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Foreign Policy

Hope, Even at Low Point

Aug 06 , 2020

The Pacific Dialogue is a new way to virtually connect thought leaders across the Pacific Ocean to continue frank and direct conversations during this difficult time.

The third episode of The Pacific Dialogue, is between two prominent scholars – Prof. Ezra Vogel of the Harvard University and Prof. Jia Qingguo of Peking University. They spoke from their homes in Boston and Beijing respectively.

The conversation took place on July 28, 2020, and was moderated by China-US Focus Editor-at-Large James Chau in Hong Kong.

Click here to watch to the interview:

https://www.chinausfocus.com/videos/hope-even-at-low-point-the-pacific-dialogue-part-1
https://www.chinausfocus.com/videos/hope-even-at-low-point-the-pacific-dialogue-part-2
https://www.chinausfocus.com/videos/hope-even-at-low-point-the-pacific-dialogue-part-3

The conversation focuses on the current challenges of the United States-China relations and what can be expected after the U.S. presidential election in November. Prof. Vogel suggested that he saw a strong reaction/opposition to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s China speech on July 23 as more Americans began to speak out. Speaking on his experiences studying in the United States in the 80’s, Prof. Jia recalled how they informed his understanding of the country and why it is still important for the United States to keeps the door open to Chinese students. The two guests continued to speak on the deep suspicion and distrust that are driving the two powers further apart and how “doing own’s homework”, working on transparency and clarity, and, in particular, learning from each other could bring the two nations together.

SPEAKERS

Ezra Vogel.jpg

Jia Qingguo.jpg

 

James Chau:

I'm James Chau, you're watching The Pacific Dialogue where we bring you the United States and China unscripted. I'm thrilled this week to honor two people have done so much through their work and through their lives to shape the world and humanity. Professor Ezra Vogel, who is the former Director of the Fairbanks Center at Harvard University, and Professor Jia Qingguo, Dean of International Studies at Peking University. You're over in Beijing, and over in Boston, I'm in Hong Kong. But what about the world we live in today? Foreign Minister Wang Yi says that about four decades on from the China-United States forging this diplomatic relationship, they've now hit their “lowest point”. Jia Qingguo, do you agree with what he says? 

Jia Qingguo:

It is at least one of the lowest points depending on how you measure it. I think politically speaking, the relationship is at the lowest point. But if you talk about economic relations, social contacts, I think we are way ahead of that. So, I think the political relationship is at the lowest point since then. 

James Chau:

Professor Vogel, you've seen this relationship literally open and develop and evolve in its many beautiful and complex ways. Some people call it the lowest point. Jimmy Carter warned, about a year and a half ago, that we're heading towards a “modern Cold War”. Are these just words or have they come now to full fruition? 

Ezra Vogel:

I agree with Jia Qingguo that, politically, we're perhaps at our lowest point. As you know, Pompeo made a speech the other day that all of us who consider US-China relations important thought was terrible. And the reaction has been very strong to that speech. I think politically the discussions of Coronavirus, where each country blames the other, and the leaders blame the other country and probably say things that are not true they exaggerate, is really very serious and very dangerous. And I agree that politically it's the worst. At the same time, we still have many contacts even in the medical field. We have people in the two countries working together. We certainly have many businessmen working together, scholars working together. So it's not like it was in '73 when I first visited China when there is almost no contact at all. 

James Chau:

You talk about the pandemic and of course, apart from the political cost, there's the cost of human lives, people are being infected, people are dying, each and every day. We'll return to the pandemic and perhaps also, if we may, to your early experiences in 1973. But Professor Vogel, your new piece in The Washington Post recalls many of the Chinese students that you've taught over many decades. You say that they're now being torn between a loyalty to their own country, a genuine loyalty, but also an affection for America, who many of them would see as their second home. Is it now impossible in a binary world to balance both interests, to be friends with both? 

