CCG Dialogue with Joseph S. Nye Jr. on US-China Balance of PowerCCG | April 25 , 2021
- A Cold War Mentality is a Misinterpretation of the Future of US-China Relationship
The ongoing great power competition between the United States and China, the world’s two largest economies, is predominantly viewed through the lens of balance of power. In this session, Professor Nye explored topics including the role and influence of soft power in foreign policy, the rise of nationalism in both countries, economic and social co-existence and interdependence, as well as cooperation on important global issues such as climate and trade.
This virtual program is part of the CCG “China and the World” webinar series seeking to engage global thought leaders on topics concerning the current situation and dilemmas of globalization and China’s role in it.
Wang Huiyao: Hello, good evening, good afternoon and good morning – it depends on where you are and thank you for tuning in. We are very honoured and very pleased to have Professor Joseph Nye with us today for the China and the World Dialogue Series. CCG is a leading think tank in China that has been ranked 64 globally by the University of Pennsylvania and we are also the only think tank in China that has the United Nation special consultant status. We have been conducting this China and World Series since last year during the pandemic, where we featured a number of well-known international opinion leaders and scholars like Thomas Friedman and Professor Graham Allison. We’re going to have a number of more coming up as well. Last year, we also held webinars with Wolfgang Ischinger, John Thornton and some other well-known international scholars. And, tonight, we are with Joseph Nye. Professor Nye is a University Distinguished Service Professor and also a former Dean of Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He received his bachelor’s degree from Princeton University and won the Rhodes Scholar scholarship of the Oxford University and attained his Ph.D. in Political Science from Harvard University. He has worked in three city government agencies, having a very impressive career. From 1977 to 1979, Joseph served as a deputy to the Undersecretary of State for Security Assistance, Science and Technology and chaired the National Security Council Group on non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. For recognition of his service, he received the highest of the Department of State accommodation, the Distinguished Honour Award, and in 1993 and 1994, he was the chair of the National Intelligence Council, which coordinates intelligence estimation for the president. He was awarded to the Intelligence Community Distinguished Service Medal. In 1994 and 1995, he served as the assistant secretary of defence for International Security Affairs, where he won the Distinguished Service Medal.
Joseph is very famous for his academic career. I remember when I was at Harvard Kennedy School about 11 or 12 years ago, you were so kind to accept our interview and you wrote a preface for a book of ours, which I really appreciate. And Joseph is a fellow at the American Academy of Arts and Science of the American Academy of Diplomacy and of the British Academy. In a recent survey of the International Relations Scholars, Professor Nye has ranked as the most influential scholar on American foreign policy and also in 2011, Foreign Policy named him one of the top 100 global thinkers. Professor Joseph, today, we are really pleased to have you and perhaps you can say a few words to our online audience in China and elsewhere.
Vertical Power is “Power With” – Countries Have to Work With Each Other on Global Challenges
Joseph Nye: Well, it’s a pleasure to be with you and to visit the Centre for China and Globalization, even if it’s only virtually. I look forward to the day when we can once again greet each other personally. But I think the topic of how power is changing in the world and how that’s going to affect the relations between the United States and China is one of the absolute central topics of our century. In the recent book that I published, Do Morals Matter? last chapter, I say that there are two great power shifts going on in this century. One is a power shift from west to east, which means from basically Europe and the Atlantic to the Pacific and Asia. If you think about the world in, let’s say in 1800, Asia was half of the world’s population and half of the world’s economy. By 1900, Asia is still half the world’s population, but only 20 percent of the world’s economy and then it was because of the industrial revolution in Europe and North America. What we’re seeing in this century is a return to normality – normal proportions. And it’s a long process, but I think it’s an extraordinarily important power shift. Many people see this as the rise of China and certainly China has been central to it. But also, it starts really with the rise of Japan after the Meiji Restoration, continued also with the rise of India. So, China’s big part of Asia, but Asia obviously is a broader concept. So how do we manage that power transition from the West to East in a way which is beneficial for all countries and which doesn’t break down into great power rivalries, which are destructive. That is one of the great power shifts.
