Dialogue among Susan Thornton, Ronnie Chan and Wang HuiyaoCCG | August 01 , 2021
On August 1, CCG President Wang Huiyao hosted a special dialogue featuring Ronnie C. Chan, CCG Co-chair, Chair of Hang Lung Properties Limited and Chair Emeritus at the Asia Society, and Susan A. Thornton, Senior Fellow at the Paul Tsai China Center of Yale Law School and former Acting Assistant Secretary of the US State Department for East Asian and Pacific Affairs.
As the US Deputy Secretary of State concluded her visit to Tianjin and the new Chinese Ambassador to the US arrived in Washington D.C., many questions regarding the future of this relationship still remain open. Can China and the US maintain the momentum of diplomatic dialogue amid their differences?
The crisis brought by COVID-19 and the challenge of climate change have revealed the inadequacy of global governance, which calls for the building of a more robust system of global governance to ensure post-pandemic of global economy and mobility. What efforts would support greater international cooperation in working towards these goals?
This dialogue delved into the dynamics of the China-US relationship as well as issues related to global governance in today’s world, and was part of CCG’s 7th Annual China and Globalization Forum.
Wang Huiyao: Good morning, and good evening. Thank you for tuning in. You are watching “CCG Special Dialogue: New Realities of China-US Relations in an Interwoven World” live from CCG headquarters. This is part of our 7th Annual China and Globalization Forum. During the last two days, we had about 4-500 participants taking part in the Forum, including ambassadors and representatives from almost 50 countries, officials based in China, government officials from various departments in China, heads of multiple Chinese and international Chambers of Commerce, representatives from international organizations, the business community and mainstream academic experts as well. We have covered many topics, including global economy, trade and mobility, China-US relations, China-EU economic cooperation, global cooperation and China’s new development plan, also international communication.
This is a special program is part of the China and Globalization Forum and we already had one featuring a dialogue between Chinese and the US think tanks. We had Mr. John Thornton, who is the honorary chair of the Brookings Institution and the co-chair of Asia Society; former ambassador of the US to China and J. Stapleton Roy, the president of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, Dr. Adam Posen, and former vice minister of finance, Mr. Zhu Guangyao to take part in the think tank dialogue.
Today, we are having a new dialogue which is quite exciting and savvy. Let me quickly introduce our distinguished guests today. First, let me introduce Mr. Ronnie Chan. Mr. Chan is Chairman of Hang Lung Group Limited and its subsidiary Hang Lung Properties Limited, both publicly listed in Hong Kong. The Group expanded into the mainland of China in 1992. Mr. Chan is the expert on business and many other areas. Not only that, Mr. Chan is active in many other non-profit and educational organizations. First of all, he’s the co-chair of CCG, and is also the chairman of executive committee of the Better Hong Kong Foundation. He founded and chaired the China Heritage Fund and is the co-founding director of the Forbidden City Cultural Heritage Conservation Foundation, Beijing, and also a former Vice President and former Advisor of the China Development Research Foundation in Beijing. He’s also the Co-founder and chairman of the Center for Asia Philanthropy and society, and founding chairman emeritus of the Asian Business Council. He’s also the former chairman of the Hong Kong – United States Business Council and the former chairman of Executive Committee of the One Country Two Systems Research Institute. And of course, Mr. Chan is the chairman emeritus of the Asia Society and the chairman of its Hong Kong Center and a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a member of the Council of Foreign Relation, the National Committee of the United States – China relations and Committee 100. Ronnie has also served on the governing or advisory bodies of several think tanks and universities, including Peterson Institute for International Economics, World Economic Forum, East-West Center, Pacific Council on International Policy, Eisenhower Fellowships. He’s also graduated from the University of Southern California. So we are honored to have Ronnie on today. Because of the pandemic, Mr. Chan had to be stuck in Hong Kong for the last 15 months and couldn’t come. Normally you would join us for annual forums in Beijing.
Now I’d like to also introduce another very distinguished speaker of this morning for our webinar, Ms. Susan Thornton. She is a retired senior US diplomat, with almost 30 years of experience with the U.S. State Department in Eurasia and East Asia, so she’s a very seasoned diplomat. She’s currently a senior fellow and also a research scholar at Yale University’s Law School Paul Tsai China Center, director of the forums on Asia-Pacific security at the National Committee of American foreign policy and a non-resident fellow at Brookings Institution. So Susan is very active. We came across at a few webinars and I’m very honored to have you with us today. Until July 2018 actually, Susan was the acting Assistant Secretary of State for the East Asia and the public affairs at the Department of State and led the East Asia policy-making among crisis of North Korea, escalating trade tensions with China and fast changing international environment. In previous State Department role, she worked on U.S. policy towards China, Korea and former Soviet Union and served in the leadership position in the U.S. embassies in Central Asia, Russia, the caucus and China. Thornton received her MBA international relation from Johns Hopkins and also her BA from Boston College majoring in Economics and Russian, so she’s very well knowledgeable on the international relations.
Avoid the pandemic being a political football between the US and China
Wang Huiyao: This is really a fascinating time to invite both of you to join our CCG annual forum’s special webinar. So perhaps I’ll start with Ronnie. I remember that you’ve been a frequent visitor of the mainland of China and about almost 2 years ago, you gave a talk at CCG about the future. You gave some predictions of the future – what’s going to happen to the humankind. I remember you gave a list of the things and one of the things you emphasized was a pandemic – I remember it vividly that you mentioned it about almost 2 to 3 years ago. We felt that was far away, something that was not real, something that’s not going to happen, but actually, it happened. So we’re now almost more than one and a half year into this pandemic crisis and we’re still not out of the woods yet. So what do you think about this ongoing pandemic? And also what are we facing worldwide and how we can get out of that and what are the things we should be more cautious about? We want to tap into your wisdom again. Ronnie, please.
Ronnie C. Chan: About 10 years ago, I drafted a list of 8 issues that were all, in my opinion, would destroy a good part of mankind, and thanks to Helmut Schmidt, my good friend, the late chancellor of Germany – I showed him the list and I said I know every one of these will happen, I just don’t know which one first. And he looked at the list and he said, pandemic. I thought about it and I said, you’re right. And that’s why I told you two years ago that probably pandemic will hit first. Let’s contrast two big countries around the world and how they dealt with the pandemic – that really tells a lot about the world today. One is of course the United States and the other is China. Obviously we happened to have Trump there at the time, which sorry to say, Susan, you worked for him.
Susan A. Thornton: I was a civil servant though.
Ronnie C. Chan: I know haha. Well, anyway, the way America handles it is very free-spirited and as a result, you have 35 million people infected and about 611,000 people who died. I don’t think the Americans can do it the Chinese way nor the Chinese can do it the American way. It just definitely tells you a lot about the history and the difference between cultures, not just countries. In the case of China, of course, what they did is truly amazing. I don’t think any other country of any size, except the very small ones can do that. And that is total lockdown of the city. Everybody was shocked when they first started it and eventually almost a lockdown of a whole country. And as a result, in 2 months’ time they got out of it, and up to today, there’s less than 5,000 people who died, only about 104,000 infected, so it’s very different. But on the other hand, I accept those as facts because the Chinese can ever do it in the American way. If they were to do it in the American way, the government is going to be in trouble, the people is going to rise and give them hell. On the other hand, Americans cannot do it the Chinese way. And so what happened was the suffering of economy and a lot of deaths. But that said, I think the Americans is blessed with having natural resources like no other country on per-capita basis as well as on absolute basis. And so America will pull through. I think America would do OK and the people seem to accept the fact that you know, you got 35 million people infected and 611,000 died. But the economy is really what I worry a lot because I think that the debt level is getting so high and I think America is a society that has run its course in having good governance. It is a systemic problem, and it is not the people’s problem. When Susan is there, it’s better, when Susan is not there, it’s worse. But it’s not going to make a hell of difference so I think that you know, the pandemic tells us a lot about what’s happening between the two countries.
