CCG Dialogue with Neil Bush and David FiresteinCCG | August 30 , 2021
On August 30, the Center for China and Globalization (CCG) hosted a stimulating dialogue with Neil Bush, son of former US President George H.W. Bush and founder of the George H.W. Bush Foundation for U.S. – China Relations, and David Firestein, an experienced diplomat and CEO and President of the Foundation. Themes of the dialogue included the legacy of George H. W. Bush and US-China collaboration in global health, climate change, energy and exchange programs.
Seven months into the tenure of his presidency, President Biden has made great efforts in containing the pandemic and the subsequent economic disruption as well as introducing bold policies that will have far-reaching implications for the future of America and the world. However, the new administration has not brought improvements to US-China relations as many had hoped.
Fifty years ago, ping-pong diplomacy and Henry Kissinger’s secret trip to China ushered in a new era of US-China relations that brought decades of economic prosperity to the two countries. Fifty years later, Washington and Beijing are now locked in a precarious balance between competition and cooperation. After Anchorage and Tianjin Meetings, analysts from all over the world are looking for signs of potential breakthrough in the diplomatic stalemate. The recent nomination of Nicolas Burns as US ambassador to China, alongside US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken’s call with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, and US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen’s reported plan to visit China, have prompted renewed hopes for bilateral cooperation.
On August 30, the Center for China and Globalization (CCG) hosted a stimulating dialogue with Neil Bush, son of former US President George H.W. Bush and founder of the George H.W. Bush Foundation for U.S. – China Relations, and David Firestein, an experienced diplomat and CEO and President of the Foundation. Themes of the dialogue included the legacy of George H. W. Bush and US-China collaboration in global health, climate change, energy and exchange programs.
A Leap Forward: China’s transformation was unimaginable
Wang Huiyao: Good evening and also good morning. This is Wang Huiyao, founder and president of the Center for China and Globalization. I’m the host for this dialogue from CCG’s head office in Beijing. We’re really pleased to welcome all of you to tune in for this CCG global dialogue series and it’s live from Beijing. Thank you for joining us today. This is the 12th episode and we are very honored and pleased to have two distinguished guests from George H. W. Bush Foundation for US-China Relations today. The Bush-China Foundation was founded in May 2017 by Neil Bush with blessing and support of President George H. W. Bush and began full operations on September 2019. Actually, this special dialogue event is held against the background of the 50-year anniversary of Dr. Kissinger’s visit to China. It also started the fifty years of exchanges between China and the United States. This year is also the 50th year of China resuming its legal seat in the United Nations. I remember George H. W. Bush was actually the UN ambassador of the United States in 1971. when the time China resumed its membership in the United Nations. It’s not a coincidence that China started this kind of exchange with US 50 years ago and Dr. Kissinger visited China in July and China resumed its seat in the United Nation in October 1971.
We know that it probably sets a record for the Bush family to have had two members to have become the president of the United States: President George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush. On top of that, we are very honored to have the Bush Foundation talking to our audience in China today.
With this background, I want to mention that George H. W. Bush, was the US envoy, who was also called “the bicycle ambassador to China” during the US liaison office in Beijing between 1974 to 1975. So Neil Bush, the founder of the Bush Foundation, you were also in China at that time and you made a lot of visits since then. I’m very pleased to talk about the Bush legacy and also the implications for China-US relations tonight in retrospect but also half a century later, to look forward to the future prospect of China-US relations, I would like to say that George H. W. Bush, not only was the liaison office envoy to China, but also was president in 1989 and he paid a visit to China after one month after taking in office, the soonest to have done so after taking office. And his son, George W. Bush, Neil Bush’s brother, had made four visits to China, which was really impressive. During the 2008 Olympic Games, both Presidents visited China. It’s such a memorable past of the good relations we have.
President George H. W. Bush said, “We value the new relationship our two countries have established with each other… We remain firmly committed to the principles set forth in those three joint communique that forms the basis of our relationship.” And he wrote in his China Diaries in 2007: “I love the Chinese people, one of my dreams for our world is that these two powerful giants will continue working toward full partnership and friendship that will bring peace and prosperity to people everywhere.” So we are celebrating this great legacy in this memorable moment.
Now I would like to introduce two distinguished guests joining us tonight. Neil Bush is founder and the chair of the George H. W. Bush Foundation for US-China Relations. He’s the third of the five children of President and Mrs. George H. W. Bush. He has actually been involved with energy, real estate and international business development for four decades, beginning in 1980. For the past 25 years, Mr. Bush has been engaging in various international business development activities with a focus on China. He first visited China in 1975, when his father was the chief liaison officer representing the United States in Beijing. His business and personal interests have allowed for many return trips to China over the years. Since 1975, Mr. Bush has traveled to China for over 140 times and has visited over 40 cities in China. It’s indeed a remarkable record. I think probably only Dr. Kissinger has made that many trips but probably you had made more.
Another distinguished guest I’d like to introduce is David Firestein. He’s the inaugural president and CEO of the George H. W. Bush Foundation for US-China Relations or you can call it the Bush China Foundation. And also the founding and current member of the foundation board directors. Prior to joining the Bush China Foundation, Mr. Firestein was the founding executive director of the University of Texas at Austin’s China Public Policy Center. He’s also a Professor at the UT’s Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs. Before moving to the University of Texas, Mr. Firestein served as a senior vice president and perot fellow of the NYC based East-West Institute, where he led the institute’s track II diplomacy dialogue. So Mr. Firestein is a very experienced and seasoned diplomat in US-China relations. From 1990 to 2010, Mr. Firestein specialized primarily in the US- China relations so he is a very old friend of China and also a very senior China hand. I remember we hosted you at a CCG event in 2012 during which you gave an analysis of the 2012 US President Election, and it was almost a decade ago. Now we see tremendous changes.
So, President George H. W. Bush was a pioneer in the US China Diplomacy. He was the US chief diplomatic envoy in China during the 1974 to 1975, which was before US and China formally established diplomatic ties. Neil, I remember you said your first visit to China was in 1975 and you continued traveling to China on a regular basis since then. Given you have traveled to China many times and that you have witnessed first-hand in the last five decades the tremendous changes that China has made, maybe you can give your first assessment of what you see in the relationship.
Neil Bush: First of all, Henry, thank you so much for having us on your show as part of the dialogue. You do such wonderful work, bringing ideas out and helping to inform the public. I think I’ll start by reflecting back on October of 1971. You mentioned that China was re-admitted to the UN and I happened to be in New York City during that vote. My dad worked tirelessly promoting the two China representation concept. That was the position of the US government at the time. They got voted down and China was admitted and Taiwan was kicked out. The first thing my dad did when the Chinese delegation arrived into the United States was inviting them to a lunch at my grandmother’s home in Connecticut to show American hospitality to welcome them with open arms. And from that point on, his first real contact with Chinese leaders, my dad, as you pointed out in the letter you referred to, has had affection for the Chinese people and has high aspirations for how our two great countries should be working together.
Yes, I was there in 1975. Three of my siblings and I visited China for five weeks. We were in Beijing for four weeks and then traveled with my mother by train to Wuxi, Nanjing, and Shanghai. It has been a remarkable thing to sit on the sidelines and to witness this incredible growth that China has experienced over the past 46 years when I was first there. The China I saw in 1975 , I don’t want to be offensive to anyone, but it was basically freedomless. Everyone was equal – they were equally poor and people were friendly towards us. We rode our bikes all over the place and we were treated very kindly. But there is propaganda machines everywhere. Everywhere you go, the word was being spouted out. At the end of the Cultural Revolution, people were still being sent to the countryside and many people couldn’t make daily choices, which clearly, they can make today. So looking back 46 years later, if I were back in 1975, I couldn’t have predicted or imagined that China would have had hundreds of millions of people lifted out of poverty, that the middle class would be growing as rapidly as it is, that the economy continues to turn out new jobs and crank out wealth for people, that people would enjoy daily freedoms that frankly back then were clearly unimaginable happening in China. I’ve been deeply impressed by this. I think one of the things that separates me from other folks is the fact that I’ve been there and seen it grow over the many years. I’ve come to some deep conclusions. One, there’s no single system that works for every country. Every country needs to develop a system that is suitable and fitting for the conditions of that country. China system has worked for China. If you look at the results over the many years over the 46 years since I was there over the 40 something years since formal ties have been established. The results speak for themselves. I am a believer that our system works for us and the Chinese system works for China. We need to be respectful of that. I’ve been amazed to be able to witness this change in China. No one could have predicted it back 46 years ago.
