China’s post-COVID diplomacy & Track Ⅱ diplomacy — views from Wang Huiyao, Founder and President of CCGCRR | May 20 , 2023
This week on Ginger River Radio, Jiang Jiang welcomes Dr. Henry Huiyao Wang, who is the Founder and President of the Center for China and Globalization (CCG), a leading non-governmental think tank in Beijing. Wang shares his insights into China’s post-pandemic diplomacy and Chinese think tanks’ Track Ⅱ diplomacy, including China’s potential role in helping medicate the Russia-Ukraine conflict, CCG’s efforts to bridge the “cognitive gap” between China and the West after COVID, the Taiwan issue, the comeback of communications between China and the EU, data security hype and the stance of China, China’s think tanks boom and much more.
Russia-Ukraine conflict, “cognitive gap” between China and the West after COVID, the Taiwan issue, communications between China and the EU, data security, China’s think tanks boom, etc.
–People-to-people exchange is China’s priority. The CCG has been the first to visit foreign countries after COVID lockdowns, touring the U.S., Europe, and Singapore, etc.. Face-to-face communication was found to be crucial to dissipate mistrust and misunderstandings.
–China could be the mediator in the Russia-Ukraine conflict. An uninvolved third party and advocate for peace, China should become the balancing power in a “G3” structure, which incorporates the U.S., China, and Russia. CCG supports a Six-Party Talk on the Russia-Ukraine situation, and has been working to bridge the gap between East and West.
–China-EU relations have potential, while China-U.S. relations need more trust. The CCG envisages a trilateral relationship between the world’s three largest economies, where the EU develops deep trade ties with China (e.g. the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment), and the U.S. is more ideologically tolerant in terms of China’s systems. Cooperative competition is key to peace.
–The hype about Chinese data surveillance needs dubunking through all-level communication. China does not allow interference with data from private enterprises and welcomes data flow and data industry. China is also joining the global data pool by applying for membership of the DPA (Digital Partnership Agreeent) and the CPTPP (Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-PacificPartnership).
– Chinese think tanks are mainly government-funded, the CCG being an exception. An increasing number of Chinese entrepreneurs now regard policy research as a means of long-term charity, much to the advantage of CCG-type think tanks.
– CCG has made concrete contributions to China’s decision-making system. In 2022, CCG brought together WHO officials and CDC experts from China, conducted internal consultation with the government on vaccination, and maintained active communication with ambassadors in China, which might have contributed to the end of zero-COVID policies.
– CCG is an ice-breaker in international relations. With close connections with the UN, World Bank, foreign embassies and media outlets like Semafor, the CCG is devoted to economic globalization in pursuit of understanding and peace.
Dr. Henry Huiyao Wang , Founder and President of the Center for China and Globalization (CCG)
A complete transcript of this podcast is available here:
JJ: Welcome to the Ginger River Radio podcast, a part of the GRR media outlet and your go-to podcast for anything about Chinese current events. I’m your host, Jiang Jiang, the founder of Ginger River Review (GRR), a newsletter that focuses on reporting the priorities of both the leadership and the general public in China and views you do not normally see from mainstream English language media. If you haven’t subscribed to our newsletter, go to www.gingerriver.com and sign up to join our community of avid China-watchers. Now let’s dive into our podcast show today.
JJ: China optimizes its COVID epidemic prevention and control policies at the end of last year. China’s then vice-premier Liu He, who is regarded by many China watchers as Beijing’s then top economic adviser, tells Davos CEOs in January this year that “China is back.” On Mar. 6, representatives from Iran and Saudi Arabia met in Beijing for discussions brokered by China. On Apr. 26, Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday held phone talks with his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelensky, since the Russia-Ukraine conflict and said China will send a special representative on Eurasian affairs to visit Ukraine and other countries to conduct in-depth communications with all parties on the political settlement of the crisis. Meanwhile, some Chinese thinktanks have been actively engaged in Track II diplomacy trips, or “backchannel diplomacy”, which is the practice of “non-governmental, informal and unofficial contacts and activities between private citizens or groups of individuals, sometimes called ‘non-state actors.'”
Join me to talk about China’s post-pandemic diplomacy & Track Ⅱ diplomacy today is Dr. Henry Huiyao Wang, who is the Founder and President of the Center for China and Globalization (CCG), a leading non-governmental thinktank in Beijing.
Wang worked for three years in China’s Ministry of Foreign Trade, the predecessor to the Ministry of Commerce, in the 1980s. He then became one of the first group of Chinese nationals to get an MBA degree in North America and later joined Canadian businesses. He founded CCG in 2008 in his life-long mission to bridge China and the rest of the world. As his non-governmental thinktank gained domestic and international prominence, Wang became 国务院参事 Counsellor to China’s State Council, essentially an advisor to the Chinese government cabinet, at the accreditation of then Premier Li Keqiang. Perhaps the most well-connected and respected interlocutor between China and the West, Wang was described by The Economist in October 2022 as “a go-between for technocratic government ministries, Chinese entrepreneurs, and foreign embassies in Beijing.”
Hi Henry 您好，王会长. Welcome to Ginger River Radio! It’s great to meet with you face-to-face at CCG’s office in Beijing!
Wang: Thank you. Great to meet you too. Thank you.
JJ: I’m so glad to have you. And I really appreciate you taking time to have this podcast chat with me before your very busy trip. We know that China’s face-to-face diplomacy and interaction with the rest of the world resumes, especially after the fourth quarter of last year, especially after China optimizes its COVID response.
Recently, the CCG released its 2022 annual report, with the first section focusing on “Breaking the Ice in Three Continents by Restarting Face-to-Face Meetings and Leveraging Track II Diplomacy.” As the President of CCG, you have been actively engaged in Track II diplomacy trips and have made many “ice-breaking” journeys.
In your exchanges with foreign governments and think tanks personnel, where do you feel they have the biggest gap in understanding Chinese policies compared to reality? Could you share with us some of the work that you have done to help bridge this “cognitive gap,” especially considering that the COVID pandemic in the past three years have created some obstacles for cross-cultural communication in the world?
