CCG Dialogue with John Thornton, Stapleton Roy and Adam Posen
10 Aug, 2021  |  Source:CCG  |  Hits:4509

Six months into his presidency, US president Joe Biden has made major strides on his domestic and foreign policy agenda. Yet, the tensions between the US and China have shown no signs of easing. Many see the Biden administration’s emerging China policy as more of continuity than breakaway from its predecessor. As the administration promised a balance between competition and cooperation amidst a series of exchange between senior officials from both sides, what are future steps to be taken to break the impasse and move the bilateral relationship forward?    On July 30th, on the theme of “Balancing competition and cooperation amid global challenges: What’s next for US-China relations?”, CCG President Wang Huiyao hosted a dialogue with Adam Posen, President of the Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE); J. Stapleton Roy, Founding Director Emeritus at the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States of Wilson Center; John L. Thornton, Chair Emeritus at the Brookings Institution and Co-Chair of the Asia Society and ZHU Guangyao, CCG Advisor and former Vice Minister of Finance of China. This dialogue explored the past, present and future of the China-US relationship and was part of CCG’s 7th Annual China and Globalization Forum. 

Wang Huiyao: Good evening and good morning, depending on where you are, and also good afternoon. Thank you for tuning in. We are very honored and pleased to host this CCG China-US think tank dialogue, which is part of our 7th annual China globalization forum. This dialogue is co-organized with the Asia Foundation.  CCG China and globalization forum is a flagship annual forum that we hold once every year and this year, we have drawn a very large attendance. Since 2015, this year forum is probably one of the largest that we hosted in conjunction of CCG  council members and during the last 2 days, we brought together the most prominent business leaders, government  officials, academics and also non-government sectors and had over 400 to 500 participants, including 50 ambassafors and seniior diplomats from different countries as well as over hundreds of representatives from internatioanl organizations and MNCs and goverement officicals and academics. Now we're getting into the webinar part of our conference, which is open to all to watch this online. This forum discussed ongoing pandemic and how we can cope with that, with new cases discovered in China. It's one of the issues we talked about, as well as global economy, trade, mobility of the people, China-Europe economic cooperation, global cooperation and the China's new development plan. And, of course, China's international communication and narrative as well.

Tonight features China-US think tank dialogue which is joined by 4 very distinguished speakers with the theme of “Balancing competition and the corporation amid global challenges - what's next for the US China relations?”. Last week, the US Deputy Secretary of State, Wendy Sherman, just concluded her visit for the Biden's administration to China and a new Chinese ambassador, minister Qin Gang has just arrived in Washington this week. So we have a lot of questions and lot of curiosity for how US and China can maintain its momentum of a diplomatic dialogue. But also, we want to hear the views from our speakers today, which is from Adam S. Posen, Ambassador Roy, John L. Thornton and also Mr. Zhu Guangyao. Let me quickly introduce our guests today. Adam Posen has been the president of the Peterson Institute of international economic since 2013. The Peterson Institute is a well-known independent nonprofit nonpartisan research organization dedicated to strengthening prosperity and human welfare in a global economy through experts' analysis and practical policy solutions.Over his career, Adam has contributed to research and public policy regarding monetary and fiscal policies in the G20, the challenges of European integration since adoption of euro and China-US economic relations. The Peterson Institute is also very active in developing new approaches to financial recovery and stability. During his presidency, the Peterson Institute has won global recognition as the leading independent think tank in international economics. And, of course, we have our old friend, Ambassador Stapleton Roy. He is the Asia Foundation's honorary director and also was a former US ambassador to China. The Asia Foundation is a non-profit international development organization committed to “improving the lives across a dynamic and developing Asia”. Roy is a fluent Chinese speaker, he was actually born in China and has spent time in Chengdu and has a lot of good fond memories there. He spent much of his career in the East Asia as a 3-time ambassador serving as the top US envoy in Singapore and People's Republic of China from 1991 to 1995 and also Indonesia. And in 1996, he was promoted to the rank of career ambassador, the highest ranking of the United States foreign service. Also, now Roy is the founding director emeritus and also a distinguished scholar of Wilson Center’s Kissinger Institute on China and the United States and a trustee of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. As we all know that this year also marks the 50th anniversary of Dr.Kissinger secret visit to China, this is one of our topics tonight as well. Mr. John L. Thornton is the Chair Emeritus of the Brookings Institution and Co-Chair of Asia Society. The Brookings Institution and Asia Society are two very prominent think tanks and in United States, it has really had a big influence not only in the US but also in China and the world also and John is the chair of both organizations speaks volumes. He's also the executive chairman of Barrick Gold and Chairman of Pinebridge Investments. And on top of that, John is also a professor and director of global leadership program at the Tsinghua University School of Economics and Management in Beijing. John retired in 2003 as President and a member of the board of the Goldman Sachs Group. John has a very long and enriched career. In 2007, Institution Investor Magazine named Mr. Thornton as one of the 40 individuals who had the greatest influence in shaping global financial markets over the previous 40 years. And he was also a recipient of in 2008 of the Friendship Award of the People's Republic of China, which is the highest honor, accorded to a non-Chinese citizen. And the Chinese government also named him as one of the 15 “foreign experts” who had made the most significant contribution to China's development over the previous three decades, so this is a very notable achievement.Now allow me to introduce my friend, also my colleague at the State Council Consellors Office,  minister Zhu Guangyao, who is a CCG advisor and a former Vice Minister of Finance of China from 2010 to 2018. Minister Zhu oversaw the Customer Tariff Department as well as coordinating the economic track of the China-US Strategic and Economic Dialogue and the financial ministerial merting of the G20. He joined the Ministry of Finance in 1985 and has served in various senior positions with the Ministry, and was also Senior Advisor, Alternate Executive Director and Executive Director of the China to the World Bank in two occasions. We are very pleased to be joined by Mr. Zhu. As for myself, I'm the founder and president of the Center for China and globalization, one of the leading Chinese think tanks one of the top world think tanks 100 ranked by University of Pennsylvania. This is a dialogue between Chinese and US think tanks and I'm very pleased to be the host of this dialogue tonight. I would like to start with Adam. You are actually very knowledgeable. You've been traveling to China often and I see that you have made a lot of remarks about China and US and how they should collaborate as well as how to improve the CPTPP and a lot of trade issues. What is the thinking of the US and Chinese economy and how we get out of this pandemic? How about the US-China relations? What about trade, which is one of the themes of our conference today - people view that as a biggest promoter for the global future development, as the World Bank’s China director said in our conference today. So what do you think, as you are very savvy in this subject? 