Wang Huiyao: Thank you, Neil. You are absolutely the witness of these great transformation that has been taken place in China for the last five decades. Since China re-established its position at the UN, also, since your father as the envoy visited China in 1974 to 1975, the US and China normalized their relations which has paved the way for great progress that followed. I’m glad to hear that your father actually hosted the lunch for the Chinese delegates to the UN which was really early on. Your father served as the Vice President of Ronald Reagan for eight years and also served as President of the United states, he had done a lot of memorable work. As he said, the two great giants should work together- absolutely, for the benefit of mankind.
Do you still remember some of the things you’ve seen in Beijing? So you say you were here for 4 weeks. I remember your father was riding a bicycle and he rode a bike at Tiananmen Square. What about you when you and your father first came?
Neil Bush: We had the same experience. We rode bikes all over the place. It was really fun. We rode to Tiananmen Square. I distinctly remember pulling up to a stop sign, where the guards were there with their hands up and the crowd of bikes were stopped and gathered. When [they saw] those of us that were from America, the kind of white guys with long noses, they looked over and saw us and they almost fell off their bikes. We went to the zoo, Henry, to go see the pandas and other animals, and you look behind us and there was a bigger crowd following us at the zoo than they were looking at the animals. But it was a friendly adventure for us. One of the things I observed, and this is something dad and I talked about during that trip, was that if you observe Chinese consumers, individuals, walking by a bike shop or a shop that had kitchen utensils or whatever, you could see in their eyes that they wanted more, that they wanted a better bike, a better “flying pigeon”. And so it was pretty clear that there were aspirations even then that have now led to this incredible growth and the realization of potential. But yeah, now I have vivid memories of it. And now I go back to China, cars are everywhere. It’s totally transformed. High-speed rail and internet connectivity everywhere. It’s like a whole new world that couldn’t have been imagined back in the bicycle-riding days of the 1970s.
Wang Huiyao: Yeah, great memory thank you. We really see China developed from a bicycle kingdom to an automobile kingdom, now the largest automobile market in the world in four decades’ time.
Neil Bush: It’s a leap forward. As I mentioned, high-speed rail. Other developing countries or even developed countries in the world can’t keep up with China in the deployment of high-speed rail and I’ve been on many train rides that have been very efficient. They are quiet. They are fast. They are clean. There’s a leap of capability that China is enjoying that really sets it apart in many respects. So yeah, it has gone from bicycle- to car-consuming capital of the world and also now a leap to the high-speed rail.
Wang Huiyao: Yes, that’s right, you see all the different stages. So, David, you also lived in China for many years – actually for 20 years – and you’ve been involved with China as a diplomat but also now you are still working on this. So what’s your impression of China now that you are the president of the Bush China Foundation? So what are your memories and also how do you think the Bush Foundation, for both Neil and you, to take this forward? Maybe you can give me more discussion on that.
David J. Firestein: Henry, thank you so much and again, it’s an honor to be with you. So grateful for the opportunity to have this conversation. I first went to China in 1984, so 9 years later than Neil did and yet I absolutely understand everything that Neil was saying in terms of the transformation that has occurred in China. The degree to which average people, since the 1970s and 1980s to the present day, have seen their ability to make choices for themselves in their daily lives has grown in ways that, just as Neil said, was really unimaginable to the average Chinese citizen back in the 1970s or in the 1980s when I first visited China as a teenager and later as a college student. But just the ability to choose whether to go to college or what your major might be or to choose to perhaps study abroad and do undergraduate work abroad rather than in China. The ability to choose where you live and to purchase a home. The ability to choose where you work or how long you work there. In the old unit system, or the danwei system back in the old days, you didn’t have a say over where you work and whether you could quit and so forth and so on, and now all those choices are available to average people all across the country. The ability to have those kinds of decisions within your own grasp and within your own decision-making authority, that’s probably the most fundamental transformation that I have seen in China. It is very much as Neil laid out. I think if I were summarizing it in one idea or one sentence, it would be that when I first visited China in the 1980s, I think the average citizen didn’t feel that they had a lot of control over their own destiny with respect to these myriad really important decisions in their personal lives. But now, and certainly since the 1990s and unquestionably today, the average Chinese citizen feels that they have vastly more ability to shape their future than they did in the 1970s, 1980s and so on. So it has been an incredible transformation. And, of course, that’s to say nothing of the physical transformation that has occurred in China and that you, Henry and Neil, were just discussing.
At the Bush China Foundation, or the George H. W. Bush Foundation for US-China Relations, our mission is to advance the U.S. China relationship in ways that reflect the ethos, spirits and values of President George H.W. Bush. As you mentioned at the outset, when Neil founded the George H.W. Bush Foundation for US- China relations with the blessing and support of his father, George H.W. Bush, that was very much the mindset. I am so honored to be able to work side by side with Neil to carry forward George H. W. Bush’s vision for the relationship. Henry, you mentioned one of President George H. W. Bush’s most famous quotes when it comes to China and it’s one that we talk about all the time at the foundation. But I want to note that fundamentally the George H.W. Bush vision for the relationship is grounded in two beliefs – core beliefs I would say. Number one, the U.S.-China relationship is the single most consequential bilateral relationship in the world and in fact, I would say in the history of the world. And number two, that no major international problem, or challenge, can be enduringly resolved in the absence of an affective U.S.-China cooperation. That’s what President George HW Bush believed. That’s what Neil believes. That’s what I believe. And that’s what our foundation is all about: to try to facilitate U.S.-China engagement and collaboration, not out of altruism, but because it’s good for both countries, it’s good for the relationship and it’s good for the world. And I couldn’t be prouder to work for and with Neil and to be a part of this incredible foundation.
Wang Huiyao: Yeah, thank you, David. Absolutely, the Bush China Foundation has done many things. I notice in the last several years, you have done the conferences and webinars related to many areas. So exactly, we need this foundation to promote better understanding and exchanges between our two countries.
Neil Bush: Yeah, I’d like to piggyback off that comment by reminding you and others that my dad, after he retired from the presidency, chose to be active in establishing dialogues much like your program, Henry, between China and the United States. He did so in the form of a conference – the US China Relations Conference that he co-hosted with an old friend, Madame Li Xiaoling, on the Chinese side. That conference he attended, he actively promoted, he brought in representation from the US side, the Chinese side, brought in equal representation. I think he attended and hosted 5 or 6 of those. So that was basically the founding of our organization. Those are the roots of where our organization sprouted from. As he got older and couldn’t actually participate in these conferences, he asked me to chair from the U.S. side and it just spun out. Out of that spun the George H. W. Bush Foundation for US-China Relations. He was very pleased to see that the programmatic activity, starting with his conferences, has now expanded to many other areas under David’s very capable leadership. And by the way, I don’t know if your audience would like to hear this, but that David speaks perfectly fluent Chinese is something apparently amazing to me. After 140 visits you think I’d be able to say, “one more beer, please,” but that’s about it, and “Nihao” and “Zaijian.” But anyway, David speaks fluent Chinese. He’s a great leader for our organization.
US-China trade war tariffs have been detrimental in every way
Wang Huiyao: I see that George H.W. Bush has actually started this tradition of China-US conferences. For many years, I remember many friends have attended that and have spoken highly of the efforts of the conference in promoting exchanges, dialogues and understanding of the two countries. All this time is really valuable given his advice and his presence. I am glad that you succeeded him in doing this and also now coupled with David. I know David is a perfect China-hand. He is probably one of the best foreign Mandarin speakers that you could find. He has interpreted for many senior people too. So I remember when we invited David to come to speak at a CCG event in 2012, which was almost 10 years ago, he already impressed me then. Also, he has written many books, two of them was writing in Chinese. That is very rare for any foreigners. Both your father, George H. W. Bush, and your brother, George W. Bush, are Republican presidents, and they have made the most visits to China. Your father stayed in China for a year or two. Your brother made four presidential visits – two official visits, one APEC Summit and one for the Olympic Game.