Ezra Vogel:

They feel like I do, that I want to be patriotic to my own country, but I want to have good relations with the other country, and many of them who were here enjoy their time here. And when Americans criticize without thinking, and they criticize every member of the Communist Party, as if they were all the same, as if they all hated America, that's just not true. And for the many who were here and want to be patriotic to China, and want to help their country, but want to maintain good relations with their friends and their studies, their fellow scholars and colleagues in the United States, they're put in a bind. think that many of them that I know want to be patriotic. They want to help the country [and] of course they're proud of their country. But at the same time, they realize there are many good Americans and even though American government policy toward China is very nasty, and Trump and Pompeo say some crazy things, they know that many Americans are still ready to be good friends and work with them. 

James Chau:

Professor Vogel wrote this piece as we said in the Washington Post, which I'm sure Jia Qingguo, you also saw as well. So Professor Jia, what he says over there, what he writes in the headline about US policies pushing friends of China towards anti-American nationalism… how do you stop this from evolving further you've seen in your own country, in Chengdu, an American consulate shut down, just in the last day or two. We saw a couple of days before that the Chinese Consulate in Houston after many years, a very important mission, they're also shut down. How do you say stop, pause? If we can't go forward, that's okay. But how can we pause and then stop the rot almost from seeping further into the soil? 

Jia Qingguo:

It’s difficult at the moment, I think the Trump administration appears to be determined, to provoke some kind of a crisis in order to enhance its political position at home for reelection. So it's very difficult to stop it. And also, there is domestic politics in China, too, so when the US closes down the Houston consulate, China feels that it has to close down the Chengdu consulate. And if the US decides to do something else and the Chinese government may feel necessary to do something else. So our relationship is still at a slippery slope, deteriorating, and I just hope that people on all sides would cool down and take a more pragmatic approach to handle the relationship. It's difficult, but I think people on all sides should make some efforts. 

James Chau:

Professor Vogel? 

Ezra Vogel:

There's news in the United States that I would like to tell you about in just the last two or three days that I think puts a new slant on things, and that after Pompeo's speech the reaction in the United States was very virulently against it. A lot of people who had not been speaking out are now speaking out. And in the last three days, in addition to my article in The Washington Post, there have been several prominent articles that are critical of Pompeo, much more than in the past. One was in The New York Times editorial page that came out yesterday. The whole editorial page was very critical of Pompeo, saying that, you know, we can't go that far, we have to live in a world with China, we had to find a way to working with them. Secondly, there was an article in The National Interest by a man named Paul Heer, who was the National Intelligence Officer for Asia for seven or eight years. And he is very critical and goes into the details of what is wrong with the speech. And at CSIS, there was an article that just came out that said that we were wrong to deal with Huawei in the way we did. It's in America's economic interest to keep open all of the channels, and even our semiconductor industry needs to have sales to a lot of other countries in order to keep the preeminent position that it now has. So, I sense in the United States now just in the last three or four days, the Pompeo speech has aroused such an opposition, that it makes me very hopeful. And of course, Trump will not change before the election, I'm afraid. They will say a lot of things. And I'm afraid a lot of the Democratic candidates will also say a lot of things that are not good for promoting good China-US relations. But I think that there is forming now, a group of people who are much more expressive, who are beginning to say we've gone too far. That makes me much more hopeful that if we get a new president in January, that we can begin to try to pull the relationship back to a better one. 

James Chau:

There are still obviously a few moving parts and as you said, Professor Vogel astute a few “ifs” still involved in all this. 

Ezra Vogel:

Oh yes. 

James Chau:

And there's a long way to go till it actually even beyond that. But let's go back to you, Professor Jia, because you recently had a conversation with ChinaFile. In that conversation you describe China's diplomacy as being consistent with the past, does that necessarily indicate or infer that what has significantly changed in that time has been the United States approach to its relationship with Beijing? Or is that in itself an oversimplification? 

