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U.S.-China Tensions: What Must Kerry Do?

U.S.-China Tensions: What Must Kerry Do?

A China File Conversation

Dorinda Elliott:

On a recent trip to China, I heard a lot of scary talk of potential war over the disputed Diaoyu Islands—this from both senior intellectual types and also just regular people, from an elderly calligraphy expert to a middle-aged history professor. People seemed to blame the U.S. for encouraging Japan in pushing its claims over the islands. (The assumption being that the U.S. wants to contain China, to keep China down.) So is war a real danger, and what should the U.S. do to defuse tensions?

Two weeks into John Kerry's tenure as Secretary of State, Nina Hachigian, a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, who co-authored The Next American Century: How the U.S. Can Thrive as Other Powers Rise (Simon & Schuster, 2008), argues that there is much to be concerned about in U.S.-China relations.

An excerpt of her recent piece:

“Beyond the immediate issues, a broader aspect of U.S. policy toward China needs attention: The United States and China have no shared vision for what their future bilateral relationship could or should look like. They have not articulated a clear understanding of how they could continue to co-exist in peace a decade or two down the road, and they need to develop a shared, tangible idea for the future of the relationship.

Without a credible alternative, the default prediction for the interaction between a rising power such as China and an established power such as the United States is based on what has come before: inevitable violent conflict. As China grows, the uncertainty about what will come next in the relationship will only increase. With no positive vision, some Americans will picture a much stronger, more aggressive China that the United States will need to confront, and many Chinese will imagine that America will inevitably seek to preserve what they see as its waning hegemony by lashing out even more than it already does. These dark visions could become self-fulfilling prophecies. Because the United States and China do not know where they are headed, they cannot know what policy steps to take now.”

Responses

Elizabeth Economy

Elizabeth Economy is the C.V. Starr Senior Fellow and Director for Asia studies at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). The author of The River Runs Black: The Environmental Challenge to China’s Future (Cornell University Press, 2004), Economy also co-edited China Joins the World: Progress and Prospects (with Michel Oksenberg, Council on Foreign Relations Press, 1999) and The Internationalization of Environmental Protection (with Miranda Schreurs, Cambridge University Press, 1997). She has published articles in foreign policy and scholarly journals, including Foreign Affairs, Harvard Business Review, and Foreign Policy, and op-eds in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and International Herald Tribune. Economy is vice chair of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on the Future of China and serves on the board of the China-U.S. Center for Sustainable Development. She is a frequent guest on nationally broadcast television and radio programs, has testified before Congress on numerous occasions, and regularly consults for U.S. government agencies and companies. Economy is currently writing two books: one on China's rise and its geopolitical and strategic implications, and another, with Michael Levi, on China’s global quest for resources (forthcoming, Oxford University Press, 2013). Economy received her B.A. from Swarthmore College, her A.M. from Stanford University, and her Ph.D. from the University of Michigan. In 2008, she received an honorary doctor of laws degree from Vermont Law School. 

 I think Nina is right to identify a lack of shared vision as a serious challenge in the U.S.-China relationship. Unfortunately, I don’t think that at this point in time it is possible to have such a shared vision—beyond what we have always had, namely a stated commitment to peace and stability in the Asia Pacific and to free and open markets. I am fairly sure, for example, that part of our vision for the relationship includes a vastly reformed China (economically and politically)—probably in ways that the Chinese leadership is not interested in reforming, or at least not interested in reforming at the pace we would like. And China’s vision undoubtedly includes some changes in the U.S. role in the world that many here would find unpalatable.

In terms of what President Obama or the Secretary of State or Treasury could do within the very real constraints of our two countries’ differing visions and interests, I would suggest at a bare minimum laying out a plan for strengthening our economic relationship. It would be beneficial, for example, for both President Obama and soon-to-be-President Xi to lay out all the advantages that accrue from our bilateral trade to reinforce to people in both countries the benefits of working together. I don’t think either leader does even that much sufficiently. With that as a starting point, perhaps leaders in both countries could establish a two-three year time frame for completion of a bilateral investment treaty and a five to ten year negotiation period for a free trade agreement. We need to appreciate the benefits of the relationship and have concrete objectives for taking it to the next level.

To Dinda’s point about the growing talk of war and U.S. containment in China, it is really up to the Chinese leadership to manage this challenge. Frankly, to date, I don’t think that the Chinese leaders have seen it in their interest to dampen this type of rhetoric. In fact, at many points, the Chinese media have clearly stoked nationalism within the Chinese people. Belief within China that the United States is trying to contain China is not a function of the Diaoyu/Senkaku dispute, it is a long-standing, frequently articulated perspective by some segments of society. Even U.S. efforts to work with China on environmental protection have been labeled in the past as efforts to keep China from growing economically. So while I agree that the United States should try to avoid giving substance to the Chinese containment narrative, I don't see this as primarily a U.S. responsibility. 

