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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.

Historical Perspectives: Michael Szonyi on US-China Relations

Yuxuan Chen and Tang Jie, two student journalists at US-China Perception Monitor, recently had a Zoom interview with Professor Michael Szonyi of Harvard University. They discussed the core mission of the Fairbank Center, the US-China relations from historical lenses and other related issues.

From the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies: Michael Szonyi is Director of the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies and Frank Wen-hsiung Wu Memorial Professor of Chinese History at Harvard University. He is a social historian of late imperial and modern China who studies local society in southeast China using a combination of traditional textual sources and ethnographic-style fieldwork. He has written, translated or edited seven books, including The Art of Being Governed: Everyday Politics in Late Imperial China (2017); A Companion to Chinese History (2017), Cold War Island: Quemoy on the Front Line (2008; Chinese edition 2016) and Practicing Kinship (2002). He is also co-editor, with Jennifer Rudolph, of The China Questions: Critical Insights on a Rising Power (2018).

USCNPM: What is the core mission of the Fairbank Center? Do you think this core mission will be challenged or changed in an era where US-China relations are at their lowest point?

Szonyi: The core mission of the Fairbank Center has remained the same for its entire 60+ years of history.  It is to advance the study of greater China at Harvard, in the United States and more broadly. I don’t think this core mission is going to change but it will indeed be challenged.

The reality is that, though the mission of the Fairbank Center has been consistent, the Center has had to adapt multiple times to changing times, and has gone through a number of different incarnations. The Fairbank Center, at that time known as the Center for East Asian Research, was founded in a Cold War context with the idea of using multidisciplinary perspectives, particularly social science perspectives, to explore contemporary China.  The question of why China’s political development had moved in ways that people in the United States were unhappy about was a central concern. I often joke with Chinese audiences that one of the main implicit goals of the Fairbank Center in its early years was to study how China had been liberated in order to ensure no other places became liberated. What I mean is that part of the project of the Center was to better understand the rise of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), so that the spread of communism around the world could be prevented. Obviously, I tell this story because we have moved very far beyond our Cold War origins. But it also means that this is not the first time that scholars at the Fairbank Center have confronted delicate difficult and poor US-China relations.

The deterioration in the US-China relationship over the last couple of years makes our work more difficult, more liable to attract suspicion and less popular. But the core mission to enhance the understanding of China in the US scholarly community and in the US at large is unwavering.

Our commitment to cooperation with our colleagues in China is also unwavering. Although that commitment too has been very much challenged by the pandemic and the current bilateral relationship, we are absolutely committed to it. We continue to work closely with Chinese students and colleagues and I cannot foresee a future where that would change. 

USCNPM: In The China Questions: Critical Insights into a Rising Power (2018), you mentioned that Americans have an understanding deficit of China. Similarly, some scholars would argue that Chinese misunderstand the US too. How can both sides reduce misunderstanding and misinformation about one another?

Szonyi: The first answer is obvious: they can buy and read our book, and the many other important books about China by my colleagues. The issue is not about the absolute quantitative amount of knowledge that one has about the other society. It lies in recognizing the complexity of both societies and of learning to be suspicious of generalizations that try to reduce that complexity to a monochrome image. The reality is that in any country as large as China or the US, you can find evidence to support diametrically opposed interpretations.

The second part of my answer is to recognize that many statements about China or the US are politicized. When you hear a generalization about another society, you probably should always ask what political agenda lies behind that generalization.

Furthermore, one can try to recognize that one’s own attitude towards the other society may also be, and indeed should be, complex and nuanced. For example, I can greatly value my relationship with my Chinese friends and colleagues, and I can even respect the CCP’s accomplishments over the last 70 years, while still being deeply critical of certain policies and practices of the PRC-CCP.

For policymakers specifically, this is really important because it means recognizing that there is never going to be a one-size-fits-all policy. The appropriate China policy has to be nuanced, just as our relationship with China is nuanced. Whether you think China is a competitor or rival to the US, it does not mean that they will be an adversary in every dimension. Treating the other party as an adversary in every dimension is almost sure to be a self-defeating policy, that will produce the very same adversarial relationship it is meant to address. This is equally true of the US, of course.

Greater understanding is not necessarily going to mean harmony between the two societies. That’s an unrealistically optimistic view of the world. But even if the US and China are probably not going to get along as friends in the coming century, we still need to understand each other better if we are to promote a smoother relationship. Here I want to make specific reference to a couple of recent developments in the US that will not contribute to reducing misunderstanding but in fact the exact opposite: the closing of the Fulbright program which sends graduate students to China and the trend towards the closure of Confucius Institutes on US campuses. I happen to think that the closure of Confucius Institutes on university campuses is a good thing. However, the sensible thing would be match the reduction in funding through CIs with an increase in domestic funding for the study of China, so that the net effect is not to reduce the number of American students learning about China.

Basically, the simple question is, do we want to know less about China or more. To me, it’s straightforward that even if we are deteriorating into a more hostile relationship, surely we want to know more. Similarly, we want Chinese people to know more about the US. That’s why the flip side of the two issues I just mentioned, which is policies making it harder for Chinese students to come to the United States, is unwise. The concerns about espionage in some STEM fields may have some foundations, but the vast majority of Chinese students in the US are of absolute good to the bilateral relationship. The solution is to come up with policies to address national security concerns, not to put up barriers to discourage educational exchange.

USCNPM: Many people argue that China is strengthening its global influence politically, economically, and culturally through expanding programs such as the One Belt One Road. All these programs have the goal of exporting Chinese values and gaining commercial exchanges, how do you compare the Ming treasure voyages to these initiatives in a historical context?

Szonyi: As a historian, I have to point out that the expansion of Chinese influence globally but especially regionally is in many ways simply a return to historical norms. For all recorded history, China has had considerable political, economical and cultural influence throughout the East Asian region and beyond. For most of human history, China has been responsible for about 40 percent of global GDP and after a relative decline over the past two hundred years or so, it is on track to return to this historical norm in the near future.

Turning to your specific question, I don’t think we really know conclusively what the Belt and Road initiative is and what it means. China insists that it is not about exporting Chinese values; many Americans disagree. At some level both arguments are equivalent in the sense that you can find evidence to show that the initiative is a Chinese conspiracy to dominate the world and you can also find evidence that says it is a selfless contribution to the global community. We don’t actually know the scope and scale of the program, which limits our capacity to make conclusive judgments about this.

What I am most interested in, and where I think I can contribute to the conversation, is to look at the narratives that are deployed to legitimize the Belt and Road initiative.

Zheng He and the Ming treasure voyages are main characters in a mythology that is being constructed in support of the Belt and Road. The basic argument that is being made is that Chinese expansion in the fifteenth century was different from European colonialism. Zheng He’s missions demonstrate that China went abroad in peace, instead of in order to conquer, subjugate, and colonize. While it is true that Ming did not colonize the places to which Zheng He voyaged, this is still a historically inaccurate argument, at least to some degree. The largest voyage included 27,000 soldiers.  It it is hard to see why a peaceful journey would need so many soldiers. On three of the journeys, Zheng He’s forces engaged in combat with other countries and actually overthrew the local rulers in one case. An alternative, and I would say more historically accurate, way of looking at the voyages is to see them as a form of Chinese power projection and an attempt to enforce a China dominated international order in Southeast Asia five hundred years ago.

The important point is to see that the exact same historical narratives can be interpreted in extremely different ways. They can be used to either justify a policy or actually challenge a policy. We learn something just be recognizing this point. Using the Zheng He voyages as an analogy for current Chinese efforts to expand their influence culturally, politically and economically can be seen as indicating that Chinese are not expansionist or hegemonic but they can also be seen as a stance of bullying. When we take this analogy apart, it can actually be quite unsettling. I am quite keen on the idea of rethinking analogies in this way when I work with students. I think doing so can be really productive.

USCNPM: Some observers say that today’s China and the late Qing Dynasty share some similarity in terms of their foreign policy. That is, China has to deal with challenges from multiple foreign countries simultaneously. From a historian’s perspective, do you think there are some comparisons on the foreign policy situation between current China and the late Qing? If so, can the Chinese learn something from that period of history?

Szonyi: The late nineteenth century was a dangerous time for China. It was a time when China felt under threat, and the threat was real. But the late Qing was also a time when China responded creatively to foreign challenges, coming up with new institutions such as the Zongli Yamen which was the first indigenous ministry of foreign affairs, and cultivating a first generation of Chinese diplomats. Because the Qing dynasty fell, this creative response tends to be forgotten.

Fundamentally, the two periods are different. In the late Qing, China was surrounded by a number of countries that were more powerful than China and that wanted to take advantage of China and perhaps even dismember China. That’s not the case now. In late Qing, China was coming out of decades of terrible internal turmoil. Today China has relative internal stability.

A more productive comparison, I think, is between the present and the late twentieth century, say from 1980 to 2008. This is a period where China manages external challenges extremely well. Peace on its borders is probably the most important factor for Chinese prosperity. A very conducive factor in maintaining that peaceful external environment in the late twentieth century was the military presence of the United States. I can agree the US military presence in the Asia-Pacific is troubling to China, but it’s also worth thinking about the consequence of that presence over the first thirty years of reform and opening up. For the most part, it has been unequivocally beneficial for China. After the brief war with Vietnam, China basically had no territorial conflict on its borders. The overall environment in East Asia was peaceful. If Chinese policy makers want to identify the international environment criteria for Chinese success, I would urge them to look at the late twentieth century as well as the late nineteenth century.

USCNPM: A widely acknowledged perspective now is that the US and China are at their lowest point since the diplomatic relationship was established. Some people say that we have entered a new cold war. Do you agree to use the phrase “cold war” to describe the current state of US-China relations? 

Szonyi: I think this question can be asked in two ways. The first is whether or not the term is accurate: Is the Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union similar enough to the current situation in the US and China bilateral relationship that it makes sense to use a common term? The second way is ask: Can we learn lessons from the US-Soviet relationship that can help us in the US-China relationship?

The first is easy to answer: No. The Cold War was characterized by a number of factors that are absent in the current conflict.  The Soviet Union and the US were existential threats to one another during the Cold War. I don’t think that China poses that kind of threat to the US or the reverse in the current trend. Relations between the US and Soviet Union in the Cold War were very limited. There was not the intertwining of trade, technology and ideas that we see today. One of the great dangers of the Cold War was nuclear brinkmanship and we have not yet got anywhere close to that hostility in US-China relations. The Cold War involved fractal replication of conflict.  That is simply not happening now. Indeed almost the exact opposite: no third country in the world wants to be forced to choose sides now in the ways that countries were forced to choose during the Cold War. Finally, the term Cold War is actually misnomer, because the Cold War was “cold” only in Europe but “hot” in many other places. 

So as a question of historical accuracy, I don’t think the “Cold War” term makes sense.  But the second approach to the question is to ask whether it might be useful to stimulate fresh thinking about policy making.  Here, my answer is a qualified Yes.  It’s clear that some fresh thinking is needed. There’s a real risk of a Cold War in the sense that hostility could become an organizing principle that shapes the basic policies of both sides. If we think that the relationship is a zero sum game, we will inevitably produce policies that make that true, or even worse, that yield negative outcomes for both sides and the world at large. Thus, the most useful reason for thinking about a new Cold War is that it helps us realize that if we don’t actively seek to avoid it, it might become inevitable. Even if you think the US and China will inevitably be adversaries, you still want to think about how you structure the relationship in ways that are least disadvantageous to you.   

USCNPM: In terms of the direction of policy making on China, do you think there will be a change in policy formulation if Biden wins the election?

Szonyi: In my opinion, a better China policy wouldn’t be that difficult. There are some obvious first steps that a new administration could take, such as reopening academic exchanges, setting clear policies to control national security issues, thinking about how to manage technological rivalry without causing a decoupled internet, and coming up with a coherent approach to sanctions to encourage China to change its policy in Xinjiang and other human rights issues. But is there a way to turn the US-China relationship around? No. I don’t see easy solutions. There is a bilateral consensus in Washington that China’s rise is threatening broadly in the US. That challenge is not easily fixed. There’s a typical pattern in US politics where presidential candidates are very tough on China and then they soften their stands when they are elected. This year, the electoral cycle is a little different. I don’t think if Biden becomes the president he will feel the same kinds of pressure to be conciliatory with China as previous presidents have had. I think he is getting lots of good advice from his advisers on China policy, but we are never going to go back to the kind of relationship that we had in the 1980s.

USCNPM: People usually say those who do not learn from the mistakes of the past are destined to repeat them. What can the student of international affairs or political science learn from history? What lessons of the past do you think could apply to current situations in the world, such as the pandemic of COVID-19 and US-China relations?

Szonyi: Some colleagues of mine at the Harvard Kennedy School have promoted the idea of applied history, in which we can use lessons learned from history to design policy in the present. This would be very easy to do if only history would repeat itself. As Jeff Wasserstrom of UC Irvine reminded me recently, Mark Twain once said, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.” There may be some enduring patterns and parallels in history, but history is never the same.

My colleague Graham Allison wrote a very influential book about the Thucydides’s Trap where he goes back and looks at various examples in the past where a dominant power has been challenged by a rising power. Often this has led to war. As I’ve told Graham, at a certain level this is pretty obvious stuff. But what he and his applied history group were trying to do was to discover tools that were used in the past to manage conflict that might be useful in the present. There may be some merit to that.

When people think about the world, both facts and narratives matter. Sometimes narratives matter even more than the facts. The US and China have very powerful narratives that they tell about themselves. And good policy needs to recognize these narratives, to think about how to accomplish objectives without challenging those narratives. History can help us do that. In that sense, I’m all in favor of applied history.

The counter argument is that the problems of today are unprecedented, they are simply nothing like the problems of the past.  I find a great deal of merit in this view.  I remain fundamentally optimistic about the US-China relations in part because we simply must get our act together to deal with significant global problems such as climate change and global health.

I’ve spent a lot of time with students who cross borders, between China and the US and the other way round. I think the biggest piece of advice I would give to them is not to be discouraged by the current situation and to recognize that, whatever happens in the political realm, exposure to multiple cultures is going to help you grow and develop as a person, and will likely also create professional opportunities. There’s an unspoken negative consequence of the current deterioration in relations which is to encourage insularity.  I hope students don’t fall for that. There’s been nothing more stimulating in my intellectual life than my engagement with China. It has held my interest now for more than half of my life, and I am enormously enriched by my engagement with China. I can’t promise that every student would benefit in the same way from the engagement as I have, but I still strongly promote and encourage it as a way of being. To end where we began, I think that’s a very good reason to stay true to our core mission at the Fairbank Center.

Yuxuan is an undergraduate IR student at New York University. Tang Jie is a Ph.D. candidate in IR at Fudan University.

A Biomedical Truce for the United States and China: Governance of a Global Scientific Enterprise

Photo by Ousa Chea on Unsplash

By Sophia Lugo

Harvard University | Schwarzman Scholar, Tsinghua University

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

Cancer on the Front Lines

As one of the most revolutionary scientific endeavors of the 20th century, the Human Genome Project (HGP) ushered in a new era of open, international scientific collaboration, reaffirming shared ownership over the “code of life” common to all humans, regardless of status or nationality. The US had originally sought a program of intense collaboration in genetics with Japan immediately after World War II as an object of Cold War geopolitical and economic strategy. However, the scale, importance, and urgency of the project, bolstered by the clear benefits of linking the efforts and resources of laboratories across the world, soon brought several countries on board. When Craig Venter’s Celera Genomics entered the scene, it demonstrated the speed of private enterprise but included in its purpose potentially commercializing the genome. Heads of state including Bill Clinton and Tony Blair quickly released statements encouraging open scientific collaboration in the name of “reduc[ing] the burden of disease, improv[ing] health around the world, and enhanc[ing] the quality of life for all humankind,” in context, juxtaposing the importance of these outcomes against privatizing and commercializing life for economic gain.[1] Meanwhile, Chinese scientists seized this opportunity to step onto the global stage of scientific research, “proving ourselves that we can do [what] others are able to do.”[2] Thus, in 1999, China became the only developing country to join the Project, committing itself to sequencing, assembling, and analyzing about 1% of the human genome.

The HGP has been historicized as a lasting example of the importance of a culture of open, transnational scientific collaboration, working in the name of shared human interests. Its utility has been couched in language alluding to shared commitments to biological understanding and universally distributed benefits. Before the 10th strategic meeting for HGP scientists, held in Hangzhou, China, Chinese President Jiang Zemin reaffirmed the ethos underlying the mega collaboration: “owned by all, done by all and shared by all.”[3]  With active support from scientists around the world, especially proposals submitted to UNESCO by Chinese scientists, the United Nations Millennium Declaration included the promise, as a part of an ethic of conservation and stewardship, “To ensure free access to information on the human genome sequence.” [4] Upon completing sequencing of the human genome, the heads of governments of the USA, UK, Japan, France, Germany, and China issued a joint proclamation reaffirming these values:

 “[A]ll the chapters of the instruction book  of human life…[are] now freely available to the world without constraints via public databases…from which revolutionary progress will be made in biomedical science and in the health and welfare of humankind… an important step toward establishing a healthier future for all the peoples of the globe, for whom the human genome serves as a common inheritance.[5]

In this way, the HGP resulted in the creation of a new field, genomics, whose scientific communities and research were inherently transnational and diverse, fostering a string of international mega projects and boosting China’s reputation in scientific prowess on the global stage.