Wang: Yes, thank you for talking to me. And I really appreciate the opportunity to exchange with you. I think that three years of COVID pandemic is really unprecedented in the history, probably in the modern history of mankind. And I’m very glad that just recently the WHO announced that finally, the COVID-19 would not be regarded as a massive pandemic. So for that, massive pandemic alert has been lifted.
However, I think the damage has done for the last three years because for China and the outside world, there’s no exchanges, particularly no face-to-face exchanges. The border is basically closed off, and very few people can travel and come in and out. So that has actually intensified the misunderstanding and mistrust. For example, there is no high-level visit between China and the U.S., China and Europe, and China and many other countries. Now we have only microphone democracy, and that is really people talking over each other rather than face to face with each other. So we found that is really kind of a very unpleasant situation and an unfriendly situation actually, occurring between China and many other countries, particularly the United States. So actually, the Center for China and Globalization as a non-government think tank, we embarked on a kind of first probably think tank delegation ever during the three years to visit six countries.
JJ: What are they?
Wang: We started with Asia. We went to Singapore, we went to the United States, we went to, then we went to France, we went to Germany and Brussels in Belgium, and then went back to South Korea. So basically, around the world, a global trip, across three continents, six countries in 30 days, with almost 100 events, meetings, and meeting several hundred people in the process, attending conferences and talking to different people.
We found that is extremely useful, extremely helpful to have these people-to-people exchange and face-to-face meetings. For example, one of the things we’re surprise to find that there is a huge interest to want to know what’s going on in China. For this pandemic situation, how does the people cope inside? We tell the stories and share our experiences. And also, on the other hand, we find the perception on China has dramatically changed. The sentiment is also very coupled with the Russian-Ukrainian war. There’s many different readings on China. One of the biggest misunderstandings probably, I find, is that they think China has conspired with Russia to invade Ukraine, which I think is very much over reading into China-Russia statement. When China and Russia had this February 4th statement last year, they would basically say cooperation is unlimited. You know, we often say that — that “friendship is boundless”, “sky’s the limit” or “friendship is everlasting”. So that is the same to any, most countries when they have a joint communique like that.
So I think there’s a lot of perception that China is really worked with Russia to invade Ukraine. Chinese citizen was the last to be put out of Kyiv. If China would conspire or knew beforehand, China would probably put out the citizens in the first place. So there’re some understandings like that, and we have to explain.
The other thing we found was, to our surprise, is that Chinese student was still very much wanted in the United States and everywhere. For example, the 300,000 students registered in the U.S. campus. And anywhere we go, the Chinese students are still very much wanted. So that makes me think that we should send more students, welcome more foreign students to come. And of course, there’s also business concerns whether they should continue to invest in China. Should they have a plan B on the … What about China’s position on Taiwan and and also with neighboring countries?
So we did a lot of explanation and provide think tank analysis assessment. They found very helpful to have that. We met so many think tanks, associations, chambers, government. We found this face-to-face meeting and also it’s good for us to know what’s really thinking in the United States, in the European countries and in Asia. So it was good learning window for us. I was also in Singapore attendin g A.T. Kearney’s global CEO retreat. I was talking with 30, 40 CEOs. I mean, they are still very bullish on China. They are still, they have concerns and worries. But in the long run, they all want to continue. They don’t want to abandon this biggest middle class market. And one of the things we found is that they all want to do business with China, but of course, they want some caution, they want some diversification, but overall, they still want to work with this biggest market in the world.
So we found many good things. And I think this trip has sent a signal. We set a good example for Chinese NGOs think tanks, Chinese people to come out. So it was really people receiving us — Oh, China is finally starting to let people out. For example, we were in Paris, we were at the Lafayette, the biggest department store there, say you are the first mainlanders. We are from China, we haven’t been seen in the last 3 years. Finally, we see some true mainland Chinese coming up. So we also sent a signal. And when we came back, after our coming back, there’s more Chinese visits started and think tanks and all the people-to-people exchanges.
JJ: What time were the six trips you made last year? In which month?
Wang: We started our trip in late June, like June 24. And we finished on July 24, so exactly 30 days in which we spent about ten days in the U.S., ten days in Europe and another the days, eight, nine days in Asia. So it was extremely helpful. And then we actually went out again in November. We went to Europe again. We went to Paris, Brussels, Berlin, and and also Singapore. And so we conducted another trip, attended a number of conferences. For example, we went to the Paris Peace Forum. We went to also the New Economy Forum in Singapore. We went to a number of … in Brussels. We had a meeting with our counterpart, the European Policy Centre and things like that.
So it’s extremely important that we maintain this kind of people-to-people and think tank-to-think tank exchanges, so that we can clarify things. We can find out what went wrong. And also we feed back our findings to the different departments, government, and to advise them what should be the proper policy that is more productive engaging our different international affairs. I think this kind of mission is very helpful. And also we renew old acquaintances and make new friends. And when you invite many of them coming back, we find that, at the think tank level, it’s very useful.
JJ: Yeah, I think we can say that you actually are the pioneers of the people who open the bridge at an early time, comparatively speaking, almost like the first half of last year. Then some other people, they followed your suit and they went there, and there are more and more interactions. You also mentioned that actually, you don’t just go there. You also bring some feedback back, which is actually constructive to the policy.
So actually, my next question is that because I noticed that the CCG annual report said that in 2022, CCG submitted 67 policy recommendations, 11 research reports, and 14 insider reports, conducted 21 exchanges with government agencies, and participated in over 20 closed-door meetings on policy recommendations. These recommendations were related to issues such as the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the COVID response policy, and China-US relations.
So you touched a little bit on that just now. If possible, could you share with us some of the concrete roles or concrete efforts that non-governmental think tanks such as CCG played in China’s decision-making system?
Wang: Before I come into that, I’ll just add the time when we went out last year. It was extremely … when no Chinese went out, people were still very fearful of the COVID. For example, everywhere you go in China, you have to do PCR test, you have to wear your mask and it’s a very tight situation. And then one of the things I remember is that you have to go through all the troubles to get quarantine when you come back.
JJ: There are many close-loop management in lots of cities in China.