Andrew J. Nathan

Andrew J. Nathan is Class of 1919 Professor of Political Science at Columbia University. He is also chair of the steering committee of the Center for the Study of Human Rights and chair of the Morningside Institutional Review Board (IRB) at Columbia. Nathan served as chair of the Department of Political Science, chair of the Executive Committee of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and director of the Weatherhead East Asian Institute. Before coming to Columbia in 1971, he taught at the University of Michigan. His teaching and research interests include Chinese politics and foreign policy, the comparative study of political participation and political culture, and human rights. Nathan is co-chair of the board of Human Rights in China, a member of the board of Freedom House, and a member of the Advisory Committee of Human Rights Watch, Asia, which he chaired from 1995 to 2000.  He is the regular Asia book reviewer for Foreign Affairs magazine and a member of the editorial boards of the Journal of Democracy, The China Quarterly, The Journal of Contemporary China, China Information, and others.Professor Nathan is the author and co-author of numerous books, including, Peking Politics, 1918-1923 (University of California Press, 1976); Chinese Democracy (Alfred A. Knopf, 1985); China’s Crisis (Columbia University Press, 1990); and The Tiananmen Papers, co-edited with Perry Link (Public Affairs, 2001); among others.Nathan’s articles have appeared in World Politics, Daedalus, The China Quarterly, Journal of Democracy, Asian Survey, The New Republic, The New York Review of Books, The London Review of Books, The Asian Wall Street Journal, the Boston Globe, the International Herald Tribune, and elsewhere. His research has been supported by the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Henry Luce Foundation, the National Science Foundation, the Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation, the Smith Richardson Foundation, and others.Professor Nathan received a B.A. in History, summa cum laude (1963), an M.A. in East Asian Regional Studies (1965), and a Ph.D. in Political Science (1971) from Harvard University.

Talk is cheap, and in a paradoxical way I think the Obama pivot to Asia — or rebalancing, as the administration preferred to rename it—sends the right signal to Beijing. To be sure, it is hard for any observer — even us, much less policy makers in Beijing—to figure out what American strategy really is.  I sometimes even wonder whether it’s possible for a country with two parties that alternate in power, three branches of government, fifteen fairly independent executive departments, and 535 entrepreneurial legislators, to have a coherent strategy. For that very reason, the strategy has to be revealed in practice before can be understood. In practice, U.S. policy since Nixon has been to welcome and even assist in the rise of China. At the same time, U.S. policy has been to maintain and not diminish our longstanding strategic position in Asia—the alliances, the naval presence, the troop deployments, and all the rest.

All the talk of war exhaustion, the budget deficit, the fiscal cliff, and the sequester, and of the impact of these things on the U.S. military have understandably led to doubts both here and in Asia about whether the U.S. will continue to sustain its position in Asia. The pivot intended to signal that it would. Time will tell whether it actually does.

Either way, the Chinese need to know where the U.S. really stands. It’s understandable that they will test the U.S. in rhetoric and in action to find out where Washington’s bottom line lies. We American observers will find out the answer along with China.

Orville Schell

Orville Schell is the Arthur Ross Director of the Center on U.S.-China Relations at the Asia Society in New York. He is a former professor and Dean at the University of California, Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. Schell is the author of fifteen books, ten of them about China, and a contributor to numerous edited volumes. His most recent books are Wealth and Power: China's Long March to the Twenty-first Century (Random House, 2013) (co-authored with John Delury), Virtual Tibet: Searching for Shangri-La from the Himalayas to Hollywood (Metropolitan Books, 2000), The China Reader: The Reform Years (Vintage, 1998), and Mandate of Heaven: The Legacy of Tiananmen Square and the Next Generation of China's Leaders (Simon & Schuster, 1994). He is also a contributor to such magazines as The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New York Times Magazine, The Nation, The Los Angeles Times Magazine, Granta, Wired, Newsweek, Mother Jones, The China Quarterly, and The New York Review of Books.Schell graduated Magna Cum Laude from Harvard University in Far Eastern History, was an exchange student at National Taiwan University in the 1960s, and earned a Ph.D. (Abd) at the University of California, Berkeley in Chinese History. He worked for the Ford Foundation in Indonesia, covered the war in Indochina as a journalist, and has traveled widely in China since the mid-1970s.He is a Fellow at the Weatherhead East Asian Institute at Columbia University, a Senior Fellow at the Annenberg School of Communications at USC, and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. Schell was a Fellow at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism and the recipient of many prizes and fellowships, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Overseas Press Club Award, and the Harvard-Stanford Shorenstein Prize in Asian Journalism.