Other international collaboration projects, such as the International Space Station, CERN, the International HapMap Project, and SESAME, have similarly staked their claims to success on principles of inclusion, openness, and shared responsibility. Among scientific communities, international collaborations abound, informally organized by scientists meeting at conferences or symposiums, virtually reviewing and identifying complementary projects, and reaching out to share expertise, access, equipment, and resources. These informal scientific networks have formed the backbone of transnational “lab” spaces, co-produced and validated by institutions that provide funding, workforce and academic mobility, and public acknowledgement. That is, as these networks have grown in value, they have influenced funding institutions to validate the nature and purpose of their work through joint initiatives, such as the US-China Collaborative Biomedical Research Program, implemented in 2010 by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) and National Natural Science Foundation of China. Programs have been developed that explicitly seek to use science diplomacy as a means of strengthening international ties while solving complex problems, such as the Obama administration’s US Science Envoy Program, through which “eminent US scientists and engineers leverage their expertise and networks to forge connections and identify opportunities for sustained international cooperation.”[6]  Awards recognizing and further validating preferred means for scientific accomplishment have also increasingly favored collaborative projects. For example, in 2015, the Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics went to the 1,377 physicists who collaborated on the neutrino oscillation experiments.[7] As commented by one of the Breakthrough Prize’s founders, “[S]cience is a much more collective effort than it was 100 years go. It is international, it is diverse, it involves lots of people.”[8]

However, recent events would betray this history of open scientific collaboration, placing scientific research, including biomedical research, and innovation on the frontlines of an economic battle between the US and China. In the US, an effort is underway by the US NIH and the FBI to expose scientists who have allegedly stolen “not military ideas, but scientific ideas, designs, devices, data and methods that may lead to profitable new treatments of diagnostic tools.” [9]  In April, 2019, the renowned MD Anderson Cancer Center terminated 3 ethnically Chinese senior researchers for allegations related to ties with China. Other ethnically Chinese faculty and researchers at the cancer center have also been interrogated by the FBI, including the director of the Center for Public Health and Translational Genomics, who ended up taking a new job in China .[10] No formal charges had been levied, but months of investigation left her “branded an oncological double agent,” even though her collaborations with China had originally been encouraged by MD Anderson in efforts to advance the fight against cancer.[11] In fact, only four years prior, MD Anderson had received the PRC’s International Science and Technology Cooperation Award for “important contributions to China’s bilateral or multilateral scientific and technological cooperation,” in a ceremony attended by President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang. When receiving the award,  the MD Anderson representative remarked, “Cancer is a significant challenge worldwide… China in particular offers tremendous opportunities for saving lives through joint cancer research with top scientists and the government’s commitment to fighting cancer.”[12] Nevertheless, the US government and the NIH continue to pursue actions endangering collaborative research  and rebranding those who participate as traitors.  As of late 2019, 180 individual cases of potential IP theft remain underway—an accusation of “economic espionage” as China vies for a position as a world leader in innovation and technology.[13] 

In response, the scientific community has rebuked incursions of nationalism and exclusion of the scientific community’s input. On September 4, 2019, in response to these increasing restrictions on international (particularly, Chinese) collaborators, sixty leading American science, engineering, and international education organizations signed onto a letter to the heads of the National Science Foundation (NSF), NIH, and the Office of Science and Technology Policy. While “recogniz[ing] the need to maintain a balance between an openly collaborative scientific environment and protecting our [American] economic and national security,” they warned of the “unintended effect of harming the scientific enterprise.” Furthermore, the letter stressed how the US’s scientific leadership, and its related economic outputs, “have been vastly accelerated by bringing international minds together and has helped to drive innovation and discoveries” across various fields vital to health, development, and sustainability. Finally, asking the government to reconsider new policies relevant to foreign-born science collaborators, the letter asked for a “wide range of stakeholder perspectives,” including, most importantly, input from the scientific community itself.[14]

Nevertheless, the Trump administration has only stepped up its attacks.  On a May 29, 2020 press briefing, Trump terminated the US’s relationship with the World Health Organization, claiming it to be under Chinese control, and accused China of stealing manufacturing opportunities and jobs, destroying American industries, trade violations, and intellectual property theft.[15] Following this, the US White House released a proclamation prohibiting entry into the US to Chinese graduate students “identified as potential security risks.” The proclamation accused “PRC authorities [of using] some Chinese students, mostly post‑graduate students and post-doctorate researchers, to operate as non-traditional collectors of intellectual property…[and therefore] determined that the entry of certain nationals of the PRC…pursuant to an F or J visa to study or conduct research…would be detrimental to the interests of the United States.”[16] Later, in June, Harvard University Professor Charles Lieber was indicted on counts of false statements to federal authorities about a contract he held with China’s Thousand Talents Program to set up a research lab in Wuhan, “amid concerns that the program is a facade used by China to steal American intellectual property.”[17]

While transnational, mega science collaborations have become normative in scientific culture, and preferred by associations of scientists in the United States, trends in nationalism and the ongoing US-Sino power negotiation have proven these informal networks to be vulnerable to sabotage. Even structures based on loose commitments negotiated by nation-states, such as the WHO, have been insufficient to counteract attacks on transnational collaboration to meet universal needs. In what follows, this essay will attempt to show the importance of transnational scientific collaboration, particularly for the US, for whom limiting collaboration with China will come at the expense of its own scientific leadership.  

Furthermore, in creating a body to safeguard shared goals of scientific enterprise, we shall see how nation-states—particularly the US and China—as dominant actors of global governance are ill-suited to solve global challenges and protect universal public goods. To counteract rising nationalism, an international body regulating and setting guidelines for collaboration spearheaded by Chinese and American scientists, but allowing for an inclusive, transparent, multi-stakeholder led model of governance, can protect and promote shared interests in the realms of public health and medicine, despite political tensions. 

Checkmate: Chinese Scientific Centrality Threatens US Hegemony

As explained by hegemonic stability theory, the US as the hegemonic power since the Second World War, with its military and economic resource superiority, has acted as the lynchpin in creating and stabilizing the liberal international world order. This order has promoted its own interests, while providing international public goods and promoting cooperation. International science collaborations, like the HGP, have both highlighted and promoted the US’s science preeminence, while providing political support for US global leadership.[18] It was under this construct that, in 1972, US President Nixon and Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai agreed to state-sponsored scientific exchanges that would promote mutual understanding and Chinese modernization.[19]

However, actions from the Trump administration cast a doubt as to continued US interest in the liberal international order, such as US withdrawal of support from the Paris Climate Accord, Trans-Pacific Partnership,Iran nuclear deal, World Health Organization, and others. Instead of promoting collaboration and stabilization of liberal world order, the US and other Western countries have seen strong trends away from globalization and towards protectionist policies and immigration restrictions, with mounting attacks on multilateral institutions.  

To further destabilize the status quo, this rise in economic nationalism and backlash against international institutions is happening at the same time as the US is engaged in negotiation of power with China as the alternative hegemon. In science and technology, China no longer appears to be in “catch up” mode. Rather, its scientific networks, technologies, international companies, universities, and funding contributions (including pledging an additional $50M in funding in 2020 to the WHO after US withdrawal of support) have quite publicly campaigned for China as an alternate scientific and technological leader. Several Chinese technological initiatives and state targets have fueled narratives of a new biotech arms race, that challenge US hegemony in a way reminiscent of the Cold War nuclear arms race. These include Made in China 2025 (China’s plan to avoid the middle-income trap by becoming the world leader in high-tech industries, providing for more high value-added jobs and increased economic independence), as well as the race to develop world-dominating AI, quantum computing, 5G, and now COVID-19 vaccine production capabilities.

The negotiation of power has thus spread to the scientific realm, where mounting evidence (as shown by Science and Engineering Indicators produced by the US’s NSF) shows China a very near threat to a previously uncontested US leadership in science. Part of the blame for the US’s slipping stance has been declining domestic commitments to basic science and engineering (S&E) research. Notably, for all four years of his presidency to date, Trump has proposed budget cuts for the NIH, NSF, the Department of Energy, and NASA.[20] His February 2020 proposal argued for a $3 billion USD (7%) cut in biomedical research.[21] Even before the Trump administration, NIH funding had fallen by 22% from 2003 to 2015, given budget cuts, sequestration, and inflationary losses.[22] Additionally, in terms of workforce capacity, the US education system continues to lag behind other advanced economies in STEM education, with little improvement over the past decade: US eighth graders ranked in the middle of countries assessed for math and science skills.[23]

Furthermore, much of the success of the American scientific enterprise, both in private industry and academia, can be attributed to foreign-born contributions.  In 2017, temporary visa holders made up 34% of US S&E doctoral degrees. More than half of these came from China, India, and South Korea, with the number of Chinese graduate students increasing between 2016 and 2018.[24]  Studies have also shown increases in international faculty in the US, as well as higher research productivity for international versus domestic American faculty.[25]  Foreign-born scientists and engineers also account for almost a third of the US S&E workforce.[26]  83% of Chinese doctorate recipients who studied in the US had stayed in the US for work by 2017 (albeit, showing a decline from 93% in 2013), suggesting that Chinese-born scientists contribute greatly to the skilled workforce fueling American scientific enterprise.[27]

On the other hand, China and its leaders have, since China’s Reform and Opening, placed significant focus on becoming a leading power in science and innovation. Indeed, China has employed scientism and an explicit strategy of informal international collaboration to achieve preeminence since Deng Xiaoping’s reforms, the “Four Modernizations” (agriculture, industry, science, and military).  Launched in October 10, 1978, the vision—which stated, “Carry out the policy of opening to the outside world and learn advanced science and technology from other countries” –saw science as critical for modernization, state power, national security, and self-determination:

After World War Two, the desire for Chinese self-empowerment emerged in the near feverish pursuit of science… Deng Xiaoping’s reforms were a continuation of a historical need for foreign technology…. The idea was to utilize scientific methods and foreign technology to “pull China up by its bootstraps” militarily, in turn providing political leverage and stability.[28]

In 2016, Xi Jinping renewed this commitment by setting the target for China to become a leader worldwide in science and technology by 2049, the PRC’s 100th anniversary, declaring that “Great scientific and technological capacity is a must for China to be strong and for people’s lives to improve.”[29]  In this goal, China has indeed made great progress.  After explosive growth, China now accounts for 23% of global domestic R&D expenditures, closely trailing the US’s 25% contribution and exceeding that of the European Union.[30] In peer-reviewed S&E research publications, China’s global contribution has grown from 5% in 2000, to 21% in 2018, lagging only behind the EU (US is in third place, with 17%).[31] China has also shown to be the leading inventive force in the world by share of patent families granted to inventors in 2018, making up 49% of patents worldwide, compared to the US’s 6.8% share.[32]

China’s centrality and leadership in global scientific collaboration networks has also improved dramatically. China contributed to 20.7% of all internationally-produced, highly cited scientific publications in 2017, up from 5.7% in 2008. Of these 2017 papers, 64.3% listed Chinese researchers as first or corresponding authors (a position indicating leadership in a study).[33] A 2018 trend analysis using the Scopus database of abstracts and research showed that in terms of field-weighted citation impact, given China’s increasing research impact and the US’s declining impact, China may catch up to the US by 2025.[34]

Additionally, as foremost collaborators, Chinese and American successes are certainly linked to and corroboration of the benefits provided by international collaboration. Over time, as tremendous challenges of global scale have emerged, scientific projects have continued to become larger and more complex, and the benefits of scale have been made empirically clear.[35]  Transnational collaboration provides greater access to capital and reduce risks and costs of research through synergies, while providing greater access to critical expertise, data, and high-cost, high-tech equipment. This can lead to greater research productivity, citation impact, and speed of innovation critical to scientific fields and gains in health and quality of life.[36] Studies have shown that international collaboration has a higher positive correlation with research impact (measured by citation index) than public funding does, with countries offering scientists more mobility (to immigrate and emigrate) producing the most impactful research. [37],[38]  American and Chinese scientists have particularly enjoyed these benefits. The Nature Index, which tracks contributions to research articles in 82 high quality natural science journals, shows that US and China occupy first and second places, respectively, in research output overall and in share of contributions to articles with international collaborators for March 2019 through March 2020.[39]Furthermore, the US and China were each other’s top collaborators in this time period—with US involvement factoring into 42% of Chinese research outputs with international contributions and Chinese involvement in 20% of American ones.[40],[41] When only considering studies where US and Chinese institution-affiliated scientists collaborated, using an aggregated fractional share of authorship, more authors were Chinese than American—52%, edging out authors affiliated with US institutions at 48%.[42],[43]

Furthermore, evidence points to the US having more to lose than gain by limiting collaboration with China, in both access to funding and research output. A 2019 study from the University of Arizona quantified the benefit that Chinese institutions provided to American research output from 2014 to 2018: (1) In funding of research including Chinese and American collaboration, Chinese institutions provided funds for 3.5 times the publications than American institutions, increasing by 188% per annum, versus US funding institutions’ 46% increase. (2) In terms of publication growth, US publications in S&E grew by almost 3% if including research co-published with Chinese institution-affiliated authors; however, if excluding publications with Chinese contributions, American publication output declined by about 2%. On the other hand, Chinese-institution affiliated publications grew about 28% without US contribution, and 30% with US contribution. [44] In other words, while Chinese and American institutions’ successes were co-dependent, the US stands to lose significant funding and output from non-collaboration.

The empirical evidence makes clear that international collaboration—particularly, US-China collaboration—in sciences is a positive-sum game. The US benefits in both economic output and scientific prowess by collaborating with Chinese scientists both domestically and internationally. However, as the US-Sino conflict appears primarily political, rather than economic, and as Washington continuously employs nationalist rhetoric and policy, a new framework must be concocted to safeguard potential economic, technological, and health gains against the towering threat of rising nationalism.

Nationalism as Barrier to Shared Commitments

Times have changed; whereas before, scholars predicted that globalization would continue to spread, today, we face a global retreat towards nationalism, with no end in sight.[45] The liberal world order, formerly promoted by Western elites, has found resistance from rising actors, like China, but also by those who crafted it—most notably, the US. The struggle has revealed the nation-state as actor on the global stage to be ill-suited to foster multilateralism and “universal” public goods.

Part of this can be explained by the appeal of nationalism over other political-isms, particularly, more vaguely defined universalisms. Nationalism, in post-industrial societies, has often been found to arise as a result of perceived uncertainty or marginalization.[46] Nationalistic candidates often use perceived attacks on a “national” identity and culture to create a fear of the “other.”  Rhetoric targeting immigrants and foreign cultures both helps increase feelings of camaraderie between national communities and explains real or perceived economic decline in terms of relative “unfairness” perpetrated by outsiders. For Trump voters, a majority believed that there had been a decline in American ways of life and that the American identity and culture was being lost.[47]

In his book Imagined Communities, Anderson describes the historical and sociological rise of nations as powerful cultural units. Against the backdrop of Western Europe’s Enlightenment period and other contemporary cultural systems, nationalism rose as an eternal entity providing meaning to suffering and mortality during a time of rising rationalist secularism. Since then, in nationalism’s name, thousands of lives are sacrificed each year, revolutions are fought, sports are played, and value sets are forged. In describing the immense power of the idea of a nation, Anderson provides the story of the Indochina War, Vietnam invaded Cambodia, then China invaded Vietnam regardless of their alliance as revolutionary Marxist countries in the international arena. Here, these young countries’ national-isms superseded the shared identity derived from other political-isms, namely Marxism, and revolutionary history.[48]  He writes of nations as imagined political communities (in that no member will ever meet or see most other members but nevertheless feels communion with them) with finite boundaries and sovereign powers.[49]

As the liberal order is destabilized and uncertainty increases, nationalisms—particularly in their current expression—have hijacked current political discourse and attempts at delineating “universal” values. By definition, nationalistic expression cannot extend to all mankind; it must concoct values or images that separate members of their ilk from others. Even the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United “Nations,”has been criticized by scholars for actually being a set of globalized localisms negotiated, then exported as normative by certain “winning” entities, namely, countries best able to leverage geopolitical power and influence.[50]  Regardless of the UN’s or other intergovernmental organizations’ purposes to ensure international peace and stability, the nation-state is inherently vulnerable to nationalistic discourse, threatening multilateral efforts among nation-states. Many country representatives rely on their national identities and national positions rather than rational debate to negotiate at the international level. As non-Western, non-liberal countries contest Western hegemony, many “universalisms” have been unmasked as efforts to align the global stage with national priorities.

