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CALL FOR PAPERS: How to Sustain a Peaceful & Constructive US-China Relationship

How to Sustain a Peaceful & Constructive US-China Relationship

CALL FOR PAPERS From Young American Scholars

The Fifth Young Scholars Forum on US-China Relations

Organized by The Carter Center, Peking University, the Global Times &

China Public Diplomacy Association

April 24-26, 2020

Beijing, China

In 2020, the Fifth Young Scholars Forum on US-China Relations will take place on April 24-26 in Beijing. The organizers invite young American scholars under the age of 45 to present multidisciplinary findings on various aspects of the most critical bilateral relationship in the world and their recommendations on how to make this relationship peaceful and constructive.

There has been deterioration of U.S.-China relations between the years when President Obama was about to leave the White House and when Xi Jinping just assumed the leadership position in China. But no one has expected the bilateral relationship to have such a nose-dive since Donald J. Trump became the president. At the current time, not only the trade war is still raging almost two years after Washington and Beijing have entered negotiation between the U.S. and China has for the first time become entirely possible. The stability and constructiveness of the bilateral relationship between the U.S. and China have been anchors for peace and prosperity for the Asia-Pacific region in the past 40 years. With the possible collapse of this relationship, the long-lasting engine for global growth and development is now threatened.

What has gone wrong with this relationship? What are the factors that have caused this sharp decline in mutual strategic trust? Are the differences in ideology and political system the ultimate culprit of the relational deterioration? With the relationship as we have known in the past 40 years evaporating in front of eyes on daily basis, what will be the new framework to manage this huge business of growing the global economy, slowing down climate change and preventing conflict between the two nations?

We invite US doctoral candidates, postdoctoral fellows, assistant and associate professors, think tank analysts, researchers and young professionals outside of academia under the age of 45 to send in proposals that can contribute to answering these questions. Schwartzman Scholars from the U.S. are also eligible to present their papers.

Proposals in English (no more than 300 words) with concise biographical information must be submitted by e-mail to uscnpm2019@gmail.com or zhongmeiluntan@gmail.com before February  15, 2020. Selection of participants to the forum will be announced on March 1, 2020.

The deadline for finalists to submit papers is April 10, 2020.

The conference organizers will cover the international airfare (economy class) and local expenses for all the paper presenting scholars from the U.S..


In September 2014, the first Forum for Young Chinese and American Scholars, which was jointly organized by The Carter Center and the Global Times, convened successfully at the Xi’an Jiaotong University.  President Jimmy Carter attended the Forum and provided opening remarks. More than 20 young scholars from both countries presented their research on the theme “How to Build Future U.S.-China Relations in the Context of Turbulent International Relations”. Senior American and Chinese scholars, including Professor David Shambaugh, General Qiao Liang, commented on the presentations and offered suggestions for revision of the papers.

The second forum took place at The Carter Center in Atlanta, Georgia in October 2015. Scholars from both countries shared their research on the topic “How Will the Future International Order Be Shaped by Past and Current U.S.-China interactions?”  Participating senior scholars also held a lively dialogue with Professor Lyle Goldstein, author of Meeting China Halfway: How to Defuse the Emerging US-China Rivalry.

In September 2016, Nanjing University hosted the third forum. Scholars from both countries presented their findings on the topic of “The Impact of US-China Educational Exchanges on U.S.-China Relations”. Professors Yan Xuetong, David Arase and Shen Dingli as well as veteran US-China education exchange leader and author Terry Lautz attended the forum.

In January 2018, the fourth forum was held at The Carter Center and Emory University in Atlanta. This forum focused on the role of nationalism, national identify and media in US-China relations. Professors Zhu Feng, John Garver, Wei Zongyou as well as opinion leaders Hu Xijin, Robert Daly, David Firestein and Ding Gang participated in the forum as keynote speakers and discussants.

The 2020 Democratic Presidential Candidates on China: Policy Profiles

(Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

No one thought Donald Trump could win the Presidency in 2016. One of Trump’s favorite talking points during the race was that if elected, he would give China hell through imposing hefty tariffs on Chinese imports. He won the election and kept his campaign promise. The subsequent trade conflict has brought the US-China relationship to its lowest point since January 1, 1979, when Washington and Beijing normalized their bilateral relationship.

The 2020 presidential race is already under way. Like the 2016 race for the Republican Party nomination, the Democratic Party primary has a plethora of candidates. At this point, it is unclear who will emerge as the Party’s candidate. There are many issues that will define the race and decide who will be the final candidate. These issues include healthcare, immigration, gun control, wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the American relationship with China.

The candidates agree on several points regarding the US relationship with China. For example, they all agree that President Trump has mishandled the trade dispute, that the US needs to pressure China more on human rights, and that President Trump has not used the power of the US’ alliances to exert unified pressure on China. Despite their agreement on these issues, each candidate would approach China differently if elected.

To provide our readers with a full understanding of the Democratic candidates’ proposed China policies, USCNPM.org is compiling a profile for each major candidate. We will follow these standards when working on the profile:

First, we will not produce profiles for each of the more than 20 candidates. At this point, we will only profile the proposed China policies of the 10 candidates who spoke at the third debate. If other candidates break out, we will profile their policies accordingly.

Second, we will source information for each candidate from their responses during the Democratic debates, from the policy proposals available on each candidate’s website, and from media coverage of each candidate’s comments on China.

Third, as the race evolves later this year and next year, we will update each candidate’s profile until a final candidate is chosen.

Fourth, once a candidate is nominated, we will try to identify members of the nominee’s Asia team.

Click the links below to read each candidate’s China policy profile:

Vice President Joe Biden: https://www.uscnpm.org/china-policy-profiles-vice-president-joe-biden/

Senator Elizabeth Warren: https://www.uscnpm.org/china-policy-profiles-senator-elizabeth-warren/

Senator Bernie Sanders: https://uscnpm.org/2019/10/23/bernie-sanders/

Mayor Pete Buttigieg: https://www.uscnpm.org/china-policy-profiles-mayor-pete-buttigieg/

Senator Kamala Harris: https://www.uscnpm.org/china-policy-profiles-senator-kamala-harris/ Senator Harris dropped out of the race on 12/03/19

Representative Beto O’Rourke: https://www.uscnpm.org/china-policy-profiles-representative-beto-orourke/

Andrew Yang: https://www.uscnpm.org/policy-profiles-andrew-yang/

Senator Cory Booker: https://www.uscnpm.org/china-policy-profiles-cory-booker/

Senator Amy Klobuchar: https://www.uscnpm.org/china-policy-profiles-senator-amy-klobuchar/

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro:  https://uscnpm.org/2019/10/23/china-policy-profiles-housing-and-urban-development-secretary-julian-castro/

Each policy profile has been researched and written by the interns of The Carter Center’s China Program. The views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of The Carter Center.

Go beyond “Understanding China for the World”

On January 20th, 2021 (Beijing time), The Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries (CPAFFC) and the Institute for Global Cooperation and Understanding (IGCU) of Beijing University organized an online memorial meeting for Ezra Vogel. The seminar is called “Ezra Feivel Vogel and the US-China Relations”.

HU Xiaojiang – 2021-01-20 in Beijing

The original title of today’s event is “Understanding China for the World”, which emphasizes on how Ezra Vogel helped the world to understand China. It is his success in doing this that has secured Ezra’s enduring legacy in the eyes of many Chinese people. China for a long time has desired someone capable of explaining it to the world in a way that would make China better understood. Ezra served that role. He acted as a friend who has China’s interests at heart, as a counsellor who understands China deeply, and as a cheerleader who feels proud of China’s achievements. Because of these roles, his abrupt passing has generated such an overwhelming reaction from China, a feeling of gratitude, loss, and admiration. It is time for us Chinese (including the Chinese people, Chinese academics, and Chinese leaders) to think deeply of Ezra’s legacy and more importantly how we can carry on Ezra’s legacy into the future. 

1. What was the most valuable advice to China given by Ezra? 

We are grateful to Ezra’s contribution to the field of China studies. Then we should ask what was the most valuable advice Ezra has given to China. I believe it is his advice that China should give up on the mentality of victimization, and give up on seeing the world through a lens of conspiracy and malice. Ezra has repeatedly reminded Chinese scholars that Chinese people should stop being a prisoner of such a narrow view of history. This narrow view of history distorted China’s understanding of today’s reality, both domestic and international. People of my generation grew up from an education that has welded this mentality to our minds. It will be difficult to break away from it. Many people in my generation, including some of my friends, are trapped inside that mentality. Some of them are simply unaware of such a trap; others may have realized it but refused to get out. Sadly, similar things are still happening to younger generations in China.  

2. How do we make more friends like Ezra? 

While we mourn the loss of Ezra, we should ask ourselves the following questions: Why are there so few friends like Ezra? How can we make more friends like Ezra? How do we avoid turning away potential friends like Ezra? How do we support friends like Ezra in ways they truly value? I have enough experience to know for sure that there are many people out there who are potential friends to China like Ezra, people who harbor good intentions and goodwill to the Chinese people. Some may not be as skillful, or may not like to be as careful, as Ezra knew how to say things in a manner that are received well by the Chinese authority. Many people in China have a habit to see foreign academics who are critical of any aspect of China as “enemy of the state”. Even Ezra himself did not get as much support from China in ways he really needed. Otherwise Ezra would have achieved even more. 

China has attracted a lot of foreigners with its long history and unique culture. An overwhelming majority of these people come with goodwill. They criticize certain aspects of China out of intention to make China better. But in recent years quite a few of them have been treated badly or guarded as potential enemies. Many of them are hurt, disillusioned and disappointed. We need to know that it takes time, goodwill and open hearts to make friends. If we harbor suspicion and guardedness, we likely make enemies. 

3. How do we become people like Ezra? 

When admiring Ezra as a brilliant scholar and marvelous person, we should ask if China could produce more Chinese versions of Ezra. Ezra is a role model of being a bridge between different cultures and political systems. We need Chinese scholars to understand the rest of the world in a similar manner. Perhaps we can take up Ezra’s task in reverse: “understanding US for China”, “understanding Japan for China”, “understanding Europe for China” “understanding Africa for China”, etc. Ezra’s style of “understanding the world for China” does not mean to understand the places as “objects” of interest and of benefit, but to understand with Ezra’s spirit of genuine curiosity, open-mindedness, goodwill and friendship. 

Ezra started to learn Chinese in his middle-age and insisted on keeping improving his Chinese skills at the age of 70s and 80s. I served as his Chinese tutor for quite some time. Often, I felt his energy and the vast amount of time spent on improving his Chinese skills might not be well-spent. He could have used that time on something more useful, something that cannot be replaced by other people like a good interpreter. But many years’ later, I understood the value of his action. By using Chinese or Japanese language in his interviews, he showed to his interviewees his earnest, most genuine effort to learn from them. This gesture of respect made a huge difference and opened a lot of doors for Ezra. Therefore, in my teaching, I always tell students to distinguish “studying people” from “learning from people”. 

To conclude, the best ways for us Chinese to carry on Ezra’s legacy is to cherish his most valuable advice to China, to make more people outside China into friends like him, and to make more people inside China more like Ezra for the world. 

About the Author

Professor HU Xiaojiang was a doctoral student of the late professor Ezra Vogel and received her doctoral degree in sociology from Harvard University in 2004. She began teaching at the School of Social Development and Public Policy at Beijing Normal University in 2006. Her research covers medical sociology, public health policy and the social aspects of vaccination. She has published articles in The Lancet, Vaccine and The China Journal.

US-China Engagement: Past Achievements & Future Adjustments

Webinar Time: January 27th, 2021 8:00 PM EST | Platform: Zoom

TO REGISTER, Click HERE or Scan the QR Code.

