A Dialogue Between Wang Huiyao and Thomas L. Friedman: The World is Faster, Deeper, More Fused and Open, Also FragileCCG | March 29 , 2021
The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has laid bare the paradoxical dichotomy of globalization. On the one hand, rapid technological innovation continues to reconfigure the distribution of labor, production, and markets on a global scale; on the other hand, growing populist sentiment and unilateralism in many countries have fueled calls for de-globalizing policies. The virus outbreak has also exacerbated political tensions within and beyond state borders, notably between the United States and China. How will the future of globalization unfold in times of geopolitical upheaval, identity politics, and rapid technological development?
On March 29, the Center for China and Globalization (CCG) hosted a fireside chat session featuring Mr. Thomas L. Friedman, bestselling author, reporter, New York Times columnist, and three-time Pulitzer Prize winner with Dr.Wang Huiyao, Founder and President of Center for China and Globalization(CCG) This virtual program is part of the CCG “China and the World” webinar series, which seeks to engage global thought leaders on topics concerning the new trends of globalization, the dilemmas of global governance, how to build mutual trust between US and China, how to perceive China’s achievement.
Wang Huiyao: Good evening and good morning, everyone. Welcome to the CCG multimedia center, thank you for being with us for this dialogue with Thomas Friedman, presented by the Center for China and Globalization. It’s really a great honor for me to welcome Thomas Friedman and all of you to be here to watch and listen to us tonight.
As we all know，Thomas is a renowned international journalist with the New York Times and we’re very pleased to have him with us here tonight. He has also written seven books, which are all New York Times best sellers, including From Beirut to Jerusalem, The World is Flat, The Perspective of “Lexus” and “Olive Tree”, Longitudes and Attitudes, The World is Flat and Hot, Flat and Crowded and most recently, Thank you for being late. I remembered in 2017, Thomas actually came to CCG and did a great talk on his latest book, which drew large crowds in China. Tom is also a world-renowned reporter, a weekly columnist for the New York Times and the recipient of the 3 Pulitzer Prizes.
From technology to environment, from the Middle East to China-US relations, Tom has written a very influential and impactful column that we’ve been reading from time to time. Tom is also a great friend of China and a great personal friend of mine as well. I knew Tom before through his book, but we actually met for the first time when I was a visiting fellow at the Brookings in 2010, you came to one of my presentation discussions at Brookings . You also invited myself and Dr. Miao to visit your office in downtown D.C. and not to mention the many times that we saw you in China. Your book the World is Flat actually has been recommended by the then party secretary, Wang Yang, in Chongqing and is one of the best sellers in China.
I was also quite impressed that in October 2012, when you wrote a column called “China needs its own dream” before our 18th party Congress proposed it. So it’s fascinating to see how you follow China closely. You know that we are now in a very turbulent time as we have a pandemic that has swept all over the world. We have globalization and deglobalization and the two biggest economies, the US and China, are in a hard position so we are now trying to figure out what’s next.
I remember last November, you attended one of our webinars during the China and Globalization Forum and I also saw you at the China Development Forum, in which you held a 5-minute talk. Tonight, we actually have more time and we would like to have an in-depth discussion with you about your views and exchanges. This session is part of the “CCG China and the World” webinar series that were launched in 2020 in an effort to engage eminent scholars, experts, government advisers, advocate and business leaders to talk about China and globalization as well as its trend, development and challenges. So perhaps, Tom, you would like to say hi to our audience and then we’ll follow up into the questions and discussions.
Thomas Friedman: Thank you very much for having me. I have so many fond memories of visiting your center in Beijing. I have given book talks there and have hosted you in my office. We always have free and frank discussions from which I learn and benefit. I’m looking forward to being with you today and engaging with your broader audience in China.
The world isn’t just flat, it’s fragile
Wang Huiyao: Thank you. So, Thomas, you’re famous, and you’ve actually become an icon and symbol of globalization movement because of your famous book The World is Flat, which is a long-time bestseller in China and has influenced many people. In that book, you talked about globalization and the three phases – the country, the company and then individuals. So the countries have competed for thousands of years, making the world flat. The company has great roles to play too and now in the 2000s, we are experiencing the internet revolution as individuals and today, we also see how globalization gets more challenges now. Now we have a lot of deglobalization going on, with the rise of populism. So what’s your take now on globalization? How do we look at the new trend that globalization has led us to?
Thomas Friedman: That’s a good place to start. Whenever I do webinars like this, often the first question people have is: is the world still flat? And I always start to laugh a little and I say, wait a minute, I’m sitting in my office in Bethesda, Maryland, and my friend Henry is sitting in his office in Beijing. We’re having a conversation as two individuals, as if we are sitting across the desk from each other. Is the world still flat? Are you crazy? It’s like flatter than ever. Henry, always remember, when I wrote The World is Flat in 2004, Facebook didn’t exist, Twitter was still a sound, the Cloud was still in the sky. 4G was like a parking place, big data was a rap star and Skype was a typo, a typographical error.
All of those things came after I wrote The World is Flat. So the world today, actually, is flatter than ever. We have never connected more different nodes than we have today. We’ve never greased the connection, sped up the connection between those nodes more than we have today. But we’ve also done a third thing. We’ve actually removed a lot of the buffers that manage to flow between those nodes. So think of this, between December 2019 and March 2020, just as Coronavirus was emerging, there were 3,200 direct flights from China to America and there were 50 direct flights from Wuhan to America. Most Americans had never even heard of Wuhan. And think about what’s going on in the Suez Canal today – there’s a ship stuck in the Suez Canal and there is some company in Europe or maybe in China, or maybe a company in Europe waiting for its supply from China because of just-in-time inventory delivery. When we take the buffers out, the system just gets faster and faster.