There’s a lot of good relationship-building and dialogue exchanges. Somehow, unfortunately, for the last several years, probably the last 5 years, particularly since Republic President Trump took office, we see China-US relations somehow deteriorate quite a bit. So this kind of deterioration, we are not very sure what are the reasons. Even now President Biden comes up, and they still say the US relationship with China can be cooperative and competitive but it also can be a rivalry. We don’t want to be a rivalry – President Trump started this trade war and trade sanctions against China. We see many Republicans actually are calling for lifting those tariffs as I was just talking recently, with Wendy Cutler, the formal Acting USTR. She was saying that maybe we should lift those tariffs as it’s no good for China and for the US as well. Recently, the US-China Business Council has done a survey that found that the tariffs have actually cost the U.S. almost a quarter million jobs. But still, China-US imports and exports as well as trade have increased. So how do you two assess the current China-U.S. relations and how we can really improve that to for a bit of normalcy while we are now in such a deteriorating position? I’ve been talking with a number of U.S. opinion leaders like Graham Allison, Joseph Nye and of course, John Thotnton just recently, and also , Susan Thornton and Ambassador Roy. They all say, we shouldn’t have a Cold War. We should not decouple and they have all that kind of a consensus. How can both countries work better towards a better relation given your foundation’s view and maybe your personal views as well?
Neil Bush: You know, I might take a high-level stab at this and then let David dive deeper. First of all, you referenced the deterioration in the relationship and it strikes me that there are a number of converging factors that have led to the US side becoming fearful of China’s rise and that fear is reflected in rhetoric that has become quite harsh under the Trump Administration. And with that became a kind of an isolationist approach of stepping back and not having dialogues, my dad believed at his core that countries, families and friends need to stay in touch with one another in order to better understand one another, in order to put yourself in the other guy’s shoes, so that when conflict arises you can address those conflicts in a mature way. We got away from that for 5 years or so and maybe even prior to that. David can give his analysis. That coupled with the US problem of “America first,” “build the wall,” anti-immigrant, and “we are the greatest country on the face of the planet,” and to see China’s economic rise to whereas it’s now at parity or you know just behind the US economy on a gross basis, not per capita, but gross basis. You know a lot of politicians are fearful of losing our prominence in that way. And then a third factor is politically given that there’s not very good information about China floating around in this ecosystem in the US, politically China is an easy target. We see politicians blasting the Communist Party as though it was the party that manifested itself in different ways very early in the People’s Republic of China’s history. So then there’s a lot of China bashing. And it gets to the Thucydides Trap issue – as China rises and America being the prominent power in the world facing this rising power, how are we going to react? A lot of people in our country and many politicians are reacting quite poorly to it and thinking that China is an existential threat to our economic and national security. And by the way, I’ll quickly hasten to add that clearly any bilateral relationship is going to have issues between countries. We have issues with France. We have issues with Germany. We have issues with Israel. We have issues with our closest friends. We’re going to have issues with China and we’re going to address them. We have values that we stand firmly behind. We’re going to express those values in a way that’s hopefully respectful and not finger-pointing or in a derogatory way. We’ll express our values in the hopes that we can help shape outcomes in that kind of thing. But the ultimate goal should be to come together as often as possible in as many different ways as possible and do to resolve challenges respectfully and maturely. I’m going to let David talk about the tariffs. My view of the tariffs is: it was such a stupid idea to start with – raising tariffs that was a tax on American consumers, hurting American businesses, which David can get in the statistics. It was a non-starter. Trump and people behind him, their idea was that if we have a trade deficit with a country, we’ve got to re-address that by putting up tariffs and balancing out the trade. But the reality is that in global trade, some countries have goods that are good quality, goods that are provided at a lower cost that richer countries want to buy. Poorer countries and developing countries can’t afford to buy the stuff from the poor countries. Therefore, there’s going to be a trade imbalance and that’s OK. There’s nothing in Economics 101 that says that a trade imbalance is unnatural or inappropriate or bad. So it was a silly thesis in the first place. Deep down inside, that logic might have been to be punitive towards the Chinese to try to set the Chinese economy back. But that was illogical as well. So it was a failed policy that needs to be reversed.
David Firestein: Just to pick up on the really good points that Neil made about tariffs. Even before Neil and I met each other 3 years ago, we were both very much critical of the US policy on tariffs, the Trump tariffs, on the same grounds that they’re bad for America and American companies, they’re bad for American workers, they kill jobs, they blow out the deficit and they do nothing to solve any of the core problems that do exist between the United States and China and the trade area. And I agree fully with everything Neil just said with respect to tariffs and we, as individuals, as a foundation, have been very outspoken, maybe more outspoken than almost any other entity in the country when it comes to how bad for America the tariffs are. Let me cite a couple of things and I’ll move to the broader question that have been asked, but I think this needs to be said.
The numbers are in, the jury is in with respect to the tariffs. We don’t have to speculate or offer opinions about it, we can actually look at the factual record. Under President Trump, we had the highest US trade deficit with China in American history. Under President Trump, we had the highest average annual merchandise trade deficit with China of any presidency in the history. So to compare apples to apples, the entire presidency, the average annual deficit with China was higher under Trump than any other previous presidency. Those numbers speak for themselves. It wasn’t just a one-year wonder type of phenomenon, it was 4 years, the US trade deficit with the world grew to record levels under President Trump. We lost manufacturing jobs, tens of thousands of them under President Trump. We lost jobs overall, 250,000, as Neil just cited from the US-China Business Council, under these imbecilic policies. The historic US trade surplus with China in agriculture became a trade deficit. For the first time in 25 years, something that none of us thought was even possible. American consumers ended up paying more to the tune of about a thousand or even $2000 a year, more than they were before the tariffs came into play. By every single metric that you can possibly cite, the tariffs were just exactly as Neil said, an absolutely failed policy that was horrible for America and we need to get rid of it.
The Trump tariffs were predicated on the idea that comparative advantage doesn’t exist and that is as unrepublican and unamerican of a thought as you could ever conceive. Comparative advantage does exist and we have to get back to the idea that the pie gets bigger when countries produce what they’re best at producing. And even imperfect trade is better than no trade. So we’ve got to get back to classical American thinking. And I want to briefly say that the George H.W. Bush Foundation or US-China relations, is true to the values and beliefs of President George H.W. Bush, is a pro-business, pro-trade, pro-globalization organization, unapologetically. Because we understand economics and we understand that trade is good for America, it’s good for the world and we want to move back in that direction and we advocate in that direction.
Henry, to your broader question about the fact that originally Republicans were at the cutting edge of getting the US China relationship in its modern form, going back to President Nixon and of course, Secretary Kissinger and obviously the incredible role that President George H.W. Bush played, and other Republicans along the way. The point that I want to make is that for most of the last 50 years, up until about 5 years ago, the idea that engaging China and having a constructive and robust and healthy and functional relationship with China, it was not just a Republican idea, it was it was a bipartisan consensus that held from through the presidencies of 7 or 8 presidents dating back to Nixon and through the end of the term of President Barack Obama, it only changed during President Trump’s Campaign and as he came into office. But there has always been a bipartisan consensus that it is good for America to engage China, notwithstanding the difficulties and, I would frankly say, the irreconcilable differences that we have between our countries. Even with all of that that, there is value and benefit to engaging China, working together, being clear-eyed about the relationship certainly, but coming together to solve problems that neither country can solve on its own. That consensus has existed up until the Trump era.