US-China Engagement: Past Achievements & Future Adjustments

2021 marks the 42nd anniversary of the establishment of the diplomatic relationship between China and the United States. There have been ups and downs in the bilateral relationship, but the comprehensive engagement between Washington and Beijing in the past four decades has served as an anchor for global peace and prosperity. However, more recently, in response to the rise of China and its perceived aggressive expansion in trade, technology, and global influence, what began as a “pivot” to Asia by the U.S. has increasingly become an effort to contain and decouple from China. Engagement policy was declared dead by top American officials. The bilateral relationship is under significant stress. Against this backdrop, the Chinese People’s Association for Peace and Disarmament (CPAPD) and The Carter Center have decided to organize an online dialogue for prominent Chinese and American experts to reflect on the significance of the past bilateral engagement and how to influence the future realignment of the relationship.

Agenda: January 27th, 2021 EST

TimeEvent DescriptionSpeaker
8:00-8:35 PMOpening Remarks«  Barbara Smith, Vice President for Peace Programs, The Carter Center
«  Tao Tao (陶涛), Deputy Secretary General, CPAPD
«  Congratulatory message from Jimmy Carter, the 39th President of the U.S.
«  Remarks by Max Baucus, former U.S. Ambassador to China
«  Remarks by Cui Tiankai (崔天凯), Chinese Ambassador to the U.S.
8:35-9:45 PMPanel DiscussionModerator: Elizabeth Knup, Regional Director and Chief Representative in China, Ford Foundation

«  Craig Allen, President, US-China Business Council
«  Long Yongtu (龙永图), former Vice Minister, Ministry of Foreign Trade, former Secretary-General of the Boao Forum for Asia, & former Chief Negotiator of China’s Customs Rehabilitation and WTO Accession Negotiations
«  Daniel B. Wright, President and CEO of GreenPoint Group
«  Zhou Wenzhong (周文重), Vice President of the China-U.S. People’s Friendship Association, former Vice Minister, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, former Ambassador to the United States, former Secretary-General of the Boao Forum for Asia
«  David M. Lampton, Professor Emeritus of China Studies, Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy Institute, Johns Hopkins University
«  Zhu Feng (朱锋), Professor of International Relations, Nanjing University
9:45-10:15 PMQuestions & AnswersModerator: Su Xiaohui (苏晓晖), Deputy Director, Department for American Studies, China Institute of International Studies

About the Speakers: (alphabetically listed by surname)

Craig Allen is the sixth President of the United States-China Business Council (USCBC), a private, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization representing over 200 American companies doing business with China. Prior to joining USCBC, Craig had a long, distinguished career in US public service. Craig began his government career in 1985 at the Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration (ITA). He entered government as a Presidential Management Intern, rotating through the four branches of ITA. From 1986 to 1988, he was an international economist in ITA’s China Office. In 1988, Craig transferred to the American Institute in Taiwan, where he served as Director of the American Trade Center in Taipei. He held this position until 1992, when he returned to the Department of Commerce for a three-year posting at the US Embassy in Beijing as Commercial Attaché. In 1995, Craig was assigned to the US Embassy in Tokyo, where he served as a Commercial Attaché. From 2000, Craig served a two-year tour at the National Center for APEC in Seattle. While there, he worked on the APEC Summits in Brunei, China, and Mexico. In 2002, it was back to Beijing, where Craig served as the Senior Commercial Officer. In Beijing, Craig was promoted to the Minister Counselor rank of the Senior Foreign Service. After a four-year tour in South Africa, Craig became Deputy Assistant Secretary for Asia at the US Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration. He later became Deputy Assistant Secretary for China. Craig was sworn in as the United States ambassador to Brunei Darussalam in 2014. Craig received a B.A. from the University of Michigan in Political Science and Asian Studies in 1979. He received a Master of Science in Foreign Service from Georgetown University in 1985.

Max Baucus is a former United States senator and ambassador to China, active today in business, public policy, and international affairs. Baucus began in the legal profession and by 1973 held his first public office, as a Montana state representative. The following year, he was elected to the first of two terms as congressman from Montana’s first district, serving in the House during the post-Watergate years of the Ford and Carter presidencies. First elected to the Senate in 1978, Baucus went on to be his state’s longest-serving senator. During his fifth term, Senator Baucus rose to the chairmanship of the Committee on Finance. A longtime supporter of a broader, rule-based trading system, the Senator was instrumental in opening permanent normal trade relations with China, and in promoting that country’s 2001 entry into the World Trade Organization. In 2014, President Obama nominated him to be America’s ambassador to China–he represented the United States in that post until January 2017. Following his diplomatic assignment, Senator Baucus and his wife Melodee Hanes formed the Baucus Group LLC. He currently serves on the board of directors of Ingram Micro and previously served on the board of advisors to Alibaba Group until May of 2019, and the External Advisory Board to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency until July of 2019. He earned a B.A. in economics from Stanford University, and later attended Stanford Law School, graduating with a Juris Doctor in 1967.

Cui Tiankai has been the Chinese Ambassador to the U.S. since 2013. Previously, he served as the Chinese Ambassador to Japan and the Vice Minister of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Cui Tiankai has also held positions in the Department of Asian Affairs, the Policy Research Office, the Information Department, and the Department of International Organizations and Conferences. From 1997 to 1999, Cui Tiankai was the Minister Counselor for the Permanent Mission of the People’s Republic of China to the United Nations. Finally, he served as an interpreter for the Department for General Assembly and Conference Management with the United Nations Secretariat. Cui went to Shanghai Foreign Language School and graduated from the School of Foreign Languages of East China Normal University. Following his graduation from East China Normal University, he studied interpretation at the Beijing Foreign Studies University. After working in the UN for five years, Cui returned to academia to pursue a postgraduate degree from Johns Hopkins University’s Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, DC.

David M. Lampton is Senior Fellow at the SAIS Foreign Policy Institute and Professor Emeritus at Johns Hopkins–SAIS.  Immediately prior to his current post he was Oksenberg-Rohlen Fellow at Stanford University’s Asia-Pacific Research Center from 2019-2020.  For more than two decades prior to that he was Hyman Professor and Director of China Studies at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. Lampton is former Chairman of the The Asia Foundation, former President of the National Committee on United States-China Relations, and former Dean of Faculty at SAIS. Among many written works, academic and popular is his most recent book (with Selina Ho and Cheng-Chwee Kuik), Rivers of Iron: Railroads and Chinese Power in Southeast Asia (University of California Press, 2020). He received his B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. degrees from Stanford University in political science where, as an undergraduate student, he was a firefighter. Lampton has an honorary doctorate from the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Far Eastern Studies. He served for many years on the Board of Trustees of Colorado College and was in the US Army Reserve in the enlisted and commissioned ranks.

Long Yongtu (龙永图) is the former Secretary-General of the Boao Forum for Asia, and the former Chief Negotiator of China’s Customs Rehabilitation and WTO Accession Negotiations. He joined the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation (MOFTEC) in 1965 and served as a diplomat in the Permanent Mission of China to the United Nations in New York from 1978 to 1980. From 1980 to 1986, he worked in the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), first in New York headquarters and then in Democratic People’s Republic of Korea as the Deputy Resident Representative of the UNDP Office. Long then returned to China in 1986 and became Deputy Director-general of China International Center for Economic and Technical Exchanges (CICETE). In January 1992, Mr. Long was appointed Director-general of the Department of International Relations, MOFTEC, and Assistant Minister of the Ministry. In February 1997, he was appointed Vice Minister and the Chief Representative for Trade Negotiations of MOFTEC. As the Chief Negotiator for China’s resumption of GATT contracting party status and its accession to the World Trade Organization, Mr. Long dedicated over 10 years for this prolonged trade negotiation to bring China into the global trading system. Apart from his official duties, Long was the Dean of School of International Relations and Public Affairs at Fudan University. He is visiting professor of many renowned Chinese Academic Institutions, including Peking University, Tsinghua University, and Renmin University. Long received a special award by the United Nations Secretary General Mr. Kofi Annan in 2004, for his outstanding contribution to the UN partnership in China and in promoting the values of the UN. Long received his B.A. in British and American Literature from Guizhou University in 1965 and studied as a postgraduate student in economics at the London School of Economics from 1973 to 1974.

Barbara Smith is the Vice President for Peace Programs at the Carter Center. Previously, at the Center for Strategic & International Studies, she was a senior associate (non-resident) for the Human Rights Initiative, conducting field work and research on civil society. Her wide-ranging career also includes assignments at the United States Agency for International Development and with the National Security Council in the White House. At USAID, she held a number of positions, most recently as deputy assistant to the administrator in the Bureau of Policy, Planning, and Learning. She also co-led the team that created the seminal USAID 2013 Democracy, Human Rights, and Governance Strategy, which is applied across the approximately 100 countries where USAID works. Smith served on the National Security Council as a director for Afghanistan and Pakistan affairs and as senior director for governance and law at the Asia Foundation. She has also held senior positions overseas. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, she was a spokesperson for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. And in Afghanistan, she was assistant country representative for the Asia Foundation, where she also directed the Foundation’s efforts to assist Afghanistan in holding its first post-Taliban elections. Smith earned a B.A. in government from the University of Texas and a master’s degree in political science from Texas State University。

Dr. Tao Tao (陶涛) has been the Deputy Secretary General of the Chinese People’s Association for Peace and Disarmament since November, 2012. Prior to that, he served as the Deputy Mayor of Yiwu city and member of the Standing Committee of the Yiwu Municipal Committee of CPC. Other positions have included Director of the General Office at the Chinese Association for International Understanding, First Secretary at the Chinese Embassy in the Republic of South Africa, and Deputy Division Chief of the Research Office of the International Department of the Central Committee of CPC. Dr. Tao has long been focusing his studies on International Situation, Political Trend of Thought, Political Parties and Chinese Diplomacy. In 2001, he published his book, On Western European Socialist Parties and European Integration. Dr. Tao holds degrees from East China Normal University, Tianjin Normal University and Peking University. In July, 1998, he graduated with a PhD from Peking University.

Daniel B. Wright is the founder, President, and CEO of GreenPoint Group. Dr. Wright assists clients through his nearly four decades of experience building bridges between people, resources, and public policy, eight of those years in China. Dr. Wright was formerly Senior Vice President and China practice head of the Albright Stonebridge Group, a global strategy firm based in Washington, D.C. Previously, Dr. Wright served at the U.S. Treasury Department as Managing Director for China and the Strategic and Economic Dialogue (SED), where he provided strategic counsel to the Secretary of the Treasury. Dr. Wright worked exclusively on China policy issues, developing and coordinating interagency strategies to achieve prioritized objectives with Cabinet-level Chinese agencies. Prior to his appointment in March 2007, Dr. Wright was Vice President and Washington D.C. Office Director of the National Bureau of Asian Research. At NBR, he led the organization’s external relations with the U.S. Congress, media, and think-tanks, and advised members of Congress and staff on Asia-related matters. From 2000 to 2004, Dr. Wright served as the Executive Director of the Hopkins-Nanjing Program of Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), the premier educational joint-venture program between the United States and China. From 1997 to 1999, Dr. Wright held a fellowship with the Institute of Current World Affairs, during which he lived in southwest China’s Guizhou Province and wrote monthly reports from the perspective of grassroots societies in the country’s hinterland. Dr. Wright has published two books: The Promise of the Revolution: Stories of Fulfillment and Struggle in China’s Hinterland and Wo Kan Zhongguo (China Through My Eyes). He studied Chinese and Chinese Literature at Beijing University, the Beijing Foreign Language Institute, and the Beijing Languages Institute. He earned his Ph.D. and M.A. from Johns Hopkins University SAIS, his M.Div. from Fuller Theological Seminary, and his B.A. from Vanderbilt University.

