Time: July 3, 2023, Monday morning
Location: Liaoning Building, 7th Floor (Conference Room M)
Theme: Rebuilding a Stable Framework for China-U.S. Relations
Da Wei, Director of the Center for International Strategy and Security Studies, Tsinghua University (Moderator)
Douglas Pall, Distinguished Fellow, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
Wang Jisi, Founding Dean, Institute of International Strategic Studies, Peking University
Cliff Kupchan, Chairman, Eurasia Group
Wu Xinbo, Dean and Professor, Institute of International Studies, Fudan University
Da Wei: Good morning everyone, please take your seats. We will start the discussion segment shortly. Good morning everyone, welcome to the first panel discussion of the 11th World Peace Forum this morning: Shaping a New Framework for Stable China-U.S. Relations. My name is Da Wei, I am the director of the Center for Strategic and Security Studies at Tsinghua University and a professor of international relations. I am very happy to moderate this session again today. In fact, I moderated the same session last year, I don't know if it was in this room. The Chinese guests are still Professor Wang Jisi and Professor Wu Xinbo, but today we have two new distinguished American guests, Mr. Pall and Mr. Kupchan. I am very happy that today the four guests can attend in person, but last year only Professor Wang Jisi and I attended in person, today we can have a real group discussion, which I am very happy about.
The main topic of our discussion is China-U.S. relations. I don't know if everyone has received the outline, but I have some questions to ask our guests, mainly about how to stabilize bilateral relations. Since last November in Bali, we have been trying to stabilize bilateral relations, but it is obvious that the process has not gone very smoothly. We know about the so-called balloon incident in February, which interrupted this process. Fortunately, it now appears that the two sides have an opportunity to restabilize bilateral relations once again, after Foreign Minister Wang Yi met with Sullivan in Geneva, and after Secretary Blinken visited China. However, we do not know what the two countries should do in the next six months, in the next few months. Are the two countries likely to truly negotiate a "guardrail", as the U.S. calls it, or "guiding principles" as China calls it? How can we turn these negotiations into specific policies and what can we do to stabilize bilateral relations? How will the next year be, especially as it is a key year and the U.S. election year? So today we have four distinguished guests, and I will give each of them about 10 to 12 minutes to speak. Basically, my role is very simple, to start with an opening statement, keep time and then have a question and answer session. I know many people are attending today's meeting, many friends are here, and I know you have many questions. So after the guests speak, I will immediately open the floor for questions.
PALL: Thank you, Dai Wei. I want to thank our hosts at Tsinghua University for giving me the opportunity to return to Beijing and reconnect in person. A lot has happened over the past three years, and I'm glad to have the chance to discuss these important issues, especially since I've known our guests today for many years and have developed good friendships. At the outset of this forum's discussions, I should acknowledge that I have relatively low expectations for stable U.S.-China relations. It should come as no surprise to everyone that over the past two years, relations between the two countries have become more unstable and unpredictable, and recent efforts to change the direction of bilateral relations have been largely unsuccessful.
Last November, President Biden and Xi Jinping's meeting in Bali gave people hope, but it failed to weather the first climate crisis. If identifiable stability at this point is an elusive bridge, what goals can optimists still hope for realists to achieve? For me, the wisest move is to look at the intersection of a series of event developments and national interest assessments. First of all, China's domestic political agenda, the five-year cycle of the Communist Party's National Congress, seems to continue the pattern of annual economic policy implementation, adjustments and military policy adjustments of the past. This indicates that under otherwise equal conditions, China is unlikely to become an unstable source in the U.S.-China-Taiwan policy triangle for international political reasons.
The U.S. is preparing for its four-year election cycle, which will raise issues, reduce the current administration's space for policy innovation, and defend its record to the detriment of the opposition, which typically intensifies attacks at this time to replace the incumbent party. Notably, in recent decades, the current administration's traditional pattern of defending its record on China and other sensitive issues against party criticism has changed. Instead, both the incumbent government and potential competitors are vying to demonstrate a new model with a very tough stance on China. On the surface, this indicates an increased likelihood of unexpected developments from the U.S. side over the next year and a half.
The most sensitive corner of U.S.-China relations is the third corner, Taiwan. As everyone knows, Taiwan will hold elections early next year to form a new government. From now until then, Taiwan's domestic government will become increasingly unstable and therefore more difficult to predict. Just looking at the timeline of events, Taiwan will also become a source of instability. A related timeline is the international timeline, with leaders from various countries gathering each year to attend multilateral and bilateral meetings to address and better manage some thorny issues.
As I said earlier, last year's G20 summit in Bali brought promises of stabilizing U.S.-China relations. As U.S. officials often say, setting a baseline for deteriorating relations adds guardrails to avoid further deterioration in U.S.-China relations. But the balloon incident changed the atmosphere, at least delaying the time frame that officials at the Bali meeting had hoped to achieve stable bilateral relations between the U.S. and China. Relevant to our discussion, the U.S. now plans to hold the 12th G20 summit in November of this year.
Anticipating President Xi Jinping will attend the APEC forum in January, many had expected President Biden and President Xi to attend the G20 summit hosted by India in New Delhi in September. This could influence the outcomes of the meetings in San Francisco before the U.S. elections and escalating tensions. In my experience, the focus should be on laying the groundwork for these two international conferences to demonstrate the ability of the U.S. and China to address potentially conflictual tensions.
Ideally, we should have seen these efforts launch during Secretary of State Blinken’s first visit to China in February. But his visit was ultimately delayed until June, bringing extremely high costs that required more work compressed into less time. The goal here should not be contact for contact’s sake or to cover up real conflicts of interest. Rather, the goal should be to meet the minimum interests of both sides, avoid high-cost conflicts, and resolve current interests and other issues facing both sides.
Of course, resolving these issues may require compromises from both sides. It is now customary to recognize our common national interests in addressing climate change, pandemics and global health, global debt, international finance, and the macroeconomy. After Blinken’s visit to China, the U.S. and China expressed willingness to discuss these issues. Blinken and CIA Director Burns also held hours of talks in China on other sensitive issues, from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to North Korea to Cuba. Blinken’s visit also showed the creation of a new working level dedicated to resolving bilateral issues. In 2021, we provided a model and precedent for such lower-level official interactions, resolving some thorny issues under the leadership of Deputy Secretary of State Sherman and Ambassador Qin Gang, including the sensitive case against Meng Wanzhou.