The other great power shift is what I would call vertical rather than horizontal. And that’s the power shifts from governments to non-governmental and transnational actors. And this is driven by technology and by changes in not economic, but in ecological globalization, things like pandemics and climate change, which don’t respect boundaries and which no government can control working alone, but has to, in fact, controlled by working with other governments. And that’s why in my book, I talk about the fact that the first type of power shift, the one that I would call horizontal, is one that can lead to power over competitive power, in which we think in traditional terms – power over other countries. But when you look at this other power shift, the vertical one from governments to transnational requires a different form of power, called “power with” rather than “power over”, because no country can solve those problems alone. So, if you take climate change, for example, China cannot solve climate change by itself. The United States can’t solve it by itself. Europe can’t solve it. It’s going to have to be cooperative. And yet it’s tremendously important for each of us. If the Himalayan glaciers melt, that’s going to destroy agriculture in China. If the sea levels rise, that’s going to put much of Florida underwater. But neither of us can deal with that acting alone. We have to work with each other. And that’s the importance of “power with”. So, what I argue in the book is that these two power shifts lead to emphasis on two different types of power, power over others and power with others. If we’re going to have to learn to live in a world where we manage both simultaneously, that’s not easy. People always like things to be simple. It’s either one or the other. In fact, it’s going to be both.
American Soft Power Is Likely to Recover Under President Biden
Wang Huiyao: Thank you, Joseph. I think you illustrate very well about the power shift and from horizontally power “over” to vertical power “with”. Absolutely, you are the authority on power narratives, particularly soft power. You have published 18 books and hundreds of articles. You’re also a familiar name in China, known as the father of soft power. As a matter of fact, your 1990 book, Bound to Lead the Changing Nature of American Power, was published in China in 1992 and China CITIC Publishing House published your other books, such as Soft Power: The Means to Succeed in World Politics in 2015. And the most recent book that you just talked about, Do Morals Matter? Presidents and Foreign Policy from FDR to Trump, you published added quite a lot of new dimensions and I am sure the CITIC Publishing House is looking forward to publishing your new book in China.
You have just opened our dialogue today with a very good theme of our discussion today. You first coined the term “soft power” in your 1990 book, which is 30 years ago in Bound to Lead that challenged the conventional view of the decline of American power. America actually is still a very powerful country. So how do you see the American soft power since then and what can we learn? For example, American universities still, as you know, the best universities that attract talent from all over the world. Also, given the Trump in power of what has been in the last several years, how do you see the gains and losses of American soft power, the term you have invented?
Joseph Nye: Well, soft power, that is the ability to influence others through attraction rather than coercion or payment. And I first developed this idea back in, as you said, in 1989 and 1990 when there was a widespread belief at the time that America was in decline and I thought that was incorrect. But after I totalled up the usual resources of military power and economic power and so forth, I said, you know, there’s still something missing, which is the ability to attract, and that’s why I developed this concept of soft power. Now, if you look back over the years, American soft power goes up and down over time. In the last four years under President Trump, we’ve seen a considerable loss of American soft power. Trump’s populist nationalism and his attitudes in general made America less attractive. And I think that the last four years have been bad years for American soft power. You can measure that by looking at public opinion polls like pew poll or Gallup Poll and so forth of international opinion. On the other hand, I think it’s likely that American soft power will recover under President Biden. He’s already reversed some of the things that Trump did, which were particularly unpopular, such as the withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accords or withdrawal from the World Health Organization. So those are things that help. In addition, his attitudes more generally, I think, are less nativist, nationalist, and therefore will make the United States more attractive to other countries. But does it indicate American decline? No, I mean, the interesting thing to me is that there are always beliefs that America is in decline. It comes in cycles. And what they miss is the ability of the Americans to be resilient, to regenerate themselves. Take the 1960s, the United States was extremely unpopular around the world because of the Vietnam War. But by the 1970s and 80s, American soft power had been restored. So, in that sense, though we’ve had a bad four years under Trump, I don’t regard that as a sign of American decline. I think it’s more typical of the cycles that we’ve gone through in the past, and I expect it will probably recover from this one, as we have from others in the past.
Domestic Values and Agenda Are Essential in Strengthening Soft Power
Wang Huiyao: Yeah, great, and we know that the world has really changed quite a lot compared to the 90s, the end of last century. During the first 20 years of this century, we saw globalization expanding rapidly and MNCs have been operating more widely. There is somehow an idea that although they have operated worldwide, they probably have not really benefited their home country or their host country enough, for example, in the US, the gap between rich and poor is widening, not to mention we saw the generation of a lot of populism and nationalism. What do you think about this kind of deglobalization, which does a damage to soft power, not only for the US, but for other countries as well – we have seen setbacks for soft power? As you explained, when people have enough hard power, they look for attraction, wanting to be more attractive, and soft power adds more value to that, but now having the world getting harder and harder in terms of infrastructure, the soft agenda is disappearing a little bit. So how will we address that?