While China and the US maintain different approaches to global governance, both have often approached international agreements as fits their national agendas, modulating their interactions with multilateral organizations in a way that prioritizes their state sovereignty and “exceptionalism.” As concerns its relationship with international organizations since World War II, the US, though charged with upholding the liberal world order, has historically engaged in multilateral cooperation insofar as it has promoted objectives of the incumbent administration. Given the US’s hegemonic power, non-cooperation from the US, versus other actors, has been met with little backlash.[51] The Trump administration has gone farther than this in his “America first” approach to foreign policy and trade, emphasizing since his inauguration that “it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first.”[52] China has, despite concessions made for a seat at the WTO and UN Security Council,  similarly been amenable to compliance in transnational legal spaces insofar as its political sovereignty, economic growth programs, and long-term interests of its people—who are the foundation of socialist political ideology—are not violated. The country’s rapid rise and unprecedented economic success reinforces that domestic policy and institutions are working well and should have the liberty to determine state foreign policy.[53]

As these two countries rise in power on the global stage, instead of discussing principled and shared interests, negotiations on the international stage have become positional debates between relatively fixed interests. In order to protect shared global interests, such as health and creation of intellectual capital, that have become too large for nation-states to independently handle, a new model of global governance must move away from the narrative of nation-state as dominant actor in global institutions. This is particularly true for the transnational scientific realm, dominated by China and the US, whose identities on the global stage have prioritized sovereignty and nationalistic ideals.

A Governance Model “Owned by All, Done by All, and Shared by All”

While the downstream products of science-making with direct economic value—intellectual property—have protections codified into the WTO’s TRIPS agreement (Article 27), basic guidelines and regulations for upstream scientific activity have largely gone ignored, both in treaty inclusion and as a subject of study.[54] Momentum for such an international collaboration that would allow for harmonizing norms and regulations has been building for years, as the impacts of scientific activity have entered public discourse—particularly for the biomedical sciences. [55] While the COVID-19 crisis will likely lead to continued de-globalization in economic spheres, the opposite has been true for globalization of research and innovation:

The rapid mobilization of so many actors across the world to collaboratively develop and test new therapies and vaccines has been remarkable. Unprecedented international knowledge creation efforts are engaging multiple stakeholders such as hospitals, private companies, research institutes, government at various levels, and civil society.[56]

Here again, the Human Genome Project—which, despite its early origins as an object of American geopolitical strategy, became a prime example of international collaboration towards a shared goal—offers insights for an inclusive governance structure geared towards shared biomedical interests, where nation-states are replaced by more direct stakeholders as primary decision-makers. Three aspects contributing to the HGP’s success should be incorporated into the creation of an international scientific institution.

In debating the feasibility and logistics of the project, the HGP involved multiple stakeholders: university administrators and academics, scientific committees, the nascent biotech industry, Congress, the NIH, Department of Energy (DOE), and the National Academies of Science. During the project, the HGP not only promoted transnational collaboration, but also brought together scientists from multiple disciplines, from computer scientists, to biologists, physicists, mathematicians and engineers. Additionally, 5% of its budget was allotted to understanding social, ethical, and legal implications. In gathering requisite support and funding, it employed a consortium model where various trusts, funding sources, and scientific associations from all over the world came together to mobilize action.[57]

Here, while “boundaries” were drawn between contributors by scientific specialty or academic institution—with differing cultural customs, frameworks for knowledge acquisition, jargon, and technical capabilities—representations and discourse drew on professional identities as scientists and problem solvers, rather than their nationalities. A common goal was clearly delineated from the beginning (to completely and accurately sequence the entire human genome), as were key performance indicators (e.g., timelines, commitments per delegation, and accuracy), setting the stage for principled debate based on shared interests and objective contributions towards the goal.  Even the name of the project—Human Genome Project—recalls a shared identity and sense of purpose, setting foundation for working towards mutual gains.

A global institution for science should similarly adopt an approach where identities and representations are labeled in a way that reinforces objective, principled contribution as to shared stakes and impacts of scientific activity. A multi-stakeholder approach, including participation from a broad range of stakeholders impacted by the activities of science—from scientists, to bioethicists, healthcare providers, regulators, politicians, private industry representatives, and concerned citizens via civil society organizations—could redirect supranational dialogue away from negotiations based on relatively fixed and political interests of nations. Rather, by representing communities whose identities are based on shared commitment to solve problems (e.g., scientists, bioethicists, healthcare providers), debate can focus on how rights, ethical guidelines, standards of practice, and shared data affect the ability of scientists to innovate and work ethically. Civil society organizations could represent risks to lived realities, as well as provide democratic legitimation. Private industry could focus on effective capital allocation, fair competition, and goods distribution. Including participation of national academic associations would provide a vehicle for implementation of harmonized standards and ethics of practice through funding allocation and communication of regulations, as well as an interface between scientists and policymakers.

  • Transparency

Instrumental to rallying support for the HGP was clearly communication of its urgency throughout and in several media. Upon hosting the several strategic meetings, and at the completion of the project, public representatives communicated its progress and successes to the public. Likewise, transparency in information, activities, and decisions (including pending decisions and actions towards public input), consistently using rhetoric that recalls shared commitments and urgency, would help to build public awareness and support for an international body. Additionally, virtually inviting public viewership and discourse into global lab networks and activities could help rally support for a truly inclusive scientific enterprise.

  • Creation of open data-sharing structures

 The HGP introduced the idea of making genetic sequencing data immediately public and easily accessible, through databases like GenBank and the UCSC Genome Browser. Additionally, it promoted the use of open-source software to create communities interested in optimizing shared programs.[58] Most importantly, these structural components of collaboration launched a cultural transformation through adopting a modus operandi of joint stewardship of biological problems, and universal collaboration.

Similarly, the institution, divided into special interest groups, should help set up pooling of datasets throughout biomedical disciplines. Harmonizing regulations, standards of practice, and ethics would lay the foundation for enhanced collaboration across borders, as well as create mutually adopted frameworks for issues of privacy, security, and commercialization of life.  Additionally, creation of open databases and joint patient registries, integration of food and pharmaceutical regulations, and joint epidemiological efforts, should be part of the agenda.  


For the US, maintaining its hegemonic power over the global scientific enterprise has become a highly politically charged objective, inextricably intertwined with narratives of economic patriotism, national security, and American exceptionalism (“America First”).  As part of what US FBI Director Christopher Wray calls a “whole-of-society” response to the “Chinese threat,” the approach to deterring Chinese science hegemony has become multi-fold: limit China’s technological and scientific influence abroad through attacks on markets and China’s credibility, and directly oppose China’s strategy of scientific internationalism. In the face of highly visible, ongoing public health emergencies with universal impact, collaboration in realms as critical as cancer research have taken on a connotation—in many cases, explicit accusations—of espionage and conspiracy. As scientific advancement and public health become a battleground of the US-China trade war, health-oriented private and public partnerships, investments, student exchanges, and market access are at risk. Collaborative norms in the production of science are at risk. Of greatest importance, potential gains in human health well-being are at risk. 

In cutting off collaborations, the US scientific enterprise stands to lose. A new, stabilized global scientific order will require a governance model that can withstand nationalistic attacks—one that is committed to inclusivity, transparency, openness, and to truly solving challenges for the sake of humanity. Naturally, cultural and social differences based on national boundaries may inform implementation and perceptions of rights. Therefore, getting Chinese and American affiliates to the negotiating table will first require shifting focus to principled shared interests, versus positional bargaining through national identities.

[1] “Joint Statement by President Clinton and Prime Minister Tony Blair of the UK,” The White House, Office of the Press Secretary, March 14, 2000, https://clintonwhitehouse4.archives.gov/textonly/WH/New/html/20000315_2.html.

[2] Xiaoling Wang et al., “The International Human Genome Project (HGP) and China’s Contribution,” Protein & Cell 9, no. 4 (April 2018): 317–21, https://doi.org/10.1007/s13238-017-0474-7.

[3] Xinhua News Agency, “Chinese President Hails Genome Project,” August 28, 2001, http://www.china.org.cn/english/18316.htm.

[4] “OHCHR | United Nations Millennium Declaration,” accessed June 10, 2020, https://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/Millennium.aspx.

[5] Administration of George W Bush, “Joint Proclamation by the Heads of Government of Six Countries Regarding the Completion of the Human Genome Sequence,” April 3, 2003, https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/documents/joint-proclamation-the-heads-government-six-countries-regarding-the-completion-the-human.

[6] US Department of State, “U.S. Science Envoy Program,” accessed June 14, 2020, https://2009-2017.state.gov/e/oes/stc/scienceenvoy/index.htm.

[7] Zeeya Merali, “Mega Science Prize Split between 1,377 Physicists,” Nature News 527, no. 7577 (November 12, 2015): 145, https://doi.org/10.1038/nature.2015.18746.

[8] Merali.

[9] Gina Kolata, “Vast Dragnet Targets Theft of Biomedical Secrets for China,” The New York Times, November 4, 2019, sec. Health, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/04/health/china-nih-scientists.html.

[10] Mara Hvistendahl, “Exclusive: Major U.S. Cancer Center Ousts ‘Asian’ Researchers after NIH Flags Their Foreign Ties,” Science | AAAS, April 19, 2019, https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2019/04/exclusive-major-us-cancer-center-ousts-asian-researchers-after-nih-flags-their-foreign.

[11] “The U.S. Is Purging Chinese Cancer Researchers From Top Institutions,” Bloomberg.Com, June 13, 2019, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2019-06-13/the-u-s-is-purging-chinese-americans-from-top-cancer-research.

[12] “MD Anderson Receives Top Chinese Science and Technology Award,” MD Anderson Cancer Center, January 16, 2015, https://www.mdanderson.org/newsroom/md-anderson-receives-top-chinese-science-and-technology-award.h00-158984289.html.

[13] Kolata, “Vast Dragnet Targets Theft of Biomedical Secrets for China.”

[14] “Multisociety Letter on Foreign Influence,” September 4, 2019, https://www.aaas.org/sites/default/files/2019-09/Multisociety%20Letter%20on%20Foreign%20Influence_9-4-2019.pdf.

[15] “Donald Trump Press Conference Transcript on China, Hong Kong, and the WHO,” Rev (blog), accessed May 29, 2020, https://www.rev.com/blog/transcripts/donald-trump-press-conference-transcript-on-china-hong-kong-and-the-who.

[16] “Proclamation on the Suspension of Entry as Nonimmigrants of Certain Students and Researchers from the People’s Republic of China,” The White House, accessed May 29, 2020, https://www.whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions/proclamation-suspension-entry-nonimmigrants-certain-students-researchers-peoples-republic-china/.

[17] “Harvard Scientist Indicted over Chinese Recruitment Program,” TheHill, accessed June 9, 2020, https://thehill.com/policy/international/china/501933-harvard-scientist-indicted-over-chinese-recruitment-program.

[18] Charles Poor Kindleberger, The World in Depression, 1929-1939, vol. 4 (Univ of California Press, 1986).

[19] Zuoyue Wang, “US-China Scientific Exchange: A Case Study of State-Sponsored Scientific Internationalism during the Cold War and Beyond,” Historical Studies in the Physical and Biological Sciences 30, no. 1 (1999): 249–77.

[20] Jeffrey Mervis, “Trump’s New Budget Cuts All but a Favored Few Science Programs,” Science | AAAS, February 11, 2020, https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/02/trump-s-new-budget-cuts-all-favored-few-science-programs.

[21] Mervis.

[22] Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, “Factsheet: Restore NIH Funding,” FASEB.org, June 26, 2017, http://faseb.org/Portals/2/PDFs/opa/2017/2017Factsheet_Restore%20NIH%20Funding.pdf.

[23] National Science Foundation and National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, “The State of U.S. Science and Engineering 2020,” NCESF.NSF.gov, January 2020, https://ncses.nsf.gov/pubs/nsb20201/executive-summary.

[24] National Science Foundation and National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics.

[25] Jenny J. Lee and John P. Haupt, “Winners and Losers in US-China Scientific Research Collaborations,” Higher Education, December 3, 2019, https://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-019-00464-7.

[26] National Science Foundation and National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, “The State of U.S. Science and Engineering 2020.”

[27] National Science Foundation and National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics.

[28] Mason Ji, “Science and Technology in Modern China: A Historical and Strategic Perspective on State Power,” The Yale Review of International Studies (blog), June 3, 2015, http://yris.yira.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/YRIS_winter15.pdf.

[29] “Xi Sets Targets for China’s Science, Technology Progress,” ChinaDaily.Com.Cn, May 30, 2016, https://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2016-05/30/content_25540484.htm.

[30] National Science Foundation and National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, “The State of U.S. Science and Engineering 2020.”

[31] National Science Foundation and National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics.

[32] National Science Foundation and National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics.

[33] Zhihui Zhang, Jason E. Rollins, and Evangelia Lipitakis, “China’s Emerging Centrality in the Contemporary International Scientific Collaboration Network,” Scientometrics 116, no. 2 (August 1, 2018): 1075–91, https://doi.org/10.1007/s11192-018-2788-5.

[34] “China Could Overtake US on Research Impact by Mid-2020s,” Times Higher Education (THE), July 12, 2018, https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/china-could-overtake-us-research-impact-mid-2020s.

[35] Stefano Lami, “Challenges and New Requirements for International Mega-Science Collaborations,” Science & Diplomacy, June 27, 2017, http://www.sciencediplomacy.org/article/2017/mega-science-collaborations.

[36] Tianwei He, “International Scientific Collaboration of China with the G7 Countries,” Scientometrics 80, no. 3 (2009): 571–82; Lami, “Challenges and New Requirements for International Mega-Science Collaborations.”

[37] Loet Leydesdorff, Lutz Bornmann, and Caroline S. Wagner, “The Relative Influences of Government Funding and International Collaboration on Citation Impact,” Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology 70, no. 2 (2019): 198–201, https://doi.org/10.1002/asi.24109.

[38] Caroline S. Wagner and Koen Jonkers, “Open Countries Have Strong Science,” Nature News 550, no. 7674 (October 5, 2017): 32, https://doi.org/10.1038/550032a.

[39] “Country Collaboration | Nature Index,” accessed May 29, 2020, https://www.natureindex.com/country-outputs/collaboration-graph.

[40] “Country Collaboration | Nature Index.”

[41]Only primary research articles from the selected journals are included in the Nature Index.  A county’s “share” takes into account the percentage of authors from that institution or country/region and the number of affiliated institutions per article, with maximum combined share of 1.0 per article.

[42] “Country Collaboration | Nature Index.”

[43] Collaboration contribution is determined by the combined fractional count (Share, as defined above) of China and US authors, measured by primary institutional affiliation.

[44] Lee and Haupt, “Winners and Losers in US-China Scientific Research Collaborations.”

[45] Florian Bieber, “Is Nationalism on the Rise? Assessing Global Trends,” Ethnopolitics 17, no. 5 (October 20, 2018): 519–40, https://doi.org/10.1080/17449057.2018.1532633.

[46] Bieber.

[47] Bieber.

[48] Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (Verso books, 2006), 1–4.

[49] Anderson, 6.

[50] Boaventura de Sousa Santos, “Toward a Multicultural Conception of Human Rights,” Droit et Societe 35 (1997): 79.

[51] Rosemary Foot, S Neil MacFarlane, and Michael Mastanduno, US Hegemony and International Organizations: The United States and Multilateral Institutions (Oxford University Press, 2003).

[52] “The Inaugural Address,” The White House, accessed June 15, 2020, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/the-inaugural-address/.

[53] John J Mearsheimer, “Structural Realism,” International Relations Theories: Discipline and Diversity 83 (2007).

[54] Anthony Pezzola and Cassandra M. Sweet, “Global Pharmaceutical Regulation: The Challenge of Integration for Developing States,” Globalization and Health 12, no. 1 (December 20, 2016): 85, https://doi.org/10.1186/s12992-016-0208-2.

[55] National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, “On Human Gene Editing – International Summit Statement | National Academies,” December 3, 2015, https://www.nationalacademies.org/news/2015/12/on-human-gene-editing-international-summit-statement.

[56] Jose Guimon and Rajneesh Narula, “The Pandemic Is Driving Global Scientific Collaboration,” Issues in Science and Technology, April 22, 2020, https://issues.org/pandemic-global-scientific-collaboration/.

[57] Leroy Hood and Lee Rowen, “The Human Genome Project: Big Science Transforms Biology and Medicine,” Genome Medicine 5, no. 9 (September 13, 2013): 79, https://doi.org/10.1186/gm483.

[58] Hood and Rowen.

Frank Wu: Chinese Students should keep coming to the US

The US-China Perception Monitor’s student journalists YuXuan Chen and Xiaoyi (Baker) Lu recently conducted an in-depth Zoom interview with Professor Frank Wu on a range of issues related to Chinese Americans and US-China relations.  Wu is president of Queens College, City University of New York. He previously served as the William L. Prosser Distinguished Professor and Chancellor & Dean at University of California Hastings College of the Law. Wu was the first Asian American to serve in those positions at Queens College and UC Hastings.