Officials again seem ready to resolve visa issues, airline access, fentanyl precursor exports, charges against detainees, and more—bilateral issues that appear on the surface to be controllable areas for resolving disputes and improving the atmosphere for potential leader meetings in September and November. They may even be encouraged to explore more areas for negotiation, such as trade tariffs and intellectual property disputes. But I would caution and keep expectations low. These issues are inherently thorny, and the upcoming election season makes them more sensitive than usual.
Finally, there is the possibility of military activities getting out of control and dragging the two countries into accidental conflict. After Blinken’s visit to China, it is disappointing that military communication channels have remained suspended since House Speaker Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan last August. Unlike other areas of interaction, this has a direct impact on the leaders’ publicly proclaimed commitment to avoiding disastrous conflict. If an accident were to happen while the militaries of both countries are in a state of alert, our nation and the world would need to take measures to defuse the situation. Both sides have complaints about the other side using or not using these military channels. For today’s purposes of helping stabilize U.S.-China relations, or at least reducing the dangers therein, I suggest we should reach a moderately low water.
In mid-April, I went to Washington to exchange views with U.S. officials and experts from some think tanks. I heard a strong message that the U.S. government was very eager to resume Secretary of State Blinken's planned visit to China. However, they said that the Chinese side did not respond positively, or did not respond. They were also very anxious. Later, on May 10-11, Politburo member and Director of the Central Foreign Affairs Office Wang Yi met with U.S. National Security Adviser Sullivan in Vienna, the capital of Austria. The two sides agreed to continue to make good use of this strategic communication channel, which means that this will not be the only time. This time, Blinken's visit to China was still not mentioned.
Later, the defense ministers of the two countries met at the Shangri-La Dialogue in early June in Singapore. They had the opportunity to meet, but China did not agree to the U.S. suggestion for a meeting between the defense ministers. I personally feel that an important reason, I personally feel that an important reason is that the U.S. imposed sanctions on China's Defense Minister General Li Shangfu, and these sanctions have not been lifted, so this meeting is impossible. However, the two still shook hands during the banquet, indicating that it is not completely impossible for the defense ministers to meet.
The day before yesterday, July 1, it was reported that Xie Feng met with U.S. President Biden and presented his credentials. At the same time, there were some other exchanges between China and the United States, such as China's Commerce Minister Wang Wentao meeting with U.S. Commerce Secretary Raimondo and U.S. Trade Representative Tai during the APEC Ministerial Meeting.
On June 4, Kungda, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian Affairs, and a senior official of the National Security Council named Besharan (phonetic) visited Beijing. I had the opportunity to meet with them. They said they were preparing for Secretary of State Blinken's visit to China. But after carefully checking China's official website, the spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that we do not know, we have no news to tell you. It was not until one or two days before the U.S. Secretary of State's visit to China that the news was announced, and it did not say that China invited him, saying that the governments of the two countries had agreed that he would come to China for a visit.
So I personally feel that China's coverage of Blinken's visit to China this time was relatively low-key, and there were not too many expectations. Nevertheless, President Xi Jinping still met with Blinken. He said that China-U.S. relations should stabilize and have steady development, and expressed some hope.
So I feel that since May this year, the official relations between the two countries have eased significantly. But as Pall said, the fundamental issues have not been resolved. I think there are some fundamental issues between China and the U.S., such as how the two countries view each other. What does the U.S. see China as, and what does China see the U.S. as? This has become very clear. The United States has long positioned China as the biggest long-term security threat and the greatest challenge to US leadership. The Americans say China is the only country with the ability and willingness to challenge US leadership. This positioning makes it clear that the US sees the US-China relationship as strategic competition.
Of course, there is also cooperation, but on relatively minor issues, such as climate change, health care, and trade relations, which are not insignificant but do not occupy a central position in US-China relations. The US has made clear its positioning of the relationship.
I have carefully studied China's positioning and have not seen a systematic explanation of what the US-China relationship is and how it should be positioned. But I personally believe that China actually sees the US as the biggest external threat, and this threat is not just in national security but also in politics. Although the US often says it does not want to change China's system, US actions worry us that the US still has a negative view of China politically.
The strategic positioning of the US and China is now clear. I believe China sees the US as the biggest external threat, and the US also sees China as the biggest external threat. The one thing the two countries agree on is that neither wants war or sharp confrontation between the US and China. They hope to avoid confrontation, especially war. This should be seen as positive.
Another feature of US-China relations is that in bilateral economic relations and other relations, both countries place national security first. The US says national security may be more important than business relations in many ways. China has also emphasized national security as the top priority in governance through various meetings. For example, at the first meeting of the new National Security Commission on May 30, Xi Jinping stressed that we must maintain a bottom-line mentality and prepare for major tests from high winds and huge waves. He profoundly understands the complex and grave situation facing national security. When talking about the US, observers noted Xi Jinping's speech on March 6. He said the external environment for China's development has changed dramatically, uncertain and unpredictable factors have increased significantly, and in particular Western countries led by the US have implemented comprehensive containment, blockade and suppression against China, posing unprecedented severe challenges to China's development. I believe this has made it clear how we should view the US.
We should abandon any illusions about the US because the US will not make strategic concessions or gestures to China. We should not believe US assurances like "four no's and one without intention," meaning no interference in China's internal affairs, no support for Taiwan independence, and so on. China believes US words do not represent actual US policy.
There has been no change in these judgments and positions. The essence of US-China relations shows that US-China relations will not improve in the near future. The two sides still view each other negatively. Fundamentally, the law is negative, even if improvements are temporary relief in atmosphere. I myself have some concerns that any sudden event, such as a balloon incident or other event, could worsen bilateral relations again. We hope to avoid such events.