Susan A. Thornton: I want to take up the call from Ronnie on the issues of how the US and China responded. But first I just want to note some general things that I think need to be mentioned and are really surprising. I mean, first, so I was in China for SARS. I was in Chengdu in Sichuan Province and so a lot of the things that have happened were not as surprising to me, maybe, as they might have been to other people who weren’t as close to that. But certainly people in China and in Asia, who dealt with that in Hong Kong and other places in Asia that had SARS cases. This was pretty recognizable and it should have been more recognizable, I think, in the US. But the thing that’s so disturbing to me is how much we still don’t know. How wily and clever this disease is. And I have to say that I think it’s going to go on frankly for a long time.
There’s nobody that’s wiser on this stuff, in my view, than Zhong Nanshan. I think he is a national hero, a treasure, and a global hero and we should all listen to him. And I saw it today that he said something like we’re going to have to get used to living harmoniously with this pandemic disease. I mean, it’s going to be like a flu or it’s going to be like other diseases that are out there in the public domain and we have to figure out how to have an annual shot, and wear masks and take precautions and some people are going to get sick. He didn’t say all of that, but that was the implication. I think in the end, interestingly, you know, countries are going to end up dealing with this disease in the long-run all in the same way, which is, it’ll be this pandemic disease. But in the short run was where things were sort of so different and depending on, resources and politics and culture and systems, reacted very differently. I remember I talked to one of our CDC experts that was stationed in Beijing. In February, he was evacuated from Beijing in the first wave of people out, when all the families left after Wuhan was shut down an I asked him about the shutdown of Wuhan, which had just happened maybe like a few days or a week before. And he seemed very skeptical that it would work and said this will be the greatest sociological experiment that the world has ever seen. So that just goes to show you that, even a guy who, knows China well and knows diseases in China well, was quite skeptical of the ability to lock down a city of 11 million people and have that work. I guess it shows that Americans would have been disbelieving, pretty much across the board that we might think about doing that, even, but to me that signaled how serious the Chinese government was taking it at that point because that could not be done lately. I think you know the real sad thing about this disease in comparison with SARS is that it became a political football between the US and China and thereby eliminate the possibility for cooperation and actually ruined all international cooperation on this pandemic recovery. And I would love to hear from Ronnie if he thinks there’s a way to recover. Because we’re still in the throes of the pandemic as you both mentioned. We still have a lot of work to do to get through it. We need vaccines badly and lots of them, and if we don’t work together, then it’s just going to be prolonged an more agonizing to recover. And so I’ve been waiting to see if something like this pandemic could pull the US and China out of their hostility and barbs back and forth and come up with something that we could do together or at least work in the same direction or at least stop fighting and it hasn’t happened yet. There’s nothing that’s less political than a public health issue. So this is a source of great agony for me actually.
Let’s not put tracing Covid-19 origins as a priority
Wang Huiyao: Thank you Susan and Ronnie. Susan, you mentioned a very creative perspective and that you have been both in the US and China for so long. Your experience in both countries and first-hand observations are very valuable. I really felt that you’re absolutely right – both China and US should work together. I mean, this is probably the rare occasions that we should really work together, with China being the first to suffer and now all the countries are suffering from it. I think the good news that I heard from CNN this morning is that if somebody had a vaccine injected, they might have 99% chance to not die, it will be just probably a big flu. China have already had 1.5 billion doses – 55%, and US has 50%. So you’re right. We probably could call for a vaccine summit, or the pandemic fighting between China and U.S. like we had on the Earth Day Summit, which President Biden called for. So it’s really important. I agree with you. It seems that both countries now are politically getting into a shouting match, which is really not good. Particularly the US has recently said, OK, we’re going to trace the origin of the virus in China’s lab. The WHO has already done this twice in China. Last time in China, they had 17 experts, including US experts. They had gone through everywhere and then they issued a statement. They had about 40 some days in China. And then they said that it’s unlikely that the virus, in fact, extremely unlikely, that the virus was leaking from lab. But now they’re going to come back again. At that time, Democrats called it a conspiracy theory, but it seems that they are following the Trump’s step. So what do you think about that? I mean that really is not a good sign. We should really have WHO, U.S. and China, and all other countries, like Japan and Australia, to work on how we can have vaccines for the developing countries and maybe the passport as the vaccine travel documents. You know both sides, maybe you can give some more further comments.
Susan A. Thornton: Let me go back to the experience with SARS because I think it’s very instructive that basically we still don’t know exactly how SARS started, even though you know, there’s been a lot of efforts to look into, how the transmission began from bats in a cave in Yunnan and how it all happened. We still don’t know exactly what happened with SARS. So my assessment is that it is going to be even more difficult to find patient number one with respect to COVID-19, because there were people that were asymptomatic that were carrying it around and so probably patient number one was someone who was ill. But since the symptoms were so similar to flu and so many people, it might be very hard to find that person. So I think since we’re in the middle, still, of a raging pandemic. The real effort needs to be focused as you said Henry, on addressing the problem, which is people are still getting sick and dying and we need to try to stop that from happening. We need to try to figure out what to do in pandemic three because there are more coming after this one. But so it would help us very much to know what happened but I think it’s not the most urgent thing to do right now and you know, unfortunately, it again, has become this kind of political football between the US and China. I don’t think either side is showing themselves to be in a very good light on this topic. And I wish that as Michelle Obama used to say, you know, “when the other side goes low, we go high”. I wish people would find a way to move on from this conversation. Maybe we can have some kind of a bilateral agreement or WHO statement that says, you know, after the pandemic is controlled in all countries, there’s going to be a thorough investigation and everybody has agreed to fully cooperate and we will move that onto that track when we’ve gotten all of the vaccines out and dealt with the immediate problem before us. I mean that would be, to me the proper ordering of priorities, but I’m not sure that anyone’s going to be listening to me on this.
Wang Huiyao: Correct, we should deal with the crisis first and then get the things under control and in the future, get to source tracing if there’s further tracing that should conduct worldwide. Because there’s many cases actually occurred at the same time, even before when happened in Wuhan.
Ronnie C. Chan: Well, tracing the source is understandable, we always try to trace – the aids – people are still chasing it and that was what 30 years ago and then the SARS and then now. As Susan well said that to make a political issue is really impeding human progress and unfortunately, Covid happened at a time when the United States choose to fall into the Thucydides’ Trap, for example, to say that China purposely leaked this out. I said, who is that stupid son of a gun, who wants to leak it in your own backyard? If you want to leak it, you leak it in somebody’s house, not in your own house – this is almost brain-dead. Maybe I’m missing something but why do you want to kill your own people? So you know when you overlay political dimension, it’s really, terrible. The source – who knows where it is. Some people say it is in the United States, in the West somewhere because in 2019, it was already discovered in Europe and in the United States with cases, which were not widely reported. So I think that this the political overlay is really impeding the whole situation. Once it becomes politicized, the Chinese said, wait, you are not interested in science, you’re interested in politics.