USCPM: Do you think China’s scale problem has influence on the United States’ disengagement with China academically? 

Wu: That’s part of it. Nothing happens in a vacuum.

Even if you didn’t care about Chinese-Americans or Asian Americans, even if you didn’t care about racial justice, even if you didn’t care about civil rights, even if you were hostile to China, you should welcome Chinese immigrants. I’ll explain why. It’s in the American national interest. Take a look at Silicon Valley or take a look at the physics department of any American campus, who are the entrepreneurs and professors? They are either foreigners who intend to stay which makes them immigrants or they are people who come here for a period of time and would be exposed of American values. Let’s take these as two groups. They blend together: some stay when they didn’t intend to, others leave when they didn’t want to. Many immigrants, Asians and Chinese win Nobel prizes for America as naturalized US citizens. If all the Chinese Americans vanish from Silicon Valley, half of the coding and engineering workforce would vanish (the other half is South Asian – for each, not exactly half but about half). This is such a huge proportion. Overnight, you would see the collapse of research and development in virtually every significant tech-based sector of the economy. There is a joke going around on Chinese social media, I am told. “The Americans are afraid of the Chinese coming and stealing secrets. If the Chinese don’t come, there would be no secrets to steal.”

My point is that if you want to promote America and its interests, then its comparative advantage historically, has been its ability to welcome people and turn them into Americans. My parents became Americans. They are taxpayers and productive citizens. When my mother passed away, she was buried in the US. I asked my father about it. He said, the family is here now.

This is not my unique family story; it is the American story. You go in one generation from foreigner to citizen. Thus, it’s in the American national interest to continue welcoming people, otherwise it’s not just those people don’t prosper, it is that the American society doesn’t prosper and the American dream is over. New York City was rebuilt by immigrants. There’s this famous headline about New York City in the 1970s, “Gerald Ford to Big Apple Drop Dead” and then the city came roaring back. Why? It the line from Hamilton: Immigrants got the job done. And so do their children and grandchildren.

It is also true that the people who go back, they are foreign agents, but not in the direction we might think. They are foreign agents because they’ve been exposed to American freedom and American opportunity. They go back and take American values such as self expression, self fulfillment, individualism, with them. That’s the soft power. It is what America is exporting. Yes, video games and Hollywood. But within that, the First Amendment and a set of ideals.

USCPM: But we are not seeing this kind of welcome now. In your article ‘Attacking Chinese on Our Campuses Only Hurts America,’ you wrote ‘A decade ago, partnerships with China were heavily promoted…Now those contacts are deemed negative and trigger suspicion.’ Why do we see such a U-turn in the US-China academic relationship?

Wu: I would say this goes back to Samuel Huntington. He wrote a famous article that he turned into a book. The article was published in Foreign Affairs in 1993. I would not call him a bigot. I want to be clear. His ideas regrettably can produce racism and xenophobia. He had a big idea. His central thesis was a cataclysmic clash. He predicted the West, led by America; Islam; and China would have an ultimate showdown. This isn’t just trade war or culture war, but a military war, a shooting war, a giant conflagration with millions dead, devastation. It would grow out of trade war and cultural war, and you’d have military war because of irreducible tribal impulses. After 9/11, people rushed to the book and said he was right, he predicted it. People forgot he envisioned three contenders, with China.

More recently Harvard professor Graham Allison wrote a book about Thucydides Trap. He is definitely not a bigot. He is a thoughtful guy. Most people had not been thinking about Thucydides, but he studied all these cases using as inspiration Thucydides is a Greek general and poet. He said in the most instances – not all – throughout human history when you have an established power and a rising power, usually there is war and in a few instances there wasn’t – why would that be? People who haven’t read him exaggerate and say he said all, but he didn’t; he said most. He wanted to analyzed the differences between when you had war and when you didn’t. Similarly, Rand, the think tank, it has produced the white paper, study of war between the US and China. Rand is highly respected, associated with war games, during the Cold War era analyzing nuclear war with the former Soviet Union.

So, there are people who are warning there is going to be war. There is a problem with a self-fulfilling prophecy. One of these nations is going to attack the other maybe it’s a pre-emptive strike and both have nuclear capacity or maybe it’ll be a proxy war like Korea and Vietnam (fought through allies – but proxy wars can expand into global wars). My point is, serious thinkers who are not conspiracy theorists or alarmists or cranks, not crazy people living in caves, thoughtful people are modeling the possibility of a war.

There was a follower of Huntington, Dr. Skinner, who was at the State Department. She was president Trump’s big picture policy thinker in the State Department and she wrote an interesting internal memo that was leaked to The Washington Post. She wrote about why China was a different threat than the Soviet Union. Her answer to this question is that because China isn’t Caucasian. Let’s put aside whether it’s racist or not. I never want to say that’s racist and dismiss it; I’d rather engage with it. Many people pointed out it’s not clear that this framing is the best description of what’s happening here. It echoes some of the thinking about the Pacific Theater during World War II and it’s actually not correct that US hasn’t faced a non-Caucasian great power. In WW2 it faced Japan. (One of the most interesting things about Japan is treated and has been ever since the Russo Japanese as part of the West. Japanese as people and Japan as a nation in this equation of which side are placed the American side not the Chinese side.)

People also point out Taiwan historically a staunch US ally not only is not white but also racially, ethnically, culturally Chinese. You could look at Skinner’s argument and say the factual premise for this argument is incorrect. It is not true that United States has never faced a non-Caucasian enemy. It’s also not true that every time it faced non-Caucasian Asian countries that that has been was problematic.  The United States and various Asian nations have been great allies.

Therefore, my answer to the question why now and why this, why Chinese Scholars and students are targeted like this, is because there is a fear of war. There is also just a general wariness about the rise of China.

There’s a rise of ethnic nationalism all around. I make clear to people. I’m not an ethnic nationalist for a lot reasons. One of which is my ethnicity and my nationality don’t match up. My white American friend say to me, hey, if China becomes dominant, you’re going to be all set. My reply is are you kidding? But I’m doomed if China becomes the dominant world power. It means my family, in the past three generations, turns out to be wrong, and I bet wrong and chose poorly, and we lined up on the wrong side. I picked America! No offense to my friends or my relatives who are Chinese. In terms of political loyalty and citizenship I’m part of America. I’m respectful people who are part of China.

I think it would be a mistake or a tragedy for humanity if United States and China ended up in a military war. The trade war is bad enough. Now internet and cell phone technology are going to be divided in two. Everyone is going make a choice they will be forced to make this choice. I would think there is some better way to structure the world.

USCPM: To the hundreds of thousands of Chinese students who are or will be studying in the United States, what do you want to say to them?

Wu: Keep coming.

This is a dangerous moment in human history. We’re always living through history. We’re not self-aware. We don’t stop ourselves to say this is historical. But right now, we know. This is historical. It’s a trauma. There are historical moments in the United States like when John F Kennedy was shot, 9/11, this pandemic, and the black lives matter movement (the twin pandemic of what many always knew but some would deny, about racism). Sitting here I know 50 years from now people will be asking what it was like. This is undoubtedly an historical moment. You can add rising US-China tension to these moments. We know we are living in the hyper accelerated moment of history. If you’re religious, this is eschatological – that’s a Biblical term for the end times; there’s even a plague of locusts. It feels fraught. So, this is exactly the moment we need more people like you to come and to make friends.

I do have a piece of advice: when you come to America, embrace the experience. If you come to America and everyone whom you sit with at the cafeteria is also Chinese descent from wherever you came from, you’re not actually coming to America and getting that experience of being here. Make some American friends; they could be Asian Americans or African Americans, Jewish – make lots of friends.

I was talking to my father, who came in United States in the early 1960s. When he grew up, in his family, they weren’t impoverished; they were not rich, but they were not poor. In general my father did not go to bed hungry, but he explained to me that dinner would be a bowl of rice and a stalk of vegetable with a little meat – like meat as a condiment. And usually there was not meat but tofu; if there was meat, it was just like sauce. So he comes United States and he realized he could buy 8 ounce steak. You don’t have to be a king. He couldn’t do that every day but once per month, and 8 ounces is as much meat as he would have eaten in a year. In the 1960s the material advantage in America was astonishing if you just use the measurement of how much meat could you eat. When you came to America as a poor graduate student, you could as much meat in one meal as would have eaten in one year.

Now let’s think about today. Where are luxury cars, French impressionist painting, first growth French Bordeaux wine being auctioned and bought in large quantities? In China not the US. It has been an entire reversal within the span of a lifetime, actually just a generation, twenty years.  China has moved up in the world in a way that is unprecedented in the annals of human history and no nation has demonstrated such rapid sustained economic growth. For people who left and thought they were leaving behind poverty and strife and coming to the shining “city upon a hill,” it turns out that in material terms China is on the edge of surpassing the US in the aggregate.

Teachers always say you’re the future. You are really the future because you’re bilingual in a meaningful way. The standard keeps going up. When I was your age, I could say I was bilingual but I’m really not. [Wu said a few phrases in Mandarin about his language skills being middling.] I can’t read or write but only speak a little. But you can read and write. You are monolingual that means you’re an American and it means you’re not going to be prepared for a multilateral world. United States has been, is and will continue to be a great power and a great nation and I’m proud to be an American. What has changed – most Americans, myself among them, were not ready –

is that America will not be the only great power.

Yuxuan is a college student majoring in International relations at New York University. Baker is a student in master’s program at School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University.

Seeking Common Ground: US-China Arms Control in Outer Space

Photo by NASA on Unsplash

By Raphael J. Piliero.

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

For decades, policy experts in both the United States and China have recognized the dangers of space weaponization and the associated risk of creating space debris. In 2007, an anti-satellite (ASAT) test by China resulted in hundreds, if not thousands of pieces of debris, followed by international outcry. Successive tests by the US in 2008 (under the pretenses of shooting down a failing satellite) raised similar concerns—while they did not create extensive debris, many worried the two were entering into an arms race.

However, concerns are not simply limited to ASAT testing, which typically involve ground-to-space weaponry. Instead, many have expressed concern about the placement of weapons in space itself. In particular, China led the 2008 push for the Prevention of the Placement of Weapons Treaty (PPWT), which would bar nations from placing space weapons in outer space.

Here, agreement breaks down—despite shared concern about space weaponization, the US and China have been unable to find common ground. The US rejected the PPWT out of hand, with the State Department claiming that the proposal was essentially unverifiable with no inspection regime nor any clear means of defining “space weapons.” However, intransigence wasn’t limited exclusively to the US – that same year, the European Union proposed a “Code of Conduct” for space, outlining principles for responsible behavior. Yet, China rejected the Code, arguing that a non-binding set of principles would merely detract from efforts to create a binding accord such as the PPWT.

What explains these disagreements? In particular, what animated US distrust (and Chinese support) for the PPWT, and the reverse for the Code of Conduct? This article will explore the basis for these negotiating breakdowns, and whether the two have principled disagreement, or are merely reticent to agree to proposals from the other. 

Differing Objectives: 

To understand US objectives in space arms control, one must understand the purpose that space serves for American military and civilian objectives. Satellites located in space have for decades been critical, such as the Global Positioning System (GPS) serving as the eyes and ears of the American military. During the Gulf War, Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm relied critically on GPS for position, navigation, timing, missile defense, signals intelligence, and weather data. This enabled sophisticated, modern warfare, from rapid delivery of munitions to precision-guided missiles and gravity bombardment. 

However, the result has been the creation of, in the eyes of American adversaries, an “asymmetric vulnerability” in space. Access to space underpins our military dominance, creating a structural incentive for adversaries to attack us in space to hamper the US military. These fears crystallized in 2001, when Donald Rumsfeld warned of the possibility of a “space pearl harbor” due to US dependence on space, urging the country to further weaponize space, and deny access to other states.

Concern about this asymmetric vulnerability is what motivates US arms control efforts: acceptable restrictions will make it challenging for adversaries to use ground-launched ASATs that target American satellites. The Code of Conduct, with its restrictions on debris-producing events, would suffice to protect those American interests. 

However, Chinese goals diverge, as they lack the reliance on satellites that would constitute an asymmetric vulnerability. In contrast, Chinese military writings indicate they may prefer to leave open the possibility of striking American satellites, with Dean Cheng noting they may view a strike against the “soft underbelly” of the United States as “irresistible.”  Over time, there remains the possibility that this dynamic could change – China’s rival to GPS, Beidou, has been launched, offering China the chance of autonomy from the American-run GPS. However, such autonomy carries the risk of creating Chinese civilian and military dependence on satellites, just as the US has with GPS. Yet, the reliance interests in space still seem to tilt towards the US – Beidou remains with fewer users and in a stage of less integration than GPS at this stage.

In contrast to their hesitation in restricting ground-launched ASATs, China has indicated they fully support restricting weapons placed directly in space. China’s nuclear force is small, and designed primarily to absorb a first strike and retaliate, bound by a “no first use” pledge. As such, their primary concern is ensuring they possess a second-strike capacity against the US. To Chinese planners, this makes American ballistic missile defense (BMD) a serious concern – it may allow an American first strike, with BMD mopping up the remaining missiles. 

American BMD has well-known shortcomings, and some argue that China fears missile defense could be placed in space, creating an impenetrable missile defense layer. The PPWT would prohibit the placement of weapons in space, which could be construed to limit missiles based in space. The US, prioritizing future military flexibility, would prefer to leave open the possibility of a missile defense layer in space. Additionally, recent efforts by the US likely haven’t quelled concerns from China – the establishment of the American “Space Force,” an attempt to centralize space authorities within a single branch, has been seen as the first step towards weaponization of space in opposition to China. 

Beyond the military needs of both nations, there also remain areas of divergence in strategic culture that contributes to the inability to find common ground. For decades, transparency has been the sine qua non of American arms control and cooperation, from the inspection regime of New START to threat hotlines established during the Cold War with the Soviet Union. However, while the US views transparency as an end in itself, Chinese planners may have less faith in it, viewing transparency as always benefitting the stronger party by removing uncertainty. This is supported by China’s past practice with confidence-building measures, such as how Chinese threat hotlines with Japan, Vietnam, and South Korea have gone dead in crises.

Indeed, some writings suggest that China may even use transparency opportunistically, to gain an advantage in negotiations. Sun Tzu, in The Art of War emphasized instead the importance of a surprise attack hidden behind transparency, where one “lures the tiger to leave the mountain” under the pretense of cooperation. In practice, this may result in diplomatic overtures that won’t be honored. Cheng argues that the policymakers in the Foreign Ministry who make proposals typically are not members of the Politburo, and have little say in what policies ultimately get adopted. The result may be a situation where the Foreign Ministry supports one set of confidence-building measures, while the People’s Liberation Army has no intent to follow them.

This disjunction between what policies are proposed and actually followed is reflected in past space activities. Jeff Keuter observes that while China’s diplomatic corps were challenging supposed US weaponization of space diplomatically, China continued to test new weapons

Lawfare in the United Nations:

It seems clear that the two nations have disagreements when it comes to both military objectives and the value of transparency in arms control. However, the possibility also remains that even if the two could find agreement, both may be playing hardball diplomacy to achieve the maximally beneficial deal. Michael Listner, attorney and the founder and principal of Space Law and Policy Solutions, argued that the real “battle for primacy” isn’t occurring on the battlefield, or even in space itself. Rather, it occurs in the halls of the United Nations, where the US and China are engaged in a strategy of lawfare. This “lawfare” is the attempt to fashion international law to constrain the adversary. Such tactics exist in more traditional arms control fora as well. While the US desires Chinese participation in traditionally bilateral US-Russian arms control conversations, China has held out in an attempt to convince both parties to shrink their arsenals first. 

This approach has a pedigree in both Chinese and American strategic culture. In “The Art of War,” Sun Tzu claimed that “…the supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.” Similarly, writings by Colonel Charles Dunlap, Jr., introduced the concept of lawfare, where he argued that international law could stymie US military interventions; this necessitated the US working to craft more equitable constraints on warfare that would allow the military to operate effectively. 

In space, the basis of a potential lawfare strategy requires little imagination. Under a slanted, inequitable arms control treaty or set of principles, the adversary faces a Catch-22: either they assent to the proposal (giving up a military advantage), or they oppose it, and appear intransigent, resulting in a loss of credibility. 

If lawfare is ongoing now, China appears to be winning. For decades, China has been supporting a negotiating mandate in the UN for the Proposed Prevention of an Arms Race in Space (PAROS) Treaty, against US objections. Following the US refusal of the PPWT, China has been able to paint the US as disinterested in progress on arms control. The result is a soft power bonanza for China. The US is seen as a perpetual naysayer, and if conflict were to emerge in space, the US may very well need to worry about being seen as the less reputable and reliable actor.

What Can Be Done?

Clearly, the US and China remain at an impasse. Arms control measures have been stymied for years, and both nations may be adopting hedging strategies, where developing weapons becomes a safeguard in case diplomacy continues to fail. The result is a lose-lose, where both nations face risks to their assets in space. 