Wang: Exactly. And then we … particularly also the day we went in June. That was just when Shanghai resumed some contact after two months of shutdown in Shanghai, which had a huge impact. And then that is also before Beijing is starting to really get some outbreaks like that. And so it is very tense moment, very worrisome moment, and very risky moment. For many people say, how dare you still can travel to different parts of the world? And also China-U.S. relation was also very tense and, of course, and also COVID … we never know what’s going on outside. So there has to have some risk taking to really embark on that trip and so that was a very, very memorable and a very unforgettable experience.
Now coming back to your question about during last year, the activities, policy briefings, activities we conducted. I can give you a few examples. Just talk about COVID-19, for example, we actually at the end of April and beginning of May, when the Shanghai COVID-19 situation getting out of control and then local shutdown starting to happen, CCG organized an indoor brief meeting. We invited Gao Fu. He’s the CDC director for the ministry of health that looks at disease control center.
And then we had invited the bureau chief of World Bank in China. He now is the vice president of the World Bank. And then we invited the former WHO chief representative in China. He was a German health official at the German embassy. And then the World Bank also invited two experts. One is from New Zealand to look at the recovery experience of New Zealand, Singapore. And then there’s another one from Australia. So basically, at that time, we talk about how can we avoid this kind of COVID situation to really make a better policy on that.
After internal consultation, the recommendation that we have is that we should probably vaccinate people, as soon as we can, particularly the senior people. We should also not really use so much investment on building a temporary hospital, but use that investment to build up the intensive ICU beds and infrastructure of the hospital to have more beds to really cope with these serious cases.
And then we have another recommendation is that maybe we should import vaccination to to have a mixed vaccine for different people so that we can have better results to fight COVID. For example, like that, we have internal policy recommendations. We send to different departments. That’s one example. The other example is that we are actually doing … also in the middle of the year we had about twenty ambassadors. We invited them to come to CCG office. We had the ambassador roundtable, and all the ambassadors talk about how policies impact them. This COVID, for example, the Swiss ambassador said, he’s still issuing several thousand, two thousand Chinese visas to visit Switzerland – student visas, for example. But then there’s only 100 Swiss left in China. So he was saying, this is really bad for exchanges and many ambassadors actually always share the same story.
I think about ten days after our roundtable, we actually also made internal report on collecting all the ambassadors…
JJ: That was in May?
Wang: That was, I think it was in May, probably in May or June I forgot, but it’s in the middle of the year. But then after that, China cut down its quarantine from, I forgot, 21 days or 14 days to 10 days. So you see, it does make a lot of differences. And one of the biggest I think the policy impact is that we’ve been really exemplified by our own actions that we went to those countries, six countries. We published hundreds of articles, papers, and all those things. I even wrote an op-ed in the Financial Times. I said zero-COVID policy will impact china’s “global China” movement. Op-ed suggests China should open as soon as we can. So all those activities actually had a very positive feedback. I think we talked to different ministries. They actually started to gradually relax in the travel, encouraging university scholars, think tanks and other different companies, encouraging them to go abroad and have more exchanges.
So we take the lead an example to do that. And that really helped a more positive reflection of the situation. And then there’s more positive policy has been made to encourage more people-to-people exchanges. For example, student exchange also, we were making a lot of recommendations to the government. So Chinese government, U.S. embassy, French embassy, every embassy is starting to relax foreign student visa to China, or let them return to China. For example, we met the Chinese embassy in the United States, then Ambassador Qin, and we met the Chinese ambassador in France, Ambassador Lu. They also tell me that they are having more measures taken to put back more foreign students coming back to China.
So things like that, we’ve really become a messenger, we’re really promoting and expediting and reflecting the situation. So we find that very unique role that we’re trying to bridge and trying to promote the exchanges.
JJ: I think all those efforts are very impressive and very helpful. Actually, I’m glad to see that the Chinese decision-making system can actually incorporate different ideas, different suggestions, took advice from different organizations and to make a comprehensive decision, because it is important to know the whole situation.
We just mentioned that the leaders of China and Ukraine recently had their first conversation after more than a year since the outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine conflict. CCG and CITIC Press co-host a launch event for the new book of Harvard Prof. Joseph Nye, father of “soft power”, titled “Soft Power and Great-Power Competition: Shifting Sands in the Balance of Power between the United States and China”. In his speech, Prof. Nye said that China’s efforts to promote peace talks are widely welcomed. How do you evaluate the interaction and communication between the leaders of China and Ukraine? What are your expectations and evaluations for China’s potential role in helping solve the Russia-Ukraine conflict?
Wang: Yeah. This is very interesting. Actually, as a think tank, CCG pays huge attention to this Russian-Ukraine conflict situation. And as a matter of fact, when the war just broke out, last year in late February, I published an op-ed in New York Times at the beginning of March to call for more mediation from China and to really help to broker peace for this crisis.
And I’m very glad, exactly one year late, China launched this peace proposal, 12-point position paper to call for more peace and mediation. So what I see is that’s exactly also one of the points when we went out visiting different countries. People very often asked that. So I would say China has a unique role. China is only the second largest economy, only a big country, not directly involved in this conflict. You have Russia on one side and Ukraine on the other side, but behind Ukraine you have NATO, you have West countries. So in fact, Russia is fighting the whole West countries, and China is only third party, not really significant enough, not involved. And so that provides China a unique opportunity to mediate, to talk. I’m extremely happy that President Xi called President Zelensky just recently, and also Chinese president Xi has maintained his dialogue with President Putin. So that position in China is a unique position to really make this peace together.
What I think is actually things can be really going forward is that I proposed in my last year, March op-ed at New York Times, which are calling for Seven Party Talks. China used to have a lot of experience to run Six Party Talks on the nuclear proliferation of North Korea. And so I think that if we can have a Seven Party, which means permanent five member countries of the United Nations plus Ukraine plus the EU, that’s seven parties. And the seven parties, we should have a UN peace summit, inviting the seven heads of those countries to come to the UN and let’s really talk about how we can make peace on the issue.
So I think we have internally given the advice to the government many times and have roundtables talking. So I think the Chinese position is very clear. China, first of all, respects Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity. Number one, that’s very important. Number two, China is against using nuclear weapons on this war or destroying nuclear power plants, or chemical weapons. That’s really limited to a very conventional war, so that we don’t have to suffer huge casualties by triggering a nuclear war on that.
