CCG Dialogue with John Thornton, Stapleton Roy and Adam Posen
10 Aug, 2021  |  Source:CCG  |  Hits:3164

Wang Huiyao: Thank you Adam, for your very explanatory answers. It's good to understand both sides. I think particularly China’s accepting the G20 proposal on global minimum tax is really a good sign. If we do sit down and really analyze those international and global economic situations, we can collaborate. Ambassador Roy - you have been a seasoned diplomat for a long time. You were in China for so many years, even during your childhood time, and I still vividly remember a few years back we went to Dun Huang together and then when we went to the US, you accopanied us  to visit Seattle. It’s really good hearing of your wisdom. US and China, after four decades of engagement, there is a saying now in the USA – “China doesn't converge with us and has not become one of us.’ But you see, China has 5,000 years of history, you probably know very well, its civilization was never really interrupted that often. And China really is working on its own development path. I attended the previous US ambassador Terry Branstad’s farewell reception in Beijing and he actually said that the success of China development attributes to three factors, first one is hard work, diligence, he felt that people are working very hard here; second is education - Chinese family attach great importance to education; the third is the family value - China really respect seniors and authorities and that's how the Chinese system went. So you'll see that China has its own unique system and even fighting covid virus with that system seems to have some advantage. It doesn't have to exactly converge with the USA.  Because if China can lift 800 million people out of poverty, if China can contribute over a third of global GDP growth, as time goes on, we all don't have to get into the Thucydides’ Trap. I'm talking to Graham Allison a few months ago and he doesn't agree with falling into the Thucydides’ Trap as well. Joseph Nye also said we should have a longer horizon - maybe looking at 2035, during one of our conversations. So given your lifetime experience on China, what's your take on the future development between China and the US, from the perspective of a former American ambassador and a very experienced China hand? 

The US and China should strike a balance and achieve a new equilibrium

J. Stapleton Roy: Thank you. I think that is the core issue in the bilateral relationship. I referred in my opening remarks to the fact that the United States was having difficulty adjusting to the need for a new equilibrium in East Asia. I think that's a real problem for us. Because if you read American speeches and writings on the subject, we still have many people who think that dominance in air and naval power for example, is necessary for the United States. And you can't have a new equilibrium if either China or the United States are setting dominance as a goal because the other side will not accept it. Therefore if we're going to have a dialogue with China, we have to begin addressing the question of how do we strike a military balance, in which each country feels it can meet its defense needs? For the United States, that includes the defense needs of our allies, but is not so powerful that we appear to have the capability to engage in aggression against the other side. We are not yet there, and we are not yet mentally prepared to try to undertake that task, and it is absolutely necessary. Because you have to have a balance of power in East Asia, otherwise we're going to be continually in strategic rival with each other. That's one reason why I think it is absolutely wrong to think that our dominant factor has to be strategic rivalry. Because strategic rivalry always focuses on the military component. And that ends up generating an endless arms race in which resources are diverted away from economic development into military development. Now here I think the United States has to stop thinking in terms of dominance, and I think the Biden administration was wrong by introducing this concept of dealing with China from a position of strength. Anybody would understand that China would never accept that as a basis for the United States to deal with China, and the same term cropped up during the Cold War when I worked on Soviet affairs, the Soviets were very sensitive to the idea of the United States dealing with them from a position of strength. But China is making an enormous mistake by not defining its defense needs strictly in terms of China's defense requirements. But now China has linked its defense needs to its international status as a great power. At the 18th Party Congress in 2012. The first part of the military portion of the work report talked about China needing a powerful military commensurate with its international standing and appropriate for its defense and development needs. And at the 19th Party Congress, China talks about requiring a world-class military power. Well, if China has a world-class military power when it has no global military responsibilities, China has no allies beyond its immediate periphery in which it has the size its military to meet those requirements, when Americans look at China, we don't see any ceiling in terms of where China wants to develop its military power. And in my opinion. China has to rethink how it is talking about its military requirements. Because if every country tries to develop military capables in terms of their international status. What size of military does Japan need? What size of military does India need, et cetera? It's the wrong way of looking at the issue. Military requirement should be linked to your defense requirement, and the United States and China need to be thinking in terms of, as President Xi himself has said, “a pacific in which China and United States can both function together.” He said the Pacific is large enough for both China and the United States. And Xi Jinping, in his earlier speeches, has specifically referred to the defense dilemma, which is if China has absolute security, then its neighbors have no security. He's used that exact language in his speeches, so he understands the issue, that there has to be a limit on China's defense capabilities or its neighbors will all lack of security. And this is an area where United States in China, sooner or later, and the sooner the better, need to start engaging in a dialogue to see if there is a possibility for a strategic equilibrium in East Asian that is compatible with the national interests of both sides. And that means that national interests also have to be defined in a way that doesn't exclude that possibility. So I think there is enormous scope for China and the United States to stop looking at the world in terms of their own domestic driving factors. And I understand that they have to look at the external circumstances in the world in an objective way and then formulate foreign policies that are compatible with the international circumstances in which they have to operate and gain the domestic support for that approach. The United States is not yet doing that, for example, if we look at East Asia, where all of the countries of East Asia have more trade with China than with the United States. It is clear that if we ask Asian countries to choose between China and the United States, they are not going to want to do so because they have very important interests with China. So we have to understand that and our foreign policy approach to China and the way we talk about China must not be put in ways that require countries to choose between the good United States with our democratic system and the bad China with its authoritarian system - that's the wrong way to formulate our foreign policy concepts. And China, as I've already illustrated in my judgment, is making the same mistake as it is talking about needing global military power because of its status as a great power. Going back to the 19th century, when China talked about the need for China to regain wealth and power, the power was so would no longer be the subject of aggression by stronger countries, it was a defensive concept, not an aggressive concept. And that has been lost now because China is talking about how powerful military is needed because of its international standing. So this is an area where I think both of our countries need to do a lot more serious things. 