I’ve just arrived in Beijing to catch the waning fireworks of the Chinese New Year celebrations, smack in the middle of an interim time bracketed by the two big official congresses, the first held by the Party last November and the second scheduled for the government to make its leadership transition this March. There’s a feeling in the air that big policy issues have been left waiting. U.S.-China relations are among those challenges left hanging. Indeed, with the U.S. election, President Obama's cabinet shuffle, and the ongoing game of musical chairs churning the White House and the Department of State, the same can be said of the climate in Washington.

So, Nina Hachigian’s description of U.S.-China relations as lacking any new, clear vision remains true. At the same time, there are areas of worrisome tension growing, especially around maritime issues. Even though Party General Secretary Xi Jinping, China’s next president, has said that he would like to see U.S.-China relations have a fresh start, it is unlikely that there will be a major “re-set” any time soon. Both Beijing and Washington seem far too root-bound by their own issues and inner- and inter-party politics to step out boldly into any kind of new mutual foreign policy framework.



However, what can at least happen—and should happen—is an effort by both presidents Obama and Xi to make contact as soon as possible to affirm in a very public way their intentions to upgrade and then carefully cultivate a better bilateral relationship.


If President Obama’s charge is largely a symbolic one, the practical question of then managing the relationship should logically go to Vice President Biden, who has adequate rank, now knows Xi as well as any American official, is a voluble, good-hearted person who is perfectly matched to the task of thawing out the freeze of formality that often enshrouds U.S.-China exchanges. What the U.S. side has lacked these past few years is precisely a Hank Paulson-like, go-to, China person of sufficient stature with whom the Chinese feel comfortable. 

Of course, if such a scheme of things is going to be successful in establishing a more personal diplomatic synapse between the two countries, a person comparable in status must be levitated on the Chinese side. When Hillary Clinton tried to pinch hit in this role, she found herself pared with Dai Bingguo, which was not only a mismatch in terms of stature, but never really catalyzed itself into a truly “special relationship.” 



Simply put, if there are not going to be any big policy framework breakthroughs between the U.S. and China, the very least that we should have is two demonstrable custodians who have been specially designated on both sides to guide and oversee this crucial relationship.


Topics: 
Dorinda Elliott is Editor at Large at ChinaFile. In her “day job,” she is Global Affairs Editor at Condé Nast Traveler, where she spearheads coverage of global issues and corporate social...
Elizabeth Economy is the C.V. Starr Senior Fellow and Director for Asia studies at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). The author of The River Runs Black: The Environmental Challenge to China’s...
Andrew J. Nathan is Class of 1919 Professor of Political Science at Columbia University. He is also chair of the steering committee of the Center for the Study of Human Rights and chair of the...
Orville Schell is the Arthur Ross Director of the Center on U.S.-China Relations at the Asia Society in New York. He is a former professor and Dean at the University of California, Berkeley Graduate...

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Chinese President Xi Jinping, just over a year in office, recently made a rare appearance in public in a Beijing restaurant, buying a cheap lunch and paying for it himself. Shortly thereafter, President Xi delivered a brief televised New Year...

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12.17.13

Why Is China Purging Its Former Top Security Chief, Zhou Yongkang?

Pin Ho & Richard McGregor
Pin Ho:[Zhou Yongkang’s downfall] is the second chapter of the “Bo Xilai Drama”—a drama begun at the 18th Party Congress. The Party’s power transition has been secret and has lacked convincing procedure. This [lack of transparency] has triggered...

Conversation

12.07.13

Will China Shut Out the Foreign Press?

Winston Lord, Paul Mooney & more
Some two dozen journalists employed by The New York Times and Bloomberg News have not yet received the visas they need to continue to report and live in China after the end of this year. Without them, they will effectively be expelled from the...

Conversation

12.03.13

What Posture Should Joe Biden Adopt Toward A Newly Muscular China?

Susan Shirk
Susan Shirk:United States Vice President Joseph Biden is the American political figure who has spent the most time with Xi Jinping and has the deepest understanding of Xi as an individual. Before Xi’s selection as P.R.C. president and C.C.P. general...

Conversation

11.27.13

Why’s the U.S. Flying Bombers Over the East China Sea?