Zhu Feng (朱锋) is the Executive Director of China Center for Collaborative Studies of the South China Sea at Nanjing University. He is also the Director of the Institute of International Studies at Nanjing University. He writes extensively on regional security in East Asia, the nuclear issue in North Korea, China-US military and diplomatic relations. As a leading Chinese security expert, Professor Zhu’s recent book includes International Relations Theory and East Asian Security (2007), China’s Ascent: Power, Security, and Future of International politics (co-edited with Professor Robert S. Ross, Cornell University Press 2008), China-Japan Security Cooperation and Defense Communication: the Past, Present, and Future (Co-edited with Prof. Akiyama Asahiro, Tokyo: Aiji Press, 2011), and America, China and the Struggle for the World Order (co-edited with Prof. G. John Ikenbery and Prof. Wang jisi, MacMillan, 2015). He sits on a couple of editorial boards of scholarly journals, consults independently for the Chinese government and the private sector, and comments frequently on television and radio and in the print media on Chinese foreign affairs and security policy. Professor Zhu earned his B.A. in the Department of International Politics from Peking University in 1981 and received his Ph.D. from Peking University in 1991.

Zhou Wenzhong (周文重) is currently the Vice President of the China-U.S. People’s Friendship Association and a Member of the Council of Advisors at the Boao Forum for Asia. He has held leading posts at the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where he served as Deputy Director of the American Affairs Department until 1994. In 2001 he was promoted to Assistant Minister and in 2003 he became Vice-Minister of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In 1990, Zhou Wenzhong served as ambassador of the Chinese Embassy to Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda. In 1998, he became the ambassador to the Chinese Embassy to Australia. Finally, in 2005, Zhou Wenzhong served as ambassador of the Chinese Embassy to the United States. In 2010, he became the Secretary-General of the Boao Forum for Asia and the Vice President of the China-U.S. People’s Friendship Association. He attended the University of Bath and the London School of Economics in the United Kingdom.

About the Moderators:

Elizabeth Knup is the regional director in China for the Ford Foundation, overseeing all grant-making in the country from the Beijing office. Prior to joining Ford in 2013, she served simultaneously as chief representative of Pearson PLC, one of the world’s foremost education and publishing companies, and as president of Pearson Education in China. Having dedicated her career to developing stronger ties between China and the rest of the world in the education, nonprofit, and business sectors, Elizabeth started out at the National Committee on US-China Relations. From 1988 to 1998, she focused on expanding educational opportunities and strengthening social institutions in Beijing. In 1998, she moved to Nanjing and served as the American co-director of the Hopkins-Nanjing Center for Chinese and American Studies, overseeing the establishment of the center’s Institute for International Relations and a summer immersion Chinese language program. Later, she joined Kamsky Associates, a business strategy and investment advisory firm in Beijing. Elizabeth is on the board of the National Committee on US-China Relations. She has served on the boards of numerous nonprofits, including the Institute for Sustainable Communities, the Capacity Building and Assessment Center, and the Global Environment Institute. Elizabeth has a master’s degree from the University of Michigan’s Center for Chinese Studies and a B.A. in political science from Middlebury College.

Su Xiaohui (苏晓晖) serves as Deputy Director of the Department for American Studies at the China Institute of International Studies (CIIS). She has been associated with CIIS since 2004. Su Xiaohui is a frequent commentator on public affairs and diplomacy on Chinese media outlets, including China Central Television (CCTV) and China Global Television Network (CGTN). She has published on China-US relations and Asia-Pacific security. Su Xiaohui received her B.A. from the School of International Studies at Peking University in 2004, and her M.A. from China Foreign Affairs University in 2009.

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ICAS Annual Conference: Ambassador Cui Tiankai’s Dialogue with Professor Graham Allison

On December 3, Ambassador Cui Tiankai was invited to the Annual Conference of the Institute for China-America Studies and had a dialogue with Professor Graham Allison of Harvard University on the future of China-US relations. The dialogue was opened by Mr. Wu Shicun, President of the National Institute for South China Sea Studies, and chaired by Mr. Steve Orlins, President of the National Committee on United States-China Relations. The full transcript is as follows:

Steve Orlins: Thank you, Ambassador Cui Tiankai and Professor Graham Allison. It’s wonderful to host two old friends for this incredibly important conference at this incredibly important time. I want to congratulate Mr. Wu Shicun on bringing together some of the greatest scholars in the United States and China on US-China relations. Ambassador Cui has been the Chinese Ambassador to the United States for the longest period of time, more than seven years. Graham Allison is one of the leading thinkers on America’s relationship with the world. He was in the Defense Department and is the author of this wonderful book DESTINED FOR WAR: Can America and China Escape Thucydides Trap. I would like to actually start with that and ask first Ambassador Cui and then Dr. Allison: are we in the Thucydides Trap? And what can we do if we are, what can we do to avoid it?

Ambassador Cui: Thank you very much, Mr. Wu Shicun, Mr. Orlins and Professor Allison. I also want to wish everybody well and healthy for the holiday season.

The year 2020 is about to end. This has been a very unusual year, probably a turning point in history. To overcome the pandemic, restore global economic growth and protect people’s livelihood are pressing priorities. At the same time, we have to recognize that the pandemic is actually reinforcing and accelerating some fundamental trends in the world that had emerged long before COVID-19. The pandemic has also brought into sharp focus some major challenges that the global community has to respond to together if we want to build a better future.

There are already discussions about how a post-pandemic world will look like and what kind of global governance we need for such a world. It is clear that the post-pandemic world would not be stable and global governance would not be effective without sound and stable relations between China and the US. Therefore it is time for reflection on this consequential relationship. This is not because of so-called failures of the past. The development of China-US relations since Dr. Henry Kissinger’s first visit almost 50 years ago has brought tremendous benefits to the two countries and the whole world. Our reflection is necessitated by the fast and complex changes in the world, which present us with great opportunities as well as high risks. We have to have a shared vision for the future and make the right choice. We owe it to the people of both countries and the global community to keep the relations on a constructive track towards agreed goals.

For China, the choice is clear. China and the US stand to gain from cooperation and lose from confrontation. Cooperation is the only right choice for both countries. As President Xi Jinping stated in his message of congratulation to President-Elect Joseph Biden, the Chinese side stands ready to work with the US side “in the spirit of no conflict, no confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation, so that our two sides may focus on cooperation, manage differences, move forward China-US relations in a sound and steady manner and, together with other countries and the international community, advance the noble cause of world peace and development.”

We are about to enter the third decade of the 21st century. There are unprecedented needs for bilateral and global cooperation: public health, climate change, a more inclusive and equitable process of globalization, advancement of science and technology that will improve the life of more people in more places, etc. All these challenges call for enhanced international cooperation, including in particular China and the US working with each other, not decoupled from one another.

There are always differences between the two countries. Many of them are part of the diversity of the world. None of them justifies confrontation and war, cold or hot. With sufficient mutual respect and mutual understanding, we are capable of managing these differences so that they would not derail the entire relationship.

A few years ago, Professor Graham Allison made a timely warning against the Thucydides trap. And he also quoted Shakespeare that our destiny lies “not in our stars, but in ourselves”. Again, “nothing is written in stone”. Everything depends on the choices we make. The zero-sum game is anachronistic. Attempts to incite distrust and even hatred among different nations and civilizations are extremely irresponsible. Those who are obsessed with great power rivalries already have their feet in the trap. Instead, we should, based on a clear understanding of the new realities of today’s world, join hands to build a new type of international relations and a community of mankind for a shared future. The first and foremost thing we have to do to be on the right side of history is to reject the outdated mindset. The best way to avoid a trap is to open up a new path. This is the vision that we shall hold and a historic mission that we have to fulfill today. Are we up to it?

So Steve, in response to your question, I raised another question. Thank you very much.

Steve Orlins: It’s a terrific opening. I would like to have Graham to speak now.

Graham Allison: Thank you very much. Let me thank the organizers and the participants of this event. What a pleasure is to be with Steve, but especially also with Ambassador Cui.

On the question that just goes to the heart of it, Steve, I agree very much with what Ambassador Cui said. The answer is yes. The US and China are locked in a classic Thucydides rivalry. So if Thucydides were watching and to make a comment of what he sees in this relationship today, he would say these look like almost the classic version of a rising power threatening to displace a ruling power. It seems to be accelerating along a path that should lead to the grandest collision of all times.

On the other hand, I agree very much with this proposition that this is the hand that the parties have been dealt with. So the structural realities are what they are, but how they play this hand, it’s up to them. Our destiny is “not in our stars”. There’s no iron law of history that determines the outcome. It’ll be the choices, wise or foolish, that parties make.

So I think, yes, we are in a Thucydides dynamic. Actually one folk said to me when I was in Beijing, “Why do you think that President Xi Jinping calls for this new form of great-power relations? Because he’s got a pretty good idea what happens in the traditional old form of great-power relations. If parties just let history take its course, it’s going to turn out extremely badly for both countries.” But I don’t see any inevitability in there. This is extremely complicated for even us as academics or policy advisors, policy makers, but especially for governments. As Scott Fitzgerald put it, they have to pass the test of a first-rate intelligence which is the ability to hold two contradictory ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.

So on the one hand, for sure, the US and China are going to be fierce Thucydides rivals. I think it’s actually clear that if China realizes the Chinese dream, Beijing will displace the US from positions of leadership it has become accustomed to during the American Century, especially in this neighborhood. So unless China could be persuaded to constrain itself as it grows into its position as the largest economy in the world, which it already is, the largest trading partner of everybody, which it already is, and the manufacturing workshop of the world, which it already is. Indeed, China will be the only big economy that will be bigger at the end of 2020 than it was at the beginning. Everybody else is shrinking. So unless China can find a way to constrain the natural impulses, this will turn out badly.

On the other hand, unless the US can be wise enough to cope with and coexist with a rising China, this would also turn out tragically.

So I think the challenges they’re trying to hold these two competing ideas at our hands at the same time. On one hand, to be fierce rivals, which I think we will inevitably be, because I believe the US should be number one in everything. I’m very traditional old-fashioned American in that regard, even though I know that China is now the largest economy in the world measured by a major yardstick, the PPP, the biggest trading partner and a fierce rival in the AI space and so on. So that’s happening. That’s uncomfortable, but that’s life.

At the same time, unless the US and China could find ways to cooperate in some new form of great-power relations, some third-party incident, like Taiwan or North Korea, could drag us into a catastrophic war as surely as the assassination of the archduke in 1914 that brought all of the European powers to a tragic war.

Secondly, and this is good news, as the Biden administration takes office, I understand there’s not only nuclear MAD, nuclear mutually assured destruction, which would be the outcome if the US and China ended up in a war. But there’s also climate MAD, climate mutually assured destruction, in which if the two greatest greenhouse gas emitters don’t find ways to cooperate, we can create a biosphere that nobody can live in. So can we find a way to cooperate and compete at the same time? I think the answer is not easily, not comfortably, but that’s the challenge we have to face.

Steve Orlins: The President-elect Biden has talked about a values-based foreign policy. How does the values’ conflict between the United States and China fit into your concept?

Graham Allison:Ambassador Cui and I have talked about this. He has rightly said that the American proposal is for China to get a DNA transplant, so if they would become just like us, then we’ll get over this values component of it. As we entered what we were confident was going to become an American century at the beginning of the 20th century, look at what the US did in its relations with Britain at that time: we threatened war with Britain as well as with Germany unless they backed off from a territorial dispute with Venezuela. We stole from Canada which had been a British colony the largest part of the fat tail of Alaska. So I would say the values component is an element, but when I look at the dynamics of a Thucydides rivalry in the last 500 years, you had cases in which you have values conflicts, as well as cases in which you had values more closely aligned. But nonetheless we were able to find a form of relations, including with the Soviet Union in the Cold War, which is called a “war” but which actually was a metaphor. I count that as a case of success in the sense that we never ended up as two great nations destroying each other.