Restrain the bifurcation of the world in the post-pandemic era
Ronnie C. Chan: I want to come back to a point that Susan you made that was very interesting. You said that your CDC friend from Beijing evacuated, saying that this is the biggest sociological experiment of mankind. It reminds me of what Sigmund Freud one time – he said, the United States is the biggest sociological experiment of mankind and it won’t end well. Well, a little bit personal, he didn’t like the United States. But he’s wrong. I mean, you know it’s when I do become very well, at least until now. And I fear that what Sigmund Freud said the experiment that has gone so well, for 20 years. It’s going to turn back and the reason is because I think America is picking a fight. But it shouldn’t and the reason is the whole rationale behind the fight that the United States is picking with China today is on a wrong assumption and it’s also a war that both sides cannot win, which remind me of Iran and Iraq in 1980s. Eventually, both sides suffered and I think that you know by choosing to fall under the crash. I think America is starting a battle that is going to last for a long time. Cold war will go away but I’m worried that in my lifetime, I may not see better days between US and China relations which may hurt me, because I think that many problems today can only be solved with the 2 biggest economic identities in the world by working together. When one party intentionally make the other into an enemy, it’s ridiculous and terrible. For example, they say, China is destabilizing Taiwan for straight in the South China Sea and all that stuff. Who has been flying in that area? Actually spy planes have been flying there from the United States. They remember the incident in 2001 right? And if America did not fly airplanes in the Taiwan strait in the battleship, going through the middle of it, China won’t react. In this sense, China just responded and then now Japan, of course, everybody’s brain dead. They choose to be brain dead. They are far smarter than I am. But if you choose to be brain dead, you operate that and so China is destabilizing the area. Well, stop the spying planes along the China coast and stop stirring trouble by aircraft, carrier stream, on matter of the Taiwan Strait or sending planes in other countries’ neighborhood. What if the Chinese ascend their battleship in the airplanes in California coast, what would the United States do? It’s really insane what is happening today.
Susan A. Thornton: I hope China won’t do that. My advice would be to not reciprocate in that way.
Ronnie C. Chan: So you think if the Chinese would fly planes on California coast, America would not reciprocate?
Susan A. Thornton: No, I mean, I hope the Chinese won’t feel that they need to do that because that is exactly what happened during the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union that I have been telling people. For the last couple of years, it proves that China is not the Soviet Union so I hope that China will not feel the need to do that. Although I have colleagues in the Pentagon, who say that China is more than welcome to do that. But I don’t think just because they say China is welcome to do that, in the event, it would necessarily be a good thing. So I hope China will not do that. But we should talk more about this particular dynamics. I don’t know, Henry, if you want, to interrupt with another question.
Wang Huiyao: Susan, you are the expert on Soviet Union and know Russian and Chinese so well. Absolutely, China’s is not the Soviet Union. From both of your conversation just now, I find that this pandemic fighting maybe should change a little bit people’s impression on China, because China make it under control and we just had an event with the World Bank about months ago to release the Global Economic Prospects – it is predicted that China’s growth would achieve 8.5% in 2021 and was the only major economy with a positive growth in 2020. So you this was the biggest social psychological experiment to the humankind – during which China was forced to have lock-down and we had the massive tracing of data that followed, and quarantine. Now basically, with different degrees, these have been applied everywhere. I think one of the things is the cultural difference. China always respects authorities, as you know, seniority and collectivism, and even sacrificing a little bit of human right, for the much larger freedom for the community. That kind of total different set of philosophy and cultural difference made China. Today’s more free economically and actually has the biggest trade numbers to a new high on the record. China is not really well understood in many ways. This pandemic fighting could have made us closer in many ways but is actually driving us apart so that’s very sad. Maybe Susan, you want to respond to that? We felt that this virus should maybe improve China’s image, but on a contrary, it’s actually getting worse, or is it that the US wants to stigmatize China to make China look bad?
Susan A. Thornton: There were so many aspects to this that it was kind of like a perfect storm right and I think the politics had a lot to do with it. If we hadn’t had a very negative US-China dynamic that had already started and if we didn’t have Trump in office in this kind of mutual recrimination – the real central issue was that Trump saw this pandemic as reversing his electoral fortunes that depended on a good US economy. It turns out if he would have reacted differently to the pandemic and taken it seriously, showing himself to be a leader in a crisis and done a good job, I’m not sure if he would have won the election in 2020. So it’s really for historians to look back and make sense of all of this but the thing that we should not do is we should not view our performance in a crisis. That’s a domestic public health and also a global public health crisis. We shouldn’t view our performance in terms that we are going to look good. Is it going to be a good image in the world? Are we going to increase our influence? Are we going to win the competition with country X? That’s not how we work together on Ebola. I mean, there’s always a little bit of this like tracing the virus source, talking about where did this disease start – that’s kind of human nature. It’s a very bad trait of human nature, but it is. We’ve seen it in other disease outbreaks as well. We had the Middle East respiratory syndrome. We had Zika virus. These are all just within the last few years, so that’s to tell you something about Ronnie’s prediction about a pandemic. We’ve had a number of these serious disease outbreaks and we’ve worked very well on them together. Until now, this is the most serious one. Obviously, it was very easily transmitted, so it wreaked havoc with international travel international business economies, affected every single person in the world. And right now, it is the biggest urgent priority for every single government and pretty much every single person in the entire planet and we’d never really have issues that fit into a category like that, and so it’s just the perfect issue for all of the different governments that come together with WHO and try to put joint efforts to solve it and instead we’re doing this vaccine diplomacy. Of course at the beginning of the pandemic, people were caught without adequate supplies for protecting medical workers. That was the initial kind of competition that drove things in a negative direction. I would say also the fact that China did this lock down and people’s impression on the outside was that this is going to be draconian and this impression probably prevented other countries from doing lockdowns as quickly as they should have so. It’s just so unfortunate that there wasn’t better collaboration and coordination and the problem also was nobody had a good idea of what was going on in the early days, we just didn’t have any information. So in away some of this is inevitable. But I do think now people deserve to have governments coming together and working together to try to beat this now. We know more. We don’t have perfect information and I don’t think any country should rest on their laurels at this point, this thing is not over. Nobody should say we did well and you did badly – it’s not over. We keep seeing reversals of fortune and I would just not make it about as my country doing well as compared to other countries. That’s not what it should be. Governments should be figuring out how to make people safe and work with other governments to help them make their people safe. That’s the only thing that matters.
Wang Huiyao: We need all the governments to work together, I agree with you. Ronnie, please.
Ronnie C. Chan: Susan, I always try to be very sensible and reasonable. But unfortunately there’s a lot of people out there who are not like you and me – not sensible, and not reasonable. And one of them is politics and politics everywhere is like that, especially, sorry to say, the voting electoral type of democracy. That kind of democracy has its own issues and problems just like any other system. For example, Biden is not doing a better job in the US-China relationship and it’s because the whole politics in the United States has already moved beyond that point. People ask me before Biden became president that whether it would make the relationship get better if Biden were to win? And I said to myself, this gentleman or this lady doesn’t know a hill of beans about what’s really happening in the society in America. It’s beyond party politics and so that’s why Susan you are absolutely right that it’s a perfect storm when you have a symptomatic virus and at the same time when the United States forced into the Thucydides’ Trap. So I don’t see, frankly, a better relationship, even in dealing with pandemics. And I think that this is really a human tragedy of the 21st century and if the United States were to back off – in this one area only – that is dealing with pandemics and begin to cooperate, it will be a lot better, but I am not hopeful of it. That’s why, frankly, Henry I really have a problem with your title at the start – new realities of US-China relations in a interwoven world, Well, new reality, that’s for sure, but interwoven- well, I think globalization has already run its course in some ways. The pandemic of Covid-19 reminds of us that how interwoven we are, and yet right at this juncture the world is being bifurcated – so the new reality is not interwoven world and the interwoven world is not the new reality.
China-US relations to move gradually towards the off-ramp
Wang Huiyao: Haha, we are probably in a broken world. Well anyway, switch the subject now. So Susan you worked in the State Department for so many years, you are such an experienced and seasoned diplomat on Sino-US relations. So the Biden demonstration has already been in power for over 6 months now and we had a Sino-US senior diplomat meeting in Alaska, which surprised a lot of people and just a week ago, the US deputy secretary of state, Wendy Sherman, visited China in Tianjin, which is the closest to Beijing. We’ve had meetings different parts of the world far from Beijing, but this time the US actually got to the closest city to Beijing to meet Minister Wang and Vice Minister Xie. So how do you interpret the last 6 months under the Biden administration compared to the Trump administration on the US relations with China? You were acting assistant secretary of state in the Trump administration until 2018.
Susan A. Thornton: Until things started to get really bad, that’s when I left – so I can’t be held responsible for the last couple of years of the Trump administration, haha.