Thirdly, China is firmly against bombarding, destroying, shooting the civilians or women or children. There should no targeting of those civilians, as a target. So those are very strong statements, basically, very strong statements. I think really applied to this war to limit this war to a very conventional basic war, and then so that we can easily solve that. What I think China has made very clear is that we would like to see promoting the peace and try to mediate.
So I think that we also see the French president Macron came just not too long ago. We actually also talked to different international representatives to also express Chinese think tanks’ views. For example, we receive foreign delegations, different embassy visits, ambassador visits very often. Actually, Mr. Borrell, the High Commissioner of, the High Representative of European Foreign Affairs, actually scheduled a speech at the CCG also. But because of COVID, he said he’d publish his speech, which he’s gonna deliver at the CCG. So I think you can see CCG as a think tank, not only talking to the Chinese government, but also talking to the foreign government representatives and trying to make a peace.
We actually received that before, there’s no ambassador of Ukraine in China. So Charge d’Affair of the Ukrainian embassy in Beijing paid a visit to CCG. She said there’s not many Chinese organization wants to see us or really warmly received us. CCG is the only think tank. They actually find that we not only see them…
JJ: Is it a visit before the phone call?
Wang: It is a visit before the phone call, actually. He said they found the situation in China is a little bit … people are sensitive, people sometimes shied away from the meeting proposals. They very much appreciated that CCG is willing to host them, to meet them. And we take photos, we pop the news. It was really … and then we discussed many issues.
Of course, Ukraine also felt it’s not a status quo that we stop the peace deal there. We have to have a plan, action plan, as to what can be done. They were asking CCG what are the recommendations? We actually say, look, you really have to talk. We are not saying to reconcile the status quo, but you have to talk, but for example, whether some of the territories like Crimea, Russia has already had, should maybe be neutral and and also Donbas and other areas that Russia occupied could be neutral on the Ukrainian side and maybe give back to the Ukrainians.
So there’re many things that can be done, or maybe sanctions can be lifted, or China can participate in the reconstruction of the Ukraine with other countries, AIIB and World Bank and work things out. So the territory issue they can really give and take, and then you can find some middle ground if possible, or maybe have some or declare neutrality. Also, whether NATO is going to recruit Ukraine or not, or Ukraine’s applying for that. There’re many issues that can be discussed beforehand and form some kind of consensus. We have this peace summit and we can make that in New York, in Geneva, in Paris, in Beijing. China can play an active role, just like China has brokered the deal for Iranians and Saudis, right?
So I think there’s a … if the parties of the conflict of both sides come into the table, but China is sitting at the table. I’m sure they will say, okay, we have to give faith to china. We have to really reach some compromise. We have to give and take. We have to really calm down. We can’t just have the status quo. We need to make a understanding and solving this crisis. So, I think the Chinese role is enormous. And you can see CCG is really playing a great role in terms of bridging this gap, at least on the think tank community.
JJ: I think the Seven Party initiative would be great if they can sit down together, talk with each other. And you mentioned that the EU is also an important part of this whole negotiation.
Actually, my next question is about we know that the China-Europe relations are another important international relations. You mentioned that Josep Borrell, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission, was orignially scheduled to come to give a speech. But because he was sick, he got tested positive for COVID, and he published his speech instead. In the speech, he said, “We do not fear China’s rise”. What do you think is the most pressing issue in current China-Europe relations? Is the Russian-Ukraine conflict the most pressing issue? And do you think there is still a possibility for the EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI) to be restored?
Wang: Yes, I think there’s a huge room of improvement now for China-EU relations because first of all, we had this COVID situation lifted and a lot of China opened up since the beginning of this year. Actually, since last year before we opened up, German chancellor Olaf Scholz came to Beijing with a 10-hour visit. That is a really ice-breaking visit because at that time, Germany is still the chair of G7 countries, one of the major countries in the EU and then that is a very, very important, big visit.
And then since then, we had a parade of a number of European leaders come. We had Spanish prime minister, we had the French president, we had the European president and Germans, and also we have Italian prime minister coming. So there’s many european leaders have come to China, particularly Germany and France. So what I think is that China-EU relations can be, after those consultations discussions, they find that ideologically maybe valuewise, and they lean towards more U.S. maybe for the security to some extent; economically, business and the future potential cooperation, they have to work with China, because that’s where the future market is. That’s half-a-billion middle class market that no European companies would neglect. As many European companies are already doing more business in China than in their own countries, or even more than they are in Europe. For example, a number of automakers sells more cars in china than their own countries. So exactly. They are different. They haven’t gone as far as U.S. position, I would say, but I was really proposing, I think it was also well received in many think tanks in Europe is that we should really follow this G3 concept.
Of course, there are many other important countries. But in general, the three largest economies in the world are the U.S., China and the EU. So basically, if we think that we have a G3, which means that Europe is not … It’s not China versus West or West versus rest. It’s because each continent has its uniqueness. For example, Europe has thousands of history, has no bordering issue with China, has a friendly relation with China. And we can always compare to improve. There’s also no European countries fighting for number one, number two seats in terms of dominance that the U.S. fears that maybe it’s not losing to China, which China doesn’t think that China is going to dominate the world.
So I think in that sense, if this G3 concept, if there is more strategic autonomy for European countries to practice, that would really help to steer Europe in a better position. Basically, they can get the best of the two worlds between China and the U.S.. I actually even made a proposal at the Munich Security Conference saying that we should have a G3 summit or G3 minister meetings, so that European countries, the EU can mediate the relations between China and the U.S.. China can help Europe mediate Ukraine, Russian war, but Europe can help China, mediate China-U.S. relations.
So there’s need on both sides and so they are different. Europe is not America, not the U.S., and Europe is not China, and China is not Europe either. So I think this it is really great to have this trilateral relation which is more stable rather than bilateral confrontation between China and the West. So I think European countries have made a huge contribution in terms of diversifying, in terms of a stabilizing world political situation and geopolitical situation. So I think it’s very significant that Chancellor Scholz’s and President Marcon’s visit. Also, the Spanish Prime Minister’s visit to China has set a tune for this European autonomy and doesn’t want to fall 100 percent on the U.S. for many of the issues, and also wants to maintain its own autonomy in doing business with China. So I think this is great for future to develop on China-Europe relations.