Wang Huiyao: Ok, thank you, Ambassador Roy, you explained really well that most countries should not really use ideology or the old mentality to measure the 21st-century reality. We need a new narrative. You are absolutely right that we should not be seeking dominance on each other. China also said many times that historically China has never colonized any place or sent soldier anywhere. In our observation, what China is actually doing is that when we build up military, China is really just expanding its military from a defensive purpose. Asthe US exercises launched in the South China Sea or Taiwan Strait - China is really just catching up with its defense. Note one fact that the US military budget is equal to that of the next ten countries combined, whereas China’s total length of high-speed railway is equal to that of the next ten countries combined. But your idea is well taken, we should really be seeking for peace and understanding. I agree with you that we need more exchanges to talk through those issues to get out of the suspicions and mistrust.  Now Minister Zhu, I remember in 2016 at the Hangzhou G20, you were the coordinator for the G20 from the Ministry of Finance. I watched on CCTV then that you were doing an interview next to the West Lake in Hangzhou, you were saying that the BIT was almost closed between China and the US. Another story I heard from you is that when the 2008 financial crisis happened, you got the call from the US Treasury office talking about how China and the US could work together to really fight with this financial crisis. China immediately launched the 4-trillion RMD revival plan. The US and China have really worked together through the crisis. So what do you think about current crisis of the pandemic? How we can really work together, please give us some view, as you have a lot of experience working with US, Minister Zhu.  