Jia Qingguo:

What I meant is that the substantive aspects of Chinese foreign policy have not changed very much. China still wants to have a peaceful international environment, and from that, domestic reforms and economic development. And China's still adheres to the sovereignty principle against foreign intervention. So, in substance, China's foreign policy has not changed that much. But in style and posturing, it has changed a great deal. It's more proactive in doing things. And that, in a way, gave a lot of people the idea, having the idea that China's foreign policy has changed. I think, at the substantive level, the change is not as significant. But, of course, China has risen with greater capabilities. So, many of the things that previously were viewed with less importance, now people attach a lot of importance to it. We have a different situation. 

James Chau:

As the outsider here in this conversation, it's been very sad to see the different approach to the world. China has engaged with the world in more ways than it has in the last decades, sometimes in ways that are perceived as a threat to democracy in traditional Western powers. The United States has been pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal, out of the Paris Agreement, out of the United Nations within parts of it. Ezra Vogel, you talk about the Fulbright program, you say Americans sent to China by the Fulbright program have done a marvelous job at establishing academic relationships and making important connections, that's now under threat as well. But I want to speak to a broader issue on education because many students and many of your own students will be worried about where they're going to be come the fall, not only Chinese students, but foreign students, international students as a whole. And of course, American students who don't know whether they should be packing their bags and going back to school in a couple of weeks’ time. I mean, what do you tell them? Because this situation is still very fluid. We're speaking on July 28. There have been some chop and changes in the last couple of days as well. What do you tell your students? 

Ezra Vogel:

First of all, I don't have students now, because I've graduated, I've retired. But I tell my friends who are students that it is a very fluid situation, the coronavirus even without the foreign students situation is very uncertain. And whether we will have classes where students will actually assemble and be together, whether small classes will meet, or large classes will meet, or whether everything will be done by Zoom even though things are very uncertain. So then the question for the foreign student becomes very complicated, or even American students who are abroad now, can they come home? Or can they carry on their education by Zoom? All these things are very much up in the air and it's very uncertain. What I tell my students is that even though our country has taken a very bad policy, that our educators have fortunately been very united. And immediately the presidents of Harvard and MIT immediately tried to figure out a way to stop the effort to make it more difficult for foreign students to come. And they had very strong support from American universities. Part of it is financial, of course. Chinese students pay a lot of tuition and are very helpful. A lot of them are very important for research laboratories. But a lot of it is because we believe in international education. We think it's good for our country to welcome students from all over the world. They have free discussions about all kinds of issues, and that we want to take a welcoming position. And we think it's good for our country. We think it's good for the world. So I think what I want to do when I talk to students from China, is to reassure them that even though there are some crazy people in the government, and there are some crazy individuals at universities, that overwhelmingly, the American people are welcoming and want to make our universities attractive for Chinese students. 

James Chau:

Professor Jia, let's find out what's going on in Beijing, where you are. As we said, you're the Dean of International Studies at Peking University, one of the world's leading educational institutions. The pandemic is not the United States' problem. It's a humankind problem. And it impacts the Chinese people very deeply as well. There are cases resurging over in China, there is no guarantee and there's every likelihood that this is going to reoccur the next weeks or months as it has done all around the world. I mean, where are your students at right now, even if they're not travelling abroad, even if they're staying at home in China? 

Jia Qingguo:

Well, during the last semester, most of our students basically stayed at home. They take classes online, and they even took thesis defense online. So a lot of work was done online. But probably next semester, if the situation improves, then we can have face-to-face classes but it's a challenging time. We don't know when the Coronavirus problem will be resolved. We are hoping that the vaccine would come out, but it will take some time. But China's situation has improved a lot. But then we are surrounded in a world of pandemics going on. Also there are sporadic outbreaks of the coronavirus pandemic in China in different places during the past months. So life is still difficult, but it' improving here and with regard to the exchanges, you know, I think we are going to do something online as well. Every year, we send a lot of students overseas to study, some on a long-term basis, others on a short-term basis, like six months to a year. But then I think in the next semester, next year, I think probably some students will have to take online classes rather than going physically to the countries they're supposed to. 

James Chau:

So I was going to ask you whether educational exchanges which are this great backbone of the US-China relationship, whether they're going to become a thing of the past or become less of a factor in the relationship, but do you say then, therefore, Jia Qingguo, that online exchanges may replace or may make up for some of the physical exchanges that we're limited by because we can't travel, because we are still waiting for a vaccine and other public health measures to contain our own outbreaks. 