As far as the CAI is concerned, the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment, I think it’s really unfortunate to see that being shelved. But I think now, the Chinese ambassador to e]European countries has said, China can lift this sanction. China probably sanctioned a bit heavily, but China can lift that and see if Europe can also lift that too, or they have a better proposal to make.
I think also, China also mentioned that welcome European ambassadors, journalists, or businessmen to visit Xinjiang. That’s where all the sanction comes from. So I think the things can be probably improved with more dialogue exchanges and also importantly that this sanction can be lifted. Then I think CAI can be really finalized because CAI actually, this Comprehensive Agreement on Investment, using the former European Ambassador Nicolas Chapuis, he told me in my office that this is the second China opening up. China has given more to European countries than China has given to the United States. So European companies will benefit hugely for their market expansion in China and many issues that European companies complain about, this new investment agreement will take care of that.
So I think it’s really important that we revive that and also important that we should have these parliament members of European countries which has been blocking this deal. Welcome to visit china. Welcome them to visit. And also by 2024, they’re going to have a new European Parliament. And probably by then, we will see more exchanges, more understanding, and more cooperation, and then the deal eventually can be passed through the parliament. And then China certainly would love to see this new agreement taking effect and make the bilateral business investment situation even better improved for the future.
JJ: Yeah, I do believe that China-Europe relations have lots of potential, and the CAI can benefit both sides a lot.
And now let’s move on to the topic of China-U.S. relations. The U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken had planned to visit China earlier this year, but the visit was postponed due to the balloon incident, which has somehow affected China-U.S. relations. In an article recently published by CCG, you mentioned that “the U.S. Congress has probably never played a greater role in China-U.S. relations. Since the 118th US Congress took office in January, lawmakers have proposed a series of long bills related to China, met with Tsai Ing-wen in the U.S. and Taiwan, questioned the CEO of TikTok, established new special committees, and labeled the ruling party of China as a ‘survival threat’ to the US.” What is the current level of contact between China and the U.S. Congress according to your knowledge? What does China lack of in terms of having good interaction with the U.S. Congress or is there anything that you think China can do to improve its relations with the U.S. congress?
Wang: Yes, absolutely. I think it can. I published this op-ed last month at South China Morning Post, in which I’m calling for more U.S. congressmen and senators to visit China. I actually had a dialogue with former U.S. representative in Taiwan, Douglas Paul, and the former assistant secretary of the state department Susan Salton. During the dialogue, I was calling to invite Speaker Kevin McCarthy to visit the Chinese mainland because at that time, there was a rumor that he was going to visit Taiwan. I said, why not visit the Chinese mainland?
So I think that proposal further, I actually wrote an op-ed to further promote that. I think it extremely important, even during the difficult time in the past, there is always congressman, senator to visit China. Even during the non-diplomatic times, we had Nixon, such a strong anti-communist figure visit China also. And I see the situation is getting little imbalanced. For example, you have almost forty congressmen, senators visit Taiwan, but no single one visit the Chinese mainland. So that’s really unusual and unnecessary. And you are right. Since they don’t come, and then they still live in a kind of fears or hype that they think China is really going to be dominant, going to be really … China is collapsing, or China is doing very bad.
So that’s to simplify, all this binary autocracy versus democracy … I think the problem between China and the U.S. on some of those is that U.S. is practicing this view of democracy versus autocracy. Since Taiwan is a democracy, then we have to defend it. We have to support it. We have to really work together against autocracy. But then they abandoned the three communiques that they have established with China through the five presidents before, that there is only one China, the U.S. recognizes Taiwan is part of China and U.S. doesn’t want to maintain official ties. Those are really fundamental, basic. And that’s the prerequisite for China to establish diplomatic ties with 181 countries. So it’s very important that I think we keep this status quo and this tradition that we had. So that’s why it’s important to have more U.S. congressmen to visit China.
But China, on the other hand, has even though we are not totally … have this the American system or Western system, but the system works in China, fine. We have lifted 800 million people out of poverty. We have actually contributed over 1/3 of the GDP growth for the last 10 years, 20 years. China has actually also become the second largest donor to the United Nations and many international organizations. China actually also built 2/3 of global speed railway. We’re developing now and very stable, prosperous, which is good for the world trade and becomes the largest trade in Asia with 130, 140 countries.
So if this system works well in China, and we shouldn’t really make that a binary world as only your style, or there’s our style, all my way or no way. So I think if U.S. can think like that, and tolerate a little bit different system, rather than viewing anything different than theirs is autocracy. Then probably they were not really so pushy, so supportive of Taiwan. And then they would really abide by their commitment that Taiwan is part of China and should maintain no official ties. So they’re not supposed to provoke China by sending all high-level visits, even Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit. And then China has to protest, has to provoke China to do some military exercise of flying across midline and things like that. So there’s a chicken and egg. If there’s more doing of that and then there’s more visits, and more visits there’s more exercise, and then even U.S. now conducted large exercise with Australia and Philippines recently. That’s really making things worse.
So I think fundamentally, we have to like Joseph Nye and Graham Allison told me that we have to have a cooperative competition or cooperative rivalry. We recognize this competition, but we have to cooperate. But that’s not really talking more competition, rivalry, really self-fulfilling prophecy, we may get into a hot war. So I think particularly on this Taiwan issue is very sensitive, is the core interest of China. We should not really intensify by having so many high-level visits. China should also calm down to responding in this military exercise, but I think that if we can maintain status quo, a peaceful communication is there, because there are already 2 million Taiwanese live in the mainland. There are several hundred thousand husbands and wives living in Taiwan, married with Chinese mainlanders and thousands of student exchanges. Taiwan enjoys the largest trade surplus with China, and they share the same language, cultural heritage, tradition. Eventually they’re going to be integrated through economic integration.
So I think that peaceful communication is still the priority of Chinese government, and only the separatists, independents, at those extreme cases that China has to take some measures and foreign heavy influence. But other than that, I’m sure the Chinese across the strait will eventually work out among themselves. A good example about recent former leader of Taiwan, Ma Ying-jeou’s visit to mainland has been welcomed everywhere, and a lot of goodwill has been built. So I’m sure if we keep that momentum, the two sides across Taiwan Strait will eventually work together.