The first step is for the US to become a proactive player in the diplomatic area, changing its chorus of “No’s” into something proactive. While the Trump Administration has taken unilateral steps (such as the establishment of a Space Force), there hasn’t been progress in diplomatic arenas, where China has had the last word. Going alone is no substitute—even if the US were to decide to claim military control over space, the prohibitively expensive task of launching the requisite materials and defending them continually would be insurmountable. 

Furthermore, even if China doesn’t agree with US proposals, the mere act of creating proactive diplomacy and forcing a rejection from China would restore credibility to the US as a good-faith negotiator, and demonstrate a willingness to put forth serious proposals. The US, in official statements, has been hesitant to even admit there is a problem with regards to weaponization, and this would force a more sober examination of the problem. 

Yet, there may be room for common ground. US acknowledgment of the risks space-based BMD might pose to Chinese interests could caution in favor of agreements to limit deployment, provided China would cease testing ground-launched ASATs that create risks for American interests. 

Challenges will remain, however. The “Wolf Amendment” on the 103rd page of the House Appropriations bill bars US-Chinese cooperation in space due to human rights concerns, a symbol of US unwillingness to work collaboratively with Chinese counterparts in space. Indeed, recent successes by China in space have highlighted what many claimed from the outset. The Wolf Amendment’s attempt at containment has not gone as planned. China’s Chang’e-4 Lunar Landing on the far side of the Moon demonstrated that they can succeed in spite of US attempts to withhold cooperation. Some in the US, such as Jeff Foust, argue that the status quo’s containment cannot continue. The US cannot hope to successfully stymie Chinese space missions, but only risks creating a set of nations that gravitate towards alliances with China, excluding the US. 

To build trust, one approach may be to start small. While arms control has stalled, China has repeatedly expressed interest in smaller acts of cooperation in the space domain. A 2011 joint statement by Presidents Obama and former Chinese President Hu Jintao emphasized potential areas for cooperation where the two nations can find mutual interest. One area of cooperation proposed by Brian Weeden would be sharing environmental and space weather data obtained in space. Such data would be relatively uncontroversial, and a way to begin building a rapport with China. Indeed, some small cooperation took place after China’s successful lunar landing, which illustrates the ways the two nations can build up towards greater cooperation in the future. 

Yet, actions in space cannot be divorced from the broader context of US-China relations, and the direction taken by President Trump or a potential President Biden will surely dictate the extent to which cooperation and diplomacy can succeed. There remains the possibility that relations with China could deteriorate, due to any number of possible causes. However, even within hostile relationships, diplomacy has flourished. Whether it was the creation of the INF Treaty in the throes of the Cold War or continued cooperation in the International Space Station, the US demonstrated the ability to work with Russia despite tensions. Perhaps with China, the same can be true. 

Raphael J. Piliero is a senior at Georgetown University pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Government. He has also written publications on domestic political issues for outlets such as Political Wire, and previously served as a legislative intern for the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. A member of the Georgetown Policy Debate Team, he and his partner were a top 16 team in the nation in 2020.

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

Frank Wu: ‘Model Minority’ is not a Compliment

The US-China Perception Monitor’s student journalists YuXuan Chen and Xiaoyi (Baker) Lu recently conducted an in-depth Zoom interview with Professor Frank Wu on a range of issues related to Chinese Americans and US-China relations.  Wu is president of Queens College, City University of New York. He previously served as the William L. Prosser Distinguished Professor and Chancellor & Dean at University of California Hastings College of the Law. Wu was the first Asian American to serve in those positions at Queens College and UC Hastings.

USCPM: You gave a speech at Google sometime ago, in which you talked about the “Model Minority” stereotype for Asian Americans. You made a very thoughtful and powerful argument against the phrase. Could you share with our readers about your insight on this issue?

Wu: There are actually some Asian who like the ‘Model Minority’ image. It’s a myth. Let me explain what it is and then what’s going on factually and then talk about the political use of this image.

The image of ‘model minority’ is that Asian immigrants and their American born progeny are super successful. They’re smart, hard-working and don’t protest and don’t make a fuss.  That’s the idea of the whiz kid rocket scientist who wins every science fair and math contest and spelling bee. It’s the idea that parents coming here penniless with nothing more than the shirts on their backs. Their kids become valedictorian at the high school. It’s the idea that at the age of 11 they took the SAT and got a perfect score. Basically, in sum, Asian Americans are good citizens who should be applaud. But it’s dangerous.

Part of ‘Model Minority’ is also this must be biology or culture and it shows there’s no racial discrimination that is meaningful in United States because of the success of Asian-American. Now when I talk about this, people sometimes ask “What’s wrong with you? They are complimenting you. Are you some crazy hypersensitive politically correct person that you think that’s racist? They are trying to say your good.”

Let’s unpack this. Let me start by saying for the people have made it I applaud them, and that’s great, that’s fantastic. We should all applaud, congratulate, admire and emulate them. The problem is when we believe it’s because of their race or their culture, an “Oriental secret” that explains this.

Factually, there are multiple problems with this image. Let’s start with selectivity of migration. It’s brain drain. Many – not all – Asians have human capital or financial capital. Their have higher education. You can’t say when someone spends 10 million on a San Francisco penthouse that they buy as an investment property for their children, that they arrived on these shores penniless. They didn’t arrive penniless. They arrived rich.

It is also not true across-the-board. There are all sorts of ethnic variations. You look at Southeast refugees they look statistically and demographically like African and Latino populations. It’s true if you just look at Chinese, South Korean, and earlier people of Japanese descent. But even among those people, there’s a problem. These people concentrate on New York, California, places that are high-income high cost. They’re not distributed the way the population is in general and many more live in the multigenerational household. When you look at household income you’re often comparing a grandparent, two parents and a teenager all making money versus a nuclear family or a family with a single parent so you’re not comparing individual income.

There’s another issue here which is the bimodal distribution of the population. Let’s just take people of Chinese descent coming to the US. The population is bimodal. It’s not a one peak bell curve; it’s a two peak bell curve. One peak is students in elite institutions and Chinese immigrants in the middle class. They are not impoverished. Then you have another peak. Nobody talks about this. Then you have undocumented immigrants. The original dreamers were undocumented Chinese. Some people of Chinese descent get exercised. They say, I’m not illegal. I get that. You have cousins, distant cousins. They work at the all-you-can-eat buffets, they are the waiters and waitresses in Chinatown, they are domestic staff at hotels. There’s a whole other peak of the curve. They’re crowded into tenements, and some were smuggled in by the snakehead gang operations. So, it’s a bimodal distribution in terms of resources and outcomes.

I have described the myth and why empirically why we should be concerned about it. There are other reasons it should be rejected.

The three reasons it’s truly problematic is that, first, it allows the whitewashing of bias. By the way, there is a great study of Asian Americans. My friend Buck Gee did it. It’s in Harvard Business Review. It documents everything statistically, looking at Silicon Valley. Asian Americans are promoted into management at lower rates than anybody else (using an appropriate baseline of those qualified). That includes other people of color. Yet when Asian Americans complain, people say, what? Why are you complaining?  you’re all like the movie “Crazy Rich Asians,” you’re all doing so well and you’re doing better than you would in your “homeland.” The model minority myth makes it impossible for Asian Americans in need or facing discrimination to say I am not privileged. People assume your privilege despite your problems.

The second problem is it stirs up racial resentment. When someone calls you an overachiever, they’re implying you got more than you deserve. How come you got into that school? Where are the real Americans? The late Ronald Takaki, the famous historian of Asian Americans, says Asians punished by their virtues rather than their vices. Go back to the exclusion era, there was a famous pamphlet written by Samuel Gompers. You can find copies easily on the web. He was a progressive labor leader, he was white, in the comparatively skilled labor of rolling cigars, and he and wrote the pamphlet called ‘meat versus rice.’ It says ‘Asiatic coolies must be kept out because they eat rice. Europeans have to eat meat to survive. So Asians have an advantage. It’s an absurd premise, but it was successful. The model minority myth is the part of the exclusion movement. It’s the idea of the Asians working too hard. It does not mean smart and hardworking but means you’re a nerd and too competitive. What does it mean to have a strong family? It means you’re too clannish. Everything that seems positive gets turned on its head to be bad and people become angry. Why are you so successful?  America is a culture that celebrates the underdog, the come-from-behind lovable losers. America is all about people who are high and mighty being toppled and falling from grace. They get their comeuppance. As a result for Asian Americans to be portrayed as super successful, that’s going to cause people to punch us in the nose.

The final reason why the model minority myth is distributing is false flattery. It’s a none too subtle means of saying to African and Latino population, ‘they made it, why can’t you?’ The modern version of model minority myth comes from New York Times Sunday magazine article, written by William Petersen, and people have called it the most influential article ever written about Asian Americans, by someone who wasn’t even a scholar of Asian Americans. It is an article from 1966 that talks about Japanese Americans specifically and it is about how great Japanese Americans are how they got out of the internment camps in WWII and made it. You read all of the article and, in the end, it shows the real point of the article. Petersen said the example of these Asian Americans is in contrast to whom might be called the problem minorities to use his words. Then he goes on and compares Japanese Americans to “Negroes” and “Mexicans”. The whole point of his argument is to say the Asians are great, but black people and brown people are bad. It uses the Asian Americans as a pawn to say, you see there’s no racial discrimination because we have Asian Americans. It’s actually a non-sequitur. The fact that you have an abundance of Asian-American does not excuse the absence of African Americans. It doesn’t mean you don’t have anti-Black prejudice. It just means you substituted a population in some way you’re more comfortable with.

Some people, like me, are unwilling to compare groups on a racial basis. Suppose we put aside all our qualms and objections to comparing racial and ethnic groups. If you want to do a fair comparison, this is not even a fair comparison because you’re typically comparing immigrants since most Asian Americans are immigrants with foreign-born background, to people are native-born. Even among people of Asian descent, you observe what a social scientist would call regression to the mean. It turns out that Asian Americans over generations look like other Americans. I am pretty hard working. But I’m nowhere near as hard working as my parents were. They sacrificed. Wow. I’m a slacker. Meanwhile, newcomers from Africa, like Asian immigrants, on average they do well. But that doesn’t justify comparing foreign-born blacks to native born African American, because their situations are different; they are facing a different set of circumstances. They started at different points in history. I object to all racial generalizations. But if you were going to compare you should at least use a historically accurate, contextualized approach to the comparison.

Yuxuan is a college student majoring in International relations at New York University. Baker is a student in master’s program at School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University.

Jonathan Pollack on Pompeo’s Recent Speech and US-China Relations

Image Credit to the Brookings Institution; https://www.brookings.edu/on-the-record/how-will-the-u-s-view-chinas-military-agenda/

By Yuxuan Chen

Jonathan D. Pollack is a nonresident senior fellow in the John L. Thornton China Center and Center for East Asia Policy at the Brookings Institution. The US-China Perception Monitor’s student journalist Yuxuan Chen recently conducted a Zoom interview with Pollack. They discussed a range of issues related to US-China relations.

Secretary of State Pompeo presented the speech “Communist China and the Free World’s Future” on July 23rd at the Nixon Presidential Library. How do you view this speech and the Trump administration’s China policy overall?

Pollack: The speech that Pompeo delivered was very politicized. By that I mean, he believed it would serve a political agenda that he favors, and that many others from the Republican Party favor.

In the speech, he repeatedly uses the term “Communist China,” which we have not heard American officials use in half a century, certainly at least since the time of Nixon.  He and other Trump Administration officials also now repeatedly refer to “the CCP,” somehow hoping to make the Party the principal villain in the story.  When Nixon began calling China the “People’s Republic of China,” it was a signal. Pompeo’s use of the term “Communist China” is also a signal.  Using the Nixon Library as the setting for his speech is very deliberate on his part.  He’s trying to suggest that Nixon first sought to open the door to China, and now Pompeo is trying to close it.

The references to the “free world” in the speech are statements used in the Cold War. The label of the “free world” was very much associated with a belief that the world was bipolar, and that it was the Soviet Union versus the United States. What is ironic about the use of this term is that China and the Soviet Union had their own ideological battles that began as early as the 1950s, so the alliance that China with the Soviet Union was under great stress, if not immediately, then in its early years.  For a long time China was neither part of the “Soviet camp” nor the “US camp.” In other words, even by the late 1950s the world did not look very bipolar.

The speech also reveals Pompeo’s personal ambitions. Pompeo will almost certainly be a candidate for president in 2024, regardless of whether Trump wins the election or not. Pompeo is more closely tied to Trump compared to all the other possible candidates from the Republican Party. So if Trump were to lose in November, Pompeo would have to try to find a way to reposition himself. Nonetheless, I think the sentiments that Pompeo expressed are very antagonistic towards China, in part because he does not want to be “outflanked” by other conservative rivals.

For nearly all Republicans, China has become the “punching bag,” so no one wants to look “soft on China.” In part this reflects the Trump administration’s effort to describe China as the leading threat to the United States. It is kind of ironic because for many years, Chinese officials have accused the United States of having a “Cold War” mentality, though I always believed that this accusations was somewhat exaggerated. After all, until the Trump administration, every president since Richard Nixon had more or less shared comparable views in pursuing improved relations with China. Sometimes that was done from national security reasons.  However, since China joined the WTO, the goals of American corporations and broader, more positive American thinking about China  had been basically shared by Republicans and Democrats alike.  This is no longer the case. Both parties are increasingly critical of China, but the critique from Republicans is much more ideologically driven, whereas many Democrats fault China for not living up to its commitments under the WTO, and also severely criticize China for its human rights policies and for its more assertive foreign policy. China objects strongly to these criticisms, but if Biden is elected we should expect more attention to these issues.  In other words, Democrats are emphasizing what they see as China not living up to its responsibilities as an increasingly powerful and important state.

Some scholars have argued that the United States has now become a key driver of de-globalization. Do you expect that the United States will go back to embracing globalization if a Democratic administration is back in office? Does President Trump’s view on globalization generally represent all Republicans?

Pollack: De-globalization was one of the issues that helped elect Trump. He has a very rigid view of how he thinks the international economy should operate, and not only with China. When Trump first began to voice strong opinions on international issues more than thirty years ago, he focused primarily on Japan because its economy was booming, especially in the automotive sector and in consumer electronics, and the US trade deficit with Japan was expanding massively.   Trade between the US and China was then very limited, so I am not aware that he paid any particular attention to China in those years.  But Trump is a mercantilist.  He assumes that a country should export much more than it should import. Therefore, if there is any country with a trade surplus that favors that country and not the US, he considers that unacceptable. That describes his basic objections to China, which is now the world’s leading trading state and has very imbalanced trade relations with the United States.

However, most economists view trade between two countries in terms of what the British economist David Riccardo termed comparative advantage. There are goods that China as a developing economy can produce much more cheaply and efficiently than the United States. At the same time, there are products and technologies where the US is much more advanced.  It remains a major source of global innovation.  Let’s take iPhones as an example. When you buy an iPhone, on the box it says “designed in California, assembled in China.”  But the phone is not really manufactured in China, even if China is designated as the country of origin. The company that operates the very modern facility  where the iPhones are assembled (Foxcon) is based in Taiwan.  The protective glass on an iPhone is manufactured in South Korea, which is a major participant in regional supply chains.  When the completed product enters the United States, it is counted as a Chinese export, and Apple makes a big profit from sales of the iPhone.  But the presumption has long been that all sides benefit from this arrangement.

That is the theory, but there are also very negative consequences to these arrangements.  Although American consumers benefit a lot because they purchase consumer products at much lower cost, the old industrial economy in states like Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin has suffered a lot. These are locations where many factories have closed, and where many workers have lost good paying jobs. These were states that voted for Trump in 2016 and helped secure his election as President. But even as Trump has relied on tariffs and sanctions against China and other countries, the US global trade deficit continues to increase.  In July the US’s trade imbalance reached $63.6 billion, its highest level in twelve years, reflecting record imports into the United States. 

At the same time, many American manufacturers and American farmers have had ample success in exporting products, including to China. They have an interest in globalization as long as the terms of globalization are considered reasonably fair and open.  Market access is an obligation under WTO rules, which require reciprocity in both directions.  But many US companies complain that they are not able to compete fairly and fully in the Chinese domestic market, because various sectors in the Chinese economy remain protected.

China is also benefiting a great deal by enrolling hundreds of thousands of Chinese students in American colleges and  universities.  This is a big business in the US, and many schools now fear the loss of revenue from international students, because of COVID-19 and major changes in US visa policy.  American firms, including in Silicon Valley, don’t want to lose the creativity of very talented young scientists and engineers, especially from China and India.  This is another whole dimension of globalization. But the Trump administration has defined China as a comprehensive national security threat and uses that definition to justify much more restrictive policies toward China.