Joseph Nye: Well, I think you’re right that one of the things that globalization has done is to produce challenges to different groups within domestic society and that is stimulated populist and nationalistic reactions. So if you’re a factory worker in, let’s say, the middle of the United States, and you lose your job because the job is going to China or to Vietnam, you’re not likely to be in favor of globalization and you’ll react against this and that many of those people wound up being voters for President Trump, and then again, I think you could argue that this increased the inequalities that while some people benefited from globalization, others didn’t, and that rising inequality is another tension on the political system. So a country’s soft power depends not just on the words that it says, but on the deeds that it does in the way that it practices its own values at home. In that sense, I think that what we’ve seen is a globalization has produced a degree of populist reaction, which has produced a polarization in politics, which has undercut the attractiveness of soft power of the United States. And I think that is a real factor. I think what one of the things that President Biden is doing is focusing on his domestic agenda to try to cure many of those aspects. And I think that he is on the road headed in the right direction for that. But I think it’s definitely true that globalization produces a reaction and the reaction can, in fact, undercut soft power. Does it mean the soft power is less important? But it does mean that it’s hard to maintain under conditions like that. What you see when you have disruptive social change is a tendency to populism and nationalism. And you see this in many countries and nationalism is attractive to people inside the country. But almost by definition, since it sets a country apart and antagonistic role, it’s not attractive to others. So, I mean, this is this is a problem for the United States. It’s a problem for China, too. If you take the so-called “War Wolf” for your diplomacy, that’s very popular inside China as part of a response to Chinese nationalism. It’s not very popular to other countries.
China’s Soft Power is Complex
Wang Huiyao: Yeah, I think that your invention of the term “soft power” is really, I think, that would probably go down in history as something to make the world more friendly, more charming and more attractive. Countries pay attention to its soft power. Also you give a quiet good comment when you wrote an article on Wall Street Journal in 2005 on the rise of Chinese soft power, citing Yao Ming, the film “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”, and the summer Olympics. But at the same time, now there have been a lot of students, about 1 million before the pandemic, studying in the United States, and we hope that more American students can study in China. China has a 5000-year history with cultural richness, such as Confucianism and other concepts. Like President Xi said, “lucid waters and lush mountains are invaluable assets.” We can see the Chinese Collectivism is helping China fight climate change and the pandemic well. So how do you see the Chinese soft power and what can be done to improve or maybe what could be added? Because I think you’d be a really great observer of different countries’ soft power, not only that of the United States.
Joseph Nye: Chinese soft power has many sources. One, of course, is Chinese traditional culture, which is very attractive. Indeed, the very idea of soft power can be traced back to Great Chinese thinkers, like Lao Zi. And I may appoint the words “soft power”, but the concept of getting influence of others by attraction is in the ancient Chinese philosophy. So the Chinese traditional culture is a source of soft power of China. Another major source of soft power in China is China’s remarkable for economic importance. China has raised hundreds of millions of people out of poverty in the last 40 years. This is widely admired and of the things provides attraction for influence of china.
I think if there are sources for China’s soft power, I think there are also problems. One is when you have conflict with your neighbours. For example, China has conflicts with many countries related to the South China Sea, or you have the problem, let’s say, about the borders with India. That makes it hard to generate soft power for this country. You can set up the Confucius Institute in New Deli. You can teach Chinese culture. But they’re not going to attract into the issue that Chinese soldiers are hitting Indian soldiers in the Himalayan border. So, one problem for Chinese soft power is existence of these territorial conflicts with a number of neighbours.
Another way of limit on China’s soft power is the insistence on taking part in control of civil society. A great deal of the country soft power is produced, not by its government, but by its civil society. And that make the country becoming more attractive more resilient. If everything is controlled in the civil society, that makes it less flexible, less attractive. So if you have a creative genius who’s produced by Chinese civil society, the best thing to do is to celebrate, not to control it. We saw this just this week. Chloe Zhao, the Chinese film director who won the Oscar for the best director – that should be celebrated in China.
Wang Huiyao: Actually, I think there are different interpretations on that. The Chinese public is 1.4 billion people, the standards and the measure the soft power is therefore a gradual process. I would say probably, for example, that giving the 5,000-year history and the kind of collective society, people are willing to sacrifice a little individual freedom for the sake of community which is working very well in the Covid-19 fighting in China. What happened in India is very tragic in these days but in China, basically, you can go everywhere, there’s no more Covid-19 cases now.
I think some of those things is also a change in dynamic. There’s always one room to improve, absolutely. But I think given a country as big as China where everything is experiencing forward. We probably need to take on a lot of different perspectives and I agree with you. With the 5000-year history and culture, how to really stimulate the individual innovative spirit is a constant subject for China to master more. So this is really great as we find out what are the things we can do better, and whether Americans can do better. And course, we can learn from each other.
