affirm that the situation is more negative than mere competition.

If it were truly a competition, it wouldn’t resemble the competition between companies or athletes. Rather, the current trajectory points towards a competition where one side prevails while the other loses. It’s not a scenario where both sides can emerge as winners. Thus, this phase doesn’t promise a pleasant journey.

What are the meaningful guardrails that can be erected to prevent the bilateral difficulties from veering into an armed conflict?

Before delving into negotiations about guardrails or guiding principles, it’s crucial that both sides align on the fundamental definition and nature of this evolving relationship. Drawing a comparison, in a scenario involving two individuals, if one harbors an intent to harm the other, saying, “I want to hurt you, but we need some safety precautions in case we fall off a cliff,” it’s unlikely that the weaker side will agree to such safeguards with the stronger counterpart.

So to build this guardrail, we must first get a consensus about the primary intention. An American colleague told me, “In the context of this major power competition, neither side has to win, but neither side can afford to lose.” I agree with him and believe this characterizes the nature of our competition. Consequently, both sides must work to ensure their key interests remain intact in this competition, facilitating coexistence. Subsequently, we can think about the guardrails.

As for guardrails, they represent the comparatively more manageable aspect. However, we need more than that. Establishing a regular mechanism and a dialogue platform between government officials is crucial. This should persist regardless of the state of bilateral relations. Furthermore, there’s a need for more military confidence building measures (CBMs) and measures for crisis prevention and management, particularly in the aerial and maritime domains.

Moreover, we should establish working groups to discuss economic and technological matters. This would involve refraining from initiating new policies that create a sense of unpredictability within the business community. This is comparable to “small yard and high fence.” To me, the size of the yard is of secondary concern. My primary concern centers around the stability of the fence as it is essential to conduct regular business between two countries.

Do you think Washington has upped the ante in using the Taiwan issue to distract and contain China? How do you think both sides should approach this issue?

When it comes to the Taiwan issue, the perspectives in the U.S. vary considerably, much like in China where a diversity of views are also present. As mentioned in your question, there’s an overwhelming belief in China that Washington is playing the “Taiwan card” either to contain China or divert China’s focus. Similarly, there are individuals within the U.S. who perceive Taiwan as a strategic asset, even stating that it holds such importance for the U.S. that it can never be allowed to reunify with China. These expressions have understandably raised concerns for us in relation to the “Taiwan card.”

However, it’s essential to note that the prevailing sentiment in the U.S. and particularly within the Biden Administration is not to deliberately deploy the “Taiwan card” as a means to contain China or incite conflict. Instead, this approach is a byproduct of the U.S. policy towards China, which underwent drastic changes in the past 5 years. According to this perspective, both the Biden Administration and Congress perceive these actions as necessary, although they may inadvertently harm China’s interests. They may believe that these actions are reactions to China’s own policy adjustments, similar to how China views its own actions in response to the changes in the U.S. political landscape.

Both sides appear to be caught in a security dilemma or a similar predicament. Each side believes their actions are responses to the actions of the other side. Many within the U.S. might think that they have previously exercised restraint in the Taiwan matter to maintain stability in China-U.S. relations. However, given the current state of bilateral relations, they may feel less constrained but a stronger need to support or “compensate” Taiwan. Consequently, what may seem like negative actions from China’s perspective may be driven by these motives.

Given that China’s determination to reunify with Taiwan is unwavering and U.S. would not tolerate use of coercive measures to force Taiwan to come back to the mainland, does this mean the chance of Washington and Beijing getting into a conflict is quite high?

Regarding the potential conflict over Taiwan, it’s crucial to acknowledge that both countries face this perilous prospect. While I wouldn’t categorize the likelihood of conflict as high, quantifying it is challenging—whether it’s 10%, 5%, or 20% remains uncertain. Even if the probability is relatively low, given the fact that both China and the U.S. possess significant military and nuclear capabilities, any possibility of conflict is concerning. Such an outcome would be disastrous on a global scale. Therefore, the fact remains that we are confronted with the potential for conflict, and regardless of how high or low that potential might be, the dangers for both sides are too significant to ignore.

How to resolve this situation? How can it be managed?

To be candid, I do not have a clear answer. I genuinely don’t know. Currently, the most immediate concern revolves around the upcoming Taiwan election in January 2024. It’s worth noting that on the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) side, its candidate Lai Ching-te has openly expressed his inclination towards independence. He even made statements recently like “Marching toward the White House,” which is cause for concern not only in China but also in the United States.

To mitigate this danger, it’s crucial for China and the U.S. to address this situation. While managing it together might be unfeasible due to the complexities of bilateral relations, it’s essential to prevent any radical developments in Taiwan during the election season. The objective is to avert a crisis within the next year or before the new leader of Taiwan, regardless of the election outcome, assumes office, possibly before next May. In the context of growing Chinese concern about the U.S.’ commitment to its “One-China policy”, and the increasing eagerness of pro-independent politicians in Taiwan to march toward independence , it will be helpful for the U.S. side to clarify its position. For example, the DDP Candidate Lai Ching-te claimed in an interview with Bloomberg BusinessWeek on August 16 during his “transit” in the U.S., that “Taiwan is already a sovereign country.” China of course opposes this claim, but I am curious about the U.S. government position on that. I believe this is inconsistent with the Washington’s ’ “One-China policy”, but if the Biden administration official can publicly clarify that this is not the U.S.’ position, and even like what late Secretary Colin Powell explicitly said on October 27, 2004, that “Taiwan is not a sovereign nation”, it will be extremely significant to stabilize the Cross strait situation. Keeping silent on this critical issue can only incur more doubt and suspicions.