The world isn’t just flat now. It’s fragile. It’s fragile because when you connect so many nodes, and then you speed up the connection between those nodes and you take the buffers out, you get fragility. Because now I can transmit instability from my node to your node faster than ever. So yes, globalization, ever since when I wrote The World is Flat, many people wrote books to say it’s not flat, it’s spiky, it’s lumpy, it’s curved or it’s bumpy. All those books are wrong. The world is flatter than ever.
The world is fast, fused, deep and open
Wang Huiyao: Great, Tom. I think globalization is accelerating to some extent, with technology and all the speed that we are involved in. But also the movement of the capital, the goods and the movement of the talent – all of those things have been actually become heavier and faster than before. What do you think about the future trend? Are we looking at some new development trend? Of course, we’ve seen that the digital economy is coming up and as you said, there’s about 3,000 flights between China and the US across the Pacific during the start of the pandemic. So we have 400,000 Chinese students in the US and before the pandemic, China had about 150 million outbound tourists, with 10 million people going to Japan and another 10 million people going to Thailand and 3 million people going to the US. What are we seeing in terms of the future?
Thomas Friedman: The book I’m working on now, if I gave it a name and it doesn’t have a name yet, is that “the world is not just flat” anymore. The world is fast, fused, deep and open. So let’s go through all four of those. When I say the world is fast now, what I mean is that there’s been a change in the pace of change. So the speed of technological change now just gets faster and faster as microchips improve and telecommunications improve so the world is really getting fast. Second, the world isn’t just flat now, it’s fused. We’re not just inter-connected, we’re now interdependent. A ship gets stuck in the Suez Canal is something that Tom is waiting for in Bethesda and Henry is waiting for in Beijing as we are both affected. So we’re not just connected. We’re fused together, okay?
We’re also fused together by climate. What America does with its air affects Canada. What China does with its air can affect Thailand. What Australia does with its forest fires affects New Zealand. So we’re fused by technology and by climate.
Third, the world’s gotten deep. Deep is the most important word of this era. Because what we’ve done now is that we put sensors everywhere. For many years, for millennia, the world has been speaking to us but we just couldn’t hear it. IBM did a study few years ago, they took a lake in New York state. They put sensors from the surface, all the way to the bottoms, and from one edge to the other. Suddenly a lake that was just there as we drove by started to speak, started to tell what was going on at the bottom level, at the middle, at the next level, with fish, with fauna, with all kinds of things. Well imagine, now our knowledge of that is deep. It’s very deep. That’s why this word deep. We had to coin a new adjective – deep state, deep mind, deep medicine, deep research, deep fake, to describe the fact that this is going deep inside of me. I can sit here right now in Washington and look at publicly available satellite pictures of different parts of China from Google Earth, from the European space satellite. I can look deep and I could probably find your office and see if you’re coming to work. I can do that as an individual – little Tom Friedman, could now go on to Google earth and see Henry’s office. But I can also see into Xinjiang and China can see into Minneapolis, my hometown. So the world is getting deep.
And lastly, it’s getting radically open. With this every citizen is now a paparazzi, a filmmaker, a journalist, a publisher, with no editor and no filter. With this, a citizen in my hometown in Minneapolis, took a picture of a policeman with the knee on the neck of a man named George Floyd – one person did that with this device, then George Floyd became a name that went all over the world. People in China know the name George Floyd, because an individual with this in an open world was able to tell that story. Same is true from China. We saw that in Hong Kong and we’ve seen that in other areas. So the world is getting fast, fused, deep and open. That is the central governing challenge today. How do you govern the world that is that fast, fused, deep and open? That is our challenge.
Countries are becoming more nationalistic and the world needs coalitions more than ever
Wang Huiyao: Yes, that’s true. You are now thinking of world that is deeper, fused, open and fast – the new trend you’ve been catching that for the next phase of globalization. It’s no longer just flat, but we have and many more layers on that now. I think you pose a very profound question that with the world fast changing, the system that with we’ve been built up during the past decades based on the Bretton Woods system that was built up after the Second World War, are we equipped enough to cope with all those new challenges? Since the world is really getting so divided and so changeable, the system needs to react.
We see this pandemic which has caused a huge number of casualties in the world, and even in the US the casualties are more than we had for the First World War, and the Second World War. After the Second World War, US had this global system built up. Now, as we have this pandemic, which posed enormous challenges for all of us on how to react and now to respect nature. Do we need to upgrade global system? Are we going to have more buffers, as you said in CCG November conference? I know that you studied the Financial Crisis, SARS and Covid-19, so what’s next? I’m glad to see that President Biden signed his order for the US to come back to the Paris Climate Agreement. As you actually interviewed President Biden before he took office, what do you think about this new buffer that we’re trying to build? Maybe, are we losing that, because global governance is falling behind now?
Thomas Friedman: When the world gets this fast, fused, deep and open, there’s only one way to govern it effectively, both at the national or local level and the international level. And that’s what I call, complex, adaptive coalitions. I take that term actually from nature. So I think a fast, fused, deep and open world is like a big climate change. We’re going through a big change in not just the climate of the climate, but the climate of everything – of technology and globalization, etcetera. In nature, when an ecosystem goes through a climate change in which ecosystems thrive and survive. They have complex, adaptive networks where all the parts of the system network together to maximize their resilience and their propulsion— their ability to go forward. It’s true of the world as well.