In your recent book, Do Morals Matter? which was just published last year, you provide an analysis of the role of ethics in US foreign policy in the American era after 1945 from President FDR to President Trump. As we are facing a more complex world, what do you think about President Biden as he’s about to reach 100 days in office? Having just analyzed the 14 presidents before him, what do you think about President Biden?
There is No Alternative to Ecological Interdependence and Cooperation
Joseph Nye: Now, I’d say that Biden is still much soon to judge him historically, because we only have seen 3 months of his presidency. But under 3 months, we’ve seen in a hundred days, he seems to be doing pretty well. President Trump took a position of being divisive for political support. His popularity or public support never reached about 50 %. Present Biden has taking a different approach, which is trying to appeal more broadly. His popularity is somewhere to measure around 57 percent. That’s an indication of the different style of leadership that what Trump and Biden had. I think that is a good sign for a promising future. But as I said, it’s much too early to judge at the state.
Wang Huiyao: But do you think that President Biden and President Xi, who both attended the global summit on climate change, with the world facing pandemic and climate change – demonstrate some kind of moral relationship? I think, if China and the US can work together on the pandemic fighting, we’d probably have a much more organized world. I think that kind of moral leadership, for both President Biden and President Xi, is really important.
Joseph Nye: Exactly right, I’m sure. I’ve argued that we have to think of the US china relationship is what I call a cooperate rivalry. There will be areas of rivalry. For example, different views on the navigation of the South China Sea, that will be an area of traditional type of rivalry. But when it comes to ecological independence, which is illustrated by climate, or by pandemic. Virus does not respect nationality, they just wanted to reproduce themselves, so they cross borders without any respects to what government say or politics. The same thing is true with the greenhouse gases. In that sense, you know we have to be able to realize ecological interdependence, which is a form of globalization, is one where is under required cooperation. There will be a rivalry in certain areas. There has to be cooperation at the same time. I was very pleased to see this virtual climate summit last week to speak to see the President Xi, President Biden, President Putin and others, because it really is essential that we overcome the rivalries in the areas where we must cooperate. There’s no alternative to cooperation.
Wang Huiyao: You actually said that in the past, the development of soft power, may not be a zero-sum game. So, if we have established a cooperative rivalry, in which there are areas we need to compete, and areas we need to connect and cooperate, becoming the norm of the time. We try to find attractive parts of each other. We can see China and the United States, partly become convergent in terms of fighting pandemic and in terms of climate change, but also partly there are conflicts, as you mentioned. So, the soft power probably can reinforce each other, if we can find the soft spots and really press on that, that would be really great making it easy for China and the US to manage the conflict. Do you think that both the US and China can gain soft power from cooperating in more areas that we can collaborate? For example, President Biden announced the proposal of a 2.3 trillion USD plan on infrastructure. You probably know China in the past 4 decades has built a super infrastructure – 2/3 of the global high-speed train networks now and out of the ten largest container ports, seven of them are in China and also the longest bridges. And so, can we work on that? The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank is one of good examples. China is working with all major European countries, except the US and Japan now. Maybe we could upgrade that to a world infrastructure bank so that we can help developing countries. And maybe the US, China and others can cooperate with more of each other’s interests. I remember last time during a panel in Boao Forum for Asia we were in, you talked about China and US setting up a Covid-19 global fighting fund? What do you think about those areas that can increase our soft power and can help us collaborate even more?
Joseph Nye: I think that’s correct. Soft power doesn’t happen to be zero-sum. If, for example, China becomes more attractive to the United States, and the United States becomes more attractive to China – that can help both of us overcome our differences. Some years ago, I remember co-authoring an article with a distinguish Chinese scholar, Wang Jisi. We pointed out in that article that soft power can be positive sum in which both sides can benefit simultaneously not always but in some instances. And that’s why it’s important for the us and china to find areas where they can cooperate, because we both look more attractive in the eyes of other countries, if we do so.
Most countries don’t want to have to choose in a harsh way between China and the US. You might see, to that extent, we are cooperating, particularly on the production of global public goods – as you can imagine, that increases China’s soft power and increases American soft power at the same time. I didn’t mention the idea that the US and China could work together on this whole idea of strengthening the health systems for poor countries, including their vaccine capabilities, which would be good for us as well as good for them, and which we also enhance the soft power of both our countries.
Wang Huiyao: China and the US are the two largest economies in the world. Also, the US has been building this post-war global government system and China has actually benefited from this system, and also is trying to add on, trying to be more active on that. There are enormous areas to work together. I notice that you don’t really like this metaphor of the Thucydides’ Trap that the rising power challenges the ruling power, you said that either there’s a challenge part of it or there’s also a fear part of it, which we should not over emphasize. So that’s a really interesting thing, which maybe you can elaborate on. That’s really interesting because we don’t want to get into a kind of deadly confrontation. Because after all, we are so interdependent now.