Wang Huiyao: Haha, that’s why I was asking, we don’t you give some analysis as we haven’t got people at the state level who know both sides to talk about the deputy secretary’s visit?
Susan A. Thornton: I think Ronnie’s very pessimistic, mentioning that the US has chosen to fall into the Thucydides trap. I hope it’s not that. I don’t it’s much of a plan and I don’t think it’s that purposeful. I think there’s still a lot of uncertainty and chaos in the Biden administration as they inherited lot of things from the Trump administration that are still being sorted out, obviously. They’re trying to focus a lot on domestic issues, foreign policy is definitely second fiddle. I think the Biden ministration is looking to not have problems on the foreign policy front, but it’s fair to say that first of all, moving from the Trump Administration’s very toxic and negative narration on China to something more constructive is not going to happen overnight, just because of the psychology of the politics and the narratives in the media et cetera. So looking at that problem, you could see how you know it would take quite a bit of time and effort to strategize and figure out how to change that without giving people whiplash. The other thing is Trump’s narrative on China is useful for galvanizing, to some extent, domestic political backing for certain parts of Biden’s program and it’s also a defensive move.
I just published a chapter in a book and the book is called Engaging China – the last 50 years of Sino-US relations and it involved writers and authors who were there at the beginning of US. China relations and writing now to reflect back on the engagement. The chapter that I wrote with Ken Lieberthal at the Brookings is about the transition between US political administrations and how US-China relations figures in that. And it’s very typical in recent US administrations that presidents come in, especially if it’s a change of party and they have been very hard on China generally during the political campaign and they have all kinds of wild ideas about things they’re going to do with respect to US-China Relations. We saw this under Reagan, believe it or not, we also saw it with Bill Clinton and George W Bush, maybe not quite so much with Obama, but it is a fairly typical thing to see this kind of adjustment take place within the first year of the US administration. So Biden’s been at this for 6 months and he’s got a lot on his plate. He knows the US-China relationship very well and I have to think especially after seeing his meeting with Putin and the way that he has spoken determinedly about having a meeting with President Xi. He sees himself as a leader in this relationship and wants to drive it in a direction that is going to be better – it’s going to take more time. The couple meetings that we’ve had so far are not enough. China is certainly venting anger at what’s transpired over the last couple of years and I just have to say, in fact, it’s not quite fair, because China did not vent anger during the Trump Administration in the way that it’s doing now with Biden. And it’s actually the Trump administration that we started all of this and did it in a very kind of chaotic way. But China was so worried about Trump’s chaos, it didn’t dare say anything so it’s had all of this anger built up over the last several years and now that Biden comes in who’s a more reasonable person in a more level-headed leader. They’re sort of unloading on him because they know they can and they know it’s a more familiar and reliable relationship, maybe. We have to see that for what it is as well. I think it would be good if China could sort of just keep it low key for a little bit longer and give some more time and then I hope there will be a meeting of the two leaders. We have to recognize too that Covid is playing a big part in this in our poor communication because it’s very hard to meet. It was very hard to set up this meeting in Tianjin, very hard to set up the meeting in Anchorage. And it’s very hard to get our two presidents together face to face in person in the same room right now. So I think we need to take a deep breath and maybe be a little bit more patient. I know China is not fully understanding all of the statements and things that the US is making, and I think that it’s right for China to question that in private and maybe even in public, but to do it in a way that leaves open some space for us to move this in a more low key gradual off-ramp direction.
Ronnie C. Chan: Susan I have a slightly different take than what you have just said. In your chapter with Ken, you talked about the different administrations, but from the Chinese perspective, it’s the United States of America. Whether it is this president or that president, it is still the United States of America. America is so strong that everybody has to play along with the American politics and hence you react differently when there is a new administration. But then from the Chinese perspective, they were really bending backwards during the Trump times, not just because Trump is a crazy guy, but also due to many other things in the US-China relations. China was really bending backwards trying to build relationships and to restore the relationship, then they failed because Trump didn’t want any part of it. Then, they were hoping that Biden would be a little bit better, but Biden turned out to be no better. As I said, some of us never believed that Biden will turn better because the whole body politics in America has already been poisoned. But nonetheless the Chinese starts out hoping that Biden will turn better Biden didn’t. As a result, the Chinese thought this is very consistent irrespective of what Susan and Ken have written about the changing of administration, this administration is going to in the wrong direction as far as the Chinese is concerned. Hence they are becoming tougher and tougher. I agree with you Susan, that there are two people fighting on the stage right now. In the past, there was one adult that was China, not Trump, not the United States. But now I’m afraid that there’s no adult on the stage anymore and that’s where I begin to worry. But let me also take another backward look, what is changing today is a combination of 30 years of relationship. In other words, by 1990 when the Soviet Union fell, the United States begin to see China in a very, very different light. As I told Henry Kissinger, what he did in 1972 in some places are very good, but the reason behind it is the presence of Soviet Union, and it’s not a strong enough, not good enough reason for it to last so that the Soviet Union is no longer problem. Most of us didn’t foresee Soviet Union collapsing and when it collapsed in the early 1990s, the rationale for having a better relationship disappeared. So many of my friends, Paul Wolfowitz for example, began to write white paper in 1992, about the Pacific and was really targeting China. So that relationship has been underway for 30 years, so we are really not just looking at Trump and Biden, we should look at the last 30 years where relationships are on the downswing. When the Korean War came, the relationship drop off the cliff. When Nixon went to China, the relationship overnight went to heaven. But this time, from 1990 onward roughly, the relationship has been gradually trending down, so what Trump did is just to kick it into hell. The whole body politics in America has been so poisoned that they say China is a threat. China is a threat to whom? China is a threat not to the world, China is a threat to American supremacy, perhaps, in some areas. As in any society, 95% of the population don’t really understand these things or analyze these things, so if the president says that China is a bad guy, then China is a bad guy. How many people really know enough to think through issues? So it’s a very sad situation, I never thought that I would see the day when the US. China relationship get into that bad a situation and I don’t foresee it getting better anytime soon whether it is the Democrats or the Republican.
A need for rules and institutions around trans-border and transnational phenomena
Susan A. Thornton: You mentioned the last 30 years, that exactly coincides with my time in the State Department. I joined in 1991, the year that Soviet Union collapsed. I agree with your fundamental observation that we really never had a “come to Jesus moment” after the collapse of the Soviet Union. But I think we never had that moment inside the United States, either, to figure out what it was now after the collapse of the Soviet Union that the US was going to be doing in the world. You said the attitude was about US supremacy, but I think that inside the United States, there was no debate really. There was Francis Fukuyama’s book about the end of history, and everyone just assumed that everything would fall into place now and just go on. We were preoccupied with Europe of course and lots of other things, like the Balkans, and then we moved into the Great War on terror. So it’s just like we never really sat down to think about what is the purpose of our place in the world now.
It really coincided, also, with this rapid globalization. Henry, your center is about globalization and Ronnie doesn’t think we should have “the interwoven world” in the topic haha – I want to come back to this topic. The 90s was the decade of globalization and we probably hit peak globalization around 2008 before the financial crisis. But we never updated the institutions, we never actually sat around and fundamentally thought about how globalization changes the international discourse and the way countries are going to operate together – we never really did that. And now we’re grown up with this international system. China says UN charter but the UN charter is not enough to serve us in a globalized world. We have to have rules and institutions around the trans-border and transnational phenomenon. Our systems don’t fit together, so how are we going to do that – we’ve never really had that conversation in my view. So now China says the US made all those rules and we don’t want them, whereas the US says well China is trying to dump all the rules and impose its system on everyone. That’s not a productive way of looking at the situation actually. Looking back, you can see how we got to here.