JJ: Obviously, Taiwan is the core interest of China and China-U.S. relations. On the other hand, there are also many other issues, and I noticed that you also attach great importance to the issue of data security. And I believe many people have watched the Chew Shou Zi the TikTok, the CEO of TikTok. He was questioned by the U.S. Congress. In your article in South China Morning Post, you said that US concerns about China’s data security should be addressed, but not with a TikTok ban. In another piece in Global Times, you pointed out that some Western media are hyping up the potential challenges that Chinese cars may pose to U.S. national data security, which shows ignorance of China’s Global Initiative on Data Security proposed more than two years ago. Nowadays, the Chinese electric vehicle industry is developing very fast, both domestically and overseas. Do you think Chinese cars, especially the electric vehicle companies, will eventually face similar or the same level of Western pressure, ban, like TikTok and Huawei? Is there a way to avoid this outcome and maybe can benefit both sides?
Wang: Absolutely. There’s many ways to improve that. I think this situation is really getting worse and worse because there is a lack of trust. I think there’s a lot of mistrust there, and then there’s a lot of hype and suspicions on both sides. A good example is Huawei. I was at a Munich Security Conference last February, and they say, look, the antenna for the television broadcasting was made by Huawei, they must have some surveillance, spy, or that type of functions.
But I was really thinking there are so many things made in China. For example, 95 percent of Apple phones, iPads, and all those gadgets are made in China. And they are used throughout the world. If you talk about iPhone, so sophisticated, it is 100 percent made in China, and nobody talk about those phone or computers made in China has any security issue. Only Huawei antenna has some problem. So I think we need to really get rid of this mistrust. But I understand there are some treaties like in China which stipulate some causes, made our foreign companies worry or foreign governments more alert. But also the Chinese government, for example, on the data flow, China has been really gradually more open.
For example, you mentioned about two years ago, China minister of foreign affairs made a very strong statement, saying that all the Chinese company operates overseas has no obligation to turn back any data, any information they have. It’s not allowed. Chinese government would not allow that. It’s an open statement by the minister of foreign affairs. So you can’t just, there’s one article in such certain documents, or legal documents said this. You have to see really the overall picture. So I think in that case, China is really committed not to interfere in the company’s activities internationally, and there’s no need for them to turn back any material data whatever. This is formally announced by the minister of foreign affairs and at that time, State Counsellor Wang Yi, now the Party Political Bureau member, highest foreign department diplomat in China. And also, what I think is, not only that China is also looking for a way to address that, for example, China not only joined RCEP but China also applied to join CPTPP, which there is a huge number of articles on data flow that you have to open to join that.
So China has a lot of mentality and conceptual transition and changes. For example, maybe ten years ago, in China think everything on data should be closed, it should be more keeping your box and…
JJ: Very sensitive.
Wang: Very sensitive. But now you find that data is the 21st century petroleum. You have to let it flow in order to make wealth. And China is the second largest digital economy in the world. China has the largest digital application scene in the world and out of those digital infrastructure, for example, 4G/5G stations, China has 6 million of them throughout the country — very advanced in terms of digital infrastructure. So they generate a huge amount of data daily with 1.4 billion people. You have to use it, you have to really make that beneficiary to the mankind, to the world. Of course, we have to keep privacy and identity safe. But other than that, those data should be contributing to the next boom of globalization.
So China is also applying to join DPA, the Digital Partnership Agreement proposed by New Zealand, Singapore and Chile. So China is actually looking for joining CPTPP and DPA as a way to upgrade their digital policy, data flow policy. And President Xi announced that China wants to join those things. I think that international community should really … we all work together. U.S., EU, and ASEAN, maybe Australia, Japan, Canada, let’s all work together — WTO for example. I think that China also leads the e-commerce discussion at the WTO. So I think it’s not that China wants to hack your data, or maybe don’t let the data flow. They want it, but maybe there’s a lack of communication, exchanges, and international agreement — how to do it? I think it used to be U.S. is leading that. Now U.S. is not leading that. So maybe we should … that’s why I’m saying G3, you know, China, EU and the U.S. should all come together and talk about that.
Then particularly my advice is why not U.S. coming back to CPTPP. China wants to join CPTPP and let’s conduct negotiations on the CPTPP platform. The UK has just joined the CPTPP, so we make a mini digital WTP on CPTPP and then get all the data flow, security, privacy issues resolved with new high, 21st-century, new standards, so that every country can benefit. And so we do not have so many security alliances. That’s the more economic globalization, the more economic alliance rather they will have all those ACUS (Administrative Conference of the United States) or Quad (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue) and all the security, which I think is not really helpful.
JJ: Yeah, definitely. Data is definitely growing more and more important in the world. And China has actually established its national data bureau according to a plan released during the just-concluded “two sessions” a month ago. And we also know that because what you have just introduced lots of things that are related to your personal experience, your face-to-face communications with all these Western or international scholars and think tanks. So, in your opinion, what are the differences between Chinese and foreign think tanks? And what are the main opportunities and challenges faced by Chinese think tanks focusing on international issues?
Wang: Now that’s a good question. Certainly, the international think tanks, especially the American think tanks and some European think tanks have a very long history. They probably have over a hundred years’ history if you think about the first think tank is over a hundred years already. Think tanks like Brookings, like CSIS or Chatham House, they all have a very long history. But I think that China also is having a think tnak boom, too, because the hardware has been built up there. The infrastructure is all in place now. The soft power like Joseph Nye was telling me last week during our dialogue is that we need more refreshment of the soft power and think tank is a key component of this soft power, and for reaching consensus, setting an agenda, and making proposals, making an advisory policy, shaping and all those things.
So I think China now has, according to the University of Pennsylvania “global think tank index”, there’s almost 2,000 think tanks in the United States. There’s about 1,400 in China. But I think the problem for Chinese think tanks is still, they’re largely run by government or supported by government. I think China needs more think tanks like CCG, like the Center for China and Globalization, for example. Our think tank is a non-government think tank. We are really supported by the companies, by the business, by our publications, our events, sponsorship, just like the U.S. think tanks or European think tanks. So we should have more diversified think tanks of that.