Now we have a new consensus, unfortunately, in official Washington, and that is that China is really the enemy of our nation. There’s a vast swath of official Washington that seems to believe that, and there’s a significant swath of the American public that has come to believe that. I think Neil and I and the Bush Foundation reject that belief, but I think that belief is rooted in 2 erroneous assessments of China’s intentions. One, that China seeks to displace the United States and supplant the United States as the world’s only superpower, which is an absolutely fundamental misreading of what China actually wants to do. Number two, that China seeks to replicate its system all across the world and create a bunch of countries that look exactly like China, and to push forward its system across the world so that there are more systems that look like China than there are today. I think those are incorrect understandings of what China actually seeks to do, and the fundamental premises of US policy toward China are wrong. The resulting policies that purport to address those concerns are going to veer of course, and I think that’s what we’ve seen over the last several years. So we need to have a sharp focus on US interests and to get the emotions out of our policy formulation and policy execution, and focus, as President George H. W. Bush did, on the long term interests of our nation. And I think if we do that, we can get this relationship back on course.
“Covid peace” depends on the US and China collaborating in addressing the pandemic and climate change
Henry Wang: Thank you. For the last 5-6 years, there seems to be more misunderstanding between the 2 countries. And I think we will need to work hard to really to get better dialogue and understanding, exactly like what we are doing tonight. I think that working on trade is an absolutely obvious thing to do. Since the Second World War, the trade boom has given prosperity to the world, and it has prevented the Third World War and we’re still living in peace and prosperity largely because of trade.
And the comparative advantage that you talked about – David Ricardo has a theory that countries do best when they exchange. The US has many areas such as technology as well as its financial power and the internet in which it has dominance. And China has been doing well in infrastructure and also many other areas – I see a lot of collaboration there. But unfortunately, the whole world is facing a huge challenge. We’ve been in this pandemic, COVID-19 – which is now “COVID-22”, which is really still cutting us off, at least in terms of travel. How do you think that we should really work together on this? Because I see this as the biggest opportunity – I was talking to Susan Thorton, former acting Assistant Secretary of State of the US and she was saying that COVID-19 could be the best occasion for the US and China to let bygone be bygone and concentrate on this common threat, our enemy number one to mankind, rather than now, we have actually become more divided because of COVID-19. There’s the origin-tracing issue, blaming and finger pointing on China. How can we fight this pandemic? How can we revive world travel? How can we work together with the WTO? The US now is lifting some of the lockdown, but there’re surges again in some areas. With the experience of the US and China, maybe we can really work together with regards to vaccine recognition and travel exchanges. Now, according to the US Embassy here, in the last 3 months, from May to July, the US embassy has issued almost 85,000 student visa. We had a mile-long queue at the Pudong International Airport – students are going to the United States to study and yet US students still cannot come to China. How can we really get the US and China to focus on pandemic-fighting, rather than finger-pointing and shouting at each other?
Neil Bush: That’s a great question, and it’s a question I would ask on a number of major topics that affect the sustainability of life on Earth for humans, including climate change, food insecurity, everything health-related. The pandemic is kind of the most obvious and most pressing matters that you brought up. But because of climate change, we have all kinds of natural disasters. How can we learn to either alter course of this climate change, so that the Earth will be able to carry on for many more years beyond the current trajectory … so these are big issues and clearly the 2 largest economies in the world, as David pointed out in his opening comment, have to work together. In fact, it’s hard to imagine solving these issues without the collaboration of China in the United States, there’s a clear mandated necessity for all of us to share our common humanity in addressing these kinds of issues. And I agree with you on the frustration over the finger pointing, especially at the beginning of the outbreak. We had messaging coming out of the White House that said that it’s just going to be here for a little, we have 13 cases and it’s all going to go away; we’re going to have a mask mandate but I’m not going to wear mask; everybody should get vaccinated, but there’s no real push and so there was a huge kind of anti-vac movement in the United States. We don’t have a national pride or national drive to combat this pandemic in a way that we, as a nation, could. But we should learn from one another. We should be open minded about looking at what New Zealand has done, what Australia is done, what China has done and what other countries have done. We should share the best technologies that exist for vaccine development and have manufacturers all over the world convert their manufacturing to vaccine manufacturing of qualified vaccines so that the global population could be more readily vaccinated against this pandemic, the spread of it through the various variants and the drugs that they can be administered. All of these kinds of things need an environment of collaboration, which, sadly, doesn’t exist today. I’m convinced that things will change overtime. I may be the only one that says this, but I do believe that this administration is already creating more opportunities for exchange and dialogue and inevitably when you sit down and you have dialogue with counterparts, good things come out of it: better understanding in addressing of serious issues in the topic of collaborating on the pandemic and healthcare-related issues in general should be front and center on the table for discussion.
Wang Huiyao: Yeah, we should really work together and also learn from each other. We need a lot of cooperation in combating COVID-19. Actually, this could be a punishment from nature that we’re not really respect a sustainable nature and climate change is huge lesson for us. David, what’s your take on this?
David Firestein: I think Neil has said it really well. I would just amplify one point with respect to COVID-19 and let me make a broader point to at the outset. Absolutely, COVID-19 and pandemics generally in global public health, even more broadly, are areas where the United States and China should be collaborating. Because these are the very definition of the kinds of issues, and they’re not the only ones, where no one country by definition can solve these problems. These problems require a collaboration from all the major players in the world. And instead of thinking of COVID-19, here in the United States, as a kind of wedge issue between the United States and China, we ought to be thinking of it, just as Neil said, and Henry, as you said, as an opportunity for collaboration, not because it’s a warm and fuzzy or altruistic thing to do, but because lives depend on our ability to collaborate. And as I said in an interview in May or so of last year, when a house is on fire, the first thing you do is ask who’s in the house and how do we get him out. You don’t ask who started the fire. Yet we saw in the United States, this propensity to demonize China, to lambast China and to assume the absolute worst about its motivations. What we really should have been talking about at that time was how do we save lives and how do we work together to bring as early an end to this pandemic as we possibly can. And with respect to this particular facet of the issue, I just want to say here what I and we as a foundation of said emphatically many times, and that was the racially charged, and I would say racist rhetoric that emanated from President Trump and other senior members of the executive branch, the then Secretary of State., Mr. Pompeo and members of Congress, was despicable. It was repugnant, it was deplorable, it was wrong and it was far beneath the dignity of any office holder in this nation. It is not how we should be communicating. People were using terms “China virus”, “Chinese virus”, or even worse, “Kung Flu”. This is a disgrace, this brings shame on our nation for any serious political figure elected or appointed to use that kind of reprehensible language and of course, as a result and predictably, it drove the numbers of Anti-Asian racist violence through the roof and that is deplorable an absolutely tragic. So we as a foundation spoke out and continue to speak out about this. We’ve got to get back to, I think we are now under this administration, a much more mature and less juvenile style of communication. Because when you start throwing around these types of terms, any possibility of collaboration goes out the door, even if there really are valuable areas where we ought to be collaborating. So the language matters, the communication matters, and what I wouldn’t give to have a way of thinking about communication and thinking about bringing people together of the type that we saw under the presidency of George H.W. Bush. To his credit, President Joe Biden has gotten rid of that kind of language, he’s banned it from the White House. He said he will fire people for using language that is not appropriate for the White House of our nation, and he’s done it. I think we’re getting back to some of the norms that were established under many presidents, but that is a really important part of the covid peace. If we don’t communicate in a mature and professional and serious and businesslike way, any hope of collaboration that would benefit all of us becomes very remote.
Henry Wang: Thank you Neil and David for your very open and frank and positive discussion. I think that we need to improve our communication. COVID-19 already separated us, we can’t have a face to face meetings, so we should really be careful of our languages in exchanges. I’m glad to see that President Biden, when he came to office, he actually signed an executive order banning the use of ethnic language in referring to the virus. So that is a good sign. We hope that things can get better. I know that now, we can talk more on that, President Biden has already been in office for over 6 months. And China and the US, we’ve had several rounds of a discussion. We had the Alaska encounter with Secretary Blinken and Chinese senior diplomats. Recently, we had deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman come to Tianjin, where the second round of discussion took place. And so it seems the second time is better than the first time.