Jia Qingguo:

During the Covid-19 pandemic, I think this is the most efficient way for us to continue exchanges. But I think after that we still need to send students overseas and receive overseas students, to have an in-person relationship. I think that relationship is very, very important. I myself am a product of this kind of exchange. I went to the US in 1981, I did my PhD there, I forged great friendships with a lot of people there and I think I understand the US much better. Just because I was physically there. If I was just taking courses online, probably I wouldn't get the same kind of level of understanding. So I think in-person exchanges are very, very important. I hope that the current US policy of discouraging foreign students, especially students from China, will change in the days to come. And I believe that it is in the best interest of our two great countries for us to carry on that kind of exchange. 

James Chau:

Well, you were both in each other's countries at seminal points in their history. Professor Vogel, you mentioned it was 1973, in the midst of the Cultural Revolution when you first visited China, just a year after Richard Nixon went on their historic visit to Beijing. What was China like in 1973? 

Ezra Vogel:

It was extremely poor. It was very closed. People were afraid to talk with Americans. There were almost no cars. And everything was very carefully scripted. And yet I can feel among the Chinese academics that we met that there was an eagerness and a hope to get exchange started. There were a few people in '73, who like Zhou Peiyuan at Peking University, who had been in the United States in the 1930s. And you still had contacts, and one could just sense their eagerness of wanting to get something started. And we felt the same way in the United States that, as a small number of our delegation from the National Academy of Sciences have had contacts with some Chinese scholars, and so they were very eager to resume their contacts. And it's very good for international science, it's very good for friendship. But it was, unfortunately, not to be. And some of them had hoped that by '73, things would really begin to open up. But it turned out it wasn't until after the Third Plenum in 1978, that relations really began to open up, the changes really began to blossom. But one could just sense that, to many people who had had those opportunities to study in the other country and knew each other. It was good for everyone. 

James Chau:

In 1978, as you said, was when China opened up and when it began its reforms and very soon after that Jia Qingguo you first went to the United States to study which means that you would it be one of the very first Chinese students to go to America after the competitive examinations had restarted after a decade of absolute chaos in mainland China. I mean, what did you find when you landed at the airport? Which airport did you arrive at? Which city? 

Jia Qingguo:

New York Kennedy Airport. Yeah, that was an experience. I was there, I did not know what I was going to face because no Chinese students had been there before me after the founding of the PRC in '49. So there was no example of Chinese students graduating from US universities. So I was very much scared, in a way. It was a very interesting experience. People were very nice to me. And also, I think the study opened my eyes, I found there were people sharing a lot of common interests, in curiosity, in a lot of things. So, it was a good experience. Of course, at that time physically living, in terms of living standard, the US was situation was much better, housing, food, almost everything. But China has caught up in many ways since then, but I think as human beings, we still share things in common. Those things have not changed. 

James Chau:

The reason why I ask you both about your earliest experiences is because this for you, I know, is not an academic discussion. This is a relationship that impacts yourselves, your families, your friends, and your students and all of them together. So it's an emotional point of discussion as well. If you talk to Ezra Vogel about 1978. And Jia Qingguo was elaborated on that as well. That was a period when there was so much richness in the technology and science relationship that they shared, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Jimmy Carter, pushing China to elevate itself on those fronts as well. Yet now, a couple of decades later, and a couple of decades is not a very long time, we have Huawei, we have TikTok, emerging as the pillars of contention, almost as the weapons, the sticks by which one side or the other side may be wielding. What happens now? Because obviously it creates a very delicate balance between the pragmatism of economics, but also the delicacy of security. What happens now? What are some some of the decision-making processes that would have happened here? 