I heard that one of the purposes of Blinken's visit to China was to pave the way for the APEC leaders' meeting in San Francisco in November. At this summit meeting, the top leaders of China and the United States may sit down to resolve some problems or set the tone for future China-US relations. In fact, before that, there will be an opportunity to meet at the G20 summit in New Delhi. However, Chinese leaders have not visited the US mainland for a long time. The November meeting is seen by the US as an opportunity. It is critical that no sudden events that could affect China-US relations occur from now until September to November. If any events occur in Japan, can the two sides avoid particularly intense arguments or any conflicts? This is what I think we can expect and hope will happen.
If the summit achieves some results, China-US relations next year may be able to avoid shocks and surprises. But I do not have strong confidence that leaders have said we must be prepared for shocks and surprises. PALL said the Taiwan issue is an extremely important issue and the core of China's national interests. We do not want the Taiwan issue to move further in the direction of "Taiwan independence." We are also closely watching for important changes in Taiwan's elections next year. Americans often say they want to maintain the status quo in the Taiwan Straits. But Americans also say that they have heard from Chinese speeches that China does not want to maintain permanent separation but hopes to make progress in the direction of reunifying the motherland, or even major progress. So the differences between China and the US on the Taiwan issue will not only continue for a long time but may intensify. Because China will definitely crack down more severely on "Taiwan independence" forces and strengthen efforts to reunify the motherland, while the US continues to sell arms to Taiwan and provide political support. This is my biggest concern.
Next, the crisis in Ukraine. We call the events in Ukraine the Ukraine crisis, not the Russia-Ukraine conflict or war. China hopes to resolve this crisis. But the two sides do have different views on this issue. The US believes that Russia is invading Ukraine, while China is unwilling to use the word "invasion" to define this conflict. China hopes to persuade and promote talks so that the top can sit down and reach a peaceful solution. But a peaceful solution seems far away and cannot be resolved quickly. The two countries have some potential for cooperation on this. However, the US continues to accuse China of providing substantial support to Russia.
Apart from the issues of Russia and Taiwan, Dawa also mentioned China-US people-to-people exchanges. Personally, I have been to the US three times since last year, and I think it has been quite smooth, although there were some unpleasant moments.
Prof. Wang: Thank you, Mr. Dawei. It seems this is the first time I have heard a Chinese scholar say that the United States and China now regard each other as the biggest external threat. I may agree, but this is the first time I have heard it said. Thank you, Prof. Wang. Our third speaker is Dr. Kupchan, chairman of the Eurasia Group. Please speak.
Dr. Kupchan: Speaking after the two of them is not easy. I agree with what Mr. PALL said, but I have some different views to point out. Of course, my colleagues also agree that the goal should be simple: manage tensions and restrain both sides. Because no one wants to pay out without gain, both sides should set some simple achievable goals. The second level goal is to seek common interests, which do exist. I think we should help find these common interests. That is to say, U.S.-China relations should have a goal of management. These should be the common denominator we can achieve.
I am more concerned about speeding things up because I am particularly worried about Taiwan. First, the background of bilateral relations, we have seen the occurrence of great power competition in history now. Great power competition is a bit like gravity, not that you support or oppose, or even comment on it. It will happen naturally. Although I have discussed with Chinese analysts, they say we are not concerned about polarization or do not believe in great power competition, but we are in a bipolar world, and even in a multipolar world, great powers will compete. We need to manage them.
Another point I want to make is that people often talk about the Thucydides Trap. I think we have two rising great powers. But today, in political science, there are great differences in the study of the Thucydides Trap, one because of nuclear weapons, the other because we don't want to be involved in war.
I want to talk about the background again. If we look at the Cold War, it was an extremely dangerous situation. I think the U.S. and the Soviet Union were much better at managing tensions than the U.S. and China. Yesterday, people actually talked about this. Specifically, during the Vietnam War, I studied a lot about Russia. During the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, when I was just gaining political awareness, I remember my mother telling me that we might go to nuclear war with Russia. I still remember that. Because of nuclear weapons, my generation grew up with nuclear weapons, which was terrifying, but ultimately led to a lot of cooperation. The U.S. and the Soviet Union established a hotline and entered into serious arms control negotiations, signing agreements to achieve strategic stability. We should be humble in the face of this, because the crisis led to cooperation. History shows that tragedy is often needed to bring about cooperation. The United Nations and the Bretton Woods system were established because of World War II. European unity and cooperation are also models of major power cooperation. Why did this happen? Because of the terrible consequences of the Napoleonic Wars.
Do we still need to wait for a terrible crisis and tragedy to promote cooperation between China and the United States? I hope not. I think we need to read our diplomatic history to understand what is happening today.
There is indeed an impasse now, because both sides have not done well. I think managing competition is very important, and this should be the goal of both sides. Now we see what the United States is doing with Secretary of State Blinken and President Biden in the military power of the Taiwan Strait. The U.S. position is that its policies and military activities should be consistent with international law. Whether you like it or not, the U.S. is acting in accordance with international law. These are international waters and international airspace. But we all know that on May 26, there was almost a conflict, and on June 3 as well, indicating that we need high-level rather than low-level military channels. But China refused, so now there are none. It has been suspended for some time.
I also understand China's position. Of course, peacefully coexist, win-win cooperation and mutual respect are very important. I think this formula is similar to that of the United States. China does not believe there is strategic competition. It says the U.S. and China cannot ultimately win, and that may be the case. I believe China has abandoned the formulation of rules for regional military activities. It believes that U.S. actions undermine the current situation. China has also closed military channels, which I believe is a mistake that will undermine the current situation.
I want to emphasize the risks of China's policy, trying to be as fair and balanced as possible. Everyone knows that our two sides are equal. China believes that Biden can push the Biden administration back by such actions, but this is actually wrong because it could lead to conflict. How will the U.S. public react? We all need to be aware of this and answer these questions, so this is what worries me.
Another thing that worries me greatly is that I don't know the current situation. I believe that China's policy is very risky if it continues to avoid high-level military contacts. This could lead to miscalculation and escalation. If China were to provide lethal weapons to aid the Russian government, the global situation would change dramatically. The United States' primary or secondary sanctions would then likely target major Chinese state-owned enterprises and banks. The business and corporate landscape today is very different from before. It seems unlikely there will be any major developments in 2023.