I think one of the best was actually when the formal Secretary of State, now as special envoy, John Kerry’s first visit to China for the first time. They communicated on the climate change and collaboration and John Kerry has planned to visit China in the next several days. I know that John Thornton, the honorary chair of the Brookings is currently in China meeting with the Minister of Environment and has had a lot of constructive dialogues. So we hope that we can now face those huge issues and challenges, the US and China can work together on those most critical issues to mankind and to the 7.5 billion people in the world because the two largest economies in the world have more responsibility to do that. How can we really improve? What are the low-hanging fruits? Can we start with climate change, so that we can get some positive news? Can we have the US students back in China? Or can we have the consulate resumed in both Houston and Texas and in China?
Neil Bush: Actually, I think I may pass the buck over to David, I’m curious about his response on the student travel as you’ve mentioned that a couple of times. One of the great blessings of connectivity is having so many thousands of students come to the United States every year. We’re a land of immigrants and I know these students aren’t immigrating, but it’s wonderful how America has taken the best of talent from all over the world. They come to this part of the world, they learn and go back to their countries, or stay and help us build our economies. There’s so much value to those student experiences, both US students going to China and vice versa. David, what’s the prospect for that activity cranking back up again?
David Firestein: First of all, with respect to students, it is encouraging to see us getting back toward something that looks more normal, in terms of the flow of students and the flow of people within the constraints of COVID-19, which are significant. At least we’re moving back in the right direction. There was a 12-month period where, year over year. From 2019 to mid 2020, we actually saw literally a 99% drop in US student visa issuance to Chinese students from 80,000 to 800, approximately. That was the scale – at one point, we issued 80,000 pieces, and then over the next 12 months, we issued 800. Some of that obviously was Covid, but a lot of it was also just a very fundamentally different view under the Trump administration about the value, or what they would have regarded as the lack of value in having students from China come to this country. What Neil understands, what I understand and what Henry understands is that, actually there’s huge value in having students from all over the world come to this country and contribute to our research and development, contribute to scholarship at universities, contribute to the development of new ideas and innovation in new companies. And the notion that by turning off that spigot that is good for America is just about as dumb an idea in terms of the modern 21st century economy as I can imagine. And so to see it move back toward a more normal level, at least in terms of Chinese students coming to the United States, and I certainly hope will see an analogous upward tick in US students getting back to China once the overall health situation allows for that, these exchanges are great for our countries and we need to increase them not decrease them.
Just as a side note, relative to Henry’s question. In terms of what’s the low hanging fruit, in addition to getting student numbers back up, I think we need to get the Fulbright program back up and running again, we need to get other cultural and educational exchanges back up and running, we need to get the US Peace Corps functioning in China again, assuming China still welcomes that. Yes, of course, Henry you’re right. We need to get the two consulates back up and running again, Neil and I both feel very strongly about that, and so many other Americans. We’re not helping anybody by shutting down the Chinese Consulate General in Houston or the US Consulate General in Chengdu. It hinders both countries’ abilities to provide services for citizens to support business, trade, and so forth. There are a number of things in that area but Henry, the final point I would make that I think is goes to your question, there are areas that the Biden ministration identified very early on, as areas that are fruitful and that are potentially very beneficial to both countries in terms of collaboration. One is public health, we’ve talked about that. Let me also note, both China and the United States made some very serious mistakes in their early handling of COVID-19, there’s no question about it. That being said, the question now is how do we actually make the situation better? We’ve talked about COVID-19 but also the issue of climate change just as Neil noted and as Henry you noted at the outset, the issue of arms control, the issue of nuclear nonproliferation, including on the Korean Peninsula, but not limited to that particular space. Now the issue of Afghanistan, the United States and China need to come together and talk about this incredible and tragic situation that we now see in Afghanistan. And I think there are much to discuss the question of Iran’s nuclear ambitions and other issues, piracy on the high seas. There are a whole host of areas where it’s in each country’s interest to work together. And we just need to set emotions aside. Yes, we disagree with China. We as a nation disagree with China on many numbers of issues. And China disagrees with America. Yes, China does some things that are immensely problematic for America, no question. And America does some things that are very problematic for China. We have to set that aside, in a clear eyed way, and focus on where we can make a difference and there are a lot of areas where we can, and that’s what I hope will see over the coming years.
Exchange programs should be restored between the US and China
Wang Huiyao: Yes, thank you, David and Neil, I agree with you. I think that, both US and China being the two largest economies really have very strong responsibility to work together. You’re right about that issues, the chaotic situation in Afghanistan, where is next? How can we really work together on that? China, US and countries in the region should really work out a post-war plan, for the peace and stability there. And of course, there’s the issue of Korea, North Korea, Korean Peninsula and there are issues of Iran – China was one of the talking parties there. But what’s more important is that this world economy also needs us to really work together to pull it up, also for the developing countries, for Africa, for Latin America, for so many countries. So absolutely, we need to put aside our differences and maximize our common positions.
David, I notice that in January, this year, you talked at Hong Kong forum that organized by US China States Exchange Foundation. Regarding the way forward, you mentioned about 6 points, which I think are really interesting. You said, of course, we should reopen two consonant in Houston and Chengdu, since you, Georgia and Neil both in Texas, where the Consulate located and I’m from Chengdu. So I really want to see the consulates open there, too. The second recommendation is to restore the Fulbright program. The third recommendation is to restore the US Peace Corps presence in China. The fourth recommendation is that the United States government should cease and desist from its efforts to shut down Confucius Institutes. The number five is more openings in trade and investment, also people to people exchanges. The sixth is to think about creating an international visitor leadership program for China. China can probably comsidering about creating this program fot Americans yo come to China or and in both directions. You are one of the earliest scholars come to China and you have experienced it first-hand. So for those points, plus the climate change, can we really do more? I think we can elaborate on those very good points that you made.
David Firestein: Thank you so much for noting that. Let me just say, I think we are facing a very turbulent, contentious, difficult, and challenging time in the relationship right now. It is going to be very difficult to do big things at this moment because of the tenor of the rhetoric and the mindset in Washington. For that matter, you sometimes hear some heated rhetoric from the Chinese side et cetera. So there’s a lot of tension. But the question becomes what can be done? The things that you noted that I had talked about earlier this year and some of which I mentioned in this discussion, are things that are actually doable. They’re not things that are really that controversial, they’re not things that are that difficult to do. Most of them can be done with the presidential executive directive or executive order rather as there were many cases undone by Trump with an executive order so can they be restored by the same mechanism. You’re not talking about new legislation, which would be a very difficult thing to achieve in this environment. All of those things I think are just I propose that we do them not because they’re good for China but because they’re good for America and, they are also good for the relationship. And they can serve as confidence building measures that can get these two countries moving back in the direction where we’re actually speaking to each other in a businesslike way and focusing on solving problems.
The one thing I would amplify, Henry, from the kind of list that you just mentioned of proposals I had made earlier in the year, is I do think China – this is an issue of what I referred to as the International Visitor Leadership Program, or IVLP. That is a program that exists in the United States that many thousands of foreign citizens come to the United States at the expense of the American government, the federal government and the US taxpayer. They come and spend two or three weeks, it used to be four weeks in the United States, and they learn about this country first hand by traveling across the country, meeting people, and learning about America, as we would say warts and all, not just propaganda, like here’s the things we’re doing well, here’s the things we’re not doing well, and going back with a better and more textured understanding of the United States to their country.
I think if China were to do something like that, it would be very beneficial because not all but many of the sharp and the harshest critics of China in the United States have never been in China or never lived in China, unlike Neil, unlike me, and unlike many others. They haven’t actually interacted with Chinese people at a human level in many, many cases. They don’t necessarily have their fingers on the pulse of what’s happening in that country in the same way. I think China would be well served to create what I’ve called and what the US government calls an International Visitor Leadership Program, and literally bring thousands or even tens of thousands of Americans to China every year, in the way that the United States brings foreign citizens, including Chinese to the United States and help Americans, more Americans to get a much better understanding of the real China – warts and all, the good things, the bad things, the things we agree with, the things we disagree with. Because that foundation of understanding can lead to some really good things. I think China underinvests in people to people exchanges of this type, and I think China would be well served to invest more. Frankly the United States would be well served to invest more as well. We need it more than ever during this very challenging period in US-China Relations.