Ronnie C. Chan: I totally agree with you Susan. I think both you and I are probably in the camp of wanting the world to be a more peaceful one and US-China relationship developing a better way. Back then we did not really have an intellectual discussion that is nationwide in the United States along that line. At the same time, you have people such as Donald Rumsfeld, such as Paul Wolfowitz, such as the vice president Dick Cheney – the neo-cons who began to move briskly during that time. I think that the globalization of the world after the fall of Soviet Union blunted their advance somewhat, but then eventually they took the center stage. 10 – 15 years ago, I would never have imagined Biden taking the position that he does today with China. That tells you how that the whole political apparatus in America and the media are really influencing the society and moving into the wrong direction. It is like an aircraft carrier that cannot turn easily. That’s what I’m afraid that we’re looking at.
Wang Huiyao: I think both of you have actually given a very good analysis of the situation. This year marked the 50 years of Doctor Kissinger’s secret visit to China. We just had the webinar about 20 days ago celebrating his historical visit, and also it’s 20 years since China joined the WTO and 40 years of ending the Cold War and that’s when Susan started your diplomatic career. What I would like to further point out, adding details, is that the Deputy Secretary of State, Ms Sherman’s visit to Tianjin. That meeting, I think, is better than the Alaska round since both side now have come up with some concrete lists now, at least to say we have to walk down and see how we can resolve those differences. And of course the Chinese has proposed some ideas about how we can really shut down at least some controversy that China don’t want. But on the other hand, the US is proposing a list too. But ultimately, we hope that maybe, as Susan said, this Covid-19 situation is not really helping, but we need more frequent higher senior diplomatic visit, and even heads of the state’s visit and meeting at the G20 if possible. Right after the meeting of Tianjin, the new ambassador, Qin Gang, arrived in Washington. I hope that we can start some concrete discussion.
Yesterday, Steve Orlins from the National Committee of US-China Relations, wrote a piece on the South China Morning Post titled “How the US can craft a bold and positive China agenda that benefits all Americans”. Basically, he said, let’s revisit tariffs, revisit the curbs on the Chinese people and Chinese companies and the media, engage constructively on human rights and international norms, fine-tune Taiwan policy and ditch confrontation. The US should not understate the benefit of constructive engagement to the American people. So in this very good op-ed, he made a lot of recommendations such as relaxing the visa and student visit and maybe we should not confront so much. Maybe we should follow up with more concrete things, such as revoking the tariff. So Susan maybe you could give some more insights on that?
Climate cooperation is essential
Susan A. Thornton: I am hopeful. I wasn’t so happy, frankly, that the notion of giving the US a list of demands was publicized because I think that makes it then politically harder in the US to do those things, not easier. It’s good to keep some of those details, issues for the closed-door meeting in US China relations, so I hope that it won’t entrench the two sides demanding that the other side make the first move. I’m afraid that might be where we are now and I would I do worry about that. We need somebody to do something that’s a little bit bold and shows leadership to try to get this thing unstuck. But I’m hopeful that in Wendy Sherman’s meeting that both sides mentioned these areas for potential cooperation – climate change has of course, been one that has been mentioned frequently – it’s gonna be very hard but inexcusable and will be a historical shame if we don’t do it. There are other issues like Afghanistan, North Korea and Myanmar that were mentioned. So there are a number of areas where we can find ways hopefully to cooperate, we’re doing joint negotiations, still, I hope, with Iran.
I hope that it becomes more fruitful in the future than it’s indicating right now, but we have to do these things together. I hope we can work towards something pragmatic after these meetings. But there’s a lot of politics swirling around in Washington as Ronnie has pointed out and there’s a lot of things happening in Beijing. Domestics politics are really creating a lot of problems for both sides right now and I think we do need to see some bold leadership in both capitals to try to get through these impasse, maybe a little bit less worrying about protecting your flank. I don’t know how realistic that is, maybe Ronnie has a view on how realistic it is in Beijing. It is difficult in Washington right now too. Biden’s trying to get big spending bills through and it’s a difficult political environment for him. But I do think he wants to get the relationship with China in a better place. Just knowing him and knowing his experience with China even though he sounds tough and he is tough, I think he’s worried. Ronnie, you talked about who’s threating who and who’s doing what to who. In the region, China’s military buildup is causing concern and that causes demand signals for US involvement and the US is feeling, after Trump, an over-exaggerated need to reassure people in the region and that the US is gonna be there in the face of their insecurity coming from China’s military buildup. But the real problem is the economy, the Americans and Joe Biden also feels that it’s really not clear – the future shape of the international economy and the place of the US and China in it is very cloudy right now. International businesses are feeling this, developed countries in general, who rely on innovation and technology to be their engines of growth are feeling this. And it’s causing a lot of anxiety and I think that there is a really feeling that there’s an economic threat coming from China and we can’t make China understand why we feel this way is a real problem.
Ronnie C. Chan: Many years ago I have a dear friend, a couple, and at one party I found out she already wanted a divorce and she didn’t let people know. But, once in a great while, I got an inkling that maybe she does want this relationship to continue. So she played along, they went out to dinner, they took care of their family and their children but in her heart she was divorced already. And that’s what I’m afraid is happening today that the United States has the party politicians who decided that US-China relationship is going to be a threat to vital American interests, and so we’re going to divorce. But then on the surface you cannot say it too loudly, so the Chinese were trying their best to keep a good relationship throughout the Trump era and then into the Biden one.
In Hawaii, they met with Pompeo, and that didn’t go too well. Then the Chinese went to American oil twice, that shows you how desperate the Chinese are to want to get the relationship better. I’m sure Biden insisted that it has to be on American soil so the first one is Hawaii under Trump, now is Alaska under Biden. In diplomacy these kind of things matters. The Chinese are going over to American soil twice and the Chinese in particular, perhaps is a little bit more sensitive than most people on these kind of protocol issues and yet what they got was Blinken, that is almost as bad as Pompeo as far as Chinese are concerned. That’s why they reacted, Yang Jiechi and Wang Yi. So that really tells you that China wanted to have a better relationship. And that was perhaps the last straw that broke the camel’s back that Biden doesn’t want it either, it’s not going to change. So the Chinese begins to react, and you say China build up its military – all the buildup are reaction to what the United States have been doing. Stop streaming down the middle of the Taiwan Strait, stop spying in the coastal regions and see if the Chinese will build up. If they had done that in the past, China probably would not have built up as much. When you have a big country which is the second largest economy in the world – you know the movie Captain Phillips with Tom Hanks, an American ship was a hijacked by Somalian Pirates – my question is, next time when it’s captain Henry Wang, then what will happen? Do they call the seventh fleet, the one that sent the aircraft carrier to Taiwan Strait in 1996 and then in subsequent years for the last 2 and a half decades, increasing military presence by the United States in the neighborhood. Of course, America has a good excuse, “hey it is for our allies”. Well China has not done anything to any of Americans’ allies in Asia for how long, even Taiwan, which as far as I’m concerned is part of China, just read history. Even with Taiwan, Beijing has never had a problem since 1957 or 58. Then America became very provocative and China has no choice but to react. So don’t say the Chinese military buildup is very dangerous and it’s the same thing with the South China Sea. Anyways, I think that we are already way beyond that point. I think the United States is like that lady friend of mine, from decades ago who wanted a divorce. It’s just you cannot say it out loud yet for whatever reason – the children or whatever. But on the other hand, I think it’s really, really bad news as far as I’m concerned.
China-US relations should be viewed with longer horizons
Wang Huiyao: The US and China are certainly going through an agonizing process. But we hope that it would be really getting better, maybe in the longer run. Recently, CCG has conducted a number of dialogues. We talked to Graham Allison, Joseph Nye, Martin Wolf, Thomas Freedman and so on. Also one day ago, we talked with John Thornton and quite a few others. I think they all disagree that we should have a great Cold War. I mean, the US and China, are going through an adjustment period. Joseph Nye said maybe by 2035, we would probably repair the relation and maybe get back to some kind of normalcy. We need a little bit longer horizon to look at that. So Susan, I know that you worked in the US consulate general in Chengdu. It was unfortunately be shut down and the US shut down the Chinese one in Houston. So what positive news do you have about the US and China relationship and maybe you could give some further advice on that?