In addition, we can see if Taiwan's leader is still allowed transit visits. There are also G20 meetings and meetings in November. When the U.S. government holds a summit, everything else seems to stop. There may be issues from November this year to May next year.
We all know the timeline of Taiwan's elections. In May next year, Taiwan's leader will take office and propose his cross-strait policy. As far as I know, Vice President Lai Changxing is a strong contender. He supports Taiwan's "independence" in practice, if not in theory. This is a major concern for China and crosses a red line. The U.S. must be especially careful not to support any candidates. I hope it recognizes this.
There may also be escalating military tensions during this period. We all recognize this, so we need to open military channels. We need to properly manage the U.S.-China relationship and manage competition with China by formulating guiding principles like peaceful coexistence. I hope the working group mentioned by PALL earlier can become formalized so that U.S. and Chinese policy coordination can be improved. Of course, the name may not sound particularly good, but we should have mutually beneficial policies, including on the Middle East.
The U.S. actually welcomes China's promotion of reconciliation between Saudi Arabia and Iran. This is the first such agreement in the Middle East not brokered by the U.S., and the U.S. government welcomes it. Further discussions are now needed on how to stabilize the Middle East. Debt relief will also likely be easier, especially for African and Asian countries post-pandemic.
Timely and transparent Chinese participation is now needed to achieve political stability. Rule-based debt relief should be provided to countries mired in debt. Zambia is a good example, but many other countries could benefit, such as Sri Lanka. After months of instability, Sri Lanka now has an opportunity with China, as existing debt relief projects are far from enough. China's participation could provide great help on debt relief. These would likely be easier to achieve, as would avoiding the use of artificial intelligence to alleviate mutual nuclear deterrence command and control. I'm afraid these may be easier to accomplish.
In addition, on artificial intelligence comparisons... Here is my attempt at translating the Chinese transcript into English in the style of the New York Times:
Professor Wu Xinbo of Fudan University warned today that the current atmosphere in Washington toward China is “very toxic and unfriendly.” Professor Wu, who heads Fudan University’s Institute of International Studies, has witnessed the ups and downs of the United States-China relationship over decades. But the current animosity, he said, is unparalleled.
“There is now a very strong anti-China coalition in Washington, particularly within both parties in Congress,” Professor Wu said. “Attacking China has become politically correct.” Even arranging meetings with American government officials, think tank experts and business leaders has become difficult, he added. For every 10 invitations extended, he said, perhaps only two are accepted — and both are rejections. “It is now easy to be criticized just for representing China,” he said. “The atmosphere reminds me of the 1950s.”
Professor Wu attributed the hostility to a general “malalignment” between how America and China see the current power dynamic and how to move forward. “The Trump administration views China as a strategic competitor that threatens American dominance,” he said. “China sees itself as a rising power that deserves more influence and respect on the global stage.” Bridging this perceptual gap will require political will from leaders and a recalibration of unrealistic hopes and fears, he added.
“We have to avoid a dynamic where cooperation only happens after a tragedy, like the Cuban missile crisis,” Professor Wu said, stressing that new frameworks for understanding must be built. If America and China hope to avoid outright conflict, he said, they must work to establish trust and seek win-win outcomes not just on bilateral issues like Taiwan and the South China Sea, but in areas like Africa, the Middle East, and even artificial intelligence. “A.I. should be an area of early cooperation,” Professor Wu urged. “It could open up channels for addressing our strategic mistrust.” Here is my translation of the Chinese transcript into English in the style of The New York Times:
My second observation is that the Biden administration's adjustments to China policy are tactical. We have observed that since last November, the Biden administration has tried to promote high-level exchanges with China. In April, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen gave two important speeches on China. We need to observe whether what these speeches mentioned can really be transformed into reality or just changes in wording.
My judgment is that Biden's adjustment to China policy since last fall is based on the consideration of avoiding conflict with China. The bilateral relationship has been very bad since Pelosi visited Taiwan. At the same time, the Biden administration hopes that China and the United States will cooperate on some issues of concern to the United States, such as climate change and macroeconomic issues. This is also in response to pressure from the business community. The US business community wants to see a more normal economic relationship with China. There is no new strategic framework for US-China policy, just some tactical adjustments. This is my second observation.
Third, in November last year, President Xi and President Biden met in Bali and reached a consensus. What is the consensus? It is to have a process to restart high-level exchanges between the two countries. There will be more cabinet-level visits between the two sides. This consensus is not about the goals of US-China relations. Before the leaders' summit in Bali, China and the United States had eight rounds of discussions on the guiding principles of US-China relations, but the two sides did not reach a consensus on this issue. This time, before Blinken's visit to China, China again tried to negotiate with the United States to reach a consensus on a series of guiding principles for US-China relations, but again failed to reach an agreement.
This is the current state of US-China relations. Overall, the political atmosphere towards China in the US, especially in Washington, is very bad. The Biden administration has also made some adjustments to its China policy, but these are only tactical adjustments. The two sides also agreed to establish a process in the next few months, but they did not reach a consensus on the ultimate goals of US-China relations.
Next, I will answer a question: Can we reconstruct a stable framework for US-China relations? The question is, first of all, whether this is what we want, and second, whether this is feasible. I think this is what both sides want because US-China relations are now in a very dangerous and worrying situation. The US has clearly defined China as its main strategic competitor, even from Trump to Biden. China, I agree with Professor Wang's earlier point of view, also sees the US as China's most important external political, economic and security threat. This is the reality.
On the other hand, neither side hopes to completely cut off economic exchanges or achieve a complete economic decoupling between the two countries. Neither side really hopes to enter into a state of diplomatic conflict. Because the two sides still need each other's cooperation on many international and global issues. At the same time, neither side hopes to enter the military sphere, including the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea. Here is my attempt at translating the Chinese transcript into the style of the New York Times:
A direct military confrontation between the two powers would be disastrous. This requires constructing a framework to manage the current challenging and complex bilateral relationship.