Zhu Guangyao: Before I answer your question, I just want to respond to ambassador Roy’s idea regarding military strategy and military intention. To be honest, in the modern history, China suffered a lot from foreign invasions and the Chinese people deeply understand that, so it’s the peoples willingness that China becomes a stronger country. However, for strategy and the real situation, when China talks about its core interest, that's always three points: 1.Sovereignty, 2. territory integrity, 3.developing rights. We hope with that, China can really become a modernized socialist country, a united country and a country which can improve people's living standards. I think for those of us, we can have very frank communication to deepen understanding. So I think it has become very important for China and the US to real understand each other's intentions, particularly at this time. Now regarding the 2016 G20 meeting, and BIT between China and the US - yes, that's indeed under strong leadership of president Xi Jinping and president Obama. Before G20 Hangzhou Summit, Chinese team and the US team worked very hard. At that time, the leader of the US team, Michael Froman, the Trade Representative, did a lot of work to keep very close communication with Chinese team, nearly every day, maybe even three or four times a day. Both sides did very hard work under the strong leadership of the two presidents. We can say openly to the Chinese and foreign media that at that time, the treaty between China and the US - the BIT, was nearly 90% complete. We also understand some key challenges - digital economy, particularly, data privacy, data across borders need to keep moving and we just need more hard work to be followed. Unfortunately, after that, everybody knows that the US administration changed and even abandoned TPP, which delayed the continued negotiations. Another case was in 2008. I remember that during the international financial crisis, in October 2008, in a very early morning – 3 am, I received a phone call from my counterpart in US Treasury. She immediately arranged a meeting between the secretary Treasury Hank Paulson and his Chinese counterpart to talk about possible upgrade of the G20 format from finance minister under central bank governor to the leaders. I think it was 10 am in Beijing time and we had a 3 or 4-hour phone call. It really forged the path for the G20 summit in November in Washington DC, chaired by President Bush and joined by Chinese President Hu. It was a very successful meeting which paved the way for the next G20 meeting in London to build up a real firewall for IMF - one trillion US dollars ware gathered through that meeting for a strong deal to face the challenge of international financial crisis. That really demonstrated how strong China-US cooperation is and how positive the impact of their cooperation on the world is.

Wang Huiyao: Thank you, Minister Zhu. We should draw lessons from this kind of cooperation we had in fighting the global financial crisis about 13 years ago. We can really be using that spirit to fight the current pandemic as well. You have provided a very good example of how useful it is to work together for the sake of the global prosperity.  Now my staff is telling me there's about half a million people watching us online currently in China and elsewhere globally. We had a very good discussion. At the end of this second of discussion, I'd like to ask John to comment. I know that you've been a professor at the Tsinghua University’s Economics and Management School for many years and you have taught a lot of Chinese students. You have been serving as an honorary chair of Brookings Institution for over a decade, and have been with the Asia Society in the US for several  years. You travel frequently. There's an issue about the students’ exchanges between China and US. I heard that the US Embassy is issuing 1,000 visas a day and by the end of summer, it is going to issue 200,000 visas for Chinese students going to the United States. But looking at the numbers, there's about 2 or 3% of refusal rate. So how do you think we can promote these people-to-people exchanges, business exchange, tourism, cultural exchange and of course, think tanks exchanges during this special time? How we can really work out this travel ban, as we are probably going to have to live with this virus for a long time? If we don't really have international mobility, we may suffer. I'd like to hear from you, John, thanks.

Ties between the commons of US and China are central to forward progress 

John Thornton: Thank you Henry, I can be succinct on this point. To state obvious, the ties between American and Chinese people, to me, are absolutely essential to getting the relationship where it needs to be. I'm hopeful that the younger people who have a vested interest in the long-term future of their countries in the world will be forces for good in a relationship. In one way of thinking about China, for example, you think about roughly 400 million millennials, how they have grown up and how they think about the future. The Chinese leadership needs to be responsive to that group. And the same thing is true in the United States. The ties between those groups are absolutely central to forward progress and I'm pleased to see that the Biden administration - this is one area where they are moving quickly - to rectify the policy of the previous administration, to open back up again, to people-to-people exchange. We all know that the ties are deep and broad, they are state-to-state, universities-to-universities, NGOs-to-NGOs, individuals-to-individuals. It cannot be overstated that the sort of societal trust that needs to be built, was being built and can be built. This is probably the single best insurance policy against untoward policy on the part of the leadership. I think in some ways, the wisdom or common sense of ordinary people can act as a kind of a break against the occasional unwise policies of elites. 