Susan A. Thornton: I’ve heard quite a few people say that it’s going to take quite a long time for the US and China relation to shake out this time, and we’re going to go through a cycle of maybe 10 years of a downturn. But I really think that we cannot afford to have that happen. Because if we have this divorce that Ronnie’s talking about or even a divorce without the formality of divorce, but just basically a bifurcation or separation, it’s going to impact the international system. We have got globalization now, so we need an international system. So I’m not really convinced that we’re going to be able to get along in the globalized world. We’ve passed peak globalization – I agree with Ronnie about that. But there are certain elements of globalization that are not going to turn back and those still need to be governed by some kind of international discourse and system that goes beyond just the UN charter. Look at all these transnational law enforcement cases, these are extremely difficult for governments to work on together, particularly the US and Chinese governments. It has always been difficult, but impossible right now. We’re just going to let these transnational criminals run rampant because the US and China can’t talk to each other. We need to have some kind of institutions that can generate consensus among countries and where we can sort of try to fit our systems together. China is talking about how interference in internal affairs is prohibited by the UN charter. This is a real problem in our relationship, and we have to have an honest conversation about it. All countries interfere in other countries internal affairs. We have embassies in those countries and they’re always doing this kind of stuff, monitoring what’s going on there and lobbying the governments. We’re trying to influence each other constantly, and in a globalized world, this is just going to be a fact of life. So we’ve got to figure out what is the real problem here? What are the rules by which we can regulate this? How can we fit our systems together more seamlessly on both the economic front? As the first and second largest economies in the world and we’re not going to have trade? I don’t believe it. That’s going to be worked out. But all these other areas where we have overlapping trans-national boundary issues, migration, crime, cyber, space, pandemic, health, transportation, mobility, people movement back and forth, this isn’t going to stop just because US and China aren’t getting along. Even during the Soviet Union, when we had a very major estrangement between the US and the Soviet Union, we still had people flows and some trade back and forth. I want to repeat again that China is not the Soviet Union and it should not try to be the Soviet Union. That would be a huge mistake for both China and the world. Certainly it wouldn’t be good for the US and China relations. I wonder Ronnie if you have a comment on that.
Ronnie C. Chan: Well, Susan, let me try to be a Trumpist for a second. China is worse than Soviet Union. Soviet Union was only a military threat, it wasn’t an economic competitor. Whereas today, China is an economic competitor, but America wants to turn it into a military threat as well. So it is a very sad situation that partly because of America’s concoction. China today is a comprehensive competitor or even enemy of the United States, which is very sad. If you want an enemy in the international community, you can have one very easily, and that’s exactly what Trump has done and in fact that’s what Paul Wolfowitz and Dick Cheney and all those guys had already started 30 years ago. I said in a CCG meeting that I lost $100 to a bet to Graham Allison. I’m trying to make it back from you Susan. I would be happy to bet you there in the next 10 years on US and China relationship. I wish in next 10 years, the US- China relationship can get on its own feet. I agree with you fully that the international system cannot afford to have the two of the biggest economies fight like that. You talk about cyber. But what I really worry about is that the United States has not being smart in diplomacy over the last 30, 40 years. It’s going to force itself back to some form of isolationism. After all, America was founded on isolationism, not internationalism. For example, the role that America played in the Post World War II era did the world a hell of a good. But on the other hand, once the Soviet fell, all the restraint is now gone. The US Congressional research did a study that, before the fall of the Soviet Union, America had 1. 1 military action every year for the previous 170 years, and then after that, it’s 6. 1 times per year. So I think that talking about interfering in other countries, there is no country had ability to interfere like the United States did, and when you are as powerful as the United States, the way you interfere is a lot more. Some friends of mine want to have a conference in Japan to study whether America is a reliable partner. I said no need to have such a time, just call Merkel or Macron and their phones will tap. Talking about interfering in other countries – when you have power and don’t use it, it’s really takes a lot of self-enlightenment to do that, and I worry that America has not been doing it for the last 30 years since the fall of the Soviet Union. Afterwards, it’s even worse because there’s no more restraint. So America is forcing itself back into isolationism in some way. You cannot desegregate the world totally in economics and so forth. But as a leader of the world, China was hoping for a long time that the United States will still be the leader of the world. China, as I have publicly stated many times, 10 and 20 years ago, China is very happy to play second fiddle to the United States. But the United States feel threatened by the number two guy that he is going to replace me as the concert master. So what can you do? China is economically rising, and America is boxing China in from Japan on the East, India in the Southwest, whoever in the West, and Vietnam in the South. If you put yourself into Chinese shoes, you will feel boxed in by the number one country in the world. So you have to survive, unless you say, OK fine, I’ll be just like a very small country and bow to with the United States. But there’s no way, China has 1. 4 billion people. I think United States is feeling very threatened, which is unnecessary. Once I discover that the losing of self-confidence on the part of the United States 20 years ago, I said this is really a bad news. America should not lose self-confidence and America should be able to work well with China. I think on China’s side, China can still work to be the second fiddle to the United States, but it’s going to be a lot tougher after the last couple of years of Trump and now Biden, but I think it’s still doable.
Susan A. Thornton: So what are we betting on? You say 10 years we are not going to be good and I say 10 years we will recover?
Ronnie C. Chan: Yes.
Susan A. Thornton: So I have to find you, look you up in 10 years and you can take me to dinner ?
Ronnie C. Chan: I think you will take me to dinner, Susan. I’ll bring good wine.
Wang Huiyao: Well, I think that’s actually a fascinating discussion. Both of you are pointing out something very significant. After the Second World War, the US led the global governance system, pushed the world into prosperity and we have avoided the major catastrophe of a third World War. But absolutely, the system needs an upgrade, needs enrichment, and needs enhancement and I think China can probably help on that. I just read something that Susan has just mentioned before. You wrote that “the only realistic path forward for the United States and China is to co-evolve through cooperation and competition into adjusted and sustainable order”, which is well said. You also said “China’s active participation in international structure is now crucial to the development of the rest of the world. Its contribution will be key to making progress to the greatest challenges we face, which will continue to be transnational in nature. The US and China’s co-evolution in a globalized international system is the only realistic and productive path forward”. It seems we have a lot of slow-down on the global level, like WTO and other international systems, but on the regional level it is actually getting together now, like RCEP, ASEAN which China works with, and Japan, Korea, Australia, New Zealand. And CPTPP, led by Japan and Australia, but used to be designed by the US. So Susan how do you think of the global governance system? How can we really push forward in a globalization 2.0 or 3.0? The US, China, and EU can really workout together as major economies, maybe G10 could include China and Russia. India a climate summit, maybe there should be a pandemic summit. G20 should also play more roles. Besides, how can the UN be more enhanced? China is already the second largest donor to the UN and then largest in the peacekeeping force of the security council members. So what do you think about that and how we can improve the global governance in light of this new adjustment that we are facing right now? Susan, please.