Ezra Vogel:

Well, speaking for the United States, I think we have to admit that there are a lot of problems in the United States that we have not handled well. And we have not handled the problem of equality well, and there are some people who are very rich, but there are many people who have been displaced because they were industrial workers and don't have a place to work. And we haven't found good jobs for them that give them confidence, and income, and self-respect. And when we have competition coming from the outside, it's very scary. And for some people, they want to blame China for interfering and taking our jobs away. Some of them feel that Chinese have stolen our technology. They feel that we work so hard to invent things, it takes a lot of time to develop a new idea, a new technology. And sometimes the Chinese have learned about it by open study, which we cannot really complain about. We have to admire it. But sometimes, some Chinese have done so surreptitiously and not following rules. And so those cases become the focus of people who are upset about other things, about losing their jobs or inequality. And I think that to improve our relations with China over the next decade or two, we need to work on solving our own problems too. We need to have a fair distribution of income; we need to have medical care that covers the entire population. We need to have a school system that provides opportunities for people at the bottom of the ranks as well as the top. So we have a lot of homework on our own side. And we Americans also feel that China needs to be more careful about respecting intellectual property, that it needs to show proper appreciation. And we're very worried now that some new Chinese electronic equipment might get secret information since we see that the Huawei machinery is used in China to follow what other people are doing, some of our people who are worried about their human rights and protection, afraid that that could be used secretly. So there are a lot of issues that we Americans need to work on and need to work on with the Chinese in order to relieve the tensions. 

James Chau:

Professor Jia, you've heard about the American homework, as Professor Vogel has described it, that they need to get on with, but do you think is the first step and I know there may not be any agreement on whether some of the activity has been struck tissues or whether some of the technology is a threat, but let's just start off with a basic point here. Do you think that the Chinese or China as a whole in the broad sense, could begin to heal and apply some of that healing balm to the relationship by perhaps sharing more? I mean, they talk very much about a community of nations. Do you think it needs to share more and, if it is already showing more, should it make a bigger show of it, as an olive branch? 

Jia Qingguo:

Well, I think there are many reasons for the current problems. I think the US and many Americans are suspicious of what China does in part because they subscribe to different assumptions. One is the realist assumption that when a great power arises, it will expand, it will challenge the established power. The so-called Thucydides Trap. And of course, others subscribe to the argument that US policy is to change China into a liberal democracy like the US, and they are so very disappointed that China has not changed according to their expectations. And the Trump administration of course has contributed to poisoning the atmosphere further by arguing that China is the is the enemy, is the rival. China is the thief, is the criminal, is the country that does not follow laws, is the aggressor, that sort of thing and, so now, I think a lot of people in the US have little trust in China. That's the problem underlining this 5G or high-tech problem. Basically, as Tom Friedman would argue that during the 5G period, countries in a relationship requires some level of trust, because of the internet, because of the high speed of information transmission. So you need some kind of trust in order to conduct a relationship. And basically, I think the two countries are suffering from a trust deficit. As a result, the Trump administration can push for this technological decoupling policy with China. What China can do is, of course, try to repair, to do a better job of explaining whatever it does, ranging from South China Sea, to Xinjiang, to Hong Kong. I don't think China has done a good job in explaining its actions, why it does this, and what the situations are, and invite people to see what's going on in those places. Another thing that China can do is, you know, Huawei has offered to open its source for some of its software. And so in this way, it tries to make sure that other people are not worried about whatever things they may put in into the software. So, basically, on the technological front, I think we should have more exchanges. Also to assure each other. I think Americans also have a responsibility to assure China that Microsoft and Google are not going to undermine China's so-called national security. So both sides have to make a lot of effort in this regard to rebuild some of the trust, some level of the trust, for the relationship to continue. But at the moment, I think the problem is that I don't have faith in the Trump administration in doing it. I am looking forward to the next administration to do it. 

James Chau:

You used the word “trust”. It reminds me of a new survey finding that came out, I think in the last couple of hours, a survey conducted by Edelman, that says 95% of Chinese have trust in their government. And I bring this up because we live in a time of a global pandemic, when trust in political leadership is, of course, very important. But while that may differ in the United States and China, we can certainly agree that we live in a world of many moving parts, mistrust in our governments and institutions, we're in a permanent state now of mourning and a permanent state of unfamiliarity as we look ahead. But these two countries are without a doubt, no matter what happens between, them the most important relationship in the world today. I need to finish by asking you a question that I'm sure many ask you. What do you think is going to happen next, with or without the elections, if we remove that factor, what do you see happening, Professor Vogel? 

