Bill Owens: A Time for Trust

Jan 28 , 2021

Bill Owens, Co-founder and Executive Chairman of Red Bison, former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.


Well, thank you, Mr. Chairman, and I want to thank CUSEF for sponsoring this and for the leadership of Mr. Tung. And it's great to see you all, on the screen at least. This is the first time I've had a tie on in years, so I'm celebrating this special occasion. And I will keep this to five minutes.

I want to just emphasize a few things. I think the China-U.S. relationship, as many have said, is the most important relationship, but I think more importantly it is the future for our children. We have to think about them and we have to think about the long-term, and how we build this trust in each other, and the trust in technology partnerships that will matter. Because this is about our kids. This is about our families. And this is about the next 20 years. 

I won't bore you, but I wrote a book called “China-U.S. 2039: The End Game.” It talks about how we, as two countries, build trust over future decades, not just this year, not just China-U.S. cultures, not just people-topeople, not just the climate change, but in every way. And I feel strongly about that. 

I want to tell you that I believe more than ever that words matter. And the United States is certainly responsible for more than half of this issue. We need to start using some words that talk about trust between our two countries. I think it's terribly important — words like the United States refers to China as a communist country. We used a lot of words in U.S. Defense about China's intentions. And in China, there are a lot of words used about the United States — containment of China, etc. We need to use words that really will bring us together. I think this is possible. 

I'll just tell you briefly, over the last 10 years with some sponsorship from Mr. Tung, and others on the U.S. side, we've had 10 retired four-star generals get together to talk about trust and partnership in the military-to-military relationship and that frequently comes down to technology. Technology is terribly much in the center of all of that. And I can tell you that over 10 years we have built a lot of trust between Chinese generals and American generals. We should emphasize these level-two dialogues as we go forward. They're terribly important on both sides. There is a lot of distrust and the question is, How do we build trust? 

On the Chinese side, there is a lot of emphasis on asymmetric warfare, and on the U.S. side as well. The U.S. military has been right in the center of technology for all the years that I can remember. We talked about the revolution in military affairs, which was built on technology, and now we face the future of technology — cyber, outer space, quantum sciences, AI, etc. The military has known a lot about this … and try to make a difference in our military capability. And now [our branches] need to work together to figure out how we can do that together.

I would just say to you that one of the things I fear in the next 20 years — and we need to continually remind ourselves, this is about the next 20 years — is a new Mutual Assured Deterrence strategy on both sides. No one talks about this, but it's terribly important. The United States believes, I think that we can see a very large battlefield in great detail, and that detail allows you then to target in a very efficient way. And I think the Chinese military is building that same form of asymmetric warfare. It'ds all about the technologies that everyone has talked about. And when we can both see the battlefield — precisely — there is a tendency for decision-makers to make a difference, and open a war. So we need to be aware of that. 

I see my time has run out. I'd love to talk about this a lot more. This is a time for trust. This is a time for togetherness, people-to-people in the military and in technology and in every other area that other speakers have mentioned — and how we build trust over future decades. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.