Susan A. Thornton: So Henry you’ve been present for some of the discussions we’ve had in this forum started on the back of the global solution summit around the G20, which is called the China West dialogue. It is not a perfect title. It’s really more about how to make sure that China is included in all of these global conversations because what I see and what I worry about is China is sort of leaning out of the international system and starting a parallel track on its own. It’s frustrated in the international system. It’s not able to get its voice heard, it’s not participating as robustly as other countries. Probably the Europeans are the most robust participators in the international system because they’re the real rule drivers in the system more than the US or China actually. But we need China to be in the conversation and be participating actively in driving in this consensus building way. I think there’s been a feeling, at least among people that participated in those meetings, that they don’t have enough Chinese participation always, that China is a bit reticent still on the global stage to step up and contribute. I’ve seen a big change over the last 20 years certainly in this space, but I think more is needed. I think the G20 is a very important platform. You know it’s been around for a while, but it really got going after the financial crisis of 2008 and 2009. It’s a big organization, 20 countries are a lot, but it is a good flexible format where you can get different combinations of these countries and you can have guests. But it’s not as huge as the UN with 190 countries, which becomes a little bit unwieldy. So I think one question is how to make these institutions that we have more action oriented, specific and productive. Some of the annual meetings and forums we have are more for galvanizing conversation and generating consensus, but they move slowly. We need an organization that can move a little bit more quickly and I think the G20 can be that, if it has a little bit more structure and a little bit more directionality and a little bit more support. It hasn’t gotten a lot of support from all the countries involved all the time. I hope it can become more of a leading organization. Of course, we’ve got the OECD on the economic front, we’ve got the World Bank, and the IMF will continue to be important. We’ve got various development organizations and the development banks, et cetera. So there are just a lot of organizations at this point and I think trying to get them to cohere, you really need the leadership driving it that comes from the leaders meeting at the G20 or something like that. I’m all for regional trade agreements, but frankly, the global trading system is a global system and the WTO has to serve. You know every country is in there and is a member of this global trading system. Generating consensus there and reforms is difficult. But the system has got to work and China’s got to help us get that system to work frankly. A big part of this is going to be how can we fit China’s unique economic model together with the economic models of others and what kind of changes can be made on both sides to make it fair and make countries feel like they are able to compete and participate on a level playing field in that arena? I think we have a lot of work to do there.
Wang Huiyao: Yes, thank you. I think WTO is really important, and we hope that we can get around on that. And Ronnie, what’s your comment on that?
Ronnie C. Chan: Well, I agree with Susan that G20 should be a very, very good venue for a lot of issues in the world. But China as a new player to it has to feel that it is not totally American driven and dominated. Consider, a couple of years ago, I think it must be under Obama, during the G7 days, which is really not representative enough. Anyways there was a year or two that they invited Russia, and I thought to myself, what a joke. Sorry, Russia is a lovely country, the music and the literature is beautiful but economically, it is not a player in the global scene except with energy. You didn’t invite China, you invited Russia. It’s obviously a message to the Chinese that you are out, we don’t like you. Communication is not what you say, is what the other person hear. Moreover, I believe in this case, it was a deliberate message. Chinese has been watching these things for the last 20-30 years. As China economically rise, they see that the West is increasingly boxing it in. I don’t like the title of China and the West in an adversarial position and then you have Pivot to Asia under the Obama days. Who are you targeting? So all these things are really forcing China to rethink its position in the world. G7, that was a long time ago. Pivot to Asia, that was Obama days. Now, Indo-Pacific, that’s another subject. Understandably from American perspective, it is really part of the encirclement of China. So you know if you are China, you are living in a very uncomfortable circumstance. I don’t think China will perform a parallel international system. I don’t think China is strong enough nor have the desire to do that. Chinese don’t speak English by the way. And if you don’t speak English Well, you don’t lead the world today. So China will not do that. But if America is retreating from global leadership, then we’re looking at a fragmented world. There’s going to be no leader. A lot of Americans assumed that China will take the leadership if America were to retreat – I don’t think so. If China is smart, it should not do that, it doesn’t have the wherewithal to do it. It’s very expensive. Don’t even attempt. Just be a responsive player in the international scene. But of course, to be responsible is by whose rule? So the Chinese say it’s all Western rules so far, which you can’t change. China was happy to accept it as long as you don’t box China in, as the West, and in particular, the United States has been, together within a few small countries like Australia, Japan, and India albeit India is small in population. So you know that the world is in a very, very bad situation. And I believe that it really began when America lost self-confidence and decided that China is a threat to its own vital interest. I say again China is not a threat to American vital interests. It’s a threat to America’s sole leadership. China is very happy to work with America as a co-equal, protocol wise, but privately, second fiddle. I think China was happy to play and I hope that China will be able to be convinced to still work with the United States when the other side really doesn’t want to.
Infrastructure is potentially the next biggest impetus for the global economy and globalization
Wang Huiyao: The Chinese government has said many times that China doesn’t want to replace the US, China wants to be working with the US on those international governance issues. The US shouldn’t worry about that. So one final question from me is that, on what can we work together? We had John Kerry come to Shanghai in March, and President Xi attended President Biden’s Earth Day Summit on climate change. That is actually a good sign that we have many things to work on. Just now Susan mentioned issues like North Korea, Iran, Myanmar, even Afghanistan now, which has become a vacuum. Among the many issues we could work on, the pandemic is probably the most urgent one. And just at our conference, the 7th CCG Annual Forum, we had the former vice minister of commerce, Chen Jian, who actually said that maybe we could work with the US on these infrastructure projects. I notice that Biden has already reached a bipartisan consensus on investing US infrastructure. Not only the US, but also the rest of world, all need infrastructure. Infrastructure could be the next biggest impetus and the drive for the global economy and global globalization as well. So in that area, can we work together? Like former vice minister Chen said. Maybe with the B3W for G7 purposes and the Blue Dot Network of the US and China can work together with BRI, with the Asia-Europe connectivity portal. So we all think about global infrastructure and maybe we’ll have something big to work on in the future, to glue every country onto the new global system. We can even probably upgrade AIIB to GIIB with US participation, a Global Infrastructure Investment Bank. That is something we need to really work into the common objective. So on the things that we can work together, Susan, what’s your take in this respect?
Susan A. Thornton: Yeah, I really hope so. I think that would be a very logical place for us to put our efforts and in fact, we’ve had these kinds of joint projects in the past. I remember smart cities was an area where the US and China worked very closely together. We had local officials from states and provinces in China together, trying to learn from each other about how to use technology to better manage and serve populations in cities and I think that could continue to be very important. Energy, technology cooperation and deployment has been a huge area of joint cooperation between the US and China in the past. We’ve unfortunately come to this again, this kind of competition over infrastructure and who’s going to get influence in another country by building a project. I don’t think that it should be that kind of a competition. I know under the Obama administration, there was an effort to work in Africa together. China had a lot of projects in Africa and we were doing a lot of power projects in Africa, we were trying to figure out how to make them work together. I do think it is hard for us to work together because we have a different way of doing things, certainly in infrastructure projects, there are cultural and commercial differences. But I think these are areas that are not as clear-cut a case as a pandemic, which is a public health emergency. It should be pretty easy and apolitical to work on development projects in third countries in my opinion, if you can figure out how the comparative advantages line up, then you can do it. But we need the political will, which isn’t there right now.
Wang Huiyao: The US has been running World Bank for many years now and China has AIIB. Development banks probably can work together. Actually, John Thornton just said in our webinar that at one time actually China and the US were talking about collaborating on BRI, and John Kerry told me at the Munich Security Conference last year the same things. So there’s a possibility. And also on climate – China is already quite advanced on that in terms of clean vehicles, solar energy and wind power, we could work with the US on infrastructure. President Xi just said in the Video conference with President Marco and Angela Merkel, talking about working in Africa. We should get the US working on that together so that we have something common to work together, rather than being divided.
US-China co-evolution is the only way
Susan A. Thornton: One of the things I worry about is that the focus on COVID-19 is now taking up a lot of oxygen that should be been devoted to climate change. And that could be the next tragedy of the commons that we all face. It’s very hard to do two big things like that at once. So this is why I say coevolution is the only way, and with the pandemic, even more so now.
Wang Huiyao: Absolutely, I agree. We need to have this plan in the future. We have something at least to hope for. We’re now thinking about Thucydides Trap all the time but we can really think about those good things on which we can work together – climate change, infrastructure and particularly the pandemic fighting is the most urgent thing we need to work on together. Ronnie, your thoughts on that?