Wang Huiyao: Good, we’ve had a very good discussion. Because the webinar is on air to the public, we received some questions. I just want to cite a few of them. During this last round of concluding remarks, you could also address some of those questions that we collected  from the Chinese media.  China Daily: The US administration made the rounds pushing "lab leak" hypothesis while actually there were cases not just in China but elsewhere. Should we pursue these?China News ServiceThis year marks the 50th anniversary of Dr. Kissinger's visit to China. At the July 9 commemoration, Dr. Kissinger mentioned that the U.S.-China relationship is more critical today than it was in 1971. So, is there any chance that the two sides will somehow “break the ice” again 50 years later? And on the occasion of the 50th anniversary, what is your vision for the future development of China-Us relations?Red Star News: On July 28, Qin Gang, the new Chinese ambassador to the United States, arrived in the United States and delivered a speech. He mentioned that 50 years ago, Dr. Kissinger visited China secretly and knocked on the door of China. The door to Sino-US relations has been opened, and it will not be closed. What do you think of Qin Gang's arrival? Beijing News: on the eve of China’s New Year, president Xi Jinping and the president Biden had a phone call, and also the US and China had a high level talk in Alaska, and recently in Tianjin. How would you comment on the future government to government exchanges between China and the US? What about the prospect of the President Xi and the President Biden’s meeting at the G20 Summit? During our final round of concluding remarks, maybe you can pick up the question you want to address, and add any further thoughts on our theme - balanced competition and cooperation. As Secretary Blinken said, competition, even fierce competition, cooperation and confrontation - probably we don't need the confrontation. So what's your take? Maybe we'll start with Adam again. 

Adam S. Posen: It's been such a rich discussion, and you gave me plenty opportunities to speak. All I would say is that as we're trying to balance competition and cooperation, the key point for both countries, or at least both economies is to allow for some openness and allow the businesses and people in the scholars to cooperate, even if the governments choose to compete. We know from history, including the McCarthy era and the parts of the Cold War in the US that when societies closed down, they create their own corruption and their own abuse of power as well as having obviously economic and human costs. So I think this is where the think tanks to the extent that we are allowed to do so have to be out there reminding people that even if the top government officials in Washington and Beijing want to emphasize the competition that usually gets distorted into abuse of power internally in those countries and we should be calling people out on that. 

Wang Huiyao: Good, Ambassador Roy? 

J. Stapleton Roy: I think the visit to Beijing by Dr. Kissinger 50 years ago is well worth commemorating. Because it illustrated that when national interest is served by cooperation, differences in political and social systems does not have to block that cooperation. The problem with differences in systems, which has become a big issue in the United States in terms of thinking about China, is that at some level, it does influence cooperation, but it shouldn't block it, if it's in the national interest to cooperate. The problem is illustrated by our ability to cooperate with Joseph Stalin, when we were opposing Hitler. But when Hitler had been defeated, our ability to cooperate with the Soviet Union broke down. So, in some ways that's the type of issue we face with China. There are forces in the United States that want to block our cooperation with China because of the differences in our political systems and we need to rethink about the Nixon and Kissinger opening to China at a time when there couldn't have been bigger differences between our domestic systems. China was in the height of the Cultural Revolution when that occurred and yet we set that aside because of the importance of cooperating with China against the Soviet threat. And in my judgment, if we look at what the world requires as our responsibilities as great nations, it is clear to me that the lesson of the Kissinger’s visit to China is, when it is necessary to have cooperation between China and the United States. We should not let the differences in our systems block that type of cooperation. So I think it's a very important visit. Historically, it created the possibilities for the United States and China to create enormous common interests and those common interests in my judgment continue and we have to find ways to cooperate in promoting them. 

Wang Huiyao: Thank you, Ambassador Roy. So Minister Zhu - your concluding remarks. 