But who plays a decisive role in US-China policy?  You would intuitively think the President of the United States makes these determinations, but many powerful government bureaucracies play a crucial role in this process.  Of course, Trump has a particular interest in trade, which matters most to him.  But Trump looks at the world in very personal terms.  He fears that he might not win reelection. His failure to control the pandemic has had very bad effects on the American economy, and there is also intense racial upheaval in the US.  He finds it much easier to blame China for many of these problems rather than acknowledge his own failures as President.  He therefore blames his declining public support and the severe recession and job losses on China, because the coronavirus first appeared in Wuhan, and he claims that China should have been able to stop its spread very quickly.  This also fits in his larger narrative that defines globalization as a negative phenomenon, and China as a comprehensive threat.

If Biden is elected, we will see a more positive attitude toward globalization, but it’s very likely to be a different model of globalization.  Biden has talked about rebuilding some of America’s industries that have suffered a lot, and on developing new opportunities for American workers in innovative sectors like clean energy.  He doesn’t want the US to always depend on foreign products.  He is trying to address America’s own problems, not simply blame others for these problems. However, Biden is very much identified as an internationalist.  He believes in international institutions and in multilateral agreements.  He is not trying to talk like Trump, and he knows solving America’s problems has to begin at home rather than looking for villains abroad.  

According to recent polls published by Pew Research Center, more and more Americans are having increasingly negative views of China amid the coronavirus. How does public opinion usually play a role in bilateral relations and in the specific case of the current US-China relationship?

Pollack: In 2000, China had the sixth largest economy in the world. In 2015, it became the second biggest economy. Many Americans were amazed and very admiring of this extraordinarily rapid growth. But in the past few years there has been much more wariness toward China’s rapid advances than before, and in ensuring that there is a level playing field in long-term economic competition.  Part of that is that China has moved up the value chain, which means it can increasingly compete in areas of the global economy where it could not in the past, like telecommunications.  All of those issues were emphasized by Trump when he was running for President.  The effort to restrict China’s access to advanced US technologies now dominates a lot of US actions, based on the advice of Peter Navarro and other advisers on trade and technology, most of whom are economic nationalists.

When Americans are asked whether China has done a good or a bad job in addressing the coronavirus, a large portion percent of them claim that China has performed poorly. However, China dealt with the virus in ways that were impossible for the United States, given the difference between our political systems, and the “independence” mindedness of numerous Americans, who don’t like being told what they should do, even if it benefits society as a whole. Not just in China, but countries all across East Asia have done a far better job in controlling the spread of the virus than in the US.  By comparison, the United States has done poorly, not only at the federal government level, but also in the irresponsible behavior of many Americans. Trump has now paid a severe price for this in terms of declining support in public opinion. Generally speaking, any president, if major problems arise during his presidency, will be held accountable for them. Trump is now blaming China and others for his own mistakes, but the virus is not a member of the Democratic Party or the Chinese government.

I am always uneasy when political sentiment shifts so decisively and rapidly in one direction or another. A lot of the resentment directed against China is more an acknowledgement of American failures. At the end of the Second World War the US was the dominant world power, and controlled more than 25 percent of the global GDP. The US remains the world’s most powerful country today, and is highly advanced in numerous areas of science and technology.  But many Americans seem convinced that its advantage is slipping away.

I don’t want to say this is just like the Cold War because China is very different from the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union was a very potent military power but was not a major economic actor, whereas China is a dual capable great power.  This is a principal reason why China’s rise causes great concern in American policy circles. In the years when China was advancing rapidly following its entry into the WTO, the United States spent trillions on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. There was great upheaval in the Middle East and now we have Trump repeatedly complaining that the Germans and other US allies are not paying their fair share.

These factors all suggest a very unhappy United States. Trump is exploiting those sentiments. He is claiming that other countries are mocking America and taking advantage of the US. Prior to 2017, the Pew studies show a more equal share of favorable and unfavorable views towards China. Now, seventy-three percent of the population have an unfavorable opinion of China. That tells us that public opinion is very malleable and changeable. Governments can deliver coordinated messages that influence public opinion. For example, terrorism was considered the major threat twenty years ago, following the attacks on 9/11. But in casting their votes, the state of the economy is more typically the dominant factor in the decision of voters. Public opinion is now focused on Covid-19 now Trump is doing whatever he can to shift the blame. He is trying to still find a way to retain his core supporters, who focus on grievances directed against others, both in the United States and abroad.  This is a very dark view of the outside world. Other than among his core supporters, his approach is not working effectively, so he has dropped into a deep political hole. It’s also important to emphasize that Trump does not have the power to delay the election. It is against the law and this has never happened in American history.

How does the deteriorating US-China relationship affect China’s standing in the Asia Pacific? Do you envision that North Korea will help China–more or less—in its dealing with the United States? 

Pollack: Most of the countries in East Asia do not want to be caught between the United States and China, or forced to make a decision one way or another.  The United States sometimes thinks it should be able to compel others to make a choice.  But countries such as South Korea and Japan know that it is totally unrealistic to make an absolute choice, unless allies see a severe threat to their national security.  At the same time, these countries don’t want to be compelled by China to make a choice.  All across East Asia, there is a recognition of the growth of China’s economic, political, and military power.  These are facts. But various neighboring states seek assurance about China’s long term intentions.  They do not want to be compelled by China to make decisions that are not in their interest.  If states believe that they can work effectively with the United States, then they will feel more confident about their ability to deal effectively with China. All of them want to feel confident that the United States “has their back.”

However, Trump often regards alliances as a burden and a hindrance to his foreign policy goals. The question is what states might do if Trump is reelected and by the end of his second term the US commitment to its allies has been severely undermined.  We can take South Korea as an example. If South Korea is no longer confident about its relationship with the US, this would alter its strategic calculations not only in relation to China but also in relation to Japan and others. Alliances reflect values, interests, perceptions of security and so forth. In contrast to Trump, Biden believes in alliances. The countries and regions in East Asia would feel more comfortable in pursuing improved relations with China if they had a predictable, stable relationship with the United States.

The fact that Biden could be elected President is not a guarantee that the relationship between the United States and China will be smooth and stable. For example, there would be questions about whether the US would be fully attentive to the core interests of regional states, including China.  Take new deployments of ballistic missiles as an example.  The United States can ask Japan and South Korea if they are prepared to accept new ballistic missile deployments on their territory. But neither seems especially eager about pursuing such possibilities, and the US cannot simply order them to do so.  A much more militarized rivalry between the US and China is not favored across East Asia.  Others want to be able to protect their own national security, without this degenerating into an intense military competition with China or anyone else.

How do you view the projected decoupling process between the United States and China? Is this manageable and what are the risks of this disengagement? How would the US government accommodate with American firms and consumers during the decoupling process?

Pollack: Trump has been a very unpredictable leader. Although decoupling might continue to an extent, American companies and institutions hope to retain existing partnerships and explore new or expanded ones.  Regardless of the role played by governments, there is a keen desire to retain societal and interpersonal connections.  This is very much true at a corporate level.  But this must be a two-way street.  It cannot be to the unilateral advantage of either side.  For example, almost all American companies operating in China are making a profit. Though very few would want to leave, they need to know that their involvement is welcomed and will be protected. Maybe some of them will begin to relocate some of their operations in lower wage countries. That’s the phenomena of comparative advantage. But a lot of them have made huge commitments to long-term involvement within China, as long as these relationships benefit everyone involved, both Chinese and American.

The problem at present is that Trump is openly hostile to the many of the fundamental premises of bilateral trade and of global order.  He is suspicious of foreign entities and is very much an economic nationalist. The administration as a whole has painted China in a very dark light, and there will enormous challenges in overcoming these big differences, no matter who is the next President.

While the Trump administration keeps propagating that China is the prime threat to US’ national security, some others stated that the internal issues such as the rise of populism, the defects of democracy exposed by Covid-19 are the real pivotal issues to the United States. In your opinion, is the United States’ domestic/internal problem a bigger threat to the welfare of the nation as a whole or is the external problem more serious?

Pollack: Broadly speaking, I think it’s domestic issues and they are accumulating. Even as Americans may fear threats from the outside world, fundamentally they are worried more about how to live better, and feel more confident about their futures. Many Americans are worried about the national debt that America is accumulating, about what kind of world and society they and their children be living in. These are questions that Americans increasingly ask right now.

There are often times when major threats can emerge very suddenly, such as the September 11 attacks.  But in my view the challenges that the United States confronts today are not the result of some big threat from abroad. These are induced by long term changes and problems that have accumulated in America.  Trump has not made the effort to address them. Biden claims that the election is about the “Soul of America.” I think I understand what he means.   It’s a very powerful image, and I believe that is what is dominating much thinking right now.

And also, more than 13.5 million American workers remain unemployed, and that’s where political and economic change must begin. If we can achieve a better direction at home, I think it could contribute to a more healthy relationship with countries abroad. With Covid-19, we should not be blaming the outside world but finding ways to work with others wherever possible to address COVID as a global crisis, not just an American crisis. This is not the first time we have confronted a pandemic and the only way to get us through all of these is going to be through collaboration. How to get the virus under control and how we begin to fully reopen the international economy is not going to happen overnight.

During your distinguished long career, you have worked for the RAND Corporation, the Naval War College and the Brookings Institution. How do you see the role of American think tanks in the US-China relations?

Pollack: Think tanks come in all shapes and sizes, and are not all genuine research institutes, but are instead what we might term advocacy organizations. To me, a think tank should be a place where you don’t know what conclusions you will reach until you conduct the research, whereas with many think tanks, you often know what they are going to say without even reading the study.

Think tank research has to be based on independence, objectivity, and a serious attention to questions that governments might be reluctant or unwilling to ask.  A genuine think tank must be prepared to pose these questions and be honest in its judgments, and gather the evidence required to substantiate these judgments.  It’s true that think tanks have developed extensively in the United States, but now they are a global phenomenon.

Think tanks should be places that encourage innovative thinking and that are prepared to ask uncomfortable questions. .Most think tanks are located in national capitals, whether in the United States or elsewhere. But you have to be able to tell governments things they might not wish to hear.  I will continue to work with Chinese colleagues who can maintain an open mind, even as we live and work in very different societies. I am not especially interested in abstract theory. All of us operate based our judgments according to certain assumptions about how the world works, but that’s only where we need to start. It is where we must begin to understand problems that confront individual societies and challenges that are more international or transnational in nature. It’s a big and challenging job.

Frank Wu: China Initiative and Chinese American Scientists

The US-China Perception Monitor’s student journalists YuXuan Chen and Xiaoyi (Baker) Lu recently conducted an in-depth Zoom interview with Professor Frank Wu on a range of issues related to Chinese Americans and US-China relations.  Wu is president of Queens College, City University of New York. He previously served as the William L. Prosser Distinguished Professor and Chancellor & Dean at University of California Hastings College of the Law. Wu was the first Asian American to serve in those positions at Queens College and UC Hastings.

USCPM: You’ve been advocating in cases such as those of Sherry Chen and Xiaoxing Xi, two Chinese American scientists who were wrongfully accused by national security related charges. Living in an era of China Initiative, do you have some reflections or thoughts when you look back at those two cases?

Wu: Starting about three years ago, I have been contacted constantly by people of Chinese descent, foreign nationals, naturalized citizens, or even native born citizens who believe that they are victims who have been racially profiled.

I always start with this: There are real cases. By that I mean, there are bad people doing bad things, who happen to be of Chinese descent. There are bad people doing bad things who are white or black or Latino. There are bad people doing bad things of every type of background. But just because somebody has done something that violates our laws does not mean that everyone else who looks like them has a propensity to do the same bad thing. In America, it is easy for us to accept individuals as individuals when you are part of the majority, but when you are in the minority, whether you want to or not you end up being the representative. If you’re a bad driver, it’s, “Look, all the Asians are bad drivers.”

We generalize, and we are all doing that because our brains are hardwired for pattern recognition. You can’t get through the day if we don’t do mental shortcuts. When we walk down the street, you make a judgment about who is friend, who is foe, which of these strangers is dangerous. I’m guilty too. But we exaggerate and we distort. We take little bits of truth and we blow them out of proportion. That’s what a stereotype is. It’s taking one or two real cases, and extrapolating and generalizing until it’s no longer quite true. Indeed, it’s mostly inaccurate. We do that with everything, but with race it is especially volatile, dangerous, highly susceptible to errors. We miss the wrong doers who don’t look like they are wrong doers, because we think we can see who will transgress. We want the wrongdoing to be obvious, and we want criminals to be visibly ugly, to have a sign of their sin. And then we want false positives, people who did nothing wrong, but because they fit a profile, since our brains see a pattern, we assume that this person there we need to pay attention to and they are is suspicious.

You can be in favor of the American national interest and enforcement of the American laws, as I am, and also say but you shouldn’t stereotype. I never want anyone to think I would be trying to help Beijing bring spies to the US to steal military secrets and trade secrets. Why would I want to do that? I don’t want to do that! I am an American. I line up on the American side of the table.

There are other categories of cases. There are people like Sherry Chen and Xiaoxing Xi where the person didn’t do anything wrong. There are so many others, not just one or two. They are just ordinary people. But because of how they look, they fall under suspicion and then they are investigated. The New York Times wrote multiple articles about them. Sixty Minutes did a program about them. And it’s really clear that it is a factual truth that in both those cases, they are accused of terrible crimes, and the government dropped all the charges, meaning that this isn’t my opinion. This is verifiable.

Then there is a third category where people did something wrong, but it’s closer to the parking ticket range than to the first degree murder range. Parking illegally, not paying the meter or in a loading zone, is a violation of the law, and killing someone in a premediated manner, by shooting them or stabbing them, is also illegal. Most people looking at this would say these are not the same. Both break the law, but one is way bigger. We have a sense of proportionality. There are some folks, they who did something wrong. They’re not spies. They are perhaps greedy. It’s moonlighting or double-dipping. They may get paid twice for the same project, didn’t disclose that they have two jobs, or didn’t pay their taxes. They were sloppy in accounting. That’s bad. I am not condoning them. But they are not spies trying to take nuclear weapons secrets on behalf of a foreign government and carry them out of the United States across the Pacific Ocean. 

There are a set of cases where the standards have a changed, a whole category of cases. There has been a massive change in attitudes. This is easy to find. I always make sure people can verify what I say. Nobody has to believe me. I want my claims of fact to have evidence. Just Goggle for this. Ten years ago, the NIH, the NSF, and others, which gave out many of these federal grants to Chinese scientists are now at issue. The NIH on their website bragged about collaboration with China. Every major or minor American university and college wanted to have a program with China to bring students, exchange scholars, visiting professors, and they wanted to find partners, set up articulation agreements. They were wildly enthusiastic ten or even five years ago. And then this collaboration entered a phase where well it’s not as enthusiastic, then neutral, then frowned upon, prohibited, and even criminal. 

This is astonishing given the type of engagement that was being touted has gone from that to if you do this, you will be deported, your career being ruined, you won’t be able to set foot in America ever again, and being vilified in the press. 

In late 2018, the United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the highest law enforcement official in the nation, in one of his very last acts, had a big press conference to announce the ‘China initiative.’ It is a new initiative. This is not my interpretation that this is new. The Justice Department itself held a press conference saying that we have a new initiative. They are saying it’s new. Let’s think about what that means. If they are saying that in 2018 it is new, that means they weren’t doing it in 2017, 2016, 2015, or before. They took laws that were on the books, some are new and some are old. It is true, this is American policy and it has been. The prosecutors will say that it is always the law, but it wasn’t an enforcement priority. Every prosecutor and every police chief, they decide all the time in what is called “exercise of prosecutorial discretion” which crime are they going to make the most serious that I’m going to go after in every case, use all my resources and put the budget; then which are ordinary; and finally which are we not going to bother with. There’s no criminal law that’s one hundred percent enforced. For one thing, you don’t always apprehend your suspect. Until late 2018, these laws about foreign influence were not enforcement priorities. Then they became enforcement priorities as to one nation, but there is another piece to it, as to one nation, one source: China. They didn’t announce we’re going to start enforcing this to everybody, but they targeted specifically at China. The director of the FBI, Christopher Wray, then characterized this as a “whole of society threat,” meaning that all of the Chinese society presents a threat to all of American society. He has given multiple speeches to this effect. President Trump assumes that almost all Chinese students are spies. He said so expressly. Nobody paid any attention. The story just vanished as people shrugged it off.

Let’s talk a moment to talk about scale. As a Chinese American, I only visited mainland China as an adult. I have a hypothesis of why it is so easy to stereotype, why we are susceptible, which is about math. Racial prejudice is about mathematical misunderstandings. You can only comprehend China if you grasp the scale of the “Middle Kingdom.” (Wu used the Mandarin and said, “Central is a better translation, central kingdom – like the Greeks; in antiquity, every civilization thought of itself as the center.)

Most Americans – that includes me — are not accustomed to the scale of China. I’ll explain. When you land Beijing airport, the furthest runway, on a flight landing at midnight and you’re really tired, and then you get on a bus and it goes on for about an hour, what seems to be an unbelievably long ride. Same in Shanghai. You can take the busiest American counterparts and stick the whole thing inside one terminal of the Chinese airport and even its runways would fit inside since everything scales up in an unbelievable way. People have always known this. They have always talked about it.