Chen Weihua, James Fallows & more
Chen Weihua:The Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) is not a Chinese invention. The United States, Japan and some 20 other countries declared such zones in their airspace long time ago.China’s announcement of its first ADIZ in the East China Sea...

Conversation

11.24.13

What Should the Next U.S. Ambassador to China Tackle First?

Mary Kay Magistad & Robert Kapp
Mary Kay Magistad: Gary Locke succeeded in a way that few U.S. ambassadors to China have—in improving public perceptions of U.S. culture.  Locke’s down-to-earth approachability and lack of ostentation certainly helped. So did the...

Conversation

11.19.13

What Will the Beginning of the End of the One-Child Policy Bring?

Leta Hong Fincher, Vincent Ni & more
Leta Hong Fincher:The Communist Party’s announcement that it will loosen the one-child policy is, of course, welcome news. Married couples will be allowed to have two children if only one of the spouses is an only child, meaning that millions more...

Conversation

11.12.13

Spiked in China?

John Garnaut, Sidney Rittenberg & more
Last weekend, The New York Times and later, The Financial Times reported that, according to Bloomberg News employees, Bloomberg editor in chief Matthew Winkler informed reporters by telephone on October...

Conversation

10.30.13

Trial By TV: What Does a Reporter’s Arrest and Confession Tell Us About Chinese Media?

Wang Feng & Jeremy Goldkorn
The latest ChinaFile Conversation focuses on the case of Chen Yongzhou, the Guangzhou New Express journalist whose series of investigative reports exposed fraud at the Changsha, Hunan-based heavy machinery maker Zoomlion. Chen later was arrested and...

Conversation

10.25.13

Can State-Run Capitalism Absorb the Shocks of ‘Creative Destruction’?

Barry Naughton, Shai Oster & more
Following are ChinaFile Conversation participants’ reactions to “China: Superpower or Superbust?” in the November-December issue of The National Interest in which author Ian Bremmer says that China’s state-capitalism is ill-equipped to absorb the...

Conversation

10.22.13

Why’s China’s Smog Crisis Still Burning So Hot?

Alex Wang, Isabel Hilton & more
Alex Wang:On Sunday, the start of the winter heating season in northern China brought the “airpocalypse” back with a vengeance.Harbin, the capital of Heilongjiang Province and home to 11 million people, registered fine particulate (PM2.5) pollution...

Conversation

10.16.13

Uncomfortable Bedfellows: How Much Does China Need America Now?

Bill Bishop, David Schlesinger & more
Bill Bishop:The D.C. dysfunction puts China in a difficult place. Any financial markets turmoil that occurs because of a failure of Congress to do its job could harm China’s economy, and especially its exports. The accumulation of massive foreign-...

Conversation

10.10.13

CCTV Network News Broadcast

Following is a transcript of the network news broadcast of China Central Television on September 30, 2013:央视网消息(新闻联播): 9月30日上午,在中华人民共和国64周年国庆前夕,On the morning of September 30th, on the eve of the 64th anniversary of the People's Republic of...

Conversation

10.08.13

Obama’s Canceled Trip to Asia: How Much Did It Matter?

Winston Lord, Susan Shirk & more
Last week as the U.S. Federal Government shut down, President Obama canceled his planned trip to Indonesia and Brunei, where he was to have attended the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in Bali. Some foreign policy analysts have argued...

Conversation

10.07.13

Why Is Xi Jinping Promoting Self-Criticism?

Stephen C. Angle & Taisu Zhang
Critics both within and without China have suggested that Xi Jinping’s promotion of self-criticism by Communist Party cadres has at least two motives: it promotes the appearance of concern with lax discipline while avoiding deeper reform, and it...

Conversation

09.27.13

Can China’s Leading Indie Film Director Cross Over in America?

Jonathan Landreth, Michael Berry & more
Jonathan Landreth:Chinese writer and director Jia Zhangke’s A Touch of Sin won the prize for the best screenplay at the Cannes Film Festival in May. Though the dialogue and its fine translation and English subtitles by Tony Rayns are exemplary, I...

Conversation

09.24.13

A Shark Called Wanda—Will Hollywood Swallow the Chinese Dream Whole?

Stanley Rosen, Jonathan Landreth & more
Stanley Rosen:Wang Jianlin, who personally doesn’t know much about film, made a splash when he purchased America’s No. 2 movie theater chain AMC at a price many thought far too high for what he was getting.  A number of knowledgeable people...

Conversation

09.17.13

What’s Behind China’s Recent Internet Crackdown?