Zhu Guangyao: Thank you Huiyao. Today’s situation and the relationship between China and the US, is something different from that of 50 years ago. One very key point is that the Chinese and American economy are so closely connectedNot every year do two countries have more than 500 billion trade, and the investment and global governance coordination between two countries are closely connected. However, we also face new challenges with domestic opinions such as populism in both America and China. This time, we really need strong leadership by two presidents. I think that we must follow the spirit that President Xi and President Biden embraced during their conversation at the Eve of Chinese New Year. Just as Ambassador Roy said, we should expand our common ground and make our cooperation more broad. Also as Adam said, two nations’ social society, including the academic side and people-to-people exchange must be enhanced to solid our people’s base and to make our two great countries understand each other and cooperate more. Thank you. 

Wang Huiyao: Thank you, Minister. Zhu. Now we will have the final words from John, we’d really appreciate your final comments.  

The US and China are responsible to lead the world to a safer and better place 

John  Thornton: There's so much to say, I'll try to be very succinct. I was admiring the efforts on the part of Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, Elon Musk and others to go to space. And if you want to use one's imagination being on these spaceships and looking down on the planet, when you're up there looking down, there's no difference between people living in China, people living in the United States, and people living in Africa. I think that we need to hold ourselves to a higher standard and be more conscious of the fact that we live on one planet and the issues are only going to get more complicated and more complex as we go forward. The United States and China, which are the two leading countries now and will be for a very long time, they have a very big burden. The burden is they are responsible to lead the world to a safer and better place. Therefore, when we talk about competition and cooperation, I can understand and be comfortable with both of those ideas between the countries. But when we add the idea of confrontation, to me that's absolutely out of the question, and we shouldn't even be considering that as a concept. The world simply can't take it. We shouldn't waste any time on it. As I said in my earlier comments, should the leading countries of the world really be spending their time arguing or trying to do each other down, or should they be spending their time trying to get the world to a better place? To me the answer is very obvious. And the sooner we recognize that, the better, and we have a right to demand of our leaders that they get the big things right, as Nixon, Mao, Kissinger, and Zhou Enlai did 50 years ago. Thank you. 

Wang Huiyao: Thank you, John. You talked about all the recent space trips and looking down to the Earth from outer space to see that we are all really one. I remember the 2008 Beijing Olympics’ slogan then was One World, One Dream. This year, the Olympic in Tokyo actually enriches the motto of the Olympic – “Faster, Higher, Stronger“ by adding  “Together”. So I think it's really great that we are adding a new dimension. So tonight the dialogue between the US and China think tanks at our 7th Annual CCG Forum was a vivid example. I think you all had shed a very good light, proposed very good insights, recommendations and suggestions and it’s really great for communication. We’ve had over half a million viewers and we covered many grounds, from economic, social, international relations, geo-politics. I totally agree with what John just said at the last minute that we can compete and cooperate, but not confront. Let's have the Olympic kind of peaceful competition. But we should have a lot of cooperation too, like climate change, minimum tax, nuclear issues, North Korea, Iran, Afghanistan – which is another really urgent issue now. I think that the Tianjin high-level meeting has covered all these grounds, and identified a number of areas to collaborate. We have also covered how we can revive the world by facilitating the movement of the people, like a global vaccine passport, or vaccines that can quickly be sent out  the developing countries.

 So I really appreciate all your time and I also look forward to continuing our conversation like we did with the Wilson Center in the past and we hope to do that with Peterson Institute and of course, Brookings and Asia Society. I'm having another two dialogues with Asia society’s Vice President, Wendy Cutler and Ex-WTO Director General Pascal Lamy , and Ex-Assistant Deputy Secretary of State Susan Thornton anf Asia Society’s Hong Kong Chair, Ronnie Chan for the last two rounds of online webnairs. On behalf of CCG,  I want to thank Adam Posen, President of the Peterson Institute, Stape Roy, Founding Director of the Kissinger Institute of the Wilson Center. And of course, John Thornton, the Honorary Chair of the Brookings and the Co-Chair of Asia Society, and of course, my fellow counselor to the State Council Counsellors’ Office, Minister Zhu Guangyao. And we thank all the audience and we look forward to the future dialogues. So once again, thank all of you, thank our viewers and we appreciate our speakers’ time. Thank you all very much. 

Note: The above text is the output of transcribing from an audio recording. It is posted as a reference for the discussion.

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