In fact, we have some basis on which to think about this framework. When President Xi and President Biden met last November, they sought to clarify China's intentions, saying that China did not intend to replace or challenge the United States and that China did not intend to overthrow the current international order. Biden, in turn, wanted to reassure Mr. Xi and put forward "four no's and one without intent": the United States has no intention of changing China's political system, no intention of joining forces with allies to deal with China, no intention of supporting Taiwan independence, and no intention of engaging in a Cold War-style conflict with China. Such guarantees could provide a basis for serious discussion on guiding principles for the bilateral relationship.
What should this framework look like? Here are three suggestions:
First, the two sides should make it clear that the relationship is one of peaceful coexistence. China has long advocated peaceful coexistence. Although the U.S. did not initially respond, after Secretary of State Antony Blinken's visit to China, the U.S. began discussing peaceful coexistence with China, which is good. If we can reach agreement on the long-term goal of peaceful coexistence, we need to explore how to ensure that the relationship between China and the U.S. is both competitive and peaceful. Most importantly, red lines must be set to avoid existential threats to each other. For China, the Taiwan issue has always been a red line in China-U.S. relations since Nixon's visit to China in the 1970s.
Second, we should develop a more balanced agenda of competition and cooperation. From the Trump to the Biden administration, Washington has overemphasized competition but inadequately focused on cooperation. In the late Trump administration, cooperation with China basically disappeared, at least in official rhetoric. Only in the past year has the Biden administration begun to stress the need for cooperation with China. We should sit down and explore a practical bilateral cooperation agenda on bilateral, regional and international issues. There are many areas of cooperation possible if there is political will to turn potential into reality.
Third, we should reach an understanding of our bilateral attitudes toward the international order. The U.S. always talks about a rules-based international order but never a U.N. Charter-based international order. The U.S. rules-based order is actually based on American rules. When the U.S. launched a trade war against China, it actually overturned the WTO. When the U.S. started a tech war against China, it actually undermined the international supply chain. But the U.S. simply ignored it. When the U.S. invaded Iraq or bombed Libya, it just did as it pleased, regardless of the international order. Here is my attempt at rewriting the Chinese transcript into English in the New York Times style:
We must talk about the rules-based international order. For China, China has actually benefited greatly from the international order. However, it does not mean that China is 100 percent satisfied with the current international order. It is good but not perfect, so adjustments should be made.
Therefore, we need to tell the Americans which aspects of the current international order should be improved and how to improve them. From this perspective, the United States and China should not only show each other their attitudes towards the current international order, but also reassure the international community that as the world's two major economies, we care not only about our own national interests but also about the interests of the international community as a whole. If this becomes the starting point for discussion between the two sides, the starting point of this framework, I think it will be very good and feasible to some extent.
Having said that, I don't think this will happen in the next year and a half, because the U.S. has entered the election season, and everything will become crazy. If Biden wants to run for re-election, it's possible to do so. But as it looks now, I don't think the possibility is high. I don't mean that, it's your domestic politics, good luck, thank you!
Thank you, Professor Wu, for putting forward these three specific suggestions on the strategic framework. Although you feel that it will not be achieved in the near future, we do need such specific suggestions. Many people are talking about this framework, but few people talk about its content, so your speech is very useful.
Now all our guests have spoken. I think we all agree with what I said. We find that all guests have a strong consensus, and this consensus also represents the consensus of the strategic community, whether in China or the United States. In other words, the current thawing or cooling is a tactical change, not a structural or strategic change. However, the two sides can use this window of opportunity to stabilize bilateral relations and manage differences. I agree with Professors Wang and Wu's views that the United States and China see each other as external threats, but I want to say that in addition, China also needs the United States, and the United States also needs China. The United States is crucial to China's welfare, economic development and technological progress. As for me, I am a university professor, and many of my students still want to study in the United States, so the United States is important. Of course, I think China is also very important to the United States, important to the welfare of the United States and the lives of ordinary Americans. If the world's two largest economies clash and fight each other, it will be bad news for the whole world.
I won't take your time. Now I invite everyone to ask questions. Please raise your hand if you want to ask a question. I have four rules to mention. First, introduce yourself when you ask a question, who you are and which unit you are from. Second, your question must be short, less than one minute. The third rule is to specify who your question is for if possible. The fourth rule is that one person can only ask one question. Thank you very much. I see Professor Xia raise his hand. Please go ahead. Professor Xia: My name is Xia Liping. I am from Tongji University in Shanghai. I am very happy to hear the speeches of the four guests just now. They are very interesting. I have a question I want to ask PALL and KUPCHAN. China now proposes three principles or guidelines to guide China-US relations: mutual respect, win-win cooperation and peaceful coexistence. The Biden administration now accepts peaceful coexistence, but rejects mutual respect and win-win cooperation. Why? Can you talk about other aspects of China-US relations? I believe we can have two layers of guiding principles for China-US relations: the first layer is peaceful coexistence, mutual respect and win-win cooperation; the second layer is conflict management and cooperation on specific issues. Thank you.
PALL: This issue is complex. Let me briefly respond. This is a traditional issue. When China and the United States discuss, governments on both sides have the same question. China always wants to start from principles first. The United States always feels uncomfortable agreeing on big principles first and is willing to take it step by step from small issues. In practice, this is a cultural and psychological difference that is hard to reconcile. Practical cooperation opportunities enable China to say that these principles have been followed, and the U.S. side can say that these things have been achieved and both sides are satisfied.
KUPCHAN: I think mutual respect and win-win cooperation are not problematic, but these are broad principles. I agree with what PALL said. We should solve problems directly. I know you have complaints, but principles are principles. We still have to solve problems.
Question: Thank you very much. I am a reporter from China Media Group. I have a question for Mr. PALL. Since Biden took office, he has insisted on the need to improve Taiwan's defense capabilities and its reserve forces. Many Taiwanese say that the United States wants to turn Taiwan into its puppet to destroy Taiwan instead of protecting Taiwan, turning it into a pawn. What is your view on the concerns of the Taiwanese people?
PALL: I have great respect for the people of Taiwan. Over the years, they have shown great restraint and wisdom, although their politicians have engaged in various activities. I used to teach there. We always said we should believe in the people of Taiwan. Many colleagues talked about this issue, such as Professor Kenneth Stein of Columbia University. When it comes to issues such as Taiwan's military preparations, we need to be cautious, be careful not to love Taiwan to death, we need to show restraint, take necessary measures to maintain Taiwan's defense, but do not turn Taiwan into cannon fodder. I think it is necessary to reiterate this point here.