One of the things that China is lacking, I think Chinese entrepreneurs and the Chinese corporate world, they are getting used to support some poverty alleviation. They are nothing about how to maybe help on the policy research, poverty alleviation, because they are getting used to donating to the rural school and build up a new hope school in the countryside. But that’s fine. You build up a new countryside school, solve several hundred students or pupils’ study. But if you are really supporting a policy research for education, that can benefit thousands of millions of students. So I think there is still not yet a tradition like Western countries, like U.S. and Europe, entrepreneurs and businesses, like to donate, to think tanks, like Brookings was an entrepreneur. He donated the Bookings Institute, become a famous think tank. Carnegie is an entrepreneur. He donated the Carnegie think tank. I don’t think there’s a think tank in China that is named entrepreneurs. So I think we need to really revive that the spirit to support more think tank development in China.
That’s why CCG is unique because we have 200 corporate members,and individual members. We have 100 events in China. We get a lot of sponsorship for events. That gives us autonomy to set the agenda and no donor can exceed 10 percent so our editorial autonomy is maintained. And so we can really get our own agenda. We don’t need really consult so many people, so we can make quick decisions and make it really efficient.
So the difference between China, U.S. and European think tanks, I think Americans think tanks mainly are self-funded, they are funded by society and business community. Some European think tanks are also funded by government, for example, Germany, there’s many political parties. Each political party has a foundation to support their think tanks too. So there’s a little difference. And also Chinese think tanks are largely … many of them are funded by government and then you have really some exceptions like CCG.
So we should have more CCG type of think tanks in china. We have some now, but I think we should have more. Of course, we have good relations with the government. Since we do not belong to any particular ministry or province, we end up so many government departments coming to CCG for advice, because if you belong to one department, you can only report through that department, which limits your policy impact. Whereas CCG has many channels, many ways to report our findings. So we can really get more feedbacks and really get deep providing better policy, advising two different departments of the government. So I think in that sense, we should have more non-government think tanks or non-profit think tanks like CCG in China. So that is really good for China to build up its soft power.
JJ: A follow-up question would be, you mentioned that there are like 200 corporations cooperating with CCG right? And I noticed that some senior entrepreneurs such as Cho Tak Wong, chairman of Fuyao Group, one of the largest glass manufacturers in the world, and Liang Jianzhang, one of the Co-founders and Executive Chairman of the Board of Trip.com Group Ltd., are both senior vice presidents of CCG. How do you view the help of Chinese entrepreneurs for the development of CCG and the Chinese think tank industry in general? You mentioned a little bit on that. Are there any insights or valuable ideas that you find particularly refreshing or valuable in your interactions with all these great entrepreneurs?
Wang: Absolutely. We have many people like that. They are senior vice chairs of the think tank of CCG. For example, Mr. Cho Tak Wong is a very famous Chinese entrepreneur, he’s a big donor to our think tank also. He has five factories in the United States. He has another four or five in the Europe and other countries. He’s the auto glass king. He occupies almost 40, 50 percent of the global market. I mean, he knows international. That’s why he supports the international think tank. What CCG is doing between China and the United States on the friendly exchanges with China and Europe. His company benefited from this globalization and the global market, and then that’s why he supports.
Another example is James Liang. He’s the founder of Trip.com, which is also the largest online travel company in the world. He’s also a scholar. He got a PhD from Stanford, very much enjoying the CCG work. We would do a lot of things together. For example, we all call for open travel, green cars and less exchange on visas, simplified visa applications. We actually also … he supported some studies on foreigners traveling to China and we find that the foreigners travelling to China has declined since last decade, which is unusual. China is booming and all the infrastructure, traffic and and transportation all best ever. How come the people travel has declined? So we found out the reason for that and we issued the report. We announced to the world and we encouraged government to make measures to correct that. So you can see even some of those entrepreneurs who support us really appreciate the CCG can do public good, can really find out the things that impact the Chinese globalization development, and can really lift some of those barriers and CCG can really do better.
Particularly during the COVID, we had the three times visits outside China while China is still under COVID control. That was really appreciated by many people in China. They were saying you send a signal, you are the ambassadors, you are the ice-breakers, you are the first group of Chinese there to go out and engage the world and welcome people from the world to visit China. We received so many positive feedbacks.
So those people are really supportive of our think tank and appreciate the work we’ve been doing. So that’s why. I think, we also maintain a very good relation with all the people in the country. And that’s why we can maintain our think tank autonomy as well to find the issues to … going forward.
JJ: So is it fair to say that you or your colleagues interact with these entrepreneurs or their colleagues very often, like a high frequency?
Wang: We don’t have to really interact with them now. We have a fund-raising department. They are specialized in fiund-raising, in talking to those entrepreneurs, those corporate members. Of course, we do have meetings, like we have a China Global Entrepreneurial Forum annually. And we invite all those member, council members to come. And we also provide a channel for them to talk with different departments on certain policy issues.
But more or less, we are also improving for the better environment. For example, we promote globalization, which they benefit; we promote openness, they really find that is absolutely important; we promote reform. So we have really … valuewise, we share a lot of their values, they share a lot of our values. And also I have to say, the Chinese entrepreneurs now are realizing doing the charity work, not just supporting the poor village children to have a better school, but also supporting a think tank to have a better education policy. That’s also charity work. So that really has gotten more widely accepted now. So we have actually better … find China’s from those entrepreneurs who support us.
So it’s a truly international model of running a think tank in China. I am glad that CCG’s practice and work has made things work out. We are not only appreciated by people inside China, but also appreciated by people outside China and particularly the international community. And working with all the think tanks, all the major forums and all the government we would be meeting, they all appreciate the work CCG has done.
JJ: Yeah. And I hope like my more people can know about what CCG has done, because they are all great things. You seem to be constantly on the go. I am just curious how much time do you usually spend on work in a day or a week? Do you have a typical day you can share with us or is every day different? How do you maintain your energy and motivation?
Wang: We’ve got a very, pretty busy day. There’s a lot of work we’ve been doing. For example, I can give, for example, one of the typical days. Last week, for example, there is, in the morning, we had meetings, office meetings. We had visitors from different countries. For example, we received a large delegation from Australia, also Australian China Chamber of Commerce, Australian Global Foundation, and Australian ambassador to Beijing. So we hosted a roundtable in our office here last week.