Joseph Nye: I think that’s right. I think the rising power can create fear in established power and that can be the source of conflicts, but it doesn’t have to be. Even thinking back to the Peloponnesian War, which Thucydides described. He said the cause of the war was the rise of the power of Athens and fear created by Sparta. We can control the amount of fear others, if we become too obsessive to fear of each other, we fail into the Thucydides’ trap.
My own view is that we don’t have to succumb here. Basically, as I see here, China does not pose an existential threat to the United State and the United States doesn’t pose an existential threat to China. We’re not trying to take over China. So, in that sense, we will compete, but we should limit the fears. It’s not as though it’s life-or-death fear. In that sense, going back to Thucydides, we can see the rise in the power of China is something which is likely to continue. There’s not much we can do about that, only China will do something about it, which is how it behaves domestically. But the fear that creates in the United States is something we can do about something about which is to not overexaggerate China, not to become overly fearful. Competition is healthy, frankly. The idea that the Americans will prove some things at home, such as infrastructure, because China is leading the way. Let’s say, on high-speed rail, that can be healthy. But if it becomes fearful or obsessively fearful, it can become destructive.
So, my view is that we should be careful of the language we use. I don’t like this language some people are using about a new Cold War between the United States and China. I think that’s a misreading of history. It implies a deeper and more intractable conflict than the real case. If you look back to the real Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union, there is almost no economic interdependence, whereas with US and China, you find just the opposite of half a trillion dollars of trade. If you look back on the real Cold War, there was no social interdependence, whereas today more than three million Chinese come to the United States as tourists and three hundred thousand students. So, you have much greater economic interdependence, social interdependence and the new aspects that I mentioned, ecological interdependence. During the Cold War, we were less worried about climate change or pandemics. And so, there are reasons for why this increases in globalization and interdependence make us or urge us to be careful about not using metaphors like the Cold War, which were for a time of history, but not necessarily accurate descriptions of the current period of history.
Cautious Communications Prevent Accidents and Mistakes in a Cooperative Bilateral Relationship
Wang Huiyao: Yes, thank you. Absolutely. Well, you are great promoter of peace. The term of Cold War is really obsolete and absolutely right, we have economic dependence, we have social dependence, we have ecological dependence, we have technology dependence as well. And so, it doesn’t really make sense to decouple or to really to confront. I remember last time when you were in China, I went to see you and you talked about cooperative rivalry as well. How can we do better on that? I mean, we see that in the US Congress, some keep putting out all kinds of reports depicting that a Cold War is happening. You’ve been in the Department of Defence to advise all those security issues and you’ve been teaching power and the geopolitics of the world for your lifetime. So how can we do better to have a cooperative relationship?
Joseph Nye: Well, one thing is, to strengthen the ties that we have. I mean, the students, the visitors, the communication, these are important aspects of what I call social interdependence, which help develop deeper understanding between the societies. And that’s important.
The other is on the economic interdependence. There will be some areas where there will be decoupling of areas that touched high security. For example, Americans are very worried about Huawei or ZTE controlling 5G telecommunications in the US for security reasons. I don’t think you can see more economic interdependence there, just as China is not wanted to allow Google or Facebook to operate freely inside China because of security reasons, so there will be some areas where they’ll be decoupling. But that doesn’t mean we want to see overall economic decoupling, which would be extraordinarily costly for both countries. And then finally, we have this question of how we manage the relationship overall so that we avoid miscalculations or accidents.
You know, people who talk about 1945 in the Cold War are picking the wrong date for historical analogy as Henry Kissinger points out 1914 is something we should pay more attention to. All the great powers in Europe at the time did not want World War One. They expected in their competition in the Balkans to have a short, sharp conflict which would redress the balance of power and things would go back to normal. Instead, through miscalculations and failure to manage their relationship to manage the competitive parts of the relationship, they wound up with four years of war, which destroyed four empires and destroyed the centrality of Europe in the global balance of power. We have to be extremely cautious and careful that we don’t allow some incident in the South China Sea or over Taiwan or something to lead us into something which nobody intends with great unintended consequences. And that’s going to require constant communication, so we need to enhance our cooperation in areas of interdependence where it’s possible to cooperate one of the areas which are competitive. We have to be much more cautious and attentive in how we communicate to each other to make sure that we don’t have miscalculations. Those are the two things I think we have to do to avoid this relationship becoming a zero-sum game. I think, as I mentioned earlier, I remain relatively optimistic about the long run. But humans make mistakes. That’s the nature of being a human and so we have to guard against those mistakes.