Question: I am an international journalist from CCTN. My question is for all guests. We have been talking about Yellen's visit to China, which is expected to be on June 6. I would like to hear your response. What results do you expect from Yellen's visit to China? If you have any suggestions for her, what do you think are the three major economic issues that China and the United States should discuss during her visit?
Wu Xinbo: I think this should. Here is my translation of the Chinese transcript into English in the style of The New York Times:
It is part of the face-to-face discussion process between the economic teams of the two countries. We are still in the early stages, namely the early stages of contact between the economic teams of the two countries. Last month, our Minister of Commerce visited the United States and met with the U.S. Secretary of Commerce. During this visit, the two sides should focus on macroeconomic issues, issues related to the Chinese economy, the U.S. economy and the world economy. They may agree to establish a working mechanism to continue the dialogue.
From China's perspective, our main concern is that Trump's tariffs, still over $300 billion, were imposed by Trump but have not yet been abolished. Biden has not done anything to reduce tariffs.
Second, the U.S. technological suppression of China. There are 1,300 Chinese entities that are now on the U.S. sanctions list, but these issues are not within the responsibility of Secretary Yellen, but within the responsibility of the Secretary of Commerce. I hope Secretary Raimondo will also visit China soon. At that time, we may be able to have more substantive discussions on these issues. This is my view.
I know there are many common issues that China and the United States need to discuss in the fiscal and financial fields, such as the exchange rate of the renminbi. Recently, the exchange rate of the renminbi against the U.S. dollar has declined significantly. Of course, this has a certain impact on the economies of both countries, but what kind of impact should the fiscal departments of both sides have some estimates. In addition, China has bought many U.S. Treasury bonds in the United States. There is an opinion in China that we should reduce purchases of U.S. Treasury bonds, but the actual situation is not exactly as some people estimate. So this is also an issue worth discussing.
In addition, the United States faces the risk of inflation. Recent rate hikes have preliminarily curbed inflation, but this also affects China. Many people in China mention that prices have not risen or risen very slowly, with the risk of deflation. These are issues that the fiscal departments of both sides need to discuss. There is both cooperation and inevitable competition. I believe the fiscal departments of both sides will try to overcome some political obstacles and pragmatically promote financial and fiscal cooperation between the two countries.
Thank you. Peace in the Cross-Strait, although there are various challenges internally and externally. I think this should be our focus. If it is just looking at the military aspect, if it is too much on the military aspect, it actually cannot guarantee our return to the success achieved through diplomacy. Diplomacy means that both parties have to listen to each other or third parties to resolve some sensitive issues.
Wang Jisi: I agree with PALL's statement. I believe that the US policy towards Taiwan is not just verbal in saying that it does not support "Taiwan independence". In fact, some Americans without knowledge like my neighbor PALL are actually working hard to maintain the common interests of China and the United States on the Taiwan issue. I remember in 2002 when I visited Taiwan, PALL was then the representative of the United States in Taiwan. The two of us overcame the resistance from the Taiwan side and met. At that time, Chen Shui-bian was in power in Taiwan. I remember very clearly. I am very grateful to PALL for meeting with me. We exchanged a lot of opinions and spoke frankly. I believe he does not support "Taiwan independence". Many Americans do not support "Taiwan independence". He did not say many good things about Chen Shui-bian, but still tried to maintain contacts between the US and the Taiwan authorities. That is to say, the relationship between the United States and Taiwan is very complicated, not one-sided. We should strive to understand all aspects of Taiwan and US-Taiwan policy.
One of the issues discussed earlier is the issue of strategic ambiguity or strategic clarity. I have always opposed strategic clarity. I believe strategic clarity is impossible because the United States cannot clearly state under any circumstances when it will militarily intervene in Taiwan. I also expressed my opinion to my friend Hass (phonetic). He said that Taiwan wants strategic ambiguity or strategic clarity. I said to what extent can it be clear or ambiguous? This is a big problem. He didn't give me a good answer either. Recently, he has been discussing this issue with Secretary of State Blinken. I don't think they will find a good answer.
Question: Thank you, I am He Kai from Australia. I am a professor of international relations. So when international relations scholars say that China and the United States are two major powers, we will compare the capabilities between the two countries. The United States is still stronger than China at present. Everyone knows that with power comes responsibility. When we talk about stabilizing Sino-US relations, then according to our theory, it looks like the US responsibility should be greater. The US has a greater responsibility for stabilizing Sino-US relations because its power is also greater.
I remember Kupchan talked about mutual cognition. I want to ask you and ask PALL, can you provide suggestions to the Biden administration, what kind of cognition would you suggest to the US side to stabilize Sino-US relations?
KUPCHAN: First of all, the first part of your question, I think is relative. To what extent is the United States' strength greater, such as military strength? Economically speaking, I think China is also, no matter in terms of GDP, many people say that by the end of 10 years, China will surpass the United States, although China's growth is also relatively slow now, but it is still growing. China is also a great power. This means that China has... Here is my translation of the Chinese transcript into English in the style of the New York Times:
Responsibility, as mentioned earlier, great powers have responsibilities, and greater power means greater responsibility. Sometimes I find that the Chinese side seems to have difficulty understanding this point. This is the first point I want to make.
Regarding mutual restraint, in the long run, China must look at restraint in some issues such as the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait. I do not want to further explore the US side. I want to make some gestures to convey signals. Of course, this is for the United States to decide how to convey these signals. I do not want to think about military actions, but I think that when I talk about mutual restraint, I should also think about what to do.