Ronnie C. Chan: I think that anything that is too involved in politics with international policy is very difficult. I think the pandemic is really where we should all begin, and then the environment. By the way, Susan, climate change is the number two in my list of eight terrible things that can happen to mankind and, please convince the White House and the State Department not to be too politically driven and just solve issues and practical problems. I think the world will be a much better place. There are many other issues out there like international standards, it’s really a lot of problems that only the two biggest countries work together can be solved. But given today’s political environment, I’m really, really saddened by this situation, but I hope that with John Kerry’s effort on the climate – because let’s face it, Democrats are far more willing to work on this subject than the Republicans, but that said, I think America overall is behind. I couldn’t believe how many Americans do not believe in climate change. And so somehow America in this regard has to step up as well. China knows that their fast development of the last 30 years is really damaging their own environment terribly and of course that would damage other people’s environment as well because we all share the same global village and so the Chinese are really, really serious about dealing with the environment. That’s one area that if the United States showed stronger interest, the two parties may be able to work together. And we need to. America is now ganging up, bringing friends, to encircle China, and frankly those things are not useful. How much can Australia help? Or even India or Japan? But optically, it’s very damaging to the Beijing leaders and if you don’t let those things go, cooperation will be limited.
Vaccination is predominant in restoring mobility
Wang Huiyao: We had a very good discussion so far, and I think that the US and China should really work together. One of the urgent things about pandemic is about vaccine recognition. Because people cannot travel due to a lack of mutual recognition of vaccines. Then there’s mobility issue, if we’re going to coexist with the virus for a long time to come, how can we really reboot international travel but at the same time contain the virus? Students from different countries cannot travel. For instance, the Schwarzman College’s students cannot come to China for the whole year and they have graduated already, not being one day on campus. Chinese student can’t go to the United States either. To recognize the vaccines of those countries that that recognized by WHO would be great on international travel.
My staff was telling me we had about no almost 400,000 viewers online and we almost have come to their conclusion of our webinar, but we have received a few questions from media as well. So I just passed those questions on this final round and maybe also have some concluding remarks.
I have a question from China Daily – The US administration made the rounds pushing “lab leak” hypothesis while turning deaf to Fort Detrick probe requests. What’s your take on it?
There’s another news from Guancha News. The United States used its economic and financial power to dominate the global economic order and used sanctions against many countries and enterprises. At present, the United States is still imposing sanctions on some officials in Iran, Huawei and even Hong Kong, China. Many enterprises have to comply with these US decrees and cut off exchanges with relevant entities. However, since last year, China has taken a series of countermeasures and formulated laws and regulations, such as Anti-foreign Sanctions Law of the People’s Republic of China, Measures for Blocking Improper Extraterritorial Application of Foreign Laws and Measures, Provisions on the List of Unreliable Entities. Today, there may be direct conflicts between the laws and regulations of China and those of the United States in some fields, and it seems to be very difficult to abide by the laws of both sides at the same time. What should enterprises do? Can WTO and other multilateral mechanisms play a role in such a situation?
There’s another question from Beijing News. The eve of the Chinese Lunar New Year, President Xi Jinping had a phone conversation with U.S. President Joseph R. Biden. Then US and China held a high-level talk in Alaska, recently the Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman has visited the northern Chinese port city of Tianjin. How would you comment on the exchanges between China and the United States? What are your prospects for cooperation between China and the United States?
We would love to hear your feedback, but also your final conclusions for our webinar, which this is our second special feature webinar of the 7th Center for China and globalization forum.
Non-governmental ties between the US and China should be deepened
Susan A. Thornton: On the issue of the pandemic. I think that I’ve been pretty clear and pretty strong in my clarion call for better cooperation between the US and China to face the ongoing pandemic and mitigate the damage in our own countries, but also to help other governments face up to the problems that they have and get vaccines out throughout the world. Nobody is going to be safe in either one of our countries until everybody gets vaccinated, and we can’t let our country shut down. As Henry you were just saying, we have to restore mobility, so in order to do that, we have to get everyone vaccinated, and we’ll probably need booster shots every year so there’s going to be a lot of vaccine production and we should be focused on cooperation on how to get that done.
On the question about what should enterprises do, this gets to the issue of how we need rules in the international system to govern this commercial space that is come about under globalization is a fantastic thing for promoting global prosperity. We need to repair the WTO, we need to get together and agree on rules of how our systems are going to fit together, which countries’ courts should be able to decide disputes or how dispute resolution is going to work in all these cases. We can’t keep having these anti-suit injunctions. And then you have an anti anti suit injunction and competing court processes. This is not the way we should be moving and I think it is really difficult for companies right now. It’s going to continue to be difficult until we can get some repair work done on this relationship.
On the last thing on the exchanges at the official level between the US and China, what I want to say is that the relations between our governments are not always going to be very good and in recent years, of course, they’ve not been good at all. But it doesn’t mean that the relationship on the non-governmental level has to be hostage to that official relationship. There’s a lot that goes on day today between the United States and China in business, in culture, in academics, in education, and in exchanges and all kinds of other areas that need to continued and expanded. And I really hope that your Globalization Center can have some kind of a youth summit, so we can get younger voices in on this conversation because those are the people that are going to be affected by this relationship that Ronnie predicts is going to be bad for the next 10 years. This is the lives of young people in both our countries, it’s a significant portion of the global population, and they should be in on the conversation to try to understand what’s happening and so that we can hear their voices on how they think about it, too.
Self-enlightenment is key to a country’s governance
Ronnie C. Chan: I’m with you Susan that we have to have a rule-based society, but when you have one country who is so big that it can write its own laws such as “I sanction you”, is that rule based? I don’t know. I really worry about the sanctioning of businesses and counter sanctioning as you rightly pointed out. So let’s have a rule-based society, that’s only way to go but not when one country is so big that it can totally reject the rules, and yet still give the perception that I am the rule, I am the righteousness. You guys break the law, I don’t. But the reality is, check the history, America probably broke more international rules that any other country. It comes back to a very fundamental point and that is the world for the last 200 years have seen Asia waning, and it has seen the West rising. And after the World War II, the United States became the undisputed leader of the world and it has done a lot of good. But on the other hand, although it has done a lot of good, if one is not self-enlightened and keep our own superiority complex, that a big country like China, cannot economically rise. And if it rises, it would disrupt the international system. It’s your interest in the international system that you let the world to form for good in the past. But the world has changed. You cannot deny the fact that 1.4 billion people has gone from a 1,000 US dollars per capita income to now a 10,000. The world has changed, and the West has to gradually adjust to a world which is a fairer world a world where there are other people, sorry to bring this word in, who is of a different race that is rising. Japan rising was a shock to America 40, 50 years ago, but they were small there was only having 120 million people, and less than that 50 years ago. But China is 10 times bigger in size and more. I think the West has to adjust intellectually, culturally and mentally to a different world. If not, then I do worry that ten years might be too short to expect any positive change, Susan. In line with what you say about non-government – since now you’re out of government and I’m never in government, I will still buy you dinner and bring the wine and you bring your friends from Yale and I bring my friends from Hong Kong.
Wang Huiyao: Thank you. I think we had a very fruitful, stimulating and productive dialogue. That’s exactly what CCG likes to do – to promote dialogues and understanding and to really explain the points on both sides and I think this is really also the meaning of our annual forum as well in which we had so many lively discussions as well. The point is really well taken that for China and the US in the 21st century, the situation has been changed, the dynamic has been changed that we have to work together for the sake of the humanity. And also with the US being the largest economy, and China being the second largest, we have the moral responsibility to not just China and the US but the 7. 5 billion people. And in that respect, we need to intensify our communication, dialogue and high-level visits, student exchanges, tourism as well as culture and resume our consulates. I really appreciate both of your time. We are going to continue our webinar series – tomorrow, we’re going to have another one with Pascal Lamy, the former WTO director-general and Wendy Cutler, the former acting USTR in the Obama ministration. Thank you for your participation and thank you to our audience. We hope to see you again.
Note: The above text is the output of transcribing from an audio recording. It is posted as a reference for the discussion.