When the world gets this fast, fused, deep and open, the only way we can govern it effectively is with global complex adaptive coalitions. We cannot manage climate change unless America, China, and Europe, in particular, India, and Japan and Korea, the big economies are all working together. Who can manage global trade now, unless all the big economies are working together? So it’s only complex adaptive coalitions that can effectively get the best out of this world and cushion. The problem is the need of complex adaptive coalitions.
Governments are becoming more nationalistic. China’s government is becoming more nationalistic. Under President Trump, America became more nationalistic, Russia, more nationalistic, Britain’s Brexit – more nationalistic. Countries are becoming more nationalistic, right when we need global coalitions more than ever. And even inside countries, companies and political parties are becoming more tribal, right when they need to be more open and collaborative, so the world is fighting with this trend.
Wang Huiyao: Yes, you’re right. I think that it looks like global governance is really lagging behind global practice or globalization.
Thomas Friedman: But the problem is that there’s a whole set of issues now that can only be managed effectively with global governance – cyber, financial flows, trade, climate, labor flows – they require global governance, but there’s no global government. What do we do when we need global governance? But there is no global government. We have this problem. When US and China, the two biggest countries start fighting in the middle, the situation gets even worse, basically.
The difference in values matters more when China makes “deep goods”
Wang Huiyao: Exactly. I think that’s really a challenge that all of us are facing. You’re right that global governance is lacking because there’s no government. The UN probably is not sufficient enough now. After the second World War, we had the Bretton Woods system, the United Nations, World Bank and IMF, WTO and China is one of the first signatories on the UN Charter and things like that have carried us for 75 years. But it’s not sufficient now, particularly with the globalization, as you just said, getting so fast-paced. It has been 50 years since Dr. Kissinger visited China and later the China-US relation was normalized. China has joined WTO for 20 years and China’s GDP has really gone up 10 to 12 times. China has been able to prosper as China embraced globalization and lifted 800 million people out of poverty. But sometimes, China has a lot to be blamed by Western countries. One of the reasons of this, I’m thinking, when I read one of your January 26th columns on the New York Times, is that maybe in the US, it is socialism for the rich and capitalism for the rest.
What has also surprised to me was that the 10% of Americans own more than 80 % of the stock, have seen their wealth triple in 30 years while the bottom wage earners have zero gain. Could it be that every country has its own problem and China also has to tackle its own problem? Particularly in the Trump era, during which he blamed everything on China for this widening gap when China actually managed to lift 800 million people out of poverty. Maybe we need to have some global consensus, or have some global new narratives. What do you think of those?
Thomas Friedman: US-China relations, let’s talk about that a little bit – it’s gotten very complicated – just to give you my view of that. And it’s related to your question, because you mentioned the anniversary and so the point is that I think the four decades of US-China relation from 1979 to 2019 will go down as an epoch in US-China relations. Unfortunately, that epoch is over. What was that epoch about? That epoch was a period of what I call unconscious integration, unconscious not because we weren’t thinking about it, but because it was so easy. In a sense that I as an American company, could say I want to have a supply chain in China that starts in China. I as an American parent could say I want my son or daughter to go to university in China to study mandarin. I as an employer could say, I want to hire the best Chinese technologists or student who’s living in America. And on the Chinese side, any Chinese could say over time, I want my company listed on the Nasdaq, I want to have an American partner, I want my kid to go to school in America.
And over those 40 years, China and America became in some ways, one country, two systems. We really got fused together. Now, that era, unfortunately, is over. Why is it over? I’m gonna come back to the word “deep” – because for most of those 30 -40 years, China sold us mostly shallow goods, clothes we wore on our shoulders, shoes we wore on our feet, solar panels we put on our roof. I call those shallow goods. We sold China deep goods, things like computers, software, things that went inside CCG, right in your office – American computers, software, right in Henry’s office, right in his home. We sold you deep things, you sold shallow things, for the most part, okay? When China sold us only shallow things, politically speaking, we didn’t care whether China was authoritarian, communist, libertarian or vegetarian. It didn’t matter because you were just selling us shallow goods. But when China, by its own technological development over the last 10 years, has been able to make deep goods – Huawei, 5G, very deep goods. Now they come to America and said, we want to sell you deep goods, just like you sold us your deep goods. We want to sell Thomas Friedman Huawei what will go in his house and answer his telephone. And what we said was wait a minute, when you were just selling us shallow goods, we didn’t care about your political system. But if you want to sell me deep goods, here in Bethesda, if you want Huawei to answer my phone – suddenly, the difference in values matters. That’s where the absence of shared trust between our two countries now really matters. China’s central value is the stability of the collective. So if the collective is advancing, if more people are coming out of poverty, that is a central Chinese value and it values more than nationalism in Xinjiang and it values that more than 1 or 2 people like Jack Ma getting super rich.
1979 – 2019 saw 40 years of relative peace and prosperity of the world, with China-US relations at the core
Thomas Friedman: Its focus has always been on the collective and stability because you are 1.4 billion people. In America, our values are individual. We put much more privacy on the individual, the right of the individual to express themselves, the right of the individual to start a company, the right of the individual to thrive and do better or worse. So, when it’s the right of the individual, then it’s the primacy of human rights and individual rights.