A multipolar world emerges where the US is not the only dominant country

Adam S. Posen: Thank you very much President Wang for including me on this distinguished panel and congratulations to your center for continuing to lead substantive dialogue in China and globally. Obviously, this is a major conference. I think the big message of what the questions you raise is really to say that the US-China conflict and frictions are not about economics, even though they currently take place in economics. And this has been a major preoccupation under Trump and again under Biden. As I argued in my recent article in Foreign Affairs on “The Price of Nostalgia”, it mostly is being driven by politics in both China and the US, where basically the males working in industry, in non-urban centers, are blackmailing the rest of society and we see this with the state-owned enterprises in China, we see this with the trade bailouts of the heavy industry in the US. And in both countries, those parts of the economy are the shrinking part of the economy and a shrinking, even faster, part of employment. They also are industries that are of course toxic to our environment as well as to our politics. And so what we are seeing is both the American and Chinese peoples are being ill-served by the trade conflict. And it's not about economics. So what we've seen under the Biden administration and in response in part of its own initiative from the Xi government is a shift now from trade to worrying about technology. Obviously, there have been frictions for many years, the others on this panel have been dealing with them directly for even longer than I have over issues of intellectual property and government subsidies. But for the most part, these have not been issues that should have imperiled the broader relationship on an economic basis. What is escalated it now is the sense in the US and China that each is posing a genuine threat in the geopolitical sense and in a sense to their system or their legitimacy. And this is a reality among the official class in both Washington and Beijing. There's some good reason for it, it's mostly exaggerated and colors every interaction. And so the question is what can we do from here?  Let me make three very brief points, so you can get to the others on the panel. First, remember that both US and China have led the world in recovery from the Covid crisis and are both growing well above trend growth rates right now by a large margin. So this is not a question of either is depriving the other of economic recovery. So there is no conflict over currency right now. There is no issue of Chinese surpluses coming at US expense. There is no issue of financial instability being promoted from one to the other or back and forth. So we have to focus on the non-economic issues, which is funny for an economist like me to say. The second point is as you've indicated in your set-up for this discussion, President Wang and others who have spoken about - even though it's boring, it has to be said - the biggest opportunity for collaboration between China and the US is on climate change issues. That was the case when President Obama was here, when our friend Minister Zhu was very active in the G7 and the G20, and that remains the best place for us to collaborate at this time. And third, since you were wise enough, generous enough, to convene a group of think tankers. I just want to say that we – like CCG, the Peterson Institute, Brookings, Kissinger Center, the Ministry of Finance - we all have a role in continuing to say that we should not be afraid of honest dialogue among experts. We have a common enemy in conspiracy theories and disinformation. And we think tanks should be bounding ourselves together to emphasize the possibility of objective analysis and honest frank talk. Thank you very much for this opportunity. 

Wang Huiyao: Thank you Adam for your great opening remark. I agree with you, that it seems that now economic issues have deterred us from talking of the real substance whereas in time we need to collaborate on pandemic fighting, climate change and many other things. So this is really needed - a frank dialogue between the 2 sides’ think tanks. I should also let ambassador Roy give opening remarks as well. You are a seasoned diplomat who knows China since you were a child and you lived through many years of turmoil. I remember visiting you in your office when I was as a visiting fellow at the Brookings in 2010. You showed me some photos and you have written so many things about China. So now we had the new Chinese ambassador go to the US, we don't know wehn the US ambassador is coming to China, but we had a visit of the US deputy secretaryWendy Sherman. What's your take  on Sino-US relation’s past, present, and future? This year is 50 years’ anniversary of Kissinger’s visit to China. Just on the 11th of July, there was a live dialogue with him to commemorate his historic visit - we had a dialogue with Dr. Kissinger that day – your institute at the Wilson Center is named after him. This year is also 50 years after China joining the UN,  20 years after China joining WTO, 30 years after China joining APEC and 30 years since the ending of the Cold War - so there are lots of things going on, in terms of the past, present, and future. As a senior advisor, your voice and your thinking is widely noticed, so ambassador Roy, your turn, please.  