My view is that the United States is actually stronger than it thinks. Respected people in think tanks and government have said that the United States is not as weak as we think, so we need to restore confidence in ourselves. From this perspective of confidence, we should be prepared to discuss any issue. Some issues we do not discuss now, we should push forward discussions. In 2001, President Obama announced the Asia-Pacific rebalancing strategy. The United States has never done this before. It has never sent some military forces to the Asia-Pacific region. China feels that this is a new Cold War, a new Cold War against China. We should be frank to say that we have had soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq, and we have also withdrawn troops. We have this strength and ability. We can have very frank discussions. Regarding what China wants to do, including the Solomon Islands initiative, we are also dissatisfied. Other island countries in the South Pacific have not refused. What awakens Americans is that we also have responsibilities in the South Pacific region over the past few decades. It seems that we have forgotten this responsibility. We can always discuss. I think we should first build confidence and be willing to discuss any possible issues.
Question: I am a reporter. I would like to ask KUPCHAN and PALL. Recently, Secretary of State Blinken said that the United States will continue to do things that China does not like. How do you define the current contradictions between China and the United States? What do you think?
PALL: I'm sorry, there are so many questions. We will definitely do some things that China is not satisfied with. We must be pragmatic. It is impossible for us to do anything that satisfies each other. The relationship between the two sides is very complex, involving many aspects, one of which is reflected in your question, which is what Secretary of State Blinken said.
Question: Hello, I am a professor of international relations at Oxford University. Thank you very much for your comments today. There are many short-term issues. I would like to ask Professor Wang and Professor Wu, the Chinese guests, how does China see the United States in the long run? We have heard a lot about the rise of the East and the fall of the West, and that the United States is declining. I don't know what China's view of US power will be in the future. Will it decline in the future? If it declines, to what extent will it decline? Thank you. Here is my translation of the Chinese transcript into English in the style of the New York Times:
Most Chinese, including politicians, scholars and the general public, believe that the United States is a declining power while China is rising. This view is encapsulated in the phrase “The East is rising, the West is declining.” This seems to reflect the mainstream view of China's political establishment.
In my personal view, if we compare the U.S. and China, China's power has risen rapidly over the past 20 to 30 years while the U.S.'s power has also risen, but at a slower pace. So, relative to China, the U.S. seems to be declining. But relative to the rest of the world, including Russia, Britain, Germany, France and Japan, I do not see a decline in America's economic or military might. Rather, the U.S. has not declined relative to these countries and has even gained ground in some areas. For example, U.S. economic growth outpaces most European countries and Japan. So, we need an objective assessment of America's strength.
When I say that most Chinese believe in "the East is rising, the West is declining," I mainly want to emphasize the relative rise in China's power. This does not mean that we ignore America's strength or think that the U.S. will not prosper in the future. In my view, if strategic competition emerges between China and the U.S., we are reluctant to call it strategic competition, but in fact, I believe there is competition. If this competition lasts for a long time, it is difficult to foresee major changes in the near future. The U.S. is still likely to remain the world's most powerful country economically, militarily and politically, while China has many advantages over the U.S. in some areas, though not in all areas.
In the coming years, China will leverage its advantages, especially in technology and the strong control of the Communist Party and government. So this competition will exist for the long haul.
I often wonder what the outcome will be and what the end result will look like. I hope to live long enough to witness the final outcome. But this outcome does not seem to be emerging quickly before our eyes. So, we patiently wait to see what the final result will be.
Wu Xinbo: We should view this against the backdrop of the shifting global power structure. The unipolar world order has ended and will not become bipolar but rather multipolar. The U.S. will remain the largest power in the foreseeable future in terms of comprehensive national power. China is catching up, as is India, and other emerging economies. In this emerging world, America's dominant position in strength and influence over international affairs will decline.
Let's look at three areas where the U.S. has invested heavily: Europe, the Middle East and East Asia. In Europe, there is now the Russia-Ukraine war, which is essentially a proxy war between the U.S. and Russia. So, in Europe, the U.S. is challenged by Russia. In the Middle East, many countries want to establish good relations with other countries, including China, rather than just follow the U.S. In East Asia, China's rise has emerged, and America's strategic dominance in the Western Pacific is declining.
If we look at the trend of the global situation, not just between China and the U.S. but globally, this trend will lead to a multipolar world. Here is my attempt at an English translation in the style of The New York Times:
Polarization, in which the United States remains very important, but its decisive position is not as strong as before.
To add to this, regarding the Russo-Ukrainian war, KUPCHAN just mentioned that the United States has always been worried that China will provide lethal weapons to Russia, but keep in mind that before the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, the United States always put China and Russia together and said that China and Russia were the axis brothers. If this is the correct narrative, doesn't China have the right to provide weapons to Russia, but it hasn't happened. Then the United States should rethink the narrative of the China-Russia axis and adjust its corresponding policies.
KUPCHAN: But the fact is that China still has this policy of neutral support for Russia. Given China's rising status in the international system, there is a great deal of frustration with China's policies, both officially and unofficially, in the United States. Moreover, China and Russia do have a very close cooperative relationship.
Wang Jisi: I just said that the United States still has great military and economic strength, but I am very worried about U.S. domestic politics. As someone who has observed the United States for decades, I never thought that U.S. domestic politics would develop into such a partisan competition, as if it were a deadly competition that must defeat each other. And this dispute is not a particularly substantive policy dispute, but a partisan dispute, which is not good for the long-term development of the United States. The U.S. will have elections next year. No matter which of the two candidates wins, it may generate a lot of disputes. But we have not seen that the U.S. election will bring more prestige to the U.S. in the world. I'm quite worried about this. At the same time, I have another question for KUPCHAN. When you mentioned lethal aid, I don't know exactly what lethal aid is. I know lethal weapons, we did not provide lethal weapons to Russia. Are you talking about artillery and artillery shells? I don't know if we provided them with these artillery shells. I think you can clarify.
Question: Thank you. My question follows closely from the previous one. As a European, I was very impressed by this set of topics. Bilateral relations are very important. I would especially like to ask the U.S. guests and all the guests, to what extent do you believe your bilateral relations will affect the needs of your allies? The Biden administration has said its relations with allies, including Europe and the Asia-Pacific, are critical to the success of its policies, which are to compete with China. If U.S. policies, for example, are greatly influenced by the subtle attitudes of many European governments toward China, likewise for the Chinese guests, I'm not entirely sure. I don't think the U.S. is now a declining power in the Asia-Pacific. Relations between Japan and South Korea have improved slightly recently. What are you most concerned about? I feel that in this situation, U.S. influence may rise in the Asia-Pacific region, which will affect how you view how bilateral relations with the U.S. will influence.