Now, we’re having a clash on values in a way we didn’t during that 40 years’ effort. And that is going to be a problem, because our difference in values is really now making it very, very complicated and because China is wealthier now and more powerful. It’s also able to assert itself and its values at home and abroad, more powerfully.
And so, we have a lot of work to do. The big question is, can we get back to a joint project, a shared project? Because the relative peace and prosperity of the world for those 40 years – 1979-2019, which was the relative peace and prosperity of the world, at the core, was China-US relations. If we rip that apart, the world will not be as prosperous, and it will not be as peaceful. When it’s getting fast, fused, deep and open, it won’t be governed the way it needs to be. So we need to have some very deep conversations. China needs to understand in a deep world, I can see inside Xinjiang. If I think that there’s forced labor there, I may boycott your cotton. And Americans need to understand that a country of 1.4 billion people needs to maintain stability – that’s a high priority and that it’s going to come in a different way. We have to have an honest conversation.
Wang Huiyao: Absolutely, I agree that we really need a deep dialogue. That’s exactly the purpose of this conversation as well. You are right, we have to look at values but we also should have some new narrative, because I think what China has been doing for the last 40 years including opening up and China has transformed enormously beyond recognition. Any foreigners who came to China 30, 40 years ago would recognize the great changes. Particularly this year, the Chinese government has announced they have lifted 800 million people out of property and they have completed the 13th Five-Year Plan and the first Centennial Plan and they’re now launching the next 14th Five-Year Plan and also by 2035 China is going to double its GDP.
So I remember when the former US Ambassador to China, Terry Branstad, invited me to his farewell cocktail event, he said that he really thought that the success of China attributes to three factors. One is that the Chinese are really hard-working because any time you come to China, it’s not 7/24, it’s probably 9/9/6. There’s a lot of people working very hard. The second is that he thought Chinese attach great importance to family values as they have great respect for seniors and collectivism. And the third is education – in China a family often has one child and the whole family value education.
So the success of China is not really a purely traditional, old and orthodox system as some Americans may understand it. With a system that now combines technology, consultative democracy, market, economy and meritocracy, China is delivering well on its performance. As Deng Xiaoping said, it doesn’t matter if it’s a white cat or a black cat, as long as it can catch mice. So if China can lift 800 million people out of poverty, and also keep the least number of casualties from Covid-19, that’s probably the biggest human rights achievement that can be achieved in such situation.
Also, as you said, China has 1.4 billion people and the stability is always important. China has built 2/3 of the world’s fast trains network and it has 7 out of the top 10 largest ports in the world and has become a largest trading partner with 130 countries and after all, China can contribute over 1/3 of global GDP growth. So in terms of KPI, China is doing well.
And maybe we should have a little bit more tolerance to different systems. Like President Biden said, we have competition, even fierce competition, but we can also cooperate as well. Just as the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said at NPC session for the first time that we can have peaceful competition and cooperation. Thus, let’s not have another Cold War and a lot of people in China think there’s a lot of catch-up to do with each other.
Western journalists to draw independent conclusions on Xinjiang
Thomas Friedman: It’s a very good point. People said to me that if you’re going on a webinar in China, they must be censoring. I said, no, I’ll bring up Xinjiang, I’ll bring up Hong Kong and nobody’s gonna censor me. We’re having, actually, a very valuable dialogue as you’re giving me China’s perspective and I’m giving you the concerns of America. Having a respectful dialogue is so important.
You’ve got your perspective, which is not illegitimate from my point of view. The points you raise about bringing people out of poverty and providing stability affects the human condition are very important. You listen respectfully to my perspective when I raise questions about how a whole culture is treated in Xinjiang or democracy in Hong Kong, then maybe you’ll come back and say, Tom’s got a point and I come back and say Henry has got a point. And we have this respectful dialogue then maybe I can say to you that if China did this on Hong Kong or in Xinjiang, it would really help. And you could say that Tom, if America did this on how you talk about China, how you treat China in the world, it would really help.
And maybe then we start to take confidence building measures where each of us does something to lower the temperature. Unfortunately, what happened in Alaska was sort of a mutual debate and name calling, which leaves everybody just feeling kind of angry. So I want to say that I appreciate and have respect for the dialogue that you’re hosting. I wish we could all broaden this and because there are legitimate concerns that American and the West have and what I’m afraid of is that those legitimate concerns we have aren’t even listened to. I don’t hope for this but I fear that we will end up in something like a boycott of the 2022 Olympics and then the whole relationship will blow up.
That’s why I think it’s so important that we have a dialogue where China says, I hear you, I will take this gesture and America says I hear you, I will take this gesture. And we find ways to go together in a fused world, as my friend Graham Allison always says, we now have mutual assured destruction. The two of us can destroy each other, we can destroy the global economy, we can destroy the global climate. So we are doomed to work together. What bothers me right now is that we’re not having the kind of frank but respectful dialogue that we need. And then walking away from that dialogue with a to-do list. I’ve heard what Tom says about the situation of the Uighurs or Hong Kong, I don’t agree with all of it, but I’m gonna try to work on something. And I come away and say that I hear what Henry is saying – this country brought 800 million people out of poverty. Do you know how much more stable the world is because China did that? That’s also a huge thing.
I’m gonna work on things that are of your concern. We need to get back to that dialogue because I go back to my central point – the 40 years from 1979 to 2019 will be seen as a golden era of global relative prosperity and peace. And the core of it, was the US and China. If you rip out that corner, your diplomats may have a good day putting me down or putting America down and my diplomats may have one good day putting China down. But the world will have a bad year, year after year if we don’t find a way for US and China to work together.