J. Stapleton Roy: Thank you Dr. Wang and good evening to all of you who are in China. When President Trump lost the November 2020 presidential elections in the United States, some people hope that President Biden would adopt a less confrontational approach to relations with China. They have been disappointed. Early steps by the new American administration toward China seemed to be a continuation of President Trump's hardline policies. Shortly after the administration took office, the new Secretary of State echoed the charge of his predecessor that China was engaged in genocide against the Uighurs in Xinjiang. The tariff barriers on bilateral trade have been left in place. Senior officials in the Biden administration, bluntly stated that the US engagement strategies toward China had failed and that competition is now the principle driver in the bilateral relationship. For much of the last 50 years, the United States was confident that China's growing wealth and power did not threaten United States’ vital interests and their differences could be managed by diplomacy and engagement. That is no longer the case. And the question is why. A starting point to understanding what has happened is to recognize that the United States and China are both in the midst of fundamental transitions that affect their respective places in the world. The United States is seeking to adjust to an international situation in which it is no longer the sole superpower. This is not so much because of a decline in power, but because other countries have risen to major power status and China, of course, is the first and foremost example of that. A new multipolar world is emerging. Not surprisingly, the United States is reluctant to give up the dominant position that is has occupied since the end of the Cold War and to accept the adjustments that must make in order to establish a new equilibrium. At the same time, there is no question that the social and political polarization that has been a prominent feature of the US domestic scene over the last half decade has damaged the international image of the United States and the perception of its reliability as a great power. China, in turn, in a remarkably short period of time, has regained the wealth and military strength that are the attributes of major powers. This has altered the psychology of the Chinese people. This is what Zheng Bijian didn't take into account when he came up with the concept of peaceful rise. The Chinese people now are demanding a more muscular foreign policy, consistent with China's growing power. And this change Chinese behavior patterns, which have become more assertive. As a result, regional countries, including the United States finding China's assurances less and less credible that it will rise peacefully and never bully its neighbors. These are two of the key background factors that have influenced the sharp plunge in the bilateral US-China relationship, to the lowest depths in half a century. This has created a dangerous situation. Where missteps by either side or by both, could plunge the world into an unprecedented crisis. I use the term unprecedented, because China and the United States are both major nuclear powers. And confrontations between them are particularly dangerous, repair work by both sides is vitally necessary. Fortunately, despite some superficial similarities, the Biden administration is fundamentally different from his predecessors. President Biden has more foreign policy and national security experience than any American president since the first President Bush 30 years ago. In contrast to the Trump Administration. President Biden has appointed capable and experienced officials as secretary of state and national security advisor. These are officials who could sit down without talking points and talk for hours with Chinese counterparts about any issue in the world. Now this was totally missing in the last administration. The Biden administration is moving carefully, to iron out internal differences and adopt sustainable policies that will not simply reflect the whims of a woman. Of particular importance for US-China Relations, the administration has reaffirmed that it will adhere to one-China policy and that it does not support independence for Taiwan, it is also seeking a pattern of regular consultations between Beijing and Washington. The recent consultations between US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and state Councilor Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Vice Minister Xie Feng were surrounded by a barrage of charges by each side against the other. However, if one reads carefully the public reports regarding the consultations. It is evident that there were constructive elements. According to the Chinese account in the meeting, Deputy Secretary Sherman called the US-China relationship as the most important bilateral relationship in the world, noted the many times that two sides have had contact with each other since President Biden was sworn in, expressed US’s willingness to have open and candid contacts and dialogues with China, declared the United States’ hopes that the two countries could coexist peacefully, said that the United States has no intention of restricting Chinese development and does not want to contain China and would like to see China develop further. Noted that the two sides can engage in healthy competition, cooperate on climate change, drug control in international and regional hotspots and strengthen crisis management capacity and avoid conflicts. American accounts of the meeting she had are consistent with the above statements. These are encouraging words that you would not have heard from the previous administration.  However, the reality is less positive. President Biden needs congressional support for his domestic programs and congressional attitudes toward China are hostile. Changing these attitudes will be difficult but not impossible. A hardline American approach to China does not mesh well with the interests of US allies and friends in East Asia who do not wish to see the region polarized. In other words, the United States that tries to work with our friends and allies will discover that they do not support a hardline approach to China, and I think that will have an impact overtime. But as the first step, it would be useful for both China and the United States to tone down their rhetoric toward each other. Governments have the responsibility not only to formulate wise foreign policies, but to talk in ways that develop public support for those policies – and we are not doing that. We are talking publicly in ways that undermine the wise policy that we should be pursuing. So as a starter, let's get our rhetoric under control and I hope that will have some chance to exchange views about other steps that could be taken. 

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