Ambassador Cui: We take notes of the statements and comments from the Biden team that are reported in the media. I guess at an appropriate time and at an appropriate level, some communication and policy coordination would have to be done.

But before January 20, we’re still fully prepared to work with the current administration. We still have a little bit of time. And as Chairman Mao wrote in his poem, we should seize the day, seize the hour. I always believe it’s never too late to do the right things. Now let me come back to the word “values”. I think the word “values” in the English language is a very interesting, even puzzling one. It has some conceptual and abstract sense. But it could also mean something very concrete, very real and very material.

So sometimes things are done by some people in the name of the abstract values. But in fact, they are trying to advance the material values. I don’t know whether my understanding of the word is correct or not. Very often, people talk about so-called universal values. But frankly, if these values are just derived from any particular civilization without taking into account the values of other civilizations, I don’t think they are or could be called universal.

And even so, in today’s connected world, in a much globalized world today, there are common values that are held by people all over the world. I want to bring your attention to the comments made by President Xi during his address to the General Assembly of the United Nations this year. He said we should be guided by the values held by people all over the world, such as peace, development, equity, justice, democracy, and freedom.

They are still good values. I think these values could be called universal values. And they are enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations. So if somebody wants to base the foreign policy on these values, we have no problem. We are ready to work with them.

Steve Orlins: In talking of seizing the moment, it’s clear that the Congress, the American people, elites in the United States have a very negative view of China. The polling suggests 70-80% of the Americans disapprove of Chinese behavior. Ambassador Cui, you said “seize the moment”. Is China prepared to reopen the Consulate in Chengdu, to invite expelled American journalists back to China, to unblock the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post websites in China, to do those things with a view of improving… because those help China… with a view of improving China’s image in the United States, and creating what Dr. Kissinger did with “Ping Pong Diplomacy”, allowing creating a foundation in the American people of a positive view, which then allows the American government to take more constructive actions. So is China prepared to do something before January 20?

Ambassador Cui: Steve, I have to say we did not initiate the closing of consulates. We were not the first one to ask foreign journalists to leave the country. We did all these things in response to actions taken by the United States. So if the US government is ready to reverse the course, we are ready to look at it. In order to put the relations on the right track, to have real improvement of the relations, both sides have to proceed with goodwill and good faith. I don’t think that China should just do something to please anybody here. We always stand for stable and good relations with the United States. We never initiate all these provocative actions, but we have to defend our interests. We have to respond. So it’s kind of good faith for good faith, goodwill for goodwill.

Steve Orlins: It’s true with respect to the consulates, it’s true with respect to the expelled American journalists. It’s not true with respect to the blocking of the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post websites, Facebook, Google, YouTube, Twitter, etc. Those all occurred without any provocation. Those weren’t tit for tat. Those were Chinese decisions which were unilaterally taken. And the United States government did not respond to those. And I believe that those are not in China’s interests. Not a question of pleasing anybody. It’s a question of basically laying a foundation at the people-to-people level for improving government relations.

Ambassador Cui: I don’t think it’s a fact, or it’s even fair to say something is done without any provocation. There were provocations. If you look at what happened in the past year or so…

Steve Orlins: Those occurred 10 years ago. You and I have discussed it many times. I think it’s a mistake for the Chinese government to do it. The consequences far exceed any national security benefits.

Ambassador Cui: Why don’t you talk to the Chinese journalists who are forced to leave this country in the last couple of years? Why don’t you talk to Chinese scholars who are forced to leave this country in the last couple of years?

Cui: Why don’t you talk to the Chinese journalists who were forced to leave this country in the last couple of years. Why don’t you talk to Chinese scholars who were forced to leave this country in the last couple of years.

Orlins: This occurred long before then. But Graham…

Cui: It is very recent. It is very recent.

Orlins: The blocking of the websites of these various organizations — New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Facebook, Google, YouTube, Twitter, occurred many years ago, before President Trump took office. And whereas the Consulate closing and the expulsion of U.S. journalists were in response to actions, those were not. 

Steve Orlins: Graham, you’ve written about that Biden will not be a 3rd term of the Obama China policy. Should President Biden, after January 20, address the Chinese people?

Graham Allison: That’s a big question. I don’t know. I think that as he takes oath of office, President Biden is going to inherit the most complex set of challenges in the American presidency for a long time. And most of those challenges are going to be right here at home, as he signaled very clearly. So he’s going to have a huge agenda.

When he gets to the China issue, I think it’s very important to remember that this is not a novice coming into a job that he’s never seen before. This is a person very seasoned and grounded, who has views that he has developed over a number of years. I think he will take some time to get his bearings and try to develop, as Ambassador Cui said, some concepts that could actually provide a strategic rationale for a relationship with China, which will simultaneously be fiercely rivalrous but also recognizing inherent necessity for big cooperation. Trying to articulate that would be a big challenge.

In that context, I wouldn’t be surprised that he would at some point try to speak not only to the Chinese people, but certainly to the world, because he knows that the challenges internationally are not only for the US alone, or America first. So I think for Ambassador Cui and his colleagues, they’re going to have a more challenging task than they had under Trump. No one did more to undermine relations between the US and its allies than President Trump. I talked to a scholar in Beijing, and he told me, “We are having trouble figuring out our views about which of these two candidates we prefer. Because for sure, we could never have succeeded in the way that Trump has in undermining confidence in America’s Asian allies the way that he’s done. So if he can keep this up, this is quite a good thing. But on the other hand, his idiosyncratic and mercurial character drives us crazy, because we like order and more regularity”. I think that Biden understands very well. As he signaled clearly that rebuilding relations with America’s key allies and friends in the region would be a big part of his agenda. In that context, speaking to all people, including the Chinese people, about the kind of relationship that he would hope that the US and China could develop might well be part of it.

Steve Orlins: Tiankai, the other end of that question, what do you think is the single greatest misunderstanding of China among the American people? Should President Xi address the American people about what he thinks US-China relations should be and explain what the Chinese government is about.

Ambassador Cui: Steve, it’s true that there’s not sufficient mutual understanding, but what is more important, what is causing this lack of understanding is insufficient genuine will to acquire such understanding. And honestly, some of my American colleagues are still, are not ready to have genuine mutual respect. Without mutual respect you can never acquire very good mutual understanding. For China’s intention and strategic goals, it’s quite open. If you look at the recent decisions made by the recent Party plenum, if you look at a number of important speeches given by President Xi both domestically and at international events in the last couple of months, China’s goal for the next five years and 15 years are quite clearly defined. It’s all available to the public. If people have a genuine desire and make genuine efforts to acquire this kind of understanding, they can certainly do it.

Steve Orlins: Do you think the Chinese president should address the American people?

Ambassador Cui: In the last couple of months, President Xi has addressed both Chinese and international audiences on many occasions. That international audience certainly includes the American people. If you look at the message of congratulations he sent to President-elect Biden, the key message is very clear.

Steve Orlins: You have had an amazing run of seven years as the Chinese Ambassador to the United States. What do you feel has been your greatest success? What has made you happiest during these seven years?

Ambassador Cui: To be more accurate, it is seven years and eight months. One of the things I have learned over the last seven years and more is that I have a better understanding of the complexities as well as the potential of this relationship. On the whole, I’m still confident if we can really work together, if there is genuine desire on both sides to show mutual respect and to acquire mutual understanding, we can do a lot of good things together. We can make both countries great again.

Steve Orlins: Graham, what do you worry about most? What keeps you up at night? And where do you think there is the potential for what we used to call in Wall Street the “upside surprise”? I always thought of a pandemic. It’s a tragedy on a tragedy. I always believed that climate change, pandemic, economic crisis and terrorism were areas where it brought the United States and China together. And instead, this pandemic has just driven us further apart. I hope there is a lesson in that that means we need to cooperate. What do you worry about the most at night and where is some potential for upside surprise?

Graham Allison: On the worry side, Taiwan is a great candidate for a ticking time bomb that could lead to a tragic conflict. Again, not to rehearse the story of 1914, but I don’t think you can study that or think about it too often, which was absolutely incredible. Two great countries, Germany and Great Britain, were actually ruled by cousins who vacationed together and had thick economic relations. The most popular book in Europe for the decade before 1914 was a book that said wars were obsolete because economic relations would make them counterproductive. Nonetheless, in those circumstances, something that was otherwise inconsequential as the assassination of an archduke by some terrorists became a spark to produce the fire that produced a catastrophe.

In Taiwan, the US and China have together, for now 50 years, managed to a degree of ambiguity a successful run in which neither China nor Taiwan nor the US have ever seen such an extended period of prosperity and peace, with a lot of discomfort and a few crises and difficulties nonetheless. So could that go wrong? Absolutely. I can give you five scenarios for doing that.

North Korea. We haven’t heard from it lately, but I would say stay tuned. If they go back to testing ICBMs that could give them a reliable capability to strike the American homeland, I can easily imagine even in the Biden Administration strikes on North Korea. And then where do we go from there? And we should remember the Korean War, in which Americans and Chinese fought each other. So I think that’s the downside.

On the upside, I think President Biden and his team understand more deeply than most of the strategic community the dangers posed by climate disruption and unfiltered greenhouse gas emissions. Biden is quite serious about having a big climate initiative. From the Chinese perspective, their interests in this are even greater because the climatic consequences in China, the more immediate ones, come sooner than in the US. And President Xi Jinping showed some appreciation to this earlier.

So I can imagine the two parties have to either find ways of addressing this problem by jointly doing things we wouldn’t do otherwise, and leading the world to do likewise, or we’re going to end up with the climate we can’t live in. To work today and pay costs today on behalf of preventing a catastrophe that may not happen tomorrow but in a decade or five decades, that’s extremely hard in terms of politics, especially for American politics. But I think that’s part of what Biden is about. And I think his appointment of Kerry as the sole leader for that initiative is reflective of the fact that this is going to be a high priority for him, whereas for Trump, it was not an issue.

Steve Orlins: Tiankai, upside surprises?

Ambassador Cui: I certainly agree with you that there are important areas for closer cooperation between China and the United States. You mentioned quite a few and very good areas for cooperation, including the pandemic, climate change, global economy, and counter-terrorism. And I also agree with Professor Allison that we should not take it for granted that economic interdependence by itself could stop any conflict or confrontation. Under certain circumstances, closer economic ties may even make conflicts more possible.

That’s why we have to have a comprehensive view, and have a clear understanding of the complexities of the relations. But still, it’s quite clear that cooperation will make both countries winners, and confrontation will make both of us losers. That’s the basic choice we have to make.

Steve Orlins: When was the first meeting between President Xi and President Obama? Assuming the pandemic is under control, when’s the first meeting scheduled to occur (between President Xi and President-elect Biden)?

Graham Allison: The only thing I’ve heard is that an early meeting has not yet been called at the G20 to talk about the response to the pandemic as the vaccines become available. Even though you’ve got a lot of fluffy talk at the G20 level and internationally about the rest of the world, each of the countries is pursuing its own vaccine. But as vaccines are rolled out, which are happening both in China and in the US, you will be seeing this in January, I could imagine an early meeting at the G20. But I still suspect it will be some time before they meet face to face.

Steve Orlins: Tiankai, do you have a view of the value of such a meeting early on? President Biden has talked about, in an interview he gave to the New York Times, getting our alliances in order, what Graham referred to rebuilding American alliances and our relationships with our friends around the world, so we have a unified view on our policy towards China that it is not the unilateral view, not America first, not America alone.

So my expectation is actually it will be quite a while before there is an arrangement for an independent, separate meeting between President Biden and President Xi. There’s no president in American history who has spent this amount of time, which I believe it’s 28 hours individually, with President Xi than President-elect Biden.