Ezra Vogel:

I think it will depend partly on the election because I think under the Trump administration, we cannot expect much improvement. People are making various crazy statements, and it's not a well-organized administration that values diplomacy and has a long-term strategy. I think the best hope, on our side, is that by January, that we begin to have working groups on the two sides that meet together and talk about how do we develop trust? Some of the things that Americans are most concerned about are, is the Chinese market really fair to American companies? And I think many of them have complaints about how their products were used and taken away, and how the Chinese government favors Chinese firms, not American firms. And when China was weak, it didn't matter that much. But, now, Chinese firms are strong, and the Chinese are very competitive. So that becomes a very big issue. I think we're also very concerned in places like the South China Sea, where Chinese airplanes and ships begin to move, and that creates very great doubts about what Chinese intentions are\ and makes trust all the more difficult. So, I think in short, that in January, should we get a new administration, we can begin to have meetings, and there are a lot of people on both sides who are perfectly capable of carrying on those discussions if they have the full support of the top leaders. I think that the top leaders have to be involved in the process of rebuilding trust and getting better relations. But I'm hoping that we can begin to do that and that in areas like dealing with coronavirus and dealing with international warming, that we can begin to develop some cooperative projects, that will then expand into security areas so that we can begin to rebuild some of the trust. I think we're going to be rivals, but you know, ball teams are very big rivals, but they operate in a framework and I think that's what we need now. We need the framework to contain the rivalry so that we can work together and have friendly relations that are really in both our benefits. 

James Chau:

Jia Qingguo, I have to push you over here, you yourself have said that China perhaps needs to be better at communicating, better at conveying in the future. What's the story going to look like? You've got a story where Xinjiang is a concern, Tibet keeps coming up, Hong Kong is this new subject, where I am. And then of course, you've got an app that millions of teenagers around the world use to dance to and record themselves on their mobile phones, but is now one of the big, big stories in this relationship between the United States and China. Add to that a Phase Two trade deal, the South China Sea. What do you see for all of us? 

Jia Qingguo:

Well, I think I agree that in the next few months, this relationship cannot improve. Maybe when the next administration comes in, we'll have opportunities to improve the relationship. But that does not mean that problems are going away. We have to be realistic and pragmatic in handling them. I think China should do a better job in terms of becoming more transparent, in terms of explaining its actions, its behavior, more clearly to others, and also invite others to come to see in their own eyes what the situations are. China has been saying that "Oh, no what you say is wrong. It's total rubbish." But you need to establish [how] what you say is right. And in that aspect, I think China has a lot of homework to do. Also, I believe that China should continue deepening reforms, especially on SOEs, to create a more level field for market competition. A lot of people say that we're going to have a competitive relationship, or rivalry. I'm not against rivalry or competition. But I do think that we need to have a benign competition. I think benign competition is good for both countries and also for the world. China probably can learn a lot from the US, where it does well. And the US can learn a lot from China, where it does well. For example, China has been doing well in terms of building its infrastructure and the US can learn something from China. The US has done a good job in terms of having a better protection of individual rights. So if we can do a better job for the other to learn, then we are making a contribution to the other side, and also to the world. I think this kind of rivalry or competition is very much welcomed by the rest of the world and by people of all countries. 

James Chau:

That's exactly it. May I just say that the homework is not just for Chinese and Americans, but people from all countries, of my generation, and those who are using TikTok right now, because this is clearly a dynamic relationship that impacts everybody. And I'm so grateful to both of you for opening your minds and allowing us in, so we can understand why matters to all of us no matter where we are on the planet today. Professor Ezra Vogel, Professor Jia Qingguo, thank you very much! Be well, be safe and take care in this pandemic. 

Ezra Vogel:

Thank you very much.

 

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