PALL: Regarding Blinken's cancellation of his visit to China in February, I think... Here is my translation of the Chinese transcript into English in the style of the New York Times:
One regret is that during the more than two years under the Biden administration, the Biden administration repaired relations with allies, which was affected by Trump. This improved politeness between the U.S. and its allies and made the U.S. more confident in dealing with China. So if Blinken comes, announces the AUKUS arrangement, which is the restoration of quadrilateral relations between Britain, Australia and the U.S.-Japan-Australia relationship, and strengthens relations with Japan, South Korea, and the Philippines, the U.S. is doing the right thing in all areas. It enables it to speak from a position of strength, but Beijing does not like to say so. Biden sent his Secretary of State to visit China with such a stance. However, there have been a series of events that have shifted our focus, so I think we need to be extremely confident going into next year.
Wu Xinbo: I think Europe and the United States have different national interests in their relations with China. Naturally, they have different China policies. The problem is that Washington wants to determine Europe's China policy, so Europe wants to resist to some extent. So we say that Europe needs some adjustments, and its China policy is under adjustment. We have already seen it, but not very successfully. When Europe wants to influence the U.S.'s China policy, it is not very successful, even though the Biden administration pays special attention to allies. For Europe, however, telling Washington what not to do about China is still rather forced. But it won't be like that if the Republican administration takes office.
Regarding the U.S. influence in Asia, I think the Philippines, Japan and South Korea are U.S. allies, so there is nothing strange about it if they strengthen cooperation. In my opinion, the most critical issue for the U.S. is that for the first time since Nixon's visit to China, the U.S. will lose China for the first time in Asian affairs. This is the biggest problem. Nixon's visit to China was not only to deal with the Soviet Union but also to end the Vietnam War. Since then, East Asia has had peace for half a century, mainly because China and the U.S. could cooperate in regional affairs, including the Korean Peninsula and India. Now there are increasing differences between China and the U.S., and Beijing is less willing to cooperate with the U.S. on regional affairs, including the Korean Peninsula, Afghanistan, Vietnam, and other issues. This is a challenge to U.S. influence in Asian affairs.
Question: Thank you all experts for your wonderful speeches. I feel that all experts have used some vocabulary that we are familiar with during the Cold War. This is what we are facing now, a new thing: Both China and the U.S. have their strategic language, strategic thinking, and strategic vocabulary, but now neither likes the other's language and can only use the language we often used during the Cold War. The current U.S. policy toward China is still from the Cold War because it compares China with the Soviet Union, thinking it is easier that way. In fact, China has no intention or ability to challenge the U.S. order, but China has the ability and willingness to reshape the new pattern of global governance. This is a new issue different from the Soviet Union at that time. At that time, the Soviet Union did not have the intention to reshape global governance. At most, the Soviet Union had a common interest with the United States in governing the world and challenged the U.S. hegemonic status. At that time, the Soviet Union was.... Here is my attempt at translating the Chinese transcript into English in the style of the New York Times:
My question is, whether it is Prof. Wang Jisi or PALL, do you think that the current US policy of treating China as a competitor and adopting Cold War-era practices can solve global governance issues and Sino-US relations to a large extent? This is an entirely new issue and an extremely dangerous one. Thank you.
Prof. Wang Jisi: I think this is an excellent question. Comparing today's China with the former Soviet Union, Americans seem to believe there is some kind of continuity because the former Soviet Union and today's China both follow the socialist path and believe in Marxism. And they both oppose Western hegemony. However, the two countries are very different. After China's reform and opening up, China and the US have achieved interdependence in economic and social exchanges, which is very different from the former Soviet Union. Although China has changed so much, the US has not fully grasped the depth of this change. You can't deny that the US has a strong anti-communist consciousness. As soon as communism is mentioned, it is seen as a bad thing. For example, when I went to the US, I really wanted to meet people from the US Congress, but they did not see me. At a reception, I met one of them, and his business card read "The Long-Term Competition Between the US and the Communist Party of China." What is this? If the competition is between the US and China, it is still understandable. But what is the competition between the US and the Communist Party of China? This is the problem facing the US now. As soon as the CPC is mentioned, it is seen as a negative thing.
I also want to point out in passing that I call myself a member of the CPC. What does that mean? Of course, there is another point: we do not want our name to be replaced by your name. We hope the US will pay attention to this.
KUPCHAN: May I add that I do not think it was like that when I lived in the US during the Cold War. In fact, it was more about military and technological competition, as well as concerns about the unsafe use of nuclear weapons.
Constantly comparing with the Cold War is not good, useless, and now we live in a multipolar world. If we want to compare and analyze, this is an academic issue. I believe the politicians and analysts of both countries know that we are now in a different stage, but people are always easily confused.
I want to make two points. Structurally, the US is stronger than Europe, as it has been since the Cold War or even earlier. The Ukraine crisis forced Europe to move closer to the US. I agree with the other two points mentioned, but I have a different view on Europe. Regarding China, the UK, US, Germany, and our trade relations are fine and close.
Finally, I am surprised that we have not discussed artificial intelligence much. The world is developing rapidly in technology, and its speed and impact are changing daily, including deepfakes, intellectual and weapons effects, which are huge. We will enter a whole new world, so we all need to think about it, at least privately in our minds. Here is my translation of the Chinese transcript into the style of the New York Times:
Da Wei: Thank you. I know many people want to raise their hands and ask questions, but we are already two minutes over time. So I have to end today's discussion. Before ending, I want to say that we are currently in the process of stabilizing bilateral relations. For me, the United States has given China too many options. The first is manageable strategic competition, the second is unmanageable strategic competition, but China basically said that I do not want strategic competition. I think this may be a problem. The two sides should make mutual concessions, for example, transforming strategic competition into really healthier competition, while also making this competition manageable. That is to say, the two countries need to have manageable, healthy competition, which is beneficial to China, beneficial to the United States and of course beneficial to the whole world.
I hereby announce that the discussion of this session has ended. Thank you very much. At the same time, please join me in applauding the four distinguished guests. Thank you!