Xiao Qiang, John Garnaut & more
Last weekend, Charles Xue Manzi, a Chinese American multi-millionaire investor and opinion leader on one of China’s most popular microblogs, appeared in handcuffs in an interview aired on China Central Television (CCTV). Xue is just the most visible...

Conversation

09.13.13

What Can China and Japan Do to Start Anew?

Paula S. Harrell & Chen Weihua
Paula S. Harrell:While the media keeps its eye on the ongoing Diaoyu/Senkaku islands dispute, heating up yet again this week after Chinese naval ships and aircraft were spotted circling the area, a parallel, possibly game-changing development in...

Conversation

09.09.13

What Are Chinese Attitudes Toward a U.S. Strike in Syria?

Chen Weihua, Vincent Ni & more
Chen Weihua:Chinese truly believe that there is no military solution to the Syrian crisis. On the contrary, a U.S. air strike would only worsen the situation there. Chinese have seen many failures of U.S. intervention in the Middle East in the past...

Conversation

09.05.13

To Reform or Not Reform?—Echoes of the Late Qing Dynasty

Orville Schell, John Delury & more
Orville Schell:It is true that China is no longer beset by threats of foreign incursion nor is it a laggard in the world of economic development and trade. But being there and being steeped in an atmosphere of seemingly endless political and...

Conversation

08.28.13

Beijing, Why So Tense?

Andrew J. Nathan, Isabel Hilton & more
Andrew Nathan:I think of the Chinese leaders as holding a plant spritzer and dousing sparks that are jumping up all around them.  Mao made the famous remark, “A single spark can start a prairie fire.”  The leaders have seen that...

Conversation

08.21.13

Is Xi Jinping Redder Than Bo Xilai Or Vice Versa?

Michael Anti & Shai Oster
Michael Anti:Competing for Redness: The Scarlet Bo vs the Vermilion Xi?Bo Xilai, the fallen Chinese princeling famous for leading a “Red Songs” communist campaign in southwest China's megacity Chongqing, is on trial today, live-Twittered from...

Conversation

08.15.13

What Should China Do to Reverse its Tourism Deficit?

Leah Thompson, Damien Ma & more
Recent news stories and industry studies show that fewer international visitors are choosing China as their destination. January-June arrivals in Beijing are down 15% from the same period in 2012 and more Chinese than ever before are spending their...

Conversation

08.07.13

What Will Come out of the Communist Party’s Polling the People Online?

David Wertime, Duncan Clark & more
David Wertime:Simon Denyer’s recent article (“In China, Communist Party Takes Unprecedented Step: It Is Listening,” The Washington Post, August 2, 2013) provides a valuable look at some of the ways that Chinese authority mines domestic micro-...

Conversation

08.01.13

How Dangerous Are Sino-Japanese Tensions?

Jerome A. Cohen
Sino-Japanese relations do not look promising at the moment. Obviously, the Diaoyu-Senkaku dispute is not the only factor in play but it does focus nationalist passions on both sides. Yet both countries are capable of wiser conduct if their leaders...

Conversation

07.30.13

Is Business in China Getting Riskier, Or Are Multinationals Taking More Risks?

Arthur R. Kroeber, David Schlesinger & more
Arthur Kroeber:The environment for foreign companies in China has been getting steadily tougher since 2006, when the nation came to the end of a five-year schedule of market-opening measures it pledged as the price of admission to the World Trade...

Conversation

07.25.13

The Bo Xilai Trial: What’s It Really About?

Jerome A. Cohen, Andrew J. Nathan & more
China has charged disgraced senior politician Bo Xilai with bribery, abuse of power and corruption, paving the way for a potentially divisive trial. But what’s at stake goes beyond the fate of one allegedly corrupt official: Is it really a fight...

Conversation

07.23.13

What Would a Hard Landing in China Mean for the World?

Barry Naughton, James McGregor & more
Barry Naughton:Paul Krugman in a recent post (“How Much Should We Worry About a China Shock?” The New York Times, July 20, 2013) tells us NOT to worry about the impact of a slowing China on global exports, but to be worried, very worried about the...

Conversation

07.18.13

Xu Zhiyong Arrested: How Serious Can Beijing Be About Political Reform?

Donald Clarke, Andrew J. Nathan & more
Donald Clarke:When I heard that Xu Zhiyong had just been detained, my first thought was, “Again?” This seems to be something the authorities do every time they get nervous, a kind of political Alka Seltzer to settle an upset constitution. I searched...

Conversation

07.16.13

What’s the Senate’s Beef with China’s Play for American Pork?