Wang Huiyao: Yes, I think as the largest two economies in the world, we have a moral responsibility and humanitarian duties now to really work together, absolutely. I agree with you that journalism work should be resumed and the US consultates shut down should too be reopened and we should intensify the exchanges. China has about 400,000 students in the US and the US has only about 10,000 in China – I hope that we can attract more US students to come to China. But you’re right, on the social and civil society level, we can have more exchanges. You talk about the issues on Xinjiang and Hong Kong. The feeling here is that we often hear the Western countries says here we have 1- 3 million Uighurs looked up but we really don’t know where that is coming from. Where is the original source of the statistics? A lot of the buildings or compounds that they use satellite to see in Xinjiang are empty and another thing is that it’d be really hard to prove 1-3 million Uighurs are locked up. Also, the Chinese government has actually stated in the white paper last year that everyone receives vocational education in the schools have all graduated
So Chinese Foreign Ministry’s spokesperson welcomes foreign ambassadors and journalists to visit Xinjiang and to come to have more dialogue and exchanges. We should talk to each other rather than to talk about each other. The same is true with Hong Kong. Now Hong Kong is no longer in a chaotic situation when Hong Kong legislature council was stormed and US Capitol Hill too. We really need a lot of dialogue on these issues and we need to welcome all the journalists on both sides to really promote this dialogue.
Thomas Friedman: I think it’d be very important, from my point of view, if a team of the New York Times reporters were allowed into Xinjiang – let them go, let them write, let them see. Then we can draw independent conclusion. I think that’s very important. And from the Chinese side too – anywhere you want to come in America, I think you should be allowed to go.
Wang Huiyao: Sure, I think that could be a good idea. It can be open and I think probably openness is really the great way to solve all those questions. You also mentioned about decoupling, which I think it’s very hard to decouple. When you talked about Huawei, you’re even talking that maybe we should really let it experiment in some remote US states so as to build up the trust like you said. The trust building between us should be given a new start during the new Biden administration.
“The more interdependent we become, the more the politics will follow”
Thomas Friedman: I feel very strongly about that because if we go to a tech cold war, I believe that will be not bad for the world but bad for America. If there is a Chinese tech eco-system and an American tech eco-system. I’m not sure the majority of the world will come to the American tech-eco system either for financial reasons or technological reasons. So I don’t think that’s a healthy thing and I think the best thing in the world is mutual interdependence. I want China dependent on intel chips and I’m totally comfortable if America is dependent on Chinese supply chains. I think the more interdependent we become, the more the politics will follow.
As I’ve said this before, I’ve been going to China now since 1989 – China is so much more open than it was 30 – 40 years ago and I would say it’s more closed than it was by 5-6 years ago. But I also believe the trend line is that as China develops and builds a bigger and bigger middle class where people don’t just come out of poverty but enter the middle class.
How many Chinese tourists now are coming to the world? Tens of millions every year. So people say to me sometimes, “Friedman, you said China would become more open but in the last 5 or 6 years, it’s become more closed.” I said, “well, who declared the year of 2021 the end of history? Countries move at different pace, like three steps forward and half step back. I am confident that as China develops not just out of poverty, but also grows a middle class that wants to travel and have its students that go everywhere in the world, the trend line toward openness will continue. So we should have a little confidence in that, too. I think the more we integrate, the more that will happen. But we do have this core trust problem.
The efforts of China and the US would really change the direction of the relationship
Thomas Friedman: And one of the things I often ask myself is “what are we fighting about?” Yeah, it’s surely not ideology because China is more capitalist than we are in a lot of ways, does China want to take over Chinatown in San Francisco? I don’t think so. Does America want to occupy Shanghai or Nanjing? I don’t think so. I’m not even sure what we’re fighting about. In the deepest sense, yes there’s a clash of values, I get that.
Obviously, it’s two great powers who have influence but this all should be manageable. It does require each of us to do something hard. And that’s what’s very important. It would be hard for confidence building measures by China on Xinjiang or on Hong Kong. It will take hard confidence building measures in the West, on something like Huawei, where Americans can give a test like you can install 5G in Texas, and we’ll see how you do. And if you do better, then you go to Oklahoma if you behave in accordance to our laws. China and America get each other’s attention. Now, we each have to do something hard, not easy, but something hard. When China does something hard in Hong Kong and Xinjiang that will really get Americans’ attention. And when we do something hard on something like Huawei, that will get China’s attention. That’s something we can then build on. Right now, neither side wants to really do anything hard, because for us, to let Huawei in now would be politically be hard, which will be a challenge. For China, to take the kind of steps we’ve been talking about in Xinjiang and Hong Kong will be hard. But if we each do something hard now, that would have a huge confidence building, that would be the thing that would really change the direction of the relationship right now.
Wang Huiyao: I think trust and confidence building that you talked about is absolutely important. You really hit the point that on the question, “what are we fighting for?”. What is the point to fight when two countries are so intertwined? I think the US-China business council issued a report not too long ago which shows that the trade war could cause a drop of 0.5% in the GDP of the US and the loss of 2-300,000 jobs in the US. Actually many Western automobile companies sell more cars in China than their own countries and Tesla had full production and a very profitable year in China despite the Covid-19 pandemic. Moreover, Walmart purchased so many goods from China and China is the second last global market for Apple after the US so the two countries are so much intertwined.