Carl Crow, a man who really popularized trade with China a century ago and was considered a friend with China wrote a book called “400 Million Customers” in English for Americans and it represents an unimaginable population. And here you get the idea of “Yellow Peril,” massive hordes, popularized by Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, which is that Asians, specifically Chinese, can overwhelm Europe with numbers. Yellow Peril has it backwards. What I mean is it emphasizes Asians as all indistinguishable, a faceless mass. If you think about it, the numbers of Asians means what is true of any one person might or might not be true of the next person who happens to look like them. The chances are lower, not higher, that the stereotype is true. This negative image depends on the belief that Asians are like a colony of ants, a collective that acts as if it was a single organism.

Take Covid-19 as an example, many Americans never heard of Wuhan before, but it has at least 11 million inhabitants. That is the city supposedly the source of the pandemic. The Chinese government ranks cities. Wuhan isn’t even first tier. Yet it is more populous than New York City. The city which by Chinese standards is not first tier is by American standards gigantic. That’s scale at work. Let’s take the perspective of Europeans. Germany which is the most economically powerful European nations has a population of 80 million (approximately), France has a population of less than 70. Guang Dong has more than 100 million inhabitants. Its version of Silicon Valley, Shenzhen, across from Hong Kong, allowed to experiment with capitalism early on, has at least 12 million people. Germany as a nation doesn’t even come close in size the Guang Dong, a province of Chinese. Most Americans – most people – can’t grasp this scale. People are bad at scale. It’s why we have trouble calculating risk.

Let’s apply this to the issue of the allegations that Chinese are spies. When Wray testified before congress, he said that China is sending “unconventional collectors” of intelligence data. We’re not talking James Bond, Jason Bourne, “cloak and dagger,” the term used for spy novels such as by John le Carre. Wray was saying, no, no, the spies are graduate students, maybe real graduate students working on a Ph.D in biology, and, secretly, on the side they are “unconventional collectors.” The US has a “grains of sand” theory, that all these Chinese people each had got little tiny pieces of intelligence that by itself doesn’t mean anything, but because there’s so many, if you add it all up, then you get a picture of secret. That’s the hypothesis.

Let’s think about how this works. Before the pandemic, there were about 350,000 Chinese coming to the US to study every year, in that range; it could be as many as 375,000. The Chinese American population is an order of magnitude, 10x greater than that. Let’s say there are 350 criminals, spies That is terrible. That would indeed a huge problem to the US. It would mean every American university with scientific research has a spy on campus. That’s bad. The US has to do something about that.

Yet think about it proportionally. 350 is one tenth of one percent of the total number of Chinese people coming every year to the US to study. That means 99% are innocent. It can be true that there are significant numbers of “wrong doers,” and also true that overwhelmingly almost all are innocent, because of these scales and proportions. 

Yuxuan is a college student majoring in International relations at New York University. Baker is a student in master’s program at School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University.

Frank Wu: Why I Help Sherry Chen

The US-China Perception Monitor’s student journalists YuXuan Chen and Xiaoyi (Baker) Lu recently conducted an in-depth Zoom interview with Professor Frank Wu on a range of issues related to Chinese Americans and US-China relations.  Wu is president of Queens College, City University of New York. He previously served as the William L. Prosser Distinguished Professor and Chancellor & Dean at University of California Hastings College of the Law. Wu was the first Asian American to serve in those positions at Queens College and UC Hastings.

Sherry Chen is a U.S. citizen who was arrested on spying charges in October 2014. In March the following year, all charges against her were dropped without explanation, but Chen’s employment in the National Weather Service was terminated on the basis of her arrest. She is currently suing the federal government in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio.

USCPM: You wrote an article entitled My Friend Sherry Chen in 2017, which I thought was very touching. You said she resembles the people who visited your house when you were a kid growing up in the 1970s. It is this personal connection that you have lent a lot of help to her. Could you share more with us on the memories that were brought back by Sherry Chen when you were a kid?

Wu: I am a kid from Detroit, the “Motor City.” I am an American. I am a native born American. I always explain that at the beginning.

More than a hundred years ago, there was someone of Chinese descent named Wong Kim Ark. Most people don’t know about his lawsuit, even people of Chinese descent. But he went all the way up to the United States Supreme Court.

He had been born in San Francisco. During the era of the Chinese Exclusion Act, Wong visited China, and wanted to came back to his home in America, to his home, the authorities wouldn’t let him. He sued and claimed that ‘I am an native born citizen under the 14th amendment of the US Constitution. This actually is in the news these days because there’s some people who want to repeal that part of the 14th amendment and there are people who argue that even if you are born in the US, since your parents are immigrants, especially not documented, you do not qualify for citizenship. The reason I mention that is it gives people a sense where I am coming from, literally and figuratively. [Wu said in Mandarin that he is an American, born in America, raised in America, and thus a real American.]

I’ve spent my life and my career arguing that you can be, and I am in fact an Asian American. There really aren’t Asians in Asia. There aren’t many Europeans in Europe or Africans in Africa. What I mean is they generally don’t expressly identify with pan Asian identity or pan European or pan African.  If you go to Shanghai or Seoul or Saigon, you ask people who you are and what your identity is in racial or ethnic terms, they are not going to say they are Asians. Instead, they will identify by nation, province, dialect, village, clan, religious faith, saying that they are Chinese or Korean or Vietnamese. In America, Asian Americans are born and come together.

Here, you may have heard the phrase, “You all look alike”. When you look at the hate crimes against people of Asian descent, it’s often mistaken identity twice over, what differences does it make: the ethnicity is wrong, as well as the citizenship. During the Covid-19 pandemic, there is a Burmese family attacked by someone with a knife in Texas who blamed them, despite their Burmese background, but Americans, for a virus which the person who assaulted them believed might be from China in origin. The most famous case is the killing of Vincent Chin, a Chinese American auto worker in Detroit in 1982 by two auto workers who happened to be white, and blamed him for the success of Japanese car companies, even though he was of Chinese not Japanese ancestry and even though he was an American, and working class, no different than them, also feeling the pinch of economic anxiety. 

In Asia, the concept of Asian is associated with either militaristic imperialism or hopeless idealism. Japan during WWII had its East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere. That was a euphemism for aggression and conquest. The idea was Japan would liberate all of its East Asian neighbors from the yoke of European colonialism to replace it with Japanese empire. Here, we’ve come together in bridge building, forming a coalition. It’s principled and practical. If you just go back three generations, these are people whose ancestors would have fought total wars against one another. They not only see themselves as separate, but there’s no love lost among them. But here and now, we see there’s the common cause, and that’s how Asian Americans came about.

Of course, in Asia people would not call themselves Asian Americans because they are neither Asian nor American. That’s not their identity. So, when I say I am an Asian American, I really mean both parts of that. It’s aspirational and ideal. But I also recognize that increasingly, there is the phenomenon of a Chinese diaspora that people don’t wish to be Asian American. They don’t want to blend in with other Asians, or other Americans. They embrace an ethnic nationalism, the ascent of China. If they talk about being here in America, it’s not that they live here, they would say they are temporarily here. They’re transients. They’re here to study a few years, maybe work a few years, but their heart belongs to China. [Wu used the Mandarin terms.]

I recognize that there’s a whole range of identities.

There are Asian Americans who are assimilated. They include adoptees raised by white parents. They include people of mixed backgrounds; there are many Afro-Asians, including a population descended from Chinese immigrants to places such as Jamaica. Some are sixth generation Californians. Many have had minimal contact with China. Yet there also is a Chinese diaspora who maintain significant relationships to China. Not all Chinese in America wish to be Asian Americans. This internal diversity presents challenges. I am respectful of all these communities. It isn’t a single Chinese American community. It’s many of them. This also isn’t different than other ethnic communities. If you look at Jews, European immigrants of a century ago or even today, and any demographic, you’ll see the same phenomenon. Some people are resolutely expatriots temporarily here; others are American through and through; some are half and half. Even within the same family, you see differences. Immigrant parents, and the grandparents, may lament that the American-born generation eventually, inexorably, becomes more like other Americans and less like their cousins overseas.

There are Chinese in China, there are Asian Americans in the US and the range in between. The undecided group of people are genuinely bilingual and bicultural. Their English is much better than my Chinese, because they can actually function professionally in an Anglophone setting. I can only say a few phrases in Chinese, and I can’t work professionally in China. I can say only a few phrases. I’m faking it. [Wu repeated that in Mandarin.] I am always interested in the way to reach out, to engage, to build bridges. And it is really sad in this moment of accelerating disengagement that would increase tension rather than decrease them. There are so many more Chinese people who are fluent in English and who could easily in New York or Los Angeles fit in, than there are Americans who could do that in reverse – and that include Chinese Americans.

In addition, people like Sherry Chen are immigrants. She’s actually a naturalized US citizen. She’d be an older sister to me our a cousin. She’s someone who is in her own way, represents Asian America. She represents a different era of migration than my family. She was wrongly accused by a co-worker of being a spy. But she is not a spy, instead, she has dedicated her life to helping the American public, working for the weather service, predicting floods. That’s as innocent an occupation as you could imagine. She is a naturalized citizen of this nation. She was an award winning employee. When she visited her mother in China, which should be applauded as good behavior by people of any background, being a good child to a parent, because we should all visit our mothers more often, when she returned a co-worker reported her as a spy. It’s wrong. She is innocent. She wasn’t just cleared of charges, the government just dropped all the charges. She then brought a civil suit.

I am contacted all the time by people who are in situations where they feel that they are being prosecuted or targeted because of the color of their skin, the texture of their hair, and the shape of their eyes. There are all these opportunities for us to help other people and in helping them, we advance our own ideals. I realized that all the charitable work I do, I see it as a duty, and I enjoy engaging in these projects. But it also protects me. It’s important to participate in the political process to advocate. Whenever I stand up and speak out for someone else, in some small way I am standing up and speaking out for myself. I am demonstrating that we are part of the body politic, that I am not a sojourner, not a tourist. There’s nothing wrong with being a sojourner or a tourist, but that’s not who I am. I am very much an American who has ideals that are American ideals. And I want to make them real, not just rhetorical.  

Yuxuan is a college student majoring in International relations at New York University. Baker is a student in master’s program at School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University.

Never Let a Crisis Go to Waste: Chinese Diplomacy during COVID-19

Photo by Ashkan Forouzani on Unsplash

By Austin Peters.

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

The protracted COVID-19 crisis has exposed and magnified the hidden rifts in the U.S.-China relationship, accelerating subtle shifts in cross-border brinkmanship that could redraw the contours of Chinese political influence and shift the broader balance of power.  Throughout the pandemic, an increasingly assertive China has capitalized on the pandemic to advance its economic, political, and cultural influence beyond its borders while Western nations remain distracted by the pandemic’s carnage within their own. To this effect, Beijing has deployed two notable soft-power strategies, mask diplomacy and “Wolf Warrior” diplomacy, to varying degrees of success.

Mask Diplomacy

As gold, silver, and ivory once served as currency to curry favor through economic exchange and gifts, personal protective equipment (PPE) is now a valuable source of soft power. As the U.S. is engrossed by its domestic battle with COVID-19, China has seized the opportunity to strengthen its global image by donating and exporting PPE to other countries, known as ‘mask diplomacy,’ and by carefully dictating its diplomatic narrative around the pandemic. ‘Mask diplomacy’ has been used to describe the provision of Chinese aid and exports of PPE, ventilators, and other COVID-19 related medical products.

Given that China was the first country to encounter the virus, but also one of the first countries to contain it, China was uniquely positioned to manufacture PPE for other countries as their infection curves peaked. After the 2002 SARS outbreak, Chinese economic advisors identified the need to bolster domestic anti-viral supplies manufacturing.  Thereafter, China began to dominate the global supply chains for PPE, even before demand exploded early this year. Although China’s PPE exports dropped approximately 15% early in 2020 as China addressed the domestic outbreak, the state-directed industrial complex is once again producing massive amounts of PPE for export. From March 1 through the end of May, China exported more than 70 billion masks, 300 million protective suits, and 95 thousand ventilators. Although the government was a core exporter and donor of PPE, prominent companies and individuals also donated PPE, notably Huawei and Alibaba co-founder Jack Ma.

Countries around the globe received donations or Chinese exports of PPE. Italy initially served as an example of the languid European response, driven by euro-skeptic lawmakers.[1] At the same time, the Chinese provided PPE to Italy as the country’s caseload exploded. Some of these supplies arrived on pallets with signs attached noting the PPE originated in China. Some sources have claimed that the Chinese PPE delivered to Italy was actually PPE initially donated by Europeans to China at the beginning of the outbreak. Some have speculated about China’s intentions in delivering such aid to other countries.

Responses to transnational crisis serve as a litmus test for diplomatic and organizational prowess on the global stage. Writing for The Diplomat, Brian Wong highlights a number of historical examples where catastrophe and foreign policy collide: the United States sponsored the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe after World War II, Singapore provided medical supplies and expertise during the SARS epidemic, and the European Union effectively responded to the Ebola outbreak. Intentions behind these instances of international aid could be interpreted along a spectrum of altruistic giving for the global good to tactical attempts at foreign influence. The actual motive most likely lies somewhere in the area between these two extremes. Contextualizing China’s COVID-19 response, Wong writes that “China’s mask diplomacy is best understood as a rather successful emulation and adaptation of long-standing diplomatic best practices.”

However, China’s role as a global provider of PPE has raised red flags for national leaders, particularly in the West. Concerns arise from global reliance on Chinese manufacturing for essential medical supplies, political influence attached to Chinese aid, and China’s push to control the COVID-19 media narrative. According to the Peterson Institute on International Economics, Chinese PPE exports comprise roughly 50% of total PPE imports in the United States and the European Union, 27-29 percentage points higher than the purchases of Chinese exports for all other products. PPE is not only utilized for long-term soft power, but also for short-term tactical gains. Former Alibaba Chairman Jack Ma donated PPE to Ethiopia, as Africa represents a huge business opportunity. Additionally, Huawei donated PPE to Canada despite the fact that Meng Wanzhou, the CFO and daughter of Huawei’s founder, is detained in Canada. 5G infrastructure development in Canada also represents a massive business opportunity for Huawei.

As China uses its state-directed industrial machine to mass-produce PPE, it also uses its foreign affairs arm to control the narrative around COVID-19, downplaying its early failure to control the virus and highlighting its generosity in both knowledge and resources. Encapsulating this state of affairs, China Daily published with regards to the coronavirus outbreak that “During this global battle against the pandemic, there is relief called ‘Chinese measures,’ a style called ‘China’s responsibility,’ an attitude called ‘Chinese spirit,’ and a warmth called ‘Chinese aid.’”


As a result of PPE shortages and mask diplomacy, many countries have realized their dependence on China for important medical supplies and are considering options to mitigate risks to their citizens if supply chains are compromised. Aligning with the glboal tide of regionalism and nationalism, some countries have also encouraged business leaders to “repatriate” manufacturing that had been outsourced in the preceding decades. Economics are often overlooked in favor of politics. As China’s global manufacturing heft has grown, its tone in foreign affairs has evolved to reflect that newfound influence.

Wolf Warrior Diplomacy

In addition to mask diplomacy, Chinese “Wolf Warrior” diplomacy, aptly named after a series of nationalistic Chinese military action movies, has dramatically changed the tone of Chinese foreign policy, particularly in the wake of COVID-19. After years of adherence to Deng Xiaoping’s admonition to conceal one’s strengths and bide one’s time (韬光养晦), Chinese diplomats are departing from this neutralist precedent.

This new style of diplomacy has manifested itself in loud rhetoric paired with aggressive responses to rhetoric or actions by foreign countries perceived as slights to China. When the Trump administration re-classified Chinese state-run media outlets as foreign entities, the Chinese responded by expelling many journalists across major American news outlets. Furthermore, when the Australian government called for an international inquiry into the origins on the novel coronavirus, the Chinese responded with punitive tariffs on its beef and barley. Chinese diplomats claim that the tariffs were anti-dumping measures, but the timing of the tariffs leaves China’s motives open to question.

According to Professor Jessica Chen Weiss, an associate professor in the government department at Cornell University, this more aggressive style of diplomacy cuts both ways. “Wolf Warrior diplomacy might appease Chinese nationalists at home, but it will limit China’s appeal abroad,” Chen Weiss wrote for Foreign Affairs. American policy towards China has encouraged this behavior due to increasingly bipartisan support of provocative measures targeting Chinese government or businesses, along with the upcoming 2020 elections which will likely inflame relations even further. Every time the U.S. president or other American governmental body attacks Chinese interests or reputation, the Chinese leadership begins the complex calculus of engineering a response that satisfies domestic constituencies and ensures its international interest. In certain cases, domestic nationalism and vociferous diplomats conflict with Beijing’s hopes to downplay or sidestep an escalation of tensions.