In the long run, I hold hope that the U.S. can gradually reassess its approach to Taiwan. There appears to be a misunderstanding, potentially influenced by the context of the Ukraine War, projecting that scenario onto the Taiwan issue. This analogy is flawed; these are two distinct cases. In Beijing, there isn’t a set timetable to resolve the issue. The notion of a so-called 2027 window is widely discussed in the West, but I consider it totally wrong and groundless.

Steps must be taken to de-escalate tensions, to step back and seek ways to avert conflict, minimizing its likelihood. In the immediate term, solving the issue seems implausible. Hence, the emphasis should be on reducing the chances of conflict within the next year or two. While simultaneously trying to control or prevent the Taiwan authority from adopting radical actions, I hope the U.S. side can also encourage the next leader in Taiwan to be moderately responsible on Cross-Strait issues and pave the way for mainland-Taiwan interaction in the future.

To establish stability in the Taiwan Strait, the pivotal factor doesn’t solely lie between China and the U.S.; it resides also in the cross-strait relations. When the interactions between the two sides of the Strait are stable, both China and the U.S. can experience a greater sense of ease. However, should Taiwan’s authority take radical actions, it could pose a substantial challenge for both China and the U.S. and potentially lead to conflict. This underscores the significance of encouraging the Taiwan authority to adopt a responsible approach in the coming years, irrespective of the election outcome.

We hear one view saying that the U.S. will not come to Taiwan’s defense should a conflict arise because it would not face a nuclear power as it did with Russia in the Ukraine war. There is another view saying the U.S. should and will fight for Taiwan. What is your take on this?

From the mainland’s perspective, it’s essential not to be overly naive. While I sincerely wish that the U.S. wouldn’t resort to fighting for Taiwan in a crisis, it’s crucial to acknowledge that the Biden Administration, including President Biden himself, has reiterated their commitment to supporting Taiwan in such a scenario four times over the past three years. So we have to think of the worst scenario. I hope the Biden Administration can clarify its Taiwan policy before the election in Taiwan since so many changes have happened.

If you ask the Biden Administration, they will always say, “One China policy has not changed.” I often draw a metaphor to elucidate the situation—comparing the U.S.’ “One China” policy to a temple. This temple isn’t merely about the structure; it also encompasses the statues of the Buddhas within. In this case, the Biden Administration and Congress have shifted some of these symbolic Buddhas outside the temple while asserting that the temple itself, and thus the policy, persists. This is why we use the term “hollowing up” to describe the erosion of the U.S. “One China policy”.

 I hope the Biden Administration can clarify its One China and Taiwan policies. Various stakeholders are closely observing this situation, including the Taiwan authority. While I acknowledge the delicate nature of making statements or taking action during Taiwan’s election campaign, the U.S. should clarify its policy when the situation is not so sensitive. This proactive approach could ensure clarity about the U.S. position, thereby averting misunderstandings on the mainland and preventing any miscalculations or misjudgments by Taiwanese politicians. Besides the example of Lai Ching-te’s remarks, the U.S. side can also clarify its position on “peaceful reunification”. A core element of the U.S.’ “One-China policy” is “peaceful resolution”. I think peaceful resolution covers three dimensions: reunification, status quo, and independence. The U.S. side repeatedly says it does not support independence, urging both sides across the strait to maintain status quo, but we rarely hear the U.S. official explain their position towards reunification in recent years. If the U.S. policy is indeed about “peaceful resolution”, I believe Washington does not oppose “peaceful reunification”, which U.S. government officials are very reluctant to say now. Therefore, it’s quite natural that the mainland scholars and officials believe that the U.S. side actually opposes unification, even if it can be achieved peacefully. If true, this is of course a major shift of the U.S.’ policy on this issue. 

If DPP candidate wins again in the 2024 election, should mainland China move to interact with DPP leaders to deepen their relationship with the island? Do you think given its historical and current positions it is easier for DPP to deal with mainland China? Can we call it the Nixon formula? In other words, it was far easier for Nixon to change its conventional approach to China than his Democratic counterparts because the position of his party and his personal political career had always been anti-China.

Predicting the outcome is a challenging task. Nevertheless, I must emphasize that regardless of the election outcome in Taiwan, it’s crucial that the candidates or the eventual winner align with the One-China principle. No matter who wins the election, if he rejects the One-China principle or cannot have any narrative align with the One-China principle, I don’t think there will be a political foundation for any interaction.

In essence, we require a coherent discourse, a platform, and a narrative that embodies the One-China principle. I believe it requires a level of creativity. The mainland is indeed open to discussions once a narrative representing the One-China principle emerges. The crux of the issue doesn’t solely lie with the DPP, the KMT, or any other party on the island; it’s about adherence to the One-China principle. Regardless of which party wins, if it rejects this principle or fails to present a narrative that aligns with this principle, the possibility for mainland-Taiwan interaction is very remote.

You mentioned the precedent set by President Nixon’s visit to China, which essentially thawed U.S.-China relations due to his policy shift. If you want a Nixon formula, you need to first make the policy change, like what President Nixon did in the early 1970s. So policy matters, narrative matters, rather than the identities of candidates or politicians.

President Carter who, despite facing opposition from Congress, successfully established diplomatic relations with China. He demonstrated both the political will and courage, accompanied by requisite skills. Concurrently, Deng Xiaoping took bold steps on the Chinese side. Those major changes are related to the policies, to the real ideas rather than individual personalities or politicians. From the mainland side, we don’t reject any possibility to interact with any political leaders on the island. What matters is how to creatively adhere to the “One-China policy.”