Thomas Friedman: Absolutely, China is the second largest book market for me. I sold more copies of the World is Flat in China than any other country other than America. So, I know the benefits of our integration. There will be trade issues and questions of fairness that are very serious, which we need to address but we need to get away from the Alaska kind of meeting, away from public name calling and get down to some really hard doing on issues such as trade. That’s what will actually change the dynamic in the relationship.
Wang Huiyao: That’s right. I saw that President Biden didn’t talk about rivalry but competition at the Munich Security Conference, he said they don’t seek confrontations. And China always emphasizes on peaceful coexistence.
Thomas Friedman: I must point out the fact that President Xi and President Biden have a personal relationship, which is very unusual. I was actually at the State Department lunch and got to sit on the table when both of them were Vice Presidents and got to see that personal relationship. We must not waste that.
China and the US to have more dialogue and collaboration on climate change and infrastructure
Wang Huiyao: Absolutely. I think President Biden is having this Earth Day next month on climate change and invited many leaders. We hope that President Xi may be attending as well, and so that the two leaders have a chance to hold a dialogue again. I think we need some momentum to restart the good dialogue. I noticed that the Ford Foundation and quite a few US foundations started the US-China scholar exchange program. We hope that the Fulbright Scholarship Program, the US Consulate in Chengdu, and the student exchange programs can be resumed too. I notice there are new changes with the Biden administration. They are not calling CPC anymore on a daily basis and they are more pragmatic. They are not arresting and charging many with espionage and calling many Chinese students spies.
As you said, both sides can do a lot of things. If we have a common value such as the peace and prosperity of the world, we can really abandon some old style of mentality and then look at the fact and focus on effectiveness and efficiency of running our own countries. One of the things I noticed that there’s probably two consensuses in the US congress. One is on China and another one is on the infrastructure. The US needs to renovate its infrastructure and China has done that the best in the world – the longest fast-train network, longest highways, 80 % of the world tallest bridges are built in China. So maybe the US and China can collaborate. You talked about Texas. The cost of exporting energy from inland Texas to China is twice that of importing from the Texas coastal area because there is not enough sufficient infrastructure in Texas.
So it might be a good idea that China and the US can work on infrastructure together. Maybe we can elevate the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, the AIIB, to the World Infrastructure Investment Bank, to which the US and Japan can join, the only two countries that are still not there. So that’s something we can collaborate on. After 75 years of the UN and after the worldwide virus war, we can have a new addition to global governance system. A new mechanism that can secure the peace and security, rather than no governance and we are fighting. And then we’d be really at the brink of a war Graham Allison is right, we are facing a huge mutually assured destruction if we are not being very careful.
So how can we improve the relation? I think that opinion leaders like you are great. Your recent piece, “China doesn’t respect us anymore – for good reason.” in the New York Times column has drawn a lot of attention. But I want to ask, if the shoe doesn’t fit China, how can China make great achievement? Of course, globalization is a factor but with its 5,000-year history, China has its own culture and logic in development. For example, it’s a society that people were willing to sacrifice some extent of individual freedom in light of the Covid situation for the collective benefits. So there’s a little bit of cultural differences rather than ideological differences and we probably need to be more careful when we see the differences.
Thomas Friedman: For me, 90 % of US policy is about making America stronger. That is, if we invest in our infrastructure, if we invest in our education, if we invest in our government funded research, if we take advantage of immigration, it’s one of the great advantages we’ve always had over every other country that we can attract the world’s best brains to our shore, including Chinese. So we need to get our own act together and I believe we have legitimate issues like moral, diplomatic and ethical issues. We may raise issues regarding tensions over Hong Kong and Xinjiang also but we have got to get our act together at home. That’s what I was saying in that article. China has a formula for success. We had a formula for success but we’ve gotten away from our formula for success. If we are the most dynamic, attractive, compelling economy and society in the world. To me, that’s the best policy because people would look at us and say, “we want more of that.”
I get criticized a lot because when I point out how well China is doing on education or infrastructure and science. People say, “Friedman, you love China.” It’s just I’m actually not thinking about China, I’m thinking about America. Very frankly, I’m trying to use China’s success on infrastructure, on education, on science, on anti-poverty, as a way to stimulate and challenge Americans. Because during the Cold War, why did we build a highway system? Because we thought we needed it for the Cold War. Why did we race to the moon? Because we thought we needed it to race with the Russians. When we lost that outside challenger, frankly, we got a little lazy at home and we were ready to settle, as I said in that article. So I’m not at all ashamed of taking China’s successes and saying to Americans, they’re gonna be the leading and most powerful country in the world if we don’t get back to our formula for success. So that is my very unapologetic strategy of pointing out that China is succeeding. I don’t want China to fail. I think the world will be better if China succeeds and we succeed at the same time. The best example is to have the most powerful human rights policy, the most powerful economic policy and the most powerful diplomatic policy and believe me, the world will respond.
Wang Huiyao: That is very stimulating. You mentioned one of the core advantages of the US is talent attraction. Perhaps the Biden administration will do more of that, such as welcoming foreign students. Graham Allison said to me that former prime minister of Singapore told him that the US is picking talent from 7 billion people and China is picking talent from 1.3 billion so we really have to learn from the US as well and perhaps to attract more US student to come to China as well. You’re right. I think that we will really need to increase the understanding and trust as we feel there are not many people that know well about China in the US. You are an exception as you know so much about China and we hope that we can have more dialogue like this.