Wang Huiyao: Yes, we hope that we can restore the Fulbright program from the US. But particularly you make a very good recommendation that China probably should set up an International Visitor Leadership Program, that we can have like the US did in the past and we can bring hundreds and thousands of vistors and leaders to visit China, and also to understand China because seeing is believing. When people come and interact and have this human touch and human bound, that would greatly change many things going forward.
As a matter fact, recently CCG launched the Global Young Leaders Dialogue program together with a partner. Although we are not able to attract people from outside China, but we’re attracting with those international young leaders who are already in China, which is going very well. We organized 6 trips, visited 6 provinces with 100 global young leaders and 36 of them wrote a letter to President Xi and he actually replied to them. It was really encouraging for foreigners to come to China and see the real China.
Cooperation between US and China in the energy sector could allow win-win partnerships
Wang Huiyao: So now Neil, I would like to ask a question for you and it’s basically about Texas. We know that Texas is abundant with energy and the energy cooperation between China and the US is one of the big areas. I remember when President Trump came to China in 2017, he signed over $250 Billion for various deals and a big chunk of that is energy deal, from Texas, from Alaska. Before Trump started the trade war, we saw a lot of cooperation on trade. I did some study there – if you want to import the energy or Shell gas or LNG from the inland of Texas to the port of Texas and export to China, the cost of shipping from inland of Texas is doubled of the costs Texes port exporting to China. So, the lack of infrastructure in Texas is detrimental to the export to China. And Chinese companies could help out on those infrastructures, joint venture with US companies to do that. So that’s one area we could work together.
The other areas are also about Texas. It’s about the air space and aviation which could be potential for China and US to collaborate on aerospace. We see, now some famous businessmen are now flying to outer space. When looking out from the space to look at the Earth, we would really be wondering why human beings who are living in a globle villiage can really fight with each other? So, what are those areas that could promote further collaboration?
Neil Bush: First of all, I’m going to reflect back on David’s comment about comparative advantage. Trade is about comparative advantage and one of the great advantages that Texas has and the United States up until recently has had is that we’ve had a surplus of oil production and natural gas production. I can’t to speak to the infrastructure issues in the costs of transport from West Texas, from the Permian basin to the coast of Texas and then shipping it around. But to the extent that there’s a demand in China for these products, to the extent that we can provide the supply to meet that demand on a cost-reasonable basis. We should engage in that trade. Period. It’s just as simple as that and the trade deficit will be reduced by that. I really don’t care about the trade deficit. But it’s just the fact that it would be reduced – some politicians will be able to brag about how they brought the trade deficit down.
I love your suggestion that we should be very open to having joint venture collaborations, investment in infrastructure by Chinese in joint ventures with American companies to get access to these supplies makes total sense to me. You mentioned aerospace, the Bush China Foundation has been a co-sponsor of an event that’s happened three years in a row, called the international symposium for the peaceful use of space technology with a focus on health and this organization has brought together leading space-related agencies and organizations from around the world, from Europe, France and Germany from Japan and Russia, the United States and it has been pretty remarkable. The last couple of sessions have been in-person in China but virtual for all those outside of China. But the first forum that was held in Hainan Island was very successful in bringing people together. I’m not sure about the privatization of space and how that there’s going to be competition – to get out there, to try to attract customers, to make the economics of space travel for tourists, the space will be competitive. But there are all kinds of science that can be gleaned from space related work and that’s the kind of science that’s going to benefit humankind and to the extent that China brings something of value to that exploration and we bring something of value and the Europeans too – we should collaborate, no doubt about it.
Wang Huiyao: There’s a lot of interest with the US, which we can collaborate and there’s a lot of things that we can work on together. But now, as China’s GDP is getting larger, but also it seems that maybe with a number of years China may surpass the US on the GDP, but maybe GDP per capita would be still far behind. But what do you think about this? How can we really accept each other and coexist with each other peacefully? I remember that you said before that the US has a system that fits the US and China has a system that fits China. We should not really try to change each other. Can we really reach that kind of a common understanding or how we can achieve that?
Neil Bush: I’ll give you an example. The topic of Afghanistan came up. My brother, President George W. Bush, and his wife, my sister-in-law, Laura, had very strong feelings about their concerns for the rights of women and children in Afghanistan, with the Taliban coming back into control. There was a small military force there that helped support the Afghan troops of 2500 or something like that –I’m not quite sure of the numbers –but very small compared to what’s on the Korean Peninsula today. And it seems to me that for civilized nations around the world that are concerned for the rights of these women and these children that maybe thrown back into the Dark Ages or the stone ages through this change of leadership, that civilized nations would be motivated to work together to keep a presence there to maintain the stability. The American people are kind of tired of being what perceived to be the sole protector. There were allies there, but not in great forces. But the American people elected Biden with his promise to withdraw and President Trump made the commitment to withdraw. A better strategy would have been to say, let’s get countries from all over the world, people that have a notion of what it is to be civilized and find our common humanity and work together to secure the rights of the people of Afghanistan, not the nation built but to be the protectors of those basic human right. So that may be idealistic and naive, but I do believe we’re going to get there. The world is becoming so connected, so close, and everything is far more transparent than it has been in the past and so where there’s a wrong there’s needs to be righted. We need to work together to right that wrong. And of course, I’m on the edge of very controversial issues here, specifically related to the treatment of minorities in Xinjiang for example. I just hope that the Chinese are very, very transparent about what’s going on there and that the truth be known so that the world can settle down and, in the meantime, I’m all in favor of America expressing our values that where there are human rights challenges, let’s bring people from all over the world to put pressure on it, to address those human rights related issues and that relates Afghanistan and other places in the world today.
Huiyao Wang: I think that more communication and the visit of each other is so crucial as a matter of fact. I mean, Xinjiang now is really welcoming all the foreigners to visit. After the covid, we really hope that more people come to Xinjiang and visit there and that probably would clear things up. So David, what’s your take on the question about how can we really co-exist peacefully together and maybe gradually accept each other’s differences. For example, in the pandemic of Covid-19, China has been managing it well, as China basically puts collective interest over individual interest, whereas US really emphasized on the principle that human rights cannot be violated. And the whole U.S. society actually had less freedom, whereas Chinese citizens might individually suffer a bit, but the whole society gained more freedom and right. So, what’s your ideas on that.