Ambassador Cui: It may be too early to talk about schedules of our leaders next year. We have to see when and how the pandemic would be over, and whether they will be able to have face-to-face meetings at all these international events like G20.

I remember the first presidential meeting between President Xi and President Obama was at the Sunnylands within three months after President Xi was elected President. It was very early on. And the first presidential meeting between President Xi and President Trump was at Mar-a-Lago, also in the first few months of the Trump presidency.

Such top-level communication and working relations they formed are extremely important and useful in guiding the relationship moving forward. And I have also read media reports that Mr. Biden might want to meet some of the US allies first, or have conference with them. It’s his decision, of course. What is really important is not whether you have a unilateral policy or multilateral policy, whether you have an American policy on China or a coordinated policy with the allies. What is really important is the nature of the policy, what kind of policy you are going to adopt. If it’s a policy of containment, or of forming a so-called united front against China, then whether it’s unilateral or multilateral, the difference is only that if you are digging that trap yourself or you are digging the trap with your friends. It makes no real difference.

Graham Allison: Maybe we agree with that, maybe we disagree. So let me try to see where we may disagree. I think that you will see a fierce rivalry between the US and China for a long time, because I think the China dream foresees China as the predominant power in its neighborhood. Many Americans still believe that the arbiter of the region should be the US, because that’s the position we’ve enjoyed for now more than seven decades since World War II. And that’s provided a stability and an environment in which all the nations would have a chance to grow, so “American leadership” of an American-led international order is very much part of the American agenda and it will be part of Biden’s agenda. So I think this will be a fierce rivalry. I do not think that’s inconsistent with holding another idea, which seems contradictory, in our head at the same time that if that’s the only thing we’re doing, the prospect of our dying together catastrophically is very high.

So we are condemned to coexist, because the alternative is to co-destruct, and that means finding specific areas in which we have to cooperate deeply. Taiwan is a good example. North Korea is a good example. Climate is a good example. Terrorism is a good example. For those of us old Cold Warriors, it was a long time getting our head around the idea that Ronald Reagan finally expressed best. He said that nuclear war cannot be won. It must therefore never be fought. For now, how to cooperate and compete at the same time is the challenge.

Steve Orlins: I think Tiankai is absolutely right in the sense that it matters what the policy is. Absolutely right. From the American perspective, the unilateral policy is ineffective, and if we have issues that we want to address with China, it should be on a multilateral basis. That’s what President-elect Biden is going to do. It is going to be with our NATO allies. It is going to be with Japan, South Korea, with our friends, and China will need to adjust to deal with a more united policy. From the American perspective, it’s the effectiveness of the policy. From China’s perspective, it’s the content of the policy. What is the content going to be? My hope is that it focuses on climate change, economic growth, pandemic relief and prevention, and counter-terrorism, but there are conflicting aspects of the relationship we work on managing. Tiankai, you want to get some closing comments?

Ambassador Cui: I try to be quite brief. First of all, we have to look at some of the questions at different levels. At one level, there are some fundamental trends in the world, as economic growth, the scientific and technological progress, and the always ongoing restructuring in the global economy, including supply chain and so on. These things are always there. They are more or less independent of whatever intention we might have as a country. And basically any policy that is very much in line with these historical tides will succeed, and any policy that goes against these tides will fail.

At a different level is the national strategy, the national policy goals we set for ourselves. We have to distinguish these two different things. For China, our goal and strategy is very clear. We are not seeking global dominance, even when we become the largest economy in the world. As President Xi said, we stand for a global community with a shared future. So maybe someday it will be inevitable that China will become the largest economy in the world, because we have four times the population of the United States. In per capita terms, it may take a long, long time for us to catch up. But it does not mean confrontation would be inevitable.

Then Graham just mentioned a couple of issues. These issues are of different nature. Taiwan is our core interest. What is at stake is China’s unity and sovereignty. The Korean Peninsula is some international conflict we have been working on together and trying to find a solution to. But we can still find some common ground on both issues.

For instance, peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait serves the interests of everybody, China, the United States, and people in Taiwan. And peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula would also serve the interests of both countries and our other partners. We may need more time to have more discussion on these issues. I’m ready anytime you’re ready.

Then in the end, Steve, I have a question: What is the point to make the policy more effective if it is a wrong policy?

Steve Orlins: Obviously, it may be wrong, but if our allies and we agree, it is a correct policy. We need to bring in friends and allies to our policy. That serves as a constraint on the policy. Some of the policies that have been adopted over the last four years would be difficult to persuade the EU, Japan, South Korea and others to agree to. So actually, it will function as a normalization of American policy toward China. So I would argue it’s not really a bad thing. It’s actually positive.

Ambassador Cui: Steve, I’m afraid you’re overestimating some of the things. People are saying the China-US relationship cannot go back to the past. I think the same could be said about a number of other things, including your relations with some of your allies. But this is your business.

Steve Orlins: President-elect Biden is putting together a fabulous team. And each day we see more and more people. These are people who really understand the world, diplomacy and alliances. This will not be foreign policy by tweet.

Ambassador Cui: My advice for them is that I hope they will have a good understanding of today’s China.

Steve Orlins: Everyone is calling, whether Democrats or Republicans, for more understanding of China in the executive branch of the US government. We need to train more experts on China, to have more people who have lived in China in the US government. So there’s actually a consensus in America that we do need that.

Ambassador Cui: Maybe just one last word. When President-elect Biden was Vice President, he was very much involved in US relations with China. I have heard him saying more than once that sometimes unintended consequences could be worse than intended consequences. I think this is a piece of very wise advice. Thank you.

Graham Allison: I think Biden has seen a rivalry which ended up not having the catastrophic war. The normal tendencies of a rising power are obvious in its behavior, in its attitudes, in its understanding. So I think again, President Xi Jinping is showing himself to be a wise leader. In this formulation of the call for a new form of great-power relations, he’s got good banner. I’m optimistic.

Steve Orlins: This has been a fabulous panel. It’s been frank, constructive and extremely useful. It never ceases to amaze me when I sit with Tiankai. He can express Chinese positions so articulately in a thoughtful and constructive way. I look forward to the day when we have another American Ambassador to China to participate in this kind of conversation in Chinese. It’s simply breathtaking the way you can articulate this.

ICAS Annual Conference: Opening Remarks by Ambassador Cui Tiankai

Opening Remarks by Ambassador Cui Tiankai At the Annual Conference of the Institute for China-America Studies on December 4th, 2020:

The year 2020 is about to end. This has been a very unusual year, probably a turning point in history. To overcome the pandemic, restore global economic growth and protect people’s livelihood are pressing priorities. At the same time, we have to recognize that the pandemic is actually reinforcing and accelerating some fundamental trends in the world that had emerged long before Covid-19. The pandemic has also brought into sharp focus some major challenges that the global community has to respond to together if we want to build a better future.

There are already discussions about how a post-pandemic world will look like and what kind of global governance we need for such a world. It is clear that the post-pandemic world would not be stable and global governance would not be effective without sound and stable relations between China and the US. Therefore it is time for reflection on this consequential relationship. This is not because of so-called failures of the past. The development of China-US relations since Dr. Henry Kissinger’s first visit almost 50 years ago has brought tremendous benefits to the two countries and the whole world. Our reflection is necessitated by the fast and complex changes in the world, which present us with great opportunities as well as high risks. We have to have a shared vision for the future and make the right choice. We owe it to the people of both countries and the global community to keep the relations on a constructive track towards agreed goals.

For China, the choice is clear. China and the US stand to gain from cooperation and lose from confrontation. Cooperation is the only right choice for both countries. As President Xi Jinping stated in his message of congratulation to President-Elect Joseph Biden, the Chinese side stands ready to work with the US side “in the spirit of no conflict, no confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation, so that our two sides may focus on cooperation, manage differences, move forward China-US relations in a sound and steady manner and, together with other countries and the international community, advance the noble cause of world peace and development.”

We are about to enter the third decade of the 21st century. There are unprecedented needs for bilateral and global cooperation: public health, climate change, a more inclusive and equitable process of globalization, advancement of science and technology that will improve the life of more people in more places, etc. All these challenges call for enhanced international cooperation, including in particular China and the US working with each other, not decoupled from one another.

There are always differences between the two countries. Many of them are part of the diversity of the world. None of them justifies confrontation and war, cold or hot. With sufficient mutual respect and mutual understanding, we are capable of managing these differences so that they would not derail the entire relationship.

A few years ago, Professor Graham Allison made a timely warning against the Thucydides trap. And he also quoted Shakespeare that our destiny lies “not in our stars, but in ourselves”. Again, “nothing is written in stone”. Everything depends on the choices we make. The zero-sum game is anachronistic. Attempts to incite distrust and even hatred among different nations and civilizations are extremely irresponsible. Those who are obsessed with great power rivalries already have their feet in the trap. Instead, we should, based on a clear understanding of the new realities of today’s world, join hands to build a new type of international relations and a community of mankind for a shared future. The first and foremost thing we have to do to be on the right side of history is to reject the outdated mindset. The best way to avoid a trap is to open up a new path. This is the vision that we shall hold and a historic mission that we have to fulfill today. Are we up to it?

On the Campaign: Ely Ratner and Biden’s China Strategy

By Raphael J. Piliero.

Since winning the presidential election in early November, President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. has been announcing his presumptive picks for the top jobs within the foreign policy establishment, including his pick for Secretary of State, National Security Advisor, and several other key roles. 

During this process, one name that has drawn attention is Ely Ratner. Having served from 2015 to 2017 as the deputy national security advisor to Vice President Biden and as an advisor to then-Senator Biden, Mr. Ratner is expected to serve the administration in some capacity. However, in his current role, Mr. Ratner is the Executive Vice President and Director of Studies at the Center for New American Security (CNAS).

Mr. Ratner is most well-known as a specialist on China, having served in the office of Chinese and Mongolian affairs at the State Department and as a senior fellow of the Asia-Pacific security program at CNAS. Holding a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, Mr. Ratner has additional experience working in the Senate on a foreign policy portfolio. It is possible that Mr. Ratner will influence United States foreign policy towards China in some respect during the Biden administration. The question then emerges – how would Mr. Ratner approach the China challenge? 

No New Cold War

In much of his research, Mr. Ratner has been careful to emphasize his view that the United States cannot manage its relationship with China like it did the Soviet Union. For Mr. Ratner, to “reach for the Cold War playbook” would result in both states competing for allies and influence, choosing to compete across domains instead of searching for opportunities to cooperate and compromise. Furthermore, Mr. Ratner is particularly critical of the Trump administration’s proclamation that it can “spend the adversary into oblivion.” In reference to the Reagan administration’s strategy to dominate the Soviet Union by outspending it on weapons proliferation, Mr. Ratner appears critical of such a strategy with China.

Mr. Ratner also stresses that this comparison fails to accurately capture current American geopolitical competition with China. With the Soviet Union, the world was divided into Eastern and Western blocs with little trade between them; by contrast, the United States and China have extensive trade ties and other economic interdependencies, and such a Cold War-esque strategy would require costly economic decoupling. Geopolitically, many countries remain unaligned with the United States and China, and both stand likely to benefit from them; however, there is little enthusiasm for an all-out Cold War-redux. 

For Mr. Ratner, this Cold War paradigm emerges out of hubris, a false belief that the United States can fundamentally change China’s government. Reflecting an “outsize sense of its ability to determine China’s course,” the United States must instead realize that China is a more formidable adversary than the United States historically gave it credit for. China has shown the ability to thrive despite constraints imposed by the United States, which necessitates a new policy paradigm beyond encirclement or containment.

Instead, Mr. Ratner suggests that there will never be an all-encompassing coalition aimed at containing China. In contrast, the United States and other countries will “build coalitions of the willing on different issues,” such as unfair trade practices, Taiwan, or regional security. In other areas, China won’t be configured as a foe, but as a partner, with opportunities for cooperation on non-proliferation, climate change, and more. 