The US and China as the two largest countries in the world have to work together. Let’s have peaceful competition rather than confrontation and rivalry. We have our differences but let’s build up a more transparent system with rules in terms of competition. For example, we can reform WTO together and CCG here is actually promoting the idea that China should join CPTPP. The Chinese leaders have said that we are willing to join CPTPP which is designed by the US with high standards of trade practices and our considerations are positive. So rather than fighting on trade and tariff, maybe we could use these multilateral forums or investment treaties such as a bilateral investment treaty that US China almost concluded during the Obama and Biden Administration
“China and America really need to make a second impression on each other”
Thomas Friedman: I have visited your center for many times and I’ve always appreciated the forum that you have given me, where I can be very frank. Whenever I’ve spoken, I’ve spoken my mind. I have benefited from you speaking, your mind very honestly in defending your system and I do the same.
This is my message. You only get one chance to make a second impression. Not the first impression – you only have one chance to make a second impression. China and America really need to make a second impression on each other right now. We both need to give each other a new look, a second look. I think that will only happen though if we each do something a little hard so that people say, wow, that was hard for China to do. That was hard for America to do. We need to get each other’s attention again. And it’s very important. I want to give this friendly advice. You don’t want to be seen as a bully. Nobody likes a bully and you know how I know that – because nobody liked America to be a bully. After the Cold War, we thought we were the hyper power and we could go anywhere and tell everyone to do anything and they thought we were kind of a big bully and nobody likes a bully. What people like and what people really respond to is when they see you do something hard. We need to do that, China needs to do that and then we can both have a second impression.
Wang Huiyao: There is a better way to tell the story of China, absolutely. And I was glad to see that the Secretary Blinken said the US now is no longer need to topple any other governments. There is more peaceful coexistence now and China and the US need each other to maintain global stability.
Thomas Friedman: I think what happened in Alaska was a necessary throat clearing for both sides. Both sides need to clear their throat. And Joe Biden is a good man, he’s a stable president, he is not like Trump. He’s a partner for a serious dialogue and I’m still hopeful now that both sides have kind of got everything off their chest so that they can sit down and have the kind of dialogue that you and I are having which is honest, frank and respectful but also where we actually agreed to do something and bring the relationship where it needs to be.
Wang Huiyao: You are right. We needed to clear the throat and then we can really calm down and talk about the good stuff. It’s great that we have almost 800,000 viewers online right now through several channels. We have a quite a few questions from a few Chinese media.
Firstly, China Radio International ask that last year you wrote an open letter to the then US President Donald Trump and stress the need for a more planned response to fight against the pandemic and offered some suggestions. If you’re having an interview with Biden, what would be your new proposal?
Thomas Friedman: I feel good about where America is right now. With the 2 million people being vaccinated now basically each day. By June or July, we will be over the worst of this. We do need, going forward, to have a global understanding on how to prevent the next pandemic. Sars and Covid-19 both emerged in the interface between urbanization and wilderness areas. Basically, these are viruses jumping from animals in the wild, through markets into urban areas. As we expand into urban areas through our development and expand into wilderness areas such as Brazil’s deforesting, we need to have a global discussion about the interface between urbanization, deforestation, wilderness, and wild animals. And so we are not transporting viruses that are really evolved in the wilderness through deforestation and urbanization into human settlement areas, and then in the globalization system. I know China is concerned about this and it’s actually taken steps to ban wet markets and the sale of certain wild animals. This is very important that we sit down together and try to understand where the Corona virus emerged and where Ebola emerged. And we make sure that we have a global regime that can really stop this kind of transmission. So there’s a very important global discussion that needs to happen, which has to involve China, America, African nations, Europe, etcetera. But it’s very important that China and America catalyze that discussion.
China lowering the price of clean energy and raising its standard would benefit the world
Wang Huiyao: Thank you. You are right and I’m also glad to see that President Biden is coming back to the WHO and after President Xi pledged 2 billion US dollars in supporting developing countries in fighting pandemic, President Biden also pledged 2 billion US dollars to support the fight against Covid-19 at a G7 meeting. Both leaders are concerned with global issues and we should really strengthen these collaborations and in dialogue.
Another question from China Daily: what do you think of the role that China can play in tackling climate changes? As we know, President Biden is having the Earth Day Summit. How about the idea of having a group discussion on this issue? For example, we really gathered our act together to stabilize the world economy at G20 as we did during the financial crisis of 2008.
As China and the US are the leaders on this issue and being the two largest emitters of carbon dioxide gas in the world, they should probably have a closer collaboration. President Biden just returned to the Paris Agreement and President Xi have already pledged very concrete objectives on combatting climate change. We can all do more on climate change?
Thomas Friedman: The most important thing that the government of China, America and Germany can do is that with every clean technology. Let’s use solar panels as an example. I’m making this up but you’ll get the point – the greatest contribution the government of China can do is to mandate that every building in China has to have some solar power. Because the minute China does that, the price of solar panels will go down and you will drive the price of manufacturing solar panels down so a village in Africa can have that. So same in America – let’s say, wind power, offshore wind. The wind of ocean is much more expensive than onshore wind. Our job in America is that the government is to subsidize offshore wind. So we bring the price down and everyone in the world can use it. And then we bring our standards up so the role of government is bringing the price down, but then gradually bring the standards up. So if China can cut the price half by mandating that everyone has to have solar panels and say every year, every house has to add one solar panel, then you bring the price down and you bring the standards up. That’s how we get scale. So I’m not against the Paris agreement or US-China dialogue, but I’m actually just very focused on the public-private partnership that creates scale and governments – the job of your government, my government and the German government, is to drive the price down so every village in China can afford solar or wind and then raise the standard and every year they’re required to add a little more. That’s how we change the final.