David Firestein: Henry thanks, and that’s a great question, and let me just say, first of all, back on the topic of energy, I want to make a quick point and then I’ll come to the broader and very important topic that you’ve raised in terms of how we can go forward together. On energy, just to amplify some of the really good points that Neil made. We, the Bush China Foundation, care a lot about the issue of energy. We’ve been advocating for an idea that we created and coined, called the US-China Energy Free Trade and Investment Agreement or USEFTIA as we call it. And the US-China Energy Free Trade and Investment Agreement is an idea that we are advocating that we’re building out and that we hope that we can advocate for the implementation of. It’s a very simple concept at the conceptual level and it’s exactly what Neil said, in terms of energy, the United States has it, and China needs it. So let’s do it. It’s pretty simple. We can genuinely create a win-win in the energy area and our idea is to take energy out of the trade war and fast-track it for a more robust trade and create the legislative and policy context and regulatory predictability, so that the infrastructure investments that Henry mentioned can be made. Thus, we can export, for example, liquefied natural gas, which Texas has in huge abundance, to China, which has said that it wants to double its liquefied natural gas consumption over the next 10 years or so and move from 7% of the energy mix to 15%. It’s a perfect scenario where we can sell something that we have. China can buy something that it needs. We can put a Texas sized dent in the US deficit for those who care about that just as Neil said exactly correctly. And everybody walks away a winner, and America walks away a winner, and the state of Texas really walks away a winner and others that produce liquefied natural gas. It’s an obvious idea. The reason that we don’t see the kind of trade in that area is because of the legislative policy and regulatory unpredictability that we have seen surge in the last several years. Nobody wants to make the investment of billions or tens of billions of dollars, that would allow this trade to occur in terms of terminals that can deal with liquefied natural gas and so on, and the bottom line is that this is an easy one, and we ought to do it. So, we’ve been advocating that and we’ve also advocated for the idea of the United States and China actually working together. Governments, former government officials, business leaders, non-profits organization leaders and others to come together to mitigate the impact of energy poverty in the developing world and specifically in what we might term “the bottom billion” to use the term that was coined by another author — to one of the big problems among the one seventh of the population that is least fortunate or poorest is energy poverty. So, what can the United States and China do together to alleviate and mitigate the impacts of energy poverty on that segment of the global population. We’re working with the Rockefeller Foundation on a really interesting project in that area, but Henry to your broader point. I think the one thing that I want to say is that those of us who understand China well and have lived there, been there many times etc., understand something that we don’t often say, but that I think it is true and that is a number of the differences between the United States and China are simply irreconcilable. We are never going to see eye to eye on those issues. We are never probably going to see eye to eye on the issue of Taiwan, for example. China has its view and the United States has its view and the views are essentially irreconcilable. We’re not going to see the issue of the South China Sea in the same way. China has its long-held view and the United States and many other countries have a very different view. We’re not going to get to a point where we have a meeting and come away from it, and say, “now, we agree on it”. So, there are some irreconcilable and by the way same for Hong Kong, same for the issue of human rights and a number of other issues. So the point is that given that there are differences that will always be part of the fabric of the relationship between our two countries, how do we manage the relationship in light of that? And I think the view that Neil and I and the Bush China Foundation, and other moderates in the United States, the few of them that seem to be out there at this time, is that it can be done. We can have a business like in a functional, constructive, result-oriented, mutually beneficial, and politically sustainable relationship, even with those differences being unreconciled. And we ought to be aspired to do that, and rather than say, “look because we disagree on all these different profound issues, let’s take our balls and go home”. We advocate the opposite. Neil and I advocate the Bush China Foundation, for the idea that this is all for more reason that we need to come together with a problem-solving mindset so that’s what I would say. I think it can be done. It just requires the vision. The vision that George W. Bush had. The vision that Neil has, as our founder and chairman. And the vision that we seek to give expression to with this foundation. It’s possible to do. We’re going to keep doing everything we can to move in that direction and I know that there are many in China that feel the same way and many in America as well. And we’re going to continue to stand strong for that sensible, common sense, moderate perspective on how to move this relationship forward.
China and the US should unite to tackle challenges in public health instead of politicizing them
Huiyao Wang: Thank you, Neil and David. You made a lot of worth-noticing point. I think that you are right. We should probably really maximize the commonalities, the common grounds and minimize the differences. Of course, because of the cultural, historical and geographical and all other big differences, some differences probably will remain for a long time to come, but definitely we have such a huge common interest not only for both countries, but for the world that we should really work together so that we can really avoid catastrophe, or maybe a hot war. These days, we had a lot of populism and nationalism on the rising on both sides and that is really dangerous. Just like you said, we are cool-heads and realistic. I think we need more people like us in both places. So it’s absolutely important. Now my staff was telling me that we have over 200,000 viewers watching us and listen to us, but we had also collected some questions from online viewers and media as well. We have a few questions, so I’ll just read them out. We have one question from CGTN. Basically, it says that in which area can China and the US corporate in coping with the pandemic? I think we already probably cover that. But what do you think of the Biden’s Afghanistan policy and can China and the U.S. work together in Afghanistan and how? Those are from the CGTN. And then we have another 2 from the China news agency.
Regarding the investigation of origin of virus, some argue that there’s more politics into that rather than the scientists into that, and so what is you thought on that how we can get out of that, and how should China and the U.S. corporate on fighting against the pandemic. Basically they have been lingering around on those questions that we touched upon briefly. Perhaps you could give your answer to that as you see fit and maybe Neil and then David.
Neil Bush: I will start on the last question you raised about the origins of the virus. I am not as concerned, for example, about the origin of climate change. Whether humans cause climate change or whether it’s a natural occurrence or whether some combination. The fact is that there is climate change and we need to address it and there is clearly a role for the US and China and all the nations of the world to lock arms, in addressing it. China’s got its 2060 carbon neutrality pledge. The governments at all levels, the private sector will be unified in their effort to do that, and I have no doubt that China would be major players in the collaboration to try to address climate change. I mean, the same thing kind of rings true to me with the virus. Who cares where it originated? Whether it originated in a lab or from a bat or from the United States or from others, wherever it originate, who cares? The fact is that we have a pandemic that continues to affect the lives of hundreds of thousands of people all across the Globe and there is a pressing need for mature civilized nations in the world to work together and David may have more specific ideas on how we can work together, but it seems that collaboration is very natural when it comes to something as big as this. And the origins of it , and I will put a little caveat that I reject the idea that there was some malicious effort to release a virus that causes a pandemic. I think that is a crazy notion. There are some intent from one side or the other to do this on purpose. So you throw away the crazy conspiracy theories. And just assume that there was an origin of some kind. It doesn’t matter where it originated. Let’s deal with it together.
Huiyao Wang: Right, we can’t find where AIDS was originated – some say it’s in Africa, some say it’s in America. Who cares? I mean let’s find a cure for that，and also how would it be so silly for Chinese to invent a virus and started that in China. It does not make sense.
Neil Bush: It makes no sense.
Huiyao Wang：So David. What is your answer to those questions?
David J. Firestein: Let me just start by saying I completely agree with what Neil just said. The idea that the virus was something that was unleashed upon the world with intentionality is ludicrous and just not a serious idea. Why would a country unleash something on itself and everyone else that it trades with and so forth? It just does not make any sense. There are areas, I think, within the context of COVID-19 and pandemics more generally, that we ought to work on together. Let me make one point at the outset, which is that COVID-19 is not going to be the last pandemic that we as a world ever face. I mean, we know that. There will periodically be pandemics. They will originate here, and they will originate there, meaning country A, country B. And we will have to cope as a global community with pandemics forever periodically. And so, learning how to work together and to actually solve medical and public health and epidemiological Problems is a good thing for countries to be able to do. I think we were able to do that to a greater degree. When the relationship was less politically charged than it is at present, and we have gotten away from it, but it is unfortunate for all of us that that is so and rather than focusing on the blame game and demonizing and so forth in any direction, just as Neil said and as I said earlier, we should have been focused on solving the problem right at the outset. I will be honest, I have said, and I said in the Global Times, one of China’s prominent newspapers. Back in May of last year that I think both the United States and China. China first chronologically, and the United States second chronologically because of the way that the Pandemic developed, didn’t respond in the earliest stages of COVID-19 to the pandemic with the openness, the transparency or the sense of urgency that we should have. And I think China made significant mistakes in its early handling and I think the United States also made significant mistakes in its early handling given that the question now just as Neil said is how do we actually work together to solve problems for real people, and I think we can do that, in the areas of research and development vaccine, comparing notes on what is working and what is not working, bringing medical practitioners and policy experts together around the issue of the Delta variant specifically helping each other as we did in the early stages in both directions with providing material, personal protective equipment. That was a good thing to do. I’m glad that we, as a foundation were part of that, along with many others in both directions. So there are a lot of things that I think we can do, but fundamentally, focusing on solving a public health challenge rather than politicizing a medical issue and a public health issues is what we need to be focused on. On the issue of Afghanistan, I think there is a clearly an opportunity now, because of, unfortunately, the tragic circumstances in the country with the Taliban retaking Afghanistan. There is an opportunity and I think a need for the United States and China as players that have significant interests in Afghanistan, coming together and really talking to each other honestly about what we’re thinking about the situation. What our assessments of the situation are? What are plans are as individual countries relative to how each country intends to engage Afghanistan going forward? I think there is a lot, that could be done to exchange views and, in fact, the Bush China Foundation, this October, in less than 2 months, will be bringing people together on this topic to kind of get a conversation started and I am sure that others will be doing that as well. But I think that anytime there is a global crisis or global challenge, the two countries among others, that have to be at the table are the United States and China, as the two largest economies, two members of the P5, permanent members of the Security Council of the United Nations, major global players with presences across economically and, in terms of development, politically across the globe. And Afghanistan is a clear case where I think there is benefit to sitting down and saying what do you think about what is happening there? And here is what we think about what’s happening there. Just at that level alone, there is utility. All of these are areas where I think that there is room for improvement. I hope that we will see that improvement, because as I have often said that the United States cannot be all that it was meant to become without China, and China cannot be all that it was meant to become without America. We need each other, whether we like it or not, we do. And we have got to get this relationship right because the consequences of getting it wrong are far reaching and very unpleasant.