Wang Huiyao: Absolutely, I think you’re right on communication and also to avoid misunderstanding. And it is also important to promote mutual understanding and avoid those kinds of mistakes as disasters happen. I remember well, you said a new Cold War is not possible and there are several factors, too. I mean, Americans shouldn’t be worried about China because, you know, geographically the US is so far with friendly neighbors, like Canada, and Mexico. But also the US is already self-sufficient on energy now and China still needs a lot of supply. And of course, technology-wise, the US has many things that are still leading. So the concerns on China should really be less so, I suppose.
I think China has a lot more people interested in learning in the US, we have 400,000 students studying in the United States, as you said, and 3 million tourists going there, too. China is also now one of the largest trading nations with over almost 100 countries now so hopefully the benefits produced by both sides, can really cut down to the mistrust, so how can we build up some more trust? I mean, it’s very valuable to hear your sober mind at this critical time. As we approach 100 days with President Biden in office, how we can really shape a little different perspective for the future of the US-China relations?
The Rise of Nationalism Should Be Carefully Dealt With in Both the US and China
Joseph Nye: One of the things that both of us have to worry about is the rise of nationalism in our two countries. I mentioned earlier that the effect of globalization on creating inequality and disrupting jobs and so forth led to more populist and nativist nationalism in the United States and that produced voters for President Trump. But let’s be frank, there’s also rising nationalism in China. If you look at the Chinese web, you’ll notice enormous nationalism. And there’s the feeling that in China that, you know, there’s still this argument about overcoming the 19th-century history and as a form of recruiting support when you do things like, “wolf warrior” in your diplomacy, that’s very popular inside China. But those things are not healthy in terms of creating trust in other countries so it’s interesting. Take, for example, the program, China 2025, about technologies that made sense inside China – it created fear in Washington. The fact that China was going to try to replace the United States in a whole series of important technologies created fear in Washington or when President Xi Jinping said that China would be number one in artificial intelligence by 2030, that was read in Washington as well. China tends to replace the United States by 2030 so it might have been a good goal in terms of recruiting national support inside China. But there’s always, for every political leader, is what’s called the two–audience problem. One audience is internal, the other audience is external, and sometimes the messages that play well internally and played badly externally so I think on both of our sides, given the rise in nationalism that’s produced to some extent by globalization, the reaction to globalization, we have to be careful about the two–audience problem.
Wang Huiyao: You are correct. I think that, you know, if it’s a peaceful competition, maybe let’s handle a bit more on the domestic side. You know, China’s is trying to avoid those kind of populism. But the same is true for the United States. And we really need to make the internal narrative into an international narrative, maybe by combining it as well. And for example, in America there is also the gap between rich and poor that is widening and also, there’s racial differences. In the last several decades, China has been careful about minimizing the gap a bit, even though the rural and urban still have a lot of differences. But with this, China had been trying to lift 800 billion people out of extreme poverty, so that poverty doesn’t generate so much populism and dissatisfaction with the globalization or the opening–up of China. So I think that lessons can be learned for both countries on that as well. And the problem is how we can really get the multinationals and all those big players to work on things together. They need more non-government, non-profit organizatiions to enable them to work together for an inclusive and balanced globalization, particular in developing countries. Now with the results of Covid in developing countries, it’s absolutely important that the US and China work together.
Last weekend we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the ping pong democracy. The slogan then was, “friendship first, competition second”. That was very meaningful one. As a professor like you, who has been seeing all the ups and downs, what’s your take on the future of Sino-US relations? I have noticed you have given quite a few scenarios for the future.