Chinese diplomacy has incorporated technology towards this effect. According to an investigative piece of journalism from Italian media outlet Formiche, online bots played a major role in sharing hashtags and content supported by the Chinese government during the pandemic. The report revealed that 46.3% of tweets that included the hashtag #forzaCinaeItalia, which translates to “come on China and Italy,” were generated programmatically. This adds greater complexity to the debate over the credibility of social media content, blurring the line between information and propaganda.

Although China has trended towards a more vocal and aggressive foreign policy stance for many years, COVID-19 joins the growing list of sensitive subjects for Beijing. Recent displays of “Wolf Warrior diplomacy” often revolve around China’s narrative of COVID-19, especially China’s role. However, the strategy has alienated many and inflamed anti-Chinese sentiment across the globe.

Global Reception of post-COVID Chinese Diplomacy

Leaders in Beijing have achieved mixed results from their attempts to use COVID-19 to advance their geopolitical agenda. To some degree, the Chinese have filled an international leadership gap left decisively wider by Trump’s “America First” policies. Yet China’s recent audacity has exacerbated diplomatic distrust, defensiveness, and resentment. Post-World War II powers, such as the United States and United Kingdom, are just now realizing the ramifications of China’s rapid economic development and its effect on Beijing’s foreign policy. Michael Pillsbury, the director of the Center on Chinese Strategy at the Hudson Institute, described China’s rapid and unchallenged rise: “It’s easy to win a race when you’re the only one who knows it has begun.”[2]

The European Commission’s outlook on China describes it simultaneously as a partner, competitor, and systemic rival. In the United States, a “tough on China” stance is one of the few Trump administration policies that resonates across the aisle. As Beijing seeks to expand its influence abroad, the United States has exited multilateral treaties, withdrawn future funding commitments from the World Health Organization, and embraced a parochial foreign policy to the detriment of its former international commitments. As Americans fumble with the simplest of public health measures such as mask-wearing, the Chinese government and business community employed masks to pursue their diplomatic and strategic ends.

Has this strategy worked? According to research by the PEW Research Center and the European Council on Foreign Relations, China’s response to the virus has polarized public perceptions of it, with a prominent unfavorable bias. In the United States, skepticism towards China has soared, hitting an all-time high since PEW began tracking this sentiment in 2005. Across Europe, 48% of respondents said their view of China had worsened since the outbreak of the pandemic, with Denmark and France holding the highest proportion of increasingly negative views.

Figure 1: PEW Research Center Data on American’s View on China
Source: PEW Research Center
Figure 2: European Council on Foreign Relations Survey Responses on Changing Views of China
Source: European Council on Foreign Relations

In contrast, Italy is an outlier amongst the European dataset. 25% of Italians believe that China was their country’s greatest ally during the pandemic. This may be a result of China’s exports/donations, or it may be a product of China’s media blitz.

Figure 3: European Council on Foreign Relations Country Breakdown of Perceived Allyship During COVID-19 Outbreak
Source: European Council on Foreign Relations

This anti-Chinese sentiment has extended beyond debate about geopolitics and into people’s personal lives. Incidents of violence against Asians at home and in the Asian diaspora have become more common. These incidents then become part of the Chinese propaganda feedback loop, reinforcing Chinese media outlets’ propensity to frame the prevailing conflict in terms of a bifurcated world order.

Looking Towards the Future

America’s national failure to contain the virus lends credence to the abilities and merit of a state-directed semi-capitalist system such as China’s. It also diminishes America’s ability to promote democracy and capitalism abroad, and echoes the Cold War, where the capitalists and communists fought to secure ideological footholds by turning developing nations such as Vietnam into ideological battlefields. In other words, the Americans not only let this crisis go to waste, but also allowed it to snowball into a catastrophe.

One wildcard still on the table is the 2020 election. Even though the “tough on China” stance is one of the few ideas that can rally support on from both parties, a Joe Biden presidency would drastically change the tone of American interaction with China. China appears to prefer working with a Biden administration, given that his administration would be far more predictable than the volatile Trump administration. However, it is possible that Chinese Wolf Warrior diplomacy is self-defeating because it advantages Trump’s re-election campaign.

Chinese diplomats have only reaffirmed Americans suspicions about China and reemphasized the prudence of Trump and Pence’s “tough on China” politics. The Biden campaign shied away from the China issue at the Democratic National Convention, mentioning China only once in Joe Biden’s presidential nomination acceptance speech, arguably the most important speech of his campaign thus far. On the other hand, Mike Pence, speaking on Fox & Friends the morning after Joe Biden’s speech, lambasted the presidential hopeful for overlooking “the economic and strategic challenge we face with China.” In the short-term, Beijing is likely to hold its ground and wait for the outcome of the U.S. presidential election. One can hope that the spirit of multilateral cooperation in the face of a once-in-a-lifetime crisis will overcome short-sighted nationalist squabbling, but it appears that both the US and China are committed to their current suboptimal strategies.

[1] Young China Watchers, Panel Discussion (June 20, 2020), Testing the World: Assessing China’s COVID-19 Diplomacy

[2] Michael Pillsbury, The Hundred-Year Marathon: China’s Secret Strategy to Replace America As the Global Superpower

Austin Peters is a graduate of Indiana University and has studied Chinese for six years, including stints at Beijing Normal University and Nanjing University. He currently works for LAIBA Beverages, a growth-stage bottled cocktail company based in Shanghai, China. In January 2021, he will be joining the Strategy & Operations group at Deloitte Consulting.

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

Interview with Amy Celico on U.S.-China Relations

Amy Celico is a Principal of Albright Stonebridge Group (ASG) and leads the firm’s China team. Prior to joining the firm, Ms. Celico served as Senior Director for China Affairs at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative where she was responsible for developing and negotiating positions on issues related to China’s non-financial services sectors and intellectual property rights. In July 2020, Amy Celico attended the USCET-AmCham online webinar Voting Your Pocketbook: Economics, Trade, and Business Implications for US Presidential Elections and delivered her speech about US election and US-China relations. Yunan Wang, a student journalist at US-China Perception Monitor, recently held a Zoom interview with Ms. Celico. They discussed the latest developments on US-China relations.

Yunan Wang: You stated regarding the USCET-AmCham forum that bilateral trade between US and China acts as a catalyst of instability instead of an important stabilizer. However, it seems that conflicts between the two countries right now go far beyond trade imbalances. Could you explain how you reached this conclusion?

Amy Celico: When I referred to the US-China trade issues as a catalyst for the larger problems in the relationship, I was talking about the past few years. But right now, I would say that trade issues have, once again, acted as the stabilizer, especially with the Phase-One Trade Agreement.

When I worked for the US government at our consulate in Shanghai, my work focused on the premise that China joining the WTO was beneficial to the US economy, and for both countries, China’s accession to the WTO would increase bilateral trade and opportunities for investment. Back then, US-China trade and commercial ties were really the ballast and the stabilizing force in the relationship even though there were areas of disagreement.

During the Obama administration, we began to increasingly see more problems in the trade relationship and we started to talk about other issues like climate change and international cooperation on transnational issues or global health pandemics. At the time, these topics had served as the stabilizers. On the other hand, the US business community was increasingly frustrated by the lack of progress made on intellectual property enforcement and forced technology transfer. When President Trump claimed that he was going to act differently on these issues within the trade relationship, he started to apply tariffs on Chinese imports into the United States which, in my opinion, was a catalyst for us. For both countries, the US-China trade war became a worrisome problem.

Ironically, US-China trade relations are being seen as a stabilizer today as we start to talk about problems in a whole host of other areas. In the past few months, the Phase-One Trade Agreement in January is the last pleasant news that we heard. I am glad that despite other disputes, we still have some topics on which we can talk about the benefits of continued, close US-China relations. Specifically, trade relations have been and should continue to be one of those things that is truly, mutually beneficial.

Yunan Wang: Even though progress has been made on the Phase-One Agreement, which is indeed beneficial to both countries, it seems as though the US and China continue to be locked in an escalating confrontation, and companies from both countries might find it increasingly difficult to operate with their foreign business counterparts. As a senior executive at Albright Stonebridge, how has your work helped those companies?

Amy Celico: First, the Phase-One Trade Agreement was significant for the business community. All my clients were happy to see the agreement being announced and being committed to because it helped take some of the tensions out of the commercial relationship that had become extremely contentious between the US and China.

However, as you said in the question, it did not address all of the problems. Even though the Phase-One Agreement was announced and committed to, there should always be a “Phase-Two Agreement,” and that agreement should not solely focus on the American problems. When we are continuing to discuss more of the longstanding challenges between the two countries, we should also talk about issues of forced technology transfer or the use of subsidies to unfairly compete on the global stage as well as in the Chinese market. Between any two countries, reciprocity and openness are the significant issues in the bilateral trade relations. We still have a long way to go.

In this 2020 Covid-19 pandemic environment, the way that Albright Stonebridge Group is trying to help our clients is ensuring that the Chinese government is aware of the positive impact of foreign investment in the country right now. Our clients want to be in China, and they will want to be participating in the Chinese market. More than ever, it is important to highlight the fact that foreign investment helps to rebuild the economy after the devastating impact of the Covid-19 health crisis. We definitely don’t think that the Phase-One Agreement solved all the problems, although we have clients in different fields, like our agricultural clients, that were happy about the agreement made by the Chinese government. I don’t want to diminish the importance of that agreement, but I have to highlight that it is a very limited one. Therefore, we need to build off of that.

Yunan Wang: You mentioned the negative impact of the Covid-19 health crisis for the two countries and the world, so could you tell me, in your observation, how has the Covid-19 pandemic impacted the bilateral relationship between the US-China?

Amy Celico: It is not a happy topic, right? The impact of Covid-19 across the world is so significant on human life, on our emotion, on our economic as well as our day-to-day welfare. We’re feeling that here in the United States as well, where there are fewer and fewer economic opportunities because the economy is in recession. I don’t want to ignore the political impact of Covid-19, especially on the US-China relationship, because it has taken a significant cost in some ways as it is being politized. We have to admit that the Covid-19 crisis has been seen as exacerbating tensions between two countries because of the origins of the pandemic and its economic costs.

I think that economically, the Covid-19 crisis has clarified for many countries that global supply chains being so dispersed can be difficult in times of economic and public safety need. Questions are being raised about whether we should bring some of our global production of certain commodities back, or nearer, to our home countries. This is why we are talking about nearshoring today. What we have seen from the Covid-19 pandemic is the disruption in necessary trade flows that might concern domestic needs for some goods like Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

They might not be for economic reasons, but for other reasons. Some countries might wonder if they should diversify their supply chains so they are not so dependent on China, for example, or on any one region. This global health pandemic has unveiled the vulnerabilities of these global supply chains as they currently operate. For my clients, they are making economic decisions while facing some pressure from their home governments. Therefore, they are starting to consider nearshoring. At the same time, they are trying to be responsive to the real human costs of needing to have access to medical supplies during times of emergency. It is a very complicated issue. I should conclude that one of the lessons of Covid-19 is that while we only looked at the dollars and the cents in trade issues before, we are starting to think about these other factors. It has been quite disruptive for a lot of global multinational companies thinking about this, including our clients.

Yunan Wang: Do you think that the politicization of the Covid-19 pandemic, especially the demonization of China, is partly due to the current US presidential election? Can we expect that US-China relations will improve after November whether or not Trump or Biden wins the election?

Amy Celico: You know very well how politicized the environment becomes in the United States during presidential election campaigns. This year is no exception. In fact, I would suggest that this year would probably be worse than ever because the incumbent President Trump is facing a significantly difficult challenge in getting re-elected. Why? Because our economy is in trouble. Economic performance is the most accurate indicator for US presidential elections, as in the past, Americans usually make a bet on a president and re-elect the incumbent more often than not; if a first-term president does not get re-elected, there is typically an overriding reason.

President Trump is facing headwinds because of Covid-19. When we are talking about the US economy and the Covid-19 crisis, China is closely tied to both issues. Inevitably, President Trump and his team will be tying China to both issues — Covid-19 and the US economy. In this campaign season, there is more rhetoric about China. China has been formed as “the enemy” to the strong US economy. I have to say this year, President Trump has focused more on the challenges with China than he did four years ago, especially because of the Covid-19 crisis and our economic recession. And I think Vice President Biden, as he was part of the Obama administration, also has to focus on the challenges in the US relationship with China and how he could deal with things differently than President Trump has over the past three and a half years.

In my opinion, China has been and should be a central issue in our election because it is now a global superpower and a country with which the US disagrees on many issues. And unfortunately, over the years, we have seen a proliferation of those issues. Usually, Americans care more about domestic issues like economic recession or welfare policies than foreign policies; however, President Trump has very tightly tied both our economic recession and Covid-19 problems with China. The Pew Research Center, as I quote, records that Americans have a more negative view of China now than ever before. This perception does trickle down from how our president negatively talks about the role of China in the US economy. I think this is a leading reason why China is a central issue in our election and why China is being used as a tactic in our politics.

Yunan Wang: It is quite natural and logical that people care more about domestic policies during presidential elections, but do you think Americans buy the election tactic of tying China to domestic issues in a negative light? Do you think that Americans in general have objective or comprehensive knowledge of China? On the other hand, as you have stayed and worked in Shanghai for more than seven years, in your opinion, do average Chinese know the United States well?

Amy Celico: It is a very hard question to answer. I will say, just from my experience, when I first started studying Chinese history and Chinse language in the mid-1980s, people around me had a very low level of understanding about China. I still remember reading The New York Times every day as an undergraduate and being excited when there was a little section or a story about China in the paper. And obviously, today there is a story about China in every section of the paper every day, whether it is cultural, political or economic. It has been amazing to watch just how important China is to every issue for the United States. Because of China’s changing role in the world, there is more awareness about China. Speaking of Chinese citizens, when I lived in China years ago, I do believe that Chinese people whom I met in Beijing, Shanghai or Jiangsu had awareness about the United States. However, it was a basic level of understanding. In my opinion, many citizens in the United States have caught up with Chinese citizens and have a basic awareness about one another, because China is now important, just like the United States was twenty years ago.

It is more about awareness rather than understanding. Unfortunately, I think that for both Americans and Chinese citizens, we get a lot of negative and biased news about one another in our media. Talking about understanding one another is harder because of this whole host of information. Some of it is legitimate, but some of it is overblown. We are receiving so much negative information about one another and consequently, it is harder to have a true appreciation for one another. I believe that this is a fundamental challenge for many of us who focus on US-China relations. Indeed, there are many problems and issues that are real, significant and worrisome; if we are going to characterize the relationship in a competitive way, I think it is totally fine. But if we are going to characterize the relationship through distrust and enmity, we are going to poison the relationship in many ways.

Therefore, I am extremely worried about the trend here in the United States, and I think in China, too. Today, traditional media and social media have been full of extremely negative reporting about the intentions of one towards the other in a damaging way. I feel that some of us have to stand up and remind our citizens here in the United States, and I believe that in China it should be the same. It is my responsibility to remind us of the importance and the value of this relationship, even though it is competitive and tough.

We just cannot say that China is our enemy, but sadly we are going to.

Yunan Wang: I hope that your opinion will be heard by many Chinese, especially by my generation, because here in China today, there are many young people who hold hostile attitudes towards the United States. For example, when the US consulate in Chengdu was shut down, there were voices celebrating this “historical moment.” This is indeed a worrisome issue today.

Amy Celico: It is. It is certainly a responsibility of people in China, just like it is mine here to say that we should not celebrate the deterioration of the relationship. Now, we do disagree on many things, but there is nothing to celebrate and it is dangerous. It is bad for people in both countries. It makes me nervous when Americans and Chinese seem to welcome the hostility in the relationship.

Yunan Wang: Hong Kong is another important issue in US-China relations, and it is also controversial. In your opinion, how did the US business community react to the implementation of the national security law?

Amy Celico:  I think the Hong Kong issue does underscore that some of the challenges that we are talking about today in US-China relations are an outgrowth of real concern toward some Chinese policies. This is not about politics or propaganda but rather real issues in the relationship. The business community is waiting to see how the law is implemented before they can actually form a judgement on what impact it is going to have on their business. Could Hong Kong continue to be a global center of finance and a promising regional hub for all commercial activities if, for example, the Internet was censored, or there were more restrictions on the ability of Hong Kong citizens or foreign residents to operate on the ground? As you might say, some of that is going to be due to US government policies, but most of it is due to Chinese government policies. The US business community and US government are looking to see whether and how the law will be implemented and how the Hong Kong Legislative Council election will go forward.

Indeed, we are hearing from the Hong Kong government and Beijing that this national security law was put in place to stabilize the environment so that economic activities could continue stably in Hong Kong. Businesses rely on stability to operate, but it is not the only concern for the foreign business community. We are also looking to see if we can conduct business in the same way that we did before and to see if there will be restrictions on data flows and if information security can be guaranteed. They are waiting to see if they should rethink their presence in Hong Kong. In conclusion, I think that this is indeed worrisome for the business community and for the international community watching the Chinese government’s actions in Hong Kong, but we don’t want to prejudge what the implications of those actions are until we can actually see how this impacts Hong Kong society, its economic performance, and the ability to continue to operate in this important regional hub.