USCET Founder and President Ambassador Julia Chang Bloch served as the moderator of a webinar discussion for the Council of American Ambassadors (CAA) on November 12, focusing on “The Future of U.S.-China Relations.” This webinar was part of CAA’s first ever virtual Fall Conference, with the theme of “The U.S.-China Relationship: Perceptions and Misperceptions.” As the strategic relationship between China and the U.S. continues to dominate foreign policy discussions, this virtual conference aimed to prompt conversation and promote new understandings on the past four decades of U.S.-China relations and the challenges facing these nations in the near future. In line with USCET’s continued work to serve as a bridge between China and the U.S. to foster mutual understanding, Ambassador Bloch guided this discussion, asking questions about the United States’ historic policy of engagement with China, the two superpowers’ present tensions, and possible strains on the relationship moving forward. USCET will continue to promote such timely discussions on U.S.-China relations through our joint webinar with the Chinese People’s Institute of Foreign Affairs on December 14th, titled “The Future of US-China Relations, After the Pandemic.”
Ambassador Bloch moderated the discussion between two prominent U.S.-China policy scholars: Dr. Wang Jisi of Peking University and Dr. David M. Lampton of Johns Hopkins University. Wang Jisi, a former Chinese laborer who rose to international scholarly acclaim through studying and teaching at prestigious universities such as Peking University, Oxford University, and University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, shared his initial thoughts on the history and future of U.S.-China relations through both a scholarly lens and his own experiences. He noted that it is important to remember that China has benefitted enormously from engagement with America over the past four decades, stating that many Chinese people’s “eyes were widely opened” in the reform years through previously unthinkable economic progress and increased opportunities for exchange. He himself benefited from such exchange, studying abroad at the University of California Berkeley during the reform years. He also noted that China-US diplomatic relations have never been easy, going through periods of turmoil and intense distrust over the past 40 years. Now, he concluded, the U.S. and China find ourselves entrenched in a heavy ideational competition that spans across the world, challenging us to engage with each other to see which government better serves its people and the global community at large.
Dr. David M. Lampton echoed these thoughts in his remarks, while also largely emphasizing the need for seeking out opportunities for cooperation in the near future. As a Senior Fellow at the SAIS Foreign Policy Institute and Professor Emeritus at Johns Hopkins University, Lampton brought decades of scholarly experience in U.S.-China relations to the discussion, emphasizing the importance that security concerns have played in the deterioration of relations since 2010. Though these self-interested security concerns, exacerbated by strongman leadership, have inflicted great damage to our relationship, he also pleaded that we not forget the immense gains that were made in the past 40 years through the United States’ policy of engagement with China. The opening of civil aviation, diminishing of poverty in China, absence of war between our nations, increased cultural exchange, and improvements in health care are a few of the topics Lampton stressed, as he emphasized the great need for both the U.S. and China to continue to send each other constructive signals to resume productive relations and growth. Such constructive signals could be found in opportunities for cooperation or balancing power initiatives, such as the United States rejoining the Trans-Pacific Partnership or the World Health Organization, or facilitating infrastructure projects in developing countries similar to China’s Belt and Road Initiative, but in the interest of balancing, rather than competition.
Following the two scholars’ opening remarks, Ambassador Bloch continued to moderate discussion by asking a series of thought-provoking questions of Lampton and Wang. She first inquired about the implications of the United States’ current presidential transition on the U.S.-China relationship, and both scholars agreed that while we should not be concerned about short-term violations of national security in this interim period, it is crucial for the Biden administration to initiate reassurance efforts with Xi Jinping to build up more long-term mutual security interests. The current state of the United States’ presidential transition is indeed dangerous, Lampton and Wang agreed, but both the U.S. and China are afraid that the other may preemptively take advantage of the other. Thus, as Lampton succinctly said, “Reassurance is the job.”
In concluding the program, Ambassador Bloch’s final question posed to the participants prompted a joint call for change in perceptions of the U.S.-China relationship, asking “Is this rivalry between the United States and China primarily about power or ideology?” Lampton concluded by saying that the United States needs to move past the belief that we cannot collaborate with China unless they are no longer ruled by a communist party, and Wang agreed, adding that both nations need to think more in terms of long-term cooperation, and how the rest of the world is viewing the actions and changing image of these two superpowers.
Overall, the panelists and Ambassador Bloch prompted insightful discussion on the complex nature of the U.S.-China relationship, and the need for diplomats and governments to continually reevaluate our nations’ history and future to be able to collaborate as leaders on the global stage.
To read more about the Council of American Ambassadors and this event, please click here. To watch the event, please see the video below.