Arthur R. Kroeber, Steve Dickinson & more
Last week the U.S. Senate held hearings to question the CEO of meat-producer Smithfield Farms, about the proposed $4.7 billion sale of the Virginia-based company to Shuanghui International, China’s largest pork producer. The sale is under review by...

Conversation

07.09.13

What Is the “Chinese Dream” Really All About?

Stein Ringen, Jeremy Goldkorn & more
Stein Ringen:I’m coming to the view that the ‘Chinese Dream’ is a signal from the leadership of great import that has much to say about the nature of the Chinese state. It is striking, in my opinion, how effectively and rapidly the system swung into...

Conversation

07.03.13

How Would Accepting Gay Culture Change China?

Fei Wang & Steven Jiang
Last week's U.S. Supreme Court decision to strike down the core provisions of the Defense of Marriage Act is not only “a stride toward greater equality in the United States, but also a shift that will reverberate far beyond our shores,” wrote...

Conversation

06.27.13

Is Xi Jinping’s Fight Against Corruption For Real?

Roderick MacFarquhar, Winston Lord & more
Roderick MacFarquhar:Xi Jinping’s overriding aim is the preservation of Communist party rule in China, as he made clear in speeches shortly after his elevation to be China’s senior leader.  Like his predecessors, he is obsessed with the...

Conversation

06.25.13

How Badly Have Snowden’s Leaks Hurt U.S.-China Relations?

Matt Schiavenza
Matt Schiavenza:In the understatement of the day, the United States is unhappy with the recent developments of the Edward Snowden situation. Just three days ago, Washington was in negotiations with Hong Kong to file a warrant for Snowden's...

Conversation

06.21.13

How Should the World Prepare for a Slower China?

Arthur R. Kroeber & Patrick Chovanec
Get Ready for a Slower ChinaThe recent gyrations on the Chinese interbank market underscore that the chief risk to global growth now comes from China. Make no mistake: credit policy will tighten substantially in the coming months, as the government...

Conversation

06.18.13

What’s Right or Wrong with This Chinese Stance on Edward Snowden?

Shai Oster & Steve Dickinson
For today’s ChinaFile Conversation we asked contributors to react to the following excerpt from an op-ed published on Monday June 17 in the Global Times about Edward Snowden, the 29-year-old American contract intelligence analyst who last...

Conversation

06.13.13

Who’d You Rather Be Watched By: China or the U.S.?

Tai Ming Cheung, Andrew J. Nathan & more
Reports of U.S. gathering data on emails and phone calls have stoked fears of an over-reaching government spying on its citizens. Chinese artist Ai Weiwei worries that China will use the U.S. as an example to bolster its argument for surveillance on...

Conversation

06.11.13

What’s the Best Way to Advance Human Rights in the U.S.-China Relationship?

Nicholas Bequelin, Sharon Hom & more
Nicholas Bequelin:The best way to advance human rights in the U.S.-China relationship is first and foremost to recognize that the engine of human rights progress in China today is the Chinese citizenry itself. Such progress is neither the product of...

Conversation

06.06.13

What Would the Best U.S.-China Joint Statement Say?

Winston Lord, Orville Schell & more
As we approach the June 7-8 meeting in California of U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping we are holding a small contest. We have asked ChinaFile Conversation regulars and a few guests to envision their ideal Sunnylands...

Conversation

06.04.13

How Would Facing Its Past Change China’s Future?

David Wertime, Isabel Hilton & more
David Wertime:The memory of the 1989 massacre of protesters at Tiananmen Square remains neither alive nor dead, neither reckoned nor obliterated. Instead, it hangs spectre-like in the background, a muted but latently powerful symbol of resistance...

Conversation

05.29.13

What Should Obama and Xi Accomplish at Their California Summit?

Susan Shirk, Orville Schell & more
Susan Shirk:It’s an excellent idea for President Obama and President Xi to spend two days of quality time together at a private retreat in Southern California. Past meetings between Chinese and American presidents have been too short, formal and...

Conversation

05.23.13

China and the Other Asian Giant: Where are Relations with India Headed?

Michael Kulma, Mark Frazier & more
Mike Kulma:Earlier this week at an Asia Society forum on U.S.-China economic relations, Dr. Henry Kissinger remarked that when the U.S. first started down the path of normalizing relations with China in the early 1970s, the economic relationship and...

Conversation

05.21.13

U.S.-China Economic Relations—What Will the Next Decade Bring?

Orville Schell & Patrick Chovanec
On Monday, within hours of the announcement that Chinese President Xi Jinping will meet U.S. President Barack Obama on a visit to California on June 7-8, Tung Chee-hwa, the former Chief Executive and President of the Executive Council of Hong Kong,...