Joseph Nye: One could imagine a variety of scenarios any time as you try to guess the future. You have to realize that there is no one future. There are many possible futures and they’re affected by events that we don’t know. They are unexpected. And they’re affected also by our own actions and how we choose what behaviors we’re going to follow. So one cannot imagine the futures of US-China relations, which are bad or good. But we have to say what are the things they can do. They can steer themselves more toward the good relations which are beneficial to both. It’s interesting when you look back historically since 1945, we’ve gone through a series of relationships. In the first 20 years or so, things were pretty tough. After all, the US and Chinese soldiers fought each other on the Korean Peninsula in the 1950s. So we had twenty years of tense relationship. Then as you pointed out, we had ping pong diplomacy and the easing of relations. You had the Nixon’s visit to Beijing and you had another 20 years then of improving relationships. Then, during of the Clinton administration, there was the desire of a rising China to integrate China into the international order through the World Trade Organization and so forth. Then the last nearly 20 years, you have the period of the arrival of Donald Trump, the 2015, 2016 and so forth, with a feeling among many Americans that China was not playing fair, that it was subsidizing state-owned enterprises and stealing intellectual property and militarizing islands in the South China Sea that President Xi had promised President Obama he would not do. And there was a reaction against it so we started another cycle. So we’ve gone through ups and downs roughly on twenty years. If you use that same 20 years Cycle, we’re in the middle. You know, it starts around 2015 and till 2025 it will be 10 years, I hope it doesn’t have to last that long, but it’s quite possible that we’ll have intense competition for 20 years. My own personal view is, as I said earlier, that I don’t think China is an existential threat or a threat to the existence of the United States or that the United States is a threat to the existence of China. So in that sense, I think that you could imagine some period – who knows? Maybe we’re talking about twenty to thirty five where you’ll see the cycle turn towards better relations, maybe with benefit, have it sooner than that. But again, as any time you predict the future, you have to realize that history is always full of surprises, and that every time you think you know something, there’s going to be something which you haven’t taken into account. So that makes it more important that we try to use our own actions cautiously so that we don’t get the wrong sorts of surprises.
The Green Agenda Is of Great Importance to The China-US Relationship
Wang Huiyao: I absolutely agree with you, China is not a threat to the United States and hopefully the US is not a threat to China as well. I mean, the US has already had so much abundance around its country and the world, very rich in all kinds of resources and it is geographically so far away from China as well. I’ve read one of your Project Syndicate articles, in which you talked about five scenarios of the 2030 international order. Number one is that maybe the liberal international order is coming to an end because of populism and other political forces. And as you mentioned, the second scenario is massive unemployment, economic depression, and also politicians taking advantage of that to become more populist protectionism. Number three, you talked about China may also be more active on the international arena or dominating the global order. The GDP of China might get bigger than that of the United States and maybe multinational actors will be interested in China. And you also talked about the global green agenda, such as climate change and a “Covid Marshall Plan”. Finally, you talked about similarities and co-existence of countries. We talked about China and the US, let’s talk about the globe now. You are such a great predictor, and we’d love to see your crystal ball for the global future.
Joseph Nye: I do think that you’re going to see the increased importance of the green agenda simply because this is something which obeys the laws of physics and biology, not politics. And as more and more people and countries become aware of the importance of climate change and the dangers of things like pandemics, I think that’s going to put pressure on political leaders to take these issues more seriously than they have in the past. But it’s not going to totally replace traditional politics and traditional competition by any means. But it will become increasingly important. And that means that the cooperative dimensions are going to have to increase. Now, the world’s the political leaders, could still make mistakes and fail to see this or react to it. But I do think that it’s a source of potential optimism that this agenda is going to be increasing because of physics and biology. So, I think that the various scenarios that I sketched out for the world in that Project Syndicate column, I saw the gradual evolution of the world as we see it now what’s the most likely. But I put more emphasis on the green agenda than I would have before COVID, and so as I said, I remain relatively optimistic that we can pull through this period.
Wang Huiyao: You’re cautiously optimistic because we are absolutely dependent on each other. So maybe one other question we can talk about is that now another Professor Burns is rumoured to be the US Ambassador to China. So, what do you think about the new ambassador? He has worked in US governmnet before, maybe those high-level exchanges can really promote the relationship with China. You’ve been working with him at Aspen as well, he is a great friend of yours. What do you think about that (Burns becoming the US Ambassador to China)?
Joseph Nye: Well, I think Nick Burns is an extraordinarily skilful professional diplomat, and but it’s also true that all we have now is a rumour and in the American political process of appointing ambassadors, you have to get approval of the White House, and then you have to get approval of the Senate. And we’re a long way from any certainty about whether he will be the ambassador. But I think the fact that the Biden administration is at least considering somebody who is one of our most skilful professional diplomats to assign to Beijing, it is a good sign. It means that we’re taking the relationship seriously. This ambassador as he should be, just like the Chinese Ambassador in Washington, has to be tough. That’s his job. But he also has to be business-like and professional and look for areas of cooperation. So, I think those are characteristics that Nick Burns is the person. But as I said, this is all premature because really nothing has been announced formally. However, if it does come out, I would regard it as a good sign.
Wang Huiyao: Great. So now we have some questions from media. China Radio International asks, if you are supposed to tell young people of this era about three major events, except for the two world wars, that changed the world during the past 100 years, what will be your choice?