Notably, this stance diverges somewhat from other significant intended appointments by President-elect Biden. In particular, Biden’s pick for Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, has emphasized the role that alliances can play in forming a broader coalition against China, ensuring that American interests are globally represented. Instead, Mr. Ratner has urged a significantly more case-by-case approach to the China challenge, refusing to affix a broad label to the US-China relationship.

That being said, Mr. Ratner has not cast himself as a dove on China, either. In a series of remarks during the presidential campaign, he criticized President Trump for making “China’s position…stronger, while the United States’ has grown weaker.” In contrast, he argues that President-elect Biden’s agenda will be one of positioning the US to out-compete China in the long run.

Where do US allies fit in?

While Mr. Ratner has noted that “there’s no bumper sticker for the relationship between the two countries,” there are still overarching strategic goals that the United States wants to achieve when it comes to China. These include fair trade practices, regional stability, the defense of allies, and non-proliferation. For those goals to be effectuated, the United States cannot go at it alone – instead, cooperation with allies will be essential. 

Cooperation will be less about trying to force China to change its model of governance, but about bringing about “a more confident United States.” Mr. Ratner sees this best achieved by prioritizing American competitiveness across issues, strengthening international economics, diplomacy, technology, innovation, defense, and security. While international coalitions for Mr. Ratner might not be all-encompassing, they will still be present, illustrating a sharp contrast with the unilateral approach of the Trump administration on issues such as trade. 

Many envision the view taken by Mr. Ratner and others as being a return to many of the policies of the Obama administration. Indeed, figures such as Antony Blinken and Jacob Sullivan do represent a throwback to the prior administration. For allies having felt abandoned or isolated by the Trump administration, this may be a welcome sign that much of the past four years is being reversed. 

While Mr. Ratner’s specific appointment is still unknown, it remains likely that he will have President-elect Biden’s ear on many of the key foreign policy questions that relate to China. The interplay between Mr. Ratner’s views on China and those of the other foreign policy advisors will be interesting to watch unfold as America charts its new foreign political path towards China.

Jake Sullivan and the Future of American Policy Towards China

WASHINGTON, DC- JUNE 09: Jake Sullivan, who was senior policy advisor to Hillary Clinton during her 2016 run for president poses for a portrait at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on Friday June 09, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Matt McClain/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Image Creator: The Washington Post | Credit: The Washington Post via Getty Image

By Raphael J. Piliero

On November 23, President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. announced the selection of his National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan. Having previously served as National Security Advisor to Vice President Biden during the Obama administration, Mr. Sullivan’s appointment comes as little surprise. During his tenure as Vice President Biden’s National Security advisor, a position he held from February 2013 to the end of the Obama administration, Mr. Sullivan was perhaps best well-known for his efforts to negotiate the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), where he extensively interfaced with his Iranian counterparts. As the upcoming National Security Advisor for the Biden administration, Sullivan will play a highly significant role in shaping American national security and foreing policy, particularly on questions related to U.S.-China relations. 


Much like President-elect Biden’s pick for Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, Mr. Sullivan is a stalwart defender of American alliances, believing that firm international commitments are necessary to collective international security. Mr. Sullivan previously characterized the Trump administration’s view of alliances as transactional, arguing that a Biden administration would reflect a belief that “the United States is stronger when it is working alongside like-minded democratic allies to achieve common objectives.” 

To actively support and cooperate with American allies, Sullivan has urged the United States to take a number of steps. First, Mr. Sullivan argues that the United States must shed the Trump administration’s skepticism towards international institutions and actively engage with them. To Mr. Sullivan, the Trump administration’s antagonistic approach towards international organizations, such as the United Nations, World Trade Organization, and World Health Organization, have been deleterious towards the objective of cooperation among like-minded allies. Second, Mr. Sullivan argues the United States needs to rejoin and honor past international agreements, including a renewed interest in the Paris Climate Agreement and JCPOA. Lastly, Mr. Sullivan suggests going further than past administrations in creating a unified front of democratic allies, to “develop a set of clear priorities” on everything from COVID-19 to climate change, including foreign policy towards China.

Foreign Policy towards China

Naturally, many of the issues that Mr. Sullivan has discussed in his writing closely related to United States policy towards China. For example, in Mr. Sullivan’s perspective, American foreign policy towards its democratic allies critically intersects with its policy towards China. In his remarks on alliances and global cooperation to the Atlantic Council in August, Mr. Sullivan urged “like-minded democracies” to work together, with such nations having to “choose a side” between autocracy and democracy, as well as respect for human rights – this quite clearly establishes a line between the United States and its democratic partners and states such as Russia and China. Indeed, headlines such as one recently published in the The Economist, that “Joe Biden will embrace allies and enlist them to take on China,” confirm the direction Mr. Sullivan will take the administration. 

In many ways, Mr. Sullivan’s remarks dovetail closely with the perspectives of Secretary of State Nominee Blinken on China. Mr. Blinken has urged a similar strategy of using alliances to pressure China by presenting a unified front to advance American democratic interests. Similarly, Mr. Sullivan has advocated for a dual-track approach towards China, where the US would “seek to compete from a position of strength” while also “seek[ing] to work with China.”

American Strength Begins at Home

Furthermore, part of competing from a position of strength begins at home. Mr. Sullivan, like many others in the future Biden administration, worries that the Trump administration has diminished the appeal of the United States as a democratic model. Specifically, Mr. Sullivan developed a rather zero-sum view of the internal system, stressing that the diminishment of American democratic appeal begets a view of China as a viable alternative for global governance. To Mr. Sullivan, addressing systemic domestic problems such as disenfranchisement and inequality within American society can help enhance the appeal of the American democracy and diminish China’s autocratic appeal by comparison. 

This implies that Mr. Sullivan does not wholesale disagree with the path towards China charted by the Trump administration. In a September 2019 essay in Foreign Affairs, Mr. Sullivan appeared to agree with the concept of “strategic competition” animating US-China relations. However, he argued that the concept was vague unless the United States specified the areas in which it would seek to outcompete China. Instead, Mr. Sullivan asked, “What, exactly, is the United States competing for?”

Furthermore, Mr. Sullivan rejected the notion that engagement will bring fundamental changes to China’s political system as unduly optimistic. Instead, he argued that engagement should be geared towards facilitating co-existence with China, with each “prepared to live with the other as a major power.” This necessitates both cooperation and competition, with friction sometimes emerging when beneficial to American interests. This is in line with views that others have predicted will be dominant in the Biden administration, with both nations competing while working to find areas of mutual interest.   

Competition with Cooperation

Importantly, Mr. Sullivan is emphatic that US strategy cannot be Cold War-redux – China is a peer competitor with economic strength that dwarfs any challenge mounted by the Soviet Union. Instead, US-China relations are about finding ways to co-exist and seek mutual benefit. This requires a clear-eyed appraisal of the objectives and fears of the other side – China fears threats to its sovereignty and territorial integrity, while the United States fears China will attempt to push American forces out of the region, threatening its security. Instead, China will need to accept some role for United States forces in the region, while the United States will have to be content with a more limited military presence than it has become accustomed to. This is in line with a broader strategy, where the US strikes a balance between accommodating a rising power and defending US interests. 

One particularly salient arena of competition has been in trade policy, evinced by the Trump administration’s so-called “trade war,” with unilateral tariffs slapped on a litany of Chinese goods. Mr. Sullivan, similar to Mr. Blinken, has been critical of the trade war as a unilateral and futile endeavor, which instead backfired and hurt American interests. Instead, Mr. Sullivan suggests there can be a role for tariffs, but that they must be pursued multilaterally, in coordination with allies. This creates the greatest change of success in addressing the root of the problem, which is unfair Chinese trade and intellectual property practices. 

Who Decides? 

Since the announcement of Mr. Sullivan, articles both in support and opposition to his appointment have been published, with many conservatives claiming he will be too supportive of Chinese interests. One such piece, published in the Washington Examiner, was provocatively headlined: “Why National Security Adviser Designate Jake Sullivan Will Be Celebrated In China, Iran, and Russia.” In this piece, the journalist argues that Mr. Sullivan is directionally right in his stance towards China, but falls short of a sufficiently strong response by not expressly labeling China as an adversary. Similarly, a Fox News piece criticized a quote of Mr. Sullivan’s in relation to China’s rise, claiming him to be unduly supportive of Chinese ambitions. While the quote in question requires more context than was presented (Mr. Sullivan was not normatively endorsing or condemning China’s rise, but explaining the conditions required for a rise to be peaceful), the criticism is one that has certainly been levied. 

While many disagree on the future of American policy towards China, one fact remains undisputed – China policy will be a defining issue for the Biden administration. As a recent headline described, “China, not Biden picks Antony Blinken and Jake Sullivan, will dictate US foreign policy.“ As the nearest peer competitor to the United States in economic and military strength, US-China relations can be expected to be closely intertwined with other, ostensibly unrelated American foreign policy objectives. Where US-China relations go, the rest may follow, and Mr. Sullivan will play a formative role.

Antony Blinken and the Future of U.S. Policy on China

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 30: 47th Vice President of the United States Joe Biden and Former Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken attend the National Committee On American Foreign Policy 2017 Gala Awards Dinner on October 30, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images for National Committee on American Foreign Policy )

Image Credit: Mike Coppola/Getty Images

By Raphael J. Piliero

President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. is set to take office on January 20, 2021, and has started to announce various political appointments to hit the ground running when he begins. Recently, he announced arguably his most important appointment to date – that of Antony Blinken for Secretary of State. Blinken has past experience serving in Democratic administrations, having served as Deputy Secretary of State from 2015 to 2017 and Deputy National Security Advisor from 2013 to 2015 during the Obama administration. Previously, Mr. Blinken was a member of the National Security Council staff from 1994 to 2001 under the Clinton administration. 

The pick of Mr. Blinken for Secretary of State doesn’t come as a surprise, as Blinken has been a key foreign policy advisor to the Biden campaign and has served in Democratic administrations and the foreign policy establishment for decades. This experience gives Mr. Blinken an established record and well-developed set of views on a number of foreign policy challenges facing the country, particularly those that relate to China. Importantly, Blinken is seen by many as signaling a return to normalcy. Contrast the selection of someone with decades of foreign policy experience in the establishment with the initial Secretary of State pick of President Donald Trump – Rex Tillerson. Mr. Tillerson, an ExxonMobil executive with no prior foreign policy experience, was picked to bring an outside disrupter. In contrast, Mr. Blinken is someone that brings a return to previous administrations, signaling to the rest of the world that prior American foreign policy goals may be returning.  

American Alliances

Described by the New York Times as as a “defender of global alliances,” Mr. Blinken is someone expected to reverse President Trump’s “America First” stance, seen by many as retrenchment from United States allies. In a 2017 op-ed, Mr. Blinken noted that “the world does not organize itself,” criticizing the shift by President Trump away from multilateral institutions and cooperation. He argued that “in the absence of an engaged, diplomatically energized America, others will set the agenda, shape the rules, and dominate international institutions – and probably not in ways that advance our interests or values.” 

Not only does Mr. Blinken’s op-ed signal a possible return to multilateralism, such as rejoining the Paris Agreement and remaining in the World Health Organization, it also grants insight into Mr. Blinken’s perspective on China. Mr. Blinken alluded to the emergence of a vacuum in the absence of United States influence, leaving other countries to set the agenda – here, Mr. Blinken is likely referring to Chinese attempts at international agenda-setting. Mr. Blinken has written extensively about concerns that China is building a viable alternative model to the current international system, noting in a separate op-ed that “while Mr. Trump is obsessed with building walls, Mr. Xi is busy building bridges.” 