Wang Huiyao: That’s great idea. I think that the public-private partnership is really important and China is actually development very fast on that. China is the largest solar producer now in the world and has the largest wind mill generation capacity and is the largest producer of clean-energy cars now. This kind of momentum is great.
Thomas Friedman: That’s right. China’s the largest coal user in the world and the way to get off coal is by just using the government’s balance sheet to really make these clean technologies more and more efficient and available and then raising standards. If China’s government does that, that will be a gift to the whole world.
Wang Huiyao: Yes, I think China is really working towards that objective.
Thomas Friedman: People want clean energy in their cities.
Wang Huiyao: Absolutely, such as buildings that are energy saving. It’s an enormous amount of technology innovation there. That’s why President Biden said there are trillions of new opportunities ahead. So if both China and the US work together, we can probably provide the infrastructure to combat climate change for the world and will be great if the EU and many other countries join too. That’s very great.
China can contribute to the return to the Iran Nuclear Deal
Wang Huiyao: We have another question from Guancha, a media agency from Shanghai: “The most recent shuttle diplomacy for Foreign Minister Wang Yi to the Middle East has been under spotlight. Apart from having friendly exchanges with Saudi Arabia and Iran, he also extended his offer to invite Palestinians and Israelis to hold a direct dialogue in China. Mr. Friedman, you have long followed the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process. How do you see the current situation in the Middle East and the role played by China in it? “You are an expert on that and have an Oxford degree on Middle East studies.
Thomas Friedman: That’s a very good question. There would not have been a nuclear agreement with Iran without China’s help. China, Russia and the European Union played a very important role in helping us get a nuclear agreement. President Trump unwisely tore up that agreement. He tore it up because Iran was being a bad actor in the region, I would argue, which was seen as a source of instability, not for Israel, but for Lebanon, for Iraq, for Syria. And I hope that as China gets more involved in the region, that it will do so with an eye to regional stability, not just counter balancing America. So when China signs a deal with Iran to buy Iranian oil – is it using its leverage to get Iran back into the nuclear deal? Or is it using its leverage to counterbalance America? This is very important because China has an interest in stability in the region. Iran becoming a nuclear power is not good for China. China does not and has never wanted to see nuclear proliferation. That’s why it supported the Iran nuclear deal. So I hope that if China is getting more involved in the Middle East, it will be on the side of making the region more stable, not by making it easy for Iran not to be in the nuclear deal, but by getting Iran back into the nuclear deal. Again, in fairness to China, it was America, it was Trump that tore up the nuclear deal, not China. But I think China can be a very important source of leverage for helping us get back to the nuclear deal. I hope it uses its power and energy in that direction.
Wang Huiyao: That’s right. China and the US should work together on issues in regard to the Middle East for the public and then play a bit more active role in issues on North Korea and its peaceful development.
I have the last question for you referring back to globalization from China Reviews News Agency: Considering the impact of the epidemic, people of different countries being isolated from each other and many companies and organizations are stuck in stagnancy now, do you think it will really slow down globalization or do you think globalization will have a new start after Covid?
Thomas Friedman: A very good question and a good place to end. I think, we are on the verge of an incredible explosion of globalization because of what the pandemic has done. Before the pandemic, McKinsey estimated that about 20% of American companies had digitized their business. After the pandemic, so many more companies have digitized their business. Look what CCG has done – you’ve digitized your forums. Now, you and I are acting globally as individuals, more easily and more cheaply and more efficiently than ever. It’s not as good as when I’m in your auditorium but about 90 % good. When I’m in your auditorium, we just have the people in the auditorium but now we have 800,000 people around China. So you see that the fact that the pandemic has forced us to digitize so many things and is also going to allow us to globalize in so many more ways, such as tele-medicine, tele-education and tele-business. And what will come out of this is a new hybrid. So next time you and I meet – maybe it’ll be on Zoom, or maybe it’ll be in your office in Beijing, or maybe it’ll be in your office in Beijing with Zoom. So I think when this is over, we will have so many more ways to globalize. But the world is gonna continue going from size large to size small, from size medium to size small. Thanks to the pandemic, it’s gonna happen faster than ever.
Wang Huiyao: Yes, the pandemic has probably brought people closer by technology.
Thomas Friedman: I have done more webinars and have reached more people in China during the year of the pandemic than the previous 30 years combined.
Wang Huiyao: Glad to see the positive side of it. I was also glad to see that during the Alaska meeting, both US and China’s government officials talked about the chance of relaxing visas and opening the borders so we hope that we can invite you again to talk with us at CCG and meanwhile, with almost 900,000 views tonight, the dialogue we had is frank and very constructive and meaningful. We can really provide a better narrative and a more constructive dialogue as well as seek common ground and minimize the differences. And I’m sure China and US, being the world’s two largest economies, we have more responsibility to work together to fight against climate change, the pandemic, debt issues, and so many other things.
Thomas Friedman: It’s absolutely correct and I have great respect for the fact that you invite me, you let me say and I say whatever I want, even it’s some hard things – but I think it’s said out of respect and a desire to see the relationship get on a healthier track and I appreciate you are giving me this opportunity to reach your audience and reach so many friends and readers in China. I look forward to doing it again as I really respect and appreciate this opportunity.
Wang Huiyao: Thank you very much, Tom, for spending your time with us and we hope to see you again. We also thank our viewers tonight – thank you all very much.