Joseph Nye: Events, by their definitions, are always full of surprise. There was a British Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, who was asked a question about what’s going to happen in British foreign policy next year given this trend or that trend. And he said, the trouble, my dear boy, is events. And so you never know how the events are going to turn out. I mean, who would have predicted COVID and in 1919, yet it had a profound effect on all our economies in the world economy. So I think in that sense, it’s hard to know what worries me are miscalculations and in which people think if I push a little harder there, I’ll get what I want. And if there’s push back and before you know it, people are getting further along than they want to be in their attentions. So I worry about events that by definition can’t be properly described or spelled out now, but that could be taking us by surprise.
Wang Huiyao: And we have another question from the Hoxing News – After the outbreak of the epidemic, especially Trump took office, the growing nationalism both in China and the United States has led to the exaggeration of the sense of threat between these two countries. As you mentioned, power can be divided into two types: power over others and power with others. The recent communication between China and the United States on climate issues shows the importance of rivalry cooperative. In your opinion, how can the concept of power with others be more deeply rooted in the hearts of the people?
Joseph Nye: Well, I think I’d go back to something I said earlier- building on the interdependence we have, both economic and social, is one way for people to understand each other’s societies and to somewhat reduce suspicion. Personal contacts don’t automatically produce friendships, but in fact, interpersonal contacts do help to increase understanding or empathy toward the other. And so that’s one thing we can do. The other thing we can do is when there are areas where we can cooperate, such as issues related to pandemics or climate change, we should definitely pursue those. And I think we’re making some progress in that direction.
Wang Huiyao: Well, we have another question from People’s Weekly – President Xi has proposed the concept of a community with a shared future for mankind. So China is actually thinking globally and President Xi has mentioned China’s global efforts in Devos this year as well as in 2017. So how can how can the world leaders really work together with some common narrative? I mean, climate change is one. And so what else? Can we really minimize the differences and maximize the similarities, as you also mentioned?
Joseph Nye: Well, I think the words that President Xi has expressed are welcome, but people watch deeds and ask whether words are met with deeds. So if we look at whether China is moving in the right direction on climate change, the speech President Xi gave the climate summit last week was very welcome. On the other hand, when we read the statistics, we noticed that China is continuing to build new coal fired plants and some of these coal-fired plants will last for 30 and 40 years, putting out greenhouse gases. So I think people are going to want to ask not just there are good words, but are there good deeds? That’s true. Not just for China, it’s true for the US. One of the interesting things is Biden’s words on climate are good. He’s now trying through executive actions and a program of decarbonizing the economy to see whether deeds can follow up those words. So basically, I would say deeds have to follow the words.
Wang Huiyao: So one final question from China Review News agency – Would the Biden administration continues to identify China as a “revisionist state” and chief strategic competitor, would the Biden administration be willing to maintain some healthy competition with China and collaborate with China? And as you know, Richard Hasss of the Council on Foreign Relations proposed that maybe we should abandon some of our ideological differences and have 6 countries or regions – US, China, Russia, India, EU and Japan to form some sort of a consultation mechanism. How can we overcome ideological divisions and become strategic competitors?
Joseph Nye: Well, those are good questions, and we do have mechanisms for coordination and consultation. we have five countries in the UN Security Council. We have the Group of 20, which is the major economic forces in world politics, and we also have the prospects for bilateral consultations. So there are a number of mechanisms that we have which can help us to coordinate. We have to make sure though not just that we are having mechanisms for this, but that we use them properly. And I think I was encouraged by this summit in Washington last week on the climate as an illustration that is going to be possible to do that.
Wang Huiyao: Now we have over 800,000 online viewer or listeners tuned in to our dialogue, the concept of a country’s soft power is really benefitial for all of us. I really appreciate that you said China is not a threat and we should really depend on each other for the world. We should really not decouple and we have to cooperate together. A Cold War mentality is not really going to work, which we should really avoid and the communication is so important – in people’s exchanges and also as to increase soft power. So for the final conclusion, what would you like to say to such large audience today?
Joseph Nye: Yeah, well, we’re all human. We’re bound to make mistakes. They’re bound to be tensions and competitions between Chinese and Americans. But we have to keep it in perspective. We have more income and more to gain from cooperation, and we have to keep that perspective. So I think if we have an optimistic view about our potential to manage competition and to practice cooperation, I think we can look to a good future.
Wang Huiyao: Great, Professor Nye, thank you so much, we appreciate you taking time to dialogue with me. We hope to see you next time. We also thank our audience in China and the rest of the world.
Joseph Nye: Thank you, I’ve enjoyed our conversation.
Wang Huiyao: Hope to see you in Beijing, bye bye.
Note: The above text is the output of transcribing from an audio recording. It is posted as a reference for the discussion.
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