Then there’s another day we had an event which is very, very hectic. There was one afternoon that I had to go four events, four meetings. There’s … the China International Publishing House has set up International Orchid Award, 兰花 award. I was one of the evaluating members. I spent half a day marking all those candidates, very famous people around the world. They are building up this new award.
But I can’t go to the dinner. And then that evening, I was invited by South African ambassador to celebrate the China-South Africa for 25 years of diplomatic relations. So I went to Kenpinski Hotel in Beijing to really attend this celebration event and meet the South African ambassador and many ambassadors there. After that, I have to rush to the German center in Beijing. The German director general of German Environment Protection Agency was in Beijing giving a talk that evening. I was enlisted as one of discussing with them. So we talked with him and we met him. So I went to that event.
And later on I went back home. CCG and ISPI and another European think tank, three think tanks formed a online webinar and symposium on China after COVID, China-EU relations. So the people from European think tanks, and myself from china, which is … China is among the three think tanks that co-host this event. So I have to give some talk there until very late in the 11 o’clock, something like 10:30. So you can see, very intense. I have to run four places in one evening. When I get out of the China International Hotel as the evaluation committee, it’s already 6 o’clock, I rushed to Kenpinsky…
JJ: Is the traffic good?
Wang: Before 7:00. I spent half an hour. I went to the German Environment Agency Minister’s seminar for another half hour, one hour. And I went back home for this webinar for another hour and a half. So it’s quite intense. CCG is often because sought after because we have to be there.
JJ: I also noticed that in February this year, the U.S. media outlet Semafor and CCG Launched the “China and Global Business” Platform with events in Beijing and New York, and coverage across CCG’s digital channels — for global business leaders seeking a way forward amid growing calls in the U.S. for economic “decoupling” from China, and China’s parallel pursuit of economic “self-reliance.” The inaugural “China and Global Business” events will take place in Beijing on October 17-19 preceded by an initial convening this June in NYC. How is the preparation going with the events? Are there any other key work arrangements for CCG this year that you can introduce and share with us?
Wang: Yeah, thank you. That’s a good point, too, because we felt U.S. and China, the two largest economies, we have so many complementary business relations. And U.S. is always the pioneer in innovation and science and technology. And also financial capability, U.S. is the No.1 in the world. And so there are many things China can learn. I think it’s important to maintain this business-to-business relationship. That’s why this Semafor Group, which is a very new media founded by formal CEO of Bloomberg Media, Justin Smith, which is a good friend.
So I invited him to come to Beijing in February. We actually worked together. I met him during my visit to U.S. last July. It’s one of the outcomes of our ice-breaking visit during the pandemic. So we come to an understanding we should really promote the business exchanges between China and the U.S … After all, there are already 70,000 U.S. companies set up in China, generating 700 billion revenues every year. And we shouldn’t let that really decoupled, we should really continue to work together because it’s benefiting both countries.
So I think what we have come to understand is that we will have this China and Global Business forum. And it’ll be organized by Semafor and CCG and we’re gonna invite business people, companies around the world, particularly from the U.S. and China, to really have a conference together to find out opportunities, to promote exchanges and strengthen the cooperation, which is, I think, beneficial to the world.
So the meeting will be conducted this year on October 17-18 in Beijing. I think in June, it was too soon. We had online consultations, but now we are having the real thing in Beijing on October 17 and 18.
I think it’s very good that we have more business coming. For example, China Development Forum that we just held in March when the over a dozen U.S. CEOs come, 17 global CEOs come to China. And then when President Macron come, we have 50 European CEOs com. When the president of Brazil come, we had 250 business people come. So you can see the growing interest of international community on China. So it’s probably a good time for U.S. Semafor and China CCG that we organize something to facilitate these global business exchanges.
I felt another thing that we should not separate. We should really work together. Although we have a lot of differences, we have a lot of misunderstandings, but business language is really understood by all the business people. And then that’s really the bed rock of all the relationships we have. We should continue that and benefiting the developing world, benefiting the whole developing process, and avoid misunderstanding.
I still believe the economic globalization is the best vehicle to prevent the military globalization. It’s really important that we strengthen the economic globalization cooperation and have a healthy Olympic-style competition rather than the very drastic rivalry competition. So I think this is important that that we have the chance to work with international organizations like that. And we also work with UN, we work with World Bank. We actually hosted the World Bank to release their Global Economic Outlook Report three years in a row during the pandemic. They issued that twice a year. They only issued in Washington and then the other issue is online with CCG in Beijing. Only two issues. So we’ve been doing that for the last three years. So there’s many international organizations we work with. We hope that our conference in October will be a successful one.
JJ: Before let you go, we invite every guest of our podcast to recommend something to our listeners. It can be a book, a movie, a TV series, a podcast, or even a video game. I’m sure you have lots of books to recommend to us. So do you have any specific recommendation for us today, like a book?
Wang: I’d love to recommend maybe two books. One is the CCG Global Dialogues. That is a free download, actually. The dialogue collected over 15 heavyweight international opinion leaders, articles, papers, and particularly dialogues I had with them. It’s really a good reading between such dynamic China, U.S.-China outside relations.
Another book is just a book we published last week. It’s Soft Power and Great-Power Competition that we edited for Prof. Joseph Nye. He actually had a number of his recent essays, op-eds, and papers and speeches that collected into this book. Also, I wrote a preface for that in the Chinese version. Also in the English version, the first article is the dialogue he had with me a year ago. So those two books are really most recent and I would really highly recommend.
JJ: Thank you. I will take some time to read that. And thank you so much for taking time to have this podcast show with me. I really appreciate your work. The CCG’s work has helped bridge China and the rest of the world. I hope your next trip bridging China and the rest of the world can be very smooth. Thank you very much.
Wang: Thank you for your interview. Thank you.
JJ: Thank you.
The Ginger River Radio podcast is a part of the GRR media outlet. Our show is produced and edited by me, Jiang Jiang, Yu Liaojie from Shanghai International Studies University, and Jia Yuxuan from Beijing Foreign Studies University. For cooperation, investing or feedback, email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org, or just give us a rating and a review on Apple Podcasts. We would be delighted if you would recommend our podcast or newsletter to others if you find it helpful. Thank you for listening and see you next time. Take care.
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