In contrast to the Trump Administration’s approach of tariffs and opposition, Mr. Blinken seems more likely to reinvigorate and utilize American alliances to pressure China. For example, by strengthening ties with European allies and forming new ties with Southeast Asian nations, American partnerships may be able to compete with the One Belt, One Road initiative and render it less attractive. Here, Mr. Blinken’s strategy seems to reflect less blunt force than international encirclement, where the United States might pull allies away from China’s sphere of influence, weakening China’s political and economic clout.

This also requires rebuilding American soft power and influence. Mr. Blinken described alliances, human rights credibility, and support for democracy as areas where the United States retreated remarkably under President Trump – these realities have diminished America’s ability to lead by example. To reverse these trends, Mr. Blinken believes the United States needs to get its own house in order, while also working to shore up democratic commitments to allies like Taiwan and by dissuading China from believing it could get away with territorial aggression. 

Trade and Tariffs

With Mr. Blinken at the helm of the Department of State, the Biden administration may still bear some similarities with the Trump administration on tariffs. Although Mr. Blinken has been critical of President Trump’s tariffs, describing them as “fake toughness” which “harm our own people,” Mr. Blinken has expressed a willingness to use tariffs in coordination with American partners and allies. For Mr. Blinken, tariffs can serve a purpose of punishing China for trade violations, stating that his team would “aggressively enforce American trade laws.”

There are a number of putative benefits to acting multilaterally on trade, as opposed to unilaterally. With allies on board, they can impose their own tariffs on China, preventing China from finding other potential trading partners to replace the United States. Additionally, Mr. Blinken has emphasized a role for multilateral litigation when it comes to trade violations, arguing that the World Trade Organization can be a forum that complements American tariff policy. Noting that the United States won 16 out of 16 cases against China at the WTO during the Obama administration, Mr. Blinken emphasizes the role the WTO can play in facilitating fair trade practices. 

Resetting Relations 

Despite his hardline stance against Chinese trade practices, Mr. Blinken has also indicated interest in pursuing a diplomatic “reset” with China. However, unlike past resets (such as when the United States failed to reset relations with Russia during the Obama administration), Mr. Blinken believes that an effective reset will require the combined force of American allies – with allies and a combined 50-60% of world GDP, the United States and allies have leverage to reset relations with China on American terms. 

This stems from Mr. Blinken’s contention that a full “decoupling” of economic and trade relations with China is fundamentally impossible, as the two are the largest economies in the world, intertwined and interdependent. Instead of isolated tariffs and trade deals that fail to address the drivers of problems in the relationship, Mr. Blinken argues the first step will be to work with allies to secure mutually agreeable stances on technology transfers and trade practices.

Mr. Blinken will be (in his own words) taking office during a time of transition, both in the United States and abroad. The past four years have forced allies to contingency plan for a world without American influence, while allowing adversaries the opportunity to expand their influence. As Secretary of State, Mr. Blinken will simultaneously embrace China as a strategic challenger and seek rapprochement with the world’s second largest economic player.

Time will tell whether he succeeds.

Interview with Robert Ross: Biden’s China Policy

By Tang Jie, Chen Yuxuan

The Monitor’s Student Journalist Tang Jie has recently conducted an in-depth interview with Professor Robert Ross.

Professor Ross has been taught at Boston College for many years. He is also an Associate at John King Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, Harvard University. His research focuses on Chinese security policy and defense policy, East Asian security, and U.S.-China relations.

Professor Ross has testified before various Senate and House committees and the Defense Policy Board Advisory Committee, he advises U.S. government agencies, and he serves on the Academic Advisory Group, U.S.-China Working Group, United States Congress.

Tang Jie is a Ph.D. candidate at School of International Relations and Public Affairs at Fudan University. Yuxuan Chen, a college student majoring in International Relations at New York University has contributed to this interview.

Tang Jie: You wrote in one of your articles saying that the US-China power transition is approaching a critical juncture. You said that the demand for a moderate and a judicious US-Chinese Leadership is especially acute. Could you give some advice to the leaders of the US and China in this time of turbulent waters?

Robert Ross: On the United States side, it is important that the United States begin to accept that it can no longer be the only maritime power, much less the dominant naval power, in the South China Sea and East China Sea. It must accept China as a naval power in East Asia and the implications of this, which includes that America’s Post-World War II allies will begin to cooperate more with China than they had in the past. If the United States can accept these changes, it will be easier for the United States and China to manage the presence of our two large navies in East Asian seas.

Currently, the United States resists the presence of the Chinese Navy in the South China Sea and the tendency of American allies to cooperate more with China.  United States policy is becoming increasingly hostile to China and it is sending strong signals of containment. When it does this, it risks escalation of tension and hostility. As a result, if there are accidents or crises, it might be difficult to manage the heightened tension because mutual suspicion is so high. Only when the United States accepts an equal role for China will it be able to accept the security implications for East Asia and begin to cooperate more and lower regional tension.

China also has great power responsibilities. As a rising power, it wants to influence the regional security order, making it less dominated by the United States. China is now quite capable to challenge the status quo. It is the strongest economy in East Asia and its navy and air force are growing and modernizing.

It is, thus, understandable that China will want to use its new capabilities to begin to change the regional order. However, if China uses these capabilities coercively, frequently, and excessively, it will create fear and suspicion in every country in the region that China is not a cautious country, that it does not wants to preserve the peace.  Rather, it will signal that China cannot be trusted. In this case, it would be inevitable that the United States would become more forceful in its resistance to China’s rise.  While the United States must learn to accommodate the rise of China, China must learn to be patient in enjoying the benefits of its improving capabilities. It must exercise restraint and moderation in order to not put pressure on other countries to resist China’s rise.

If China is moderate and restrained, then it will be easier for  the United States to adjust to the rise of China. Similarly, if  the United States can accommodate and adjust to the rise of China, it will be easier for China to exercise restraint. There is a mutual responsibility to maintain regional stability.

Tang Jie: Now that Joe Biden will soon become president, what will change?

Robert Ross: With President Trump, it was hard to know what would happen day to day, because he did not have a strategy. He made decisions on impulse; he made decisions when he was angry; he made decisions depending on his likes and dislikes. He did nothing in diplomacy that aimed to improve America’s influence in the world, because he had no strategy to do that. He began trade wars and other conflicts with France, Germany, South Korea, China, and Japan. He created security problems with South Korea and he threatened to pull US troops out of NATO countries. His actions were unpredictable. I believe that if he were reelected president, the United States would have continued to have an unpredictable and destabilizing foreign policy characterized by hostility, with minimal US effort to try to reach international agreements and minimal effort to try to cooperate with other countries. In a second Trump term, there would have thus been continued and likely greater U.S.-China trade and security conflict.

Now that Joseph Biden will be the president of the United States, there will be opportunities to improve US-China relations. There will be limits to cooperation because China is a rising power and the United States is a declining power. In addition, the two most powerful great powers are never allies; they are always competitors. The US-China competition is growing stronger everyday, as China becomes stronger and challenges American security.

Nonetheless, this is not a Cold War. We do not have an ideological conflict and China does not export its political system. China has a more open economy than the United States and Japan according to the World Bank. It is thus not like the former Soviet Union. China is also part of the international order, so that there are many opportunities for cooperation.

President-elect Biden has been very clear: the United States will compete with China where it has to, but it will cooperate where it can. He will compartmentalize.  There will be security and economic competition, but this competition the will not necessarily prevent the gradual reestablishment of cooperation in other areas. There are many areas for cooperation, including over global health issues and the World Health Organization, climate change, and nuclear proliferation and instability in North Korea. We can cooperate on Iran. We can cooperate on anti-terrorism. We can cooperate on piracy in the South China Sea and in the Middle East. We can cooperate on post-war Afghanistan. And we can cooperate on educational exchanges. This is  a very long list. And I believe that president-elect President Biden understands the importance of cooperation and he understands that it is impossible for the United States to achieve many of its foreign policy objectives without cooperating with China.

Every post-normalization American president before President Trump understood that we have to cooperate with China on a wide range of international issues. President Trump was the exception. However, competition will still be great over military affairs and we still have to negotiate difficult issues regarding the economy.

Tang Jie: Will the President Biden change US policy towards Taiwan? And is there an ideal way to manage the Cross-Strait relationship?

Robert Ross: This is a very difficult question to answer. Under President Trump, the United States did not help Taiwan because we are friends. We did not help Taiwan because of the long U.S.-Taiwan historical relationship. Rather, the Trump administration used Taiwan as a tool to cause problems for China, to constrain the rise of China. That is why senior U.S. diplomats and officials visited Taiwan. That is why we sold highly advanced weapons to Taiwan. And this is why the United States has increased its naval transits through the Taiwan Strait.

Under President Biden, there will be greater policy flexibility. It will be  possible for president-elect Biden to develop a more balanced policy regarding US- Taiwan cooperation. He understands that it is impossible to have greater cooperation with China if the United States is improving relations with Taiwan and challenging the status quo in U.S.-Taiwan cooperation. If the United States wants China’s help on such issues as North Korea, Iran, and nuclear non-proliferation, it will have to be more sensitive to Chinese interests regarding Taiwan. However, United States domestic politics will influence policy making.  There will be domestic political pressure on the Democratic Party to develop closer relations with Taiwan. For president-elect Biden, there are opportunities for him to become more moderate in Taiwan, but domestic politics will be difficult.

Tang Jie: As some scholars say, “the new Cold War is coming.” Do you agree to use this term to describe the current international situation? Since the breakdown of Soviet Union, the word pattern is described as one superpower and the minor powers, some observers say that the current world is becoming a bi-polar pattern like the US and China or the tri-polar pattern like the US, Europe, and China. So professor, what do you think of the picture of the international setup?

Robert Ross: In international politics, we do not pay close attention to the global security order, about whether the world is a bi-polar or a multipolar system. We pay attention to the regional balance of power. For example, China and the United States are competing in East Asia, not in the Middle East or in Africa. But because the US-China relationship is the most important competition in the world and the East Asian security order is a major security interest for both countries, the regional bi-polar competition may spread to the rest of the world.

We do not consider Europe as a “country.” Europe does not have an army or a navy and it does not have an export policy or an investment policy. The European Union is simply a customs zone. European countries compete with each other for economic advantage in China. They do not cooperate regarding China. Many Americans think that Russia is very weak, with a small and backwards  air force and navy. There are, thus, are only two significant great powers in the world – the United States and China. The US-China  bi-polar competition may spread to other parts of the world. But right now, China does not have military and strategic influence in the Middle East or Africa or Europe. China is focused on Asia. The regional bi-polar competition between the United States and China is the most important great power relationship in international politics.

Tang Jie: The US Secretary of State Pompeo often referred to China as a revisionist power, which will undermine the rules-based international order. On the contrary, China is always trying to consider itself as a responsible power to maintain the existing international order. Is the term “revisionist” a misconception or a proper word to describe China’s rising? Is there a way to clear up the misunderstanding between the U.S. and China?

Robert Ross: First of all, the international institutional order, the rules of the game, and global  norms were established when China was weak and isolated. China is stronger now and it is quite clear that China is not going to say simply that, “we accept your rules and your order.” The rules were written without consideration of Chinese interests, so that, of course, China wants to change the existing rules. The United States understood this many years ago  The underlying understanding of American engagement with China was that it was better to have China inside the system than outside so that when China became stronger, it would not want to overthrow the system, but would work within the system to reform the system. I do not think China is a revolutionary state and I do not like the term revisionist either. But I do not think it is a responsible stakeholder, because it wants change. I think China is a reformist country.