Huiyao Wang: Great thank you, Neil and David both for voicing such a very clear message. I think that is really stimulating for people in both countries and people to the world as well. I think you are absolutely right. We really need to concentrate on working together in solving the pandemic problem and the challenges and preventing the future pandemics as you said. It may not be just this time. It could come again. And we really have to work together as a human race rather than as a country, so we probably should have a consensus of some kind or maybe WHO should convene the big countries together to really workout some recommendations for how to work together and it is very importantly. I think that this pandemic crisis is really facing the whole countries in the world. And of course, Afghanistan, I agree with Neil. Probably even before the evacuation, the U.S should get every country to work together. We could talk and have every country in the region to have a discussion. Maybe we could have UN to play a more active role, or even have a UN peacekeeping force to safeguard the evacuation, to prevent future disaster. There are many things we could talk. Absolutely we need to bring all parties together. Now given the time, we should probably come to the conclusion of out dialogue. I think we started with this dialogue with the 50 years of U.S.-China exchanges. We started with the Nixon’s visit 50 years ago. We started with China joined the UN when George H.W Bush as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations then and Neil was mentioning that they had a really great encounter with the Chinese delegation. But also with the legacy of both Presidents, George H.W Bush and George Bush junior President as well. I think that the legacy is to have more exchanges, more dialogues, more understanding of each other and then also maybe we should try to avoid major disasters, deterioration and we should really seek the common grounds and minimize the difference. So maybe just in concluding words from both of you. What’s your final message to our audience here in China, also around the world that giving the 50 years of anniversary of exchanges of between China and U.S., with China joining UN for 50 years, with the first secret visit to China by Dr. Kissinger 50 years ago, and also with the two Presidents Bush maintaining, promoting and strengthening the ties during those past decades. How can we look forward and how can we really go forward given both Presidents Bush’s legacy? We are really pleased and honored to have Neil Bush having dialogue with us. Your family is really probably, one of the greatest in history that produced two Presidents of the United States. That now you have a Bush Foundation. To still working on Bush China Foundation really shows that your family really cares about this relationship. We want to hear some last words from you and also from the President, CEO of the Bush China Foundation, David. Neil, why don’t you go first?
Neil Bush: Thank you, Henry. I think I will start by reiterating that my father often said, publicly openly said, that the bilateral relationship between the United States and China was the most important bilateral relationship in the world. It was prescient of him to say that many years ago because it is becoming more true now than ever given that the gravity of the issues that we face as humans on Earth. I would further say that, given the United States economy, our GDP and our individual wealth, huge shot in the arm, our biggest partner in the world of globalization has been China. So the United States has been a beneficiary of trade as imperfect as it is, as David pointed out. This trade relationship has benefited our country tremendously, and there is no doubt that China has been an enormous beneficiary of our trade relationship as well. As we’ve had more and more cultural exchanges and student exchanges. There have been millions of Chinese visitors to the United States. They all happily go home to China. It’s not like there’s something restraining them from getting back into their homes or desires to go home. But the reality is that we benefited tremendously from this bilateral relationship, so the past to me is what we should look to predicting the future. The future is going to be even better. And we’ve come in to this, kind of a crazy time, where China’s rise all of a sudden being recognized by politicians as a threat to the United States, and once we can get over the hurdle that China doesn’t represent a threat to our national security, to our economy, to our freedom or basic way of life, then through dialogue we will establish better understanding and more cooperation. So I pledged to continue to work with David and our team at the Bush China Foundation to do whatever I can, to help speak truth and shed light on this very important relationship in a way that hopefully will allow for greater collaborations across the board, not only on all major issues, but on basic things that are taking place day to day. Our governments at all different levels should be having meetings to share in to better understand, to put ourselves in the other guys’ shoes, in to create a better, more peaceful and harmonious World, as a result.
Huiyao Wang: Thank you very much Neil. David, please, your last words.
David J. Firestein: Well, Henry. Thank you so much, let me just conclude by saying again. It has been an honor to be with you and this is such a wonderful platform and we are just grateful for the opportunity to have this conversation. President George H.W Bush brought incredible vision to the US-China relationship, and fundamentally he asked himself a question about the relationship that was different than the kind of thing that we are seeing today. Today, political figures are sort of saying “where is the relationship going to be 15 minutes from now, when I do my next tweet?” What President George H.W Bush asked was where do I want this relationship to be, in the service of the interests of our nation 50 years from now, and 100 years from now? That far-sightedness, that ability to pay less attention to the headline of the moment, and more attention to where this relationship could go over the long haul. That was a hallmark of President George H.W Bush and that is what we carry forward at the Bush, China Foundation. The notion that what is happening today is less important than where this relationship is ultimately going to be. We fundamentally believe, as Neil is noted and as we have said in this conversation, that the US-China relationship is the single most consequential bilateral relationship in the world. It matters to America, and of course, it matters to China as well. We have to get it right and we have to think in terms of the long term. Because the turbulence that we are seeing today will not always be with us. There will always be disagreements and differences in perspective on some pretty important issues, but the tonality shifts from time to time, the way that we think of different countries can shift based on what is happening in the world and we are looking at the long-term interests of the United States. That is the angle that we are coming out this relationship from. The final thing I want to say Henry is that I think that we as Americans need to do a better job as a whole, as a whole people and as a nation in recognizing the validity and the truth of two statement at the same time. Number one, China is the most formidable competitor that the United States will ever have in the lifetimes of every American alive today in the reverse of that is true as well. But it is also true that China is an indispensable partner to the United States, whether we like it or not. And America is an indispensable partner to China. We have a stake in each other’s future and we need to be able to work together with that in mind. I think if we can recognize that there is truth to both of those ideas and by the way, competition is not a bad thing. competition is what has made the world what it is today. It’s generated progress, it’s generated the better mousetrap, it’s generated technological innovation. So yes, we compete, but yes, we must also cooperate. We understand that the Bush China Foundation and I could not be more privileged and honored than to have the opportunity to be Neil’s partner in carrying forward the legacy of someone for whom, I have extraordinary reverence and respect — President George H.W Bush.
Huiyao Wang: Thank you, David for your really impressive remarks in the last conclusion. I think that you know half a century really is long but also it is short. I remember why I saw the photos when George H.W Bush President was riding bicycle in Beijing, and Neil was at such a young age. I was a teenager. Now we are getting senior, getting older. What has happened in the last half century was really remarkable. China become the second largest economy from one of the poorest countries at that time. That is incredible. I agree with you. China and the USA are indispensable from each other and really need each other. And how can we come together and continue our efforts to maintain such a relation? I think the Bush China Foundation has done a remarkable job and CCG also is doing its best. We are trying to become a bridge between China and the outside world. I hope that we will continue our dialogue. We will continue our discussion. But also, we will have more of those rational, reasonable and more human touch for the minds between our two countries. So Neil, your father and your brother came to the Beijing 2008 Summer Olympics. And we hope that the 2022 Winter Olympics in the next February will have you come again. We hope to have people the people exchanges, students exchanges, tourism and all the other program to revive. We really, as you and David said, we cannot separate from each other. We have a huge bond and let us continue the legacy of both Bush Presidents. Thank you so much and thank you for our viewers, so many of you tonight and those around world. Thank you so much. We will see you next time.
Note: The above text is the output of transcribing from an audio recording. It is posted as a reference for the discussion.