Conversation

05.16.13

China: What’s Going Right?

Michael Zhao, James Fallows & more
Michael Zhao:On a recent trip to China, meeting mostly with former colleagues at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, I got a dose of optimism and hope for one aspect of the motherland. In terms of science, or laying down a solid foundation for better...

Conversation

05.14.13

Why Can’t China Make Its Food Safe?—Or Can It?

Alex Wang, John C. Balzano & more
The month my wife and I moved to Beijing in 2004, I saw a bag of oatmeal at our local grocery store prominently labeled: “NOT POLLUTED!” How funny that this would be a selling point, we thought.But 7 years later as we prepared to return to the US,...

Conversation

05.10.13

What’s China’s Game in the Middle East?

Rachel Beitarie, Massoud Hayoun & more
Rachel Beitarie:Xi Jinping’s four point proposal for a Palestinian-Israeli peace agreement is interesting not so much for its content, as for its source. While China has maintained the appearance of being involved in Middle East politics for years,...

Conversation

05.07.13

Why Is a 1995 Poisoning Case the Top Topic on Chinese Social Media?

Rachel Lu, Andrew J. Nathan & more
With a population base of 1.3 billion people, China has no shortage of strange and gruesome crimes, but the attempted murder of Zhu Ling by thallium poisoning in 1995 is burning up China’s social media long after the trails have gone cold. Zhu, a...

Conversation

05.02.13

Does Promoting “Core Interests” Do China More Harm Than Good?

Stephanie T. Kleine-Ahlbrandt, Susan Shirk & more
On April 30, as tensions around China’s claims to territories in the South- and East China Seas continued to simmer, we began what proved to be a popular ChinaFile Conversation, asking the question, What's Really at the Core of China’s ‘Core...

Conversation

04.30.13

What’s Really at the Core of China’s “Core Interests”?

Shai Oster, Andrew J. Nathan & more
Shai Oster:It’s Pilates diplomacy—work on your core. China’s diplomats keep talking about China’s core interests and it’s a growing list. In 2011, China included its political system and social stability as core interests. This year, it has added a...

Conversation

04.25.13

Hollywood in China—What’s the Price of Admission?

Jonathan Landreth, Ying Zhu & more
Last week, DreamWorks Animation (DWA), the Hollywood studio behind the worldwide blockbuster Kung Fu Panda films, announced that it will cooperate with the China Film Group (CFG) on an animated feature called Tibet Code, an adventure story based on...

Conversation

04.23.13

How Would You Spend (the Next) $300 Million on U.S.-China Relations?

Orville Schell & Michael Kulma
Orville Schell:When Stephen A. Schwarzman announced his new $300 million program aimed at sending foreign scholars to Tsinghua University in Beijing the way Rhodes Scholarship, set up by the businessman and statesman Cecil Rhodes in 1902 began...

Conversation

04.18.13

How Fast Is China’s Slowdown Coming, and What Should Beijing Do About It?

Patrick Chovanec, Barry Naughton & more
Slower Chinese GDP growth is not a bad thing if it’s happening for the right reasons. But it’s not happening for the right reasons.Instead of reining in credit to try to curb over-investment, Chinese authorities have allowed a renewed explosion in...

Conversation

04.16.13

Why is China Still Messing with the Foreign Press?

Andrew J. Nathan, Isabel Hilton & more
To those raised in the Marxist tradition, nothing in the media happens by accident.  In China, the flagship newspapers are still the “throat and tongue” of the ruling party, and their work is directed by the Party’s Propaganda Department...

Conversation

04.11.13

Why Is Chinese Soft Power Such a Hard Sell?

Jeremy Goldkorn, Donald Clarke & more
Jeremy Goldkorn:Chairman Mao Zedong said that power comes out of the barrel of a gun, and he knew a thing or two about power, both hard and soft. If you have enough guns, you have respect. Money is the same: if you have enough cash, you can buy guns...

Conversation

04.09.13

Is China Doing All it Can to Rein in Kim Jong-un?

Winston Lord, Susan Shirk & more
Winston Lord:No. 

Conversation

04.03.13

Bird Flu Fears: Should We Trust Beijing This Time?

David Wertime, Yanzhong Huang & more
David Wertime:A new strain of avian flu called H7N9 has infected at least seven humans and killed three in provinces near the Chinese metropolis of Shanghai, with the first death occurring on March 4. Meanwhile, in the last month, about 16,000 pigs...