China wants to reform the international order so that the rules and laws reflect better Chinese interests. This is to be expected. Nevertheless, there are two problems. The first is that although China is now a great power, its influence in the WTO, IMF and the World Bank is not commensurate with its power and that makes China a dissatisfied power. This means that China has less incentive to sustain these organizations because it does not have the authority that it merits. Consequently, China is developing new institutions where it can have a larger voice, a voice that equals its influence and  power. China thus developed the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank and it has developed the Belt and Road Initiative for global aid for infrastructure development. 

The United States does not like these developments  because it wants to remain the number one global institutional power. The real China challenge is not a challenge to overthrow the existing order, but rather the challenge to American leadership of the global order. The United States has resisted accommodating China’s rise in the global order. But the lending practices of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank are similar to the practices of the World Bank. And China’s BRI policies are not very different from post-World War II US lending policies. That is why I use the term “reform”. And both intitaives include broad and inclusive international memberships.

However, second, China’s domestic economic regulations pose a significant challenge to the global trade order.  China’s domestic policies advantage its state owned enterprises and protect its advanced technology industries.  And China does not adequately protect the intellectual property of foreign corporations. China’s joint venture laws give advantages to Chinese companies. And China’s financial regulations restrain the domestic activities of foreign banks and investment corporations.  No other country in the advanced industrial world has a domestic economic system like China’s system.

Chinese domestic economic regulations have a significant impact on other countries because China has a large and global economy. Now that China is a major economic power, it needs to reform its domestic system so that its rules for investment, banking, and intellectual property rights are similar to the rules of other advanced industrial economies.

If China does not reform its domestic economic, other countries will adopt unilateral measures against China to create more equal trade relationships. That will create significant pressures for escalation of the trade competition and it will present a major challenge to the health of the global economy. Donald Trump initiated  the trade war and the technology war because he believed that Chinese domestic regulations create unfair advantages for China. The trade war and the technology war may not be effective and they may not be in the interest of the United States, but all of the advanced industrial countries may have to develop policies in reaction to China’s domestic regulations.

I do not know whether China’s economic practices make it a revolutionary state or a revisionist state. But it is clear that Chinese insistence on maintaining its current regulatory system will de-stabilize the global economy. Because China is the largest trading economy in the world and it has a regulatory system that create unique advantages for the Chinese economy, at the expense of other countries’ economies, it is now a disruptive force in the global economy.

Tang Jie: Professor, you have been tracking and studying Chinese politics for a long time. In your opinion, what are the difficulties that China and the United States face after the COVID-19 epidemic?

Robert Ross: My first visit to China was in 1981, and now I have many friends in China and we have a long history of cooperation. The challenge is to maintain our cooperation that we have developed since the normalization of relations as we go forward into the future, now that the United States and China are both great powers. This is a very difficult challenge. When we first developed cooperation in the 1980s, China had its peaceful development strategy and the United States and China cooperated against the Soviet Union. It was an easy relationship because China did not challenge American interests and China needed American cooperation. But it is a different situation today. We no longer have common security interests in East Asia. China needs the United States much less than before and the United State sees China as a challenge to its security

Our challenge is to maintain the foundation of cooperation that we have built since the December 1978  3rd Plenary Session of the 11th Central Committee  That was the meeting at which Deng Xiaoping took control of the Chinese communist party and established the “改革开放” policy. Everything began at the 3rd Plenary Session of the 11th Central Committee. It is the most important meeting in post-1949 Chinese history.

The challenge now is to build on our strong friendship and cooperation and to maintain or dialogue and our channels of communication. We have to persist in cooperating so that we can contribute to the management of competition.  It is a difficult objective, because China and the United States create many difficult strategic and economic problems for each other. This makes it difficult to compartmentalize bilateral issues to prevent security and economic conflicts from influencing cooperation over such issues as climate change, global health issues, North Korea, and anti-terrorism. But since 1979 we have built a strong foundation of cooperation and it is now our joint responsibility to maintain cooperation, despite the prospect of greater great power competition.

The U.S. and China’s Next Tech Battleground: Mexico

By Austin Peters.

I am sitting on my patio reading as the sun slowly sets over the Oaxacan valley laid out in front of me. Deep purples and blues stretch across the sky as the grassy mountain tops contrast against the last tinges of orange on the horizon. The city begins to illuminate. The din of evening commotion rises from the pueblo, punctuated by my noisy neighbor who moonlights as a carpenter. In pursuit of a lazy evening of take out and a mindless early 2000’s comedy, I have three options – Uber Eats, Didi Food, and Rappi – each a unicorn with global intentions that represents its home region in the fight over hearts, stomachs, and wallets in Mexico.

Triangular Competition in Mobile Food Delivery

As COVID-19 disrupts business across the globe, now is the time for mobile food delivery companies to jockey for additional market share or re-entrench in key markets. Each of these three food delivery platforms, competing in a highly standardized service industry, has built a unique competitive advantage. Uber commands global brand recognition, an existing user base (especially among tourists), and seemingly infinite access to capital. Didi understands the diverse needs of consumers in developing economies and sees their Chinese-centric business model as replicable in other developing countries, especially those with technological leap-frog potential, such as Mexico. In addition, Didi has appeared as the single most common advertisement in my media consumption since I moved to Oaxaca. Rappi is a Columbian start-up which was purpose-built for the Latin American consumer.

If we look behind the curtain, this Mexican market match-up is especially interesting. All three companies are backed by Softbank’s Vision Fund,  the paradigm-shifting US$100 billion investment vehicle that has retooled the technology investment landscape.[1] In addition, Uber owns 15% of Didi which it acquired from selling Uber China to Didi. Ultimately, the intertwined capital structures of these companies raise the concern of a conflict of interest. How can Softbank effectively advise and invest in the mobile food delivery market in Mexico when it holds insider information and financial interests in all three major players?

Only time will tell who will win in Mexico, and there may be more than one winner. Regardless, I believe there are three potential outcomes: (1) the local player fends off foreign competition, (2) the foreign player(s) dominate the market before a local player can scale, or (3) the multiple competitors coexist and battle for marginal market share. All three of these examples have global precedents. In Kenya, the local mobile payments provider M-Pesa controls nearly 100% of the domestic market. In the Mexican ridesharing market, Uber maintains a market share north of 80% and is in a position to block out upstart local competitors. In a diverse country such as India, chat applications face stiff competition because WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Skype, Hike, WeChat, and Viber all have significant download rates by Indian mobile phone users. As U.S. and Chinese tech giants continue their search for growth and local entrepreneurs solve problems in their home market, this triangular competition is reappearing across the globe.

Historical Perspectives

Mexico is becoming a battleground for the expanding technology struggle between the United States and China. This is not the first time Mexico has found itself caught between rival powers. During and after the colonial period, Mexico struggled against two encroaching fronts – one the historical colonial European powers and the other the rising rival to its North. Additionally, the annals of history leave a complex and problematic legacy for Mexico, the United States, and China.

As the United States implemented its vision of Manifest Destiny, Mexico paid the price in land. Under President Taft, the United States instigated a war with Mexico, ultimately forcing Mexico to cede large portions of land that are now the Southwest states. In more recent times, the U.S. – Mexico relationship remains fraught with political challenges such as immigration, the war on drugs, and the outsourcing of jobs to Mexico.

From the Chinese perspective, Mexico originally served as a silver supplier and a purchaser of oriental treasures via its fellow Spanish colony, the Philippines. During the Mexican Revolution, Mexican nationalists slaughtered a community of Chinese immigrants in the Torreón Massacre. Under the leadership of President Xi Jinping, the Chinese have shown renewed interest in Mexico and President Xi even visited the country in 2013.

In the context of historical distrust between these three nations, the pragmatic and conciliatory diplomacy of the Chinese leadership stands in stark contrast to the recalcitrant, nationalistic, and isolationist tendencies of the Trump Administration. Furthermore, the interconnectedness of government and business in China as well as the trillions of dollars in U.S. stimulus blur the distinctions between government and companies. Political maneuvering can directly spark economic repercussions. For example, President Trump’s comments about Mexican immigrants and Mexico’s financial responsibility for the proposed border wall ignited anti-American sentiment in Mexico that directly affected American companies. “Social media played a role in spreading these campaigns, with hashtags such as #AdiosStarbucks (“goodbye, Starbucks”) and #AdiosProductosGringos (“goodbye, US products”) gaining traction in 2017.” Looking forward, how should Mexico evaluate and respond to the growing international competition in its technology industry?

Sustainable Development

Historically, Mexico’s important natural resources have been under siege by foreign interests, first with silver mining in the Colonial Period and later with oil in the 20th century. Now, with its developing market and large population, consumer spending and consumer data have become the new export of choice. Mexico should manage this export carefully and understand the double-edged nature of U.S. and Chinese technology investment.

In support of foreign investment, Mexico, and more importantly the Mexican populace, benefit from the rollout of mature technology solutions in the local market. For example, Uber has provided a safe, efficient, and widely available mobility solution to the Mexican people. Although Mexico is now defined by the World Bank as an “upper-middle income country” as measured by per capita Gross National Income in U.S. Dollars, there are still many quality of life improvements to be implemented in Mexico especially with regard to financial inclusion and mobile payments.

In contrast, dissidents of “big tech” view the Mexican market expansion of U.S. and Chinese companies as a new form of neo-liberal colonialization. Undoubtedly, if foreign technology companies profit in the Mexican market, capital gains will flow back to a mainly foreign investor base. If the local startups are able to secure a significant market share or completely fend off foreign competition, Mexico is more likely to cultivate its own tech scene, complete with successful entrepreneurial mentors, a large capital base, and a steady supply of technical talent. Given the drastically improved adoption rates of new technology driven by the pandemic, mobile food delivery platforms’ COVID-19 responses and positioning will shape the Mexican tech ecosystem for years to come.

COVID-19 & Future Development

Pre-pandemic, many would have wagered that the foreign players would have suppressed or purchased the local players in the Mexican food delivery market; however, the pandemic has fundamentally shifted competitive dynamics across this industry in favor of Rappi. For Uber and Didi, the outbreak drew attention away from international expansion and led to a refocusing on home markets and core businesses which were decimated by the decline in leisure and business travel. On the other hand, Rappi’s core market is Latin America, and Rappi focused wholeheartedly on better serving Latin American customers during COVID-19. For example, most Mexicans transact in cash which can accelerate the spread of the virus. This issue was likely much higher priority for Rappi than for Uber and Didi, where their core markets transact via card and mobile respectively. In this ever-evolving business environment, Rappi secured the lion’s share of order growth from the pandemic-induced frenzy in the mobile delivery space, driving an average of 31% month-over-month increases in orders.

I, personally, am rooting for the underdog Rappi and according to a study done by McKinsey Global Institute (MGI), proponents of sustainable development should be rooting for local technology companies as well. MGI identified a primary constraining factor of economic growth and economic equity in Mexico – the missing middle. Mexico is flush with major enterprises (i.e. PEMEX) and supports a long tail of small business; however, middle-market companies, defined by MGI as $10m to $500m in revenue, are missing from this equation. Fast-growth technology companies could quickly scale into the middle-market and provide well-paid middle-class jobs. They also initiate a virtuous cycle that encompasses entrepreneurs, tech talent, and venture capital to compound this economic growth. Additionally, for consumers, the continued competition in the Mexican food delivery market will improve service and decrease prices. Overall, it is hard to deny the benefits of rapid expansion of the local LATAM tech ecosystem.

As I stare at my phone and contemplate from which app to order dinner, I am reminded of the broad implications of this decision. In this three-way campaign for wallet share, I am merely an order number, but this battle will not only shape the future of the standard of living, economic development, and technology industry in Mexico, but also the ability of China to unseat American technological dominance.

Austin Peters is a graduate of Indiana University and has studied Chinese for six years, including stints at Beijing Normal University and Nanjing University.

The views expressed are his own and do not necessarily represent the views of The Carter Center or its associates.

[1] DST Global is invested in both Rappi and Didi.