Conversation

04.02.13

Why Did Apple Apologize to Chinese Consumers and What Does It Mean?

Jeremy Goldkorn, Isabel Hilton & more
Jeremy Goldkorn:On March 22, before the foreign media or Apple themselves seemed to have grasped the seriousness of the CCTV attacks on the Californian behemoth, I wrote a post on Danwei.com that concluded:“The signs are clear that regulators and...

Conversation

03.28.13

Will China’s Renminbi Replace the Dollar as the World’s Top Currency?

Patrick Chovanec, Damien Ma & more
Patrick Chovanec:This week’s news that Brazil and China have signed a $30 billion currency swap agreement gave a renewed boost to excited chatter over the rising influence of China’s currency, the renminbi (RMB). The belief, in many quarters, is...

Conversation

03.26.13

Can China Transform Africa?

Jeremy Goldkorn, Isabel Hilton & more
Jeremy Goldkorn:The question is all wrong. China is already transforming Africa, the question is how China is transforming Africa, not whether it can. From the “China shops”—small stores selling cheap clothing, bags, and kitchenware—that have become...

Conversation

03.19.13

China’s New Leaders Say They Want to Fight Corruption. Can They? Will They?

Andrew J. Nathan & Ouyang Bin
In his first press conference after taking office as China's new premier, Li Keqiang declared that one of his top priorities would be to fight corruption, because “Corruption and the reputation of our government are as incompatible as fire and...

Conversation

03.15.13

Is the One Child Policy Finished—And Was It a Failure?

Dorinda Elliott, Alexa Olesen & more
Dorinda Elliott:China’s recent decision to phase out the agency that oversees the one-child policy has raised questions about whether the policy itself will be dropped—and whether it was a success or a failure.Aside from the...

Conversation

03.13.13

China’s Post 1980’s Generation—Are the Kids All Right?

Sun Yunfan, Orville Schell & more
This week, the ChinaFile Conversation is a call for reactions to an article about China's current generation gap, written by James Palmer, a Beijing-based historian, author, and Global Times editor. The article, first published by Aeon in the U...

Conversation

03.08.13

Will China’s Property Market Crash, and So What If It Does?

Dorinda Elliott & Bill Bishop
Dorinda Elliott:At this week’s National People’s Congress, outgoing Premier Wen Jiabao proclaimed that the government kept housing prices from rising too fast. Really? I wonder what my 28-year-old Shanghainese friend Robert thinks about that. He and...

Conversation

03.06.13

Are Proposed Sanctions on North Korea a Hopeful Sign for U.S.-China Relations?

Orville Schell, Susan Shirk & more
Orville Schell:What may end up being most significant about the new draft resolution in the U.N. Security Council to impose stricter sanctions on North Korea, which China seems willing to sign, may not be what it amounts to in terms of...

Conversation

03.01.13

Is America’s Door Really Open to China’s Investment?

Daniel H. Rosen, Orville Schell & more
Daniel Rosen:There have not been many new topics in U.S.-China economic relations over the past decade: the trade balance, offshoring of jobs, Chinese holding of U.S. government debt, whether China’s currency is undervalued and intellectual property...

Conversation

02.27.13

How Long Can China Keep Pollution Data a State Secret?

Elizabeth Economy, Orville Schell & more
Elizabeth Economy:The environment is center stage once again in China. A Chinese lawyer has requested the findings of a national survey on soil pollution from the Ministry of Environmental Protection and been denied on the grounds that the...

Conversation

02.22.13

Will Investment in China Grow or Shrink?

Donald Clarke & David Schlesinger
Donald Clarke:I don’t have the answer as to whether investment in China will grow or shrink, but I do have a few suggestions for how to think about the question. First, we have to clarify why we want to know the answer to this question: what do we...

Conversation

02.20.13

Cyber Attacks—What’s the Best Response?

James Fallows, Xiao Qiang & more
With regular ChinaFile Conversation contributor Elizabeth Economy on the road, we turned to her colleague Adam Segal, Maurice R. Greenberg Senior Fellow for China Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. Segal said that “the time for...

Conversation

02.13.13

North Korea: How Much More Will China Take and How Should the U.S. Respond?

Winston Lord, Tai Ming Cheung & more
China is increasingly frustrated with North Korea and may even see more clearly that its actions only serve to increase allied unity, stimulate Japanese militarism and accelerate missile defense. For all these reasons the U.S. should lean on Beijing...

Conversation

02.08.13

Rich, Poor and Chinese—Does Anyone Trust Beijing to Bust the Corrupt?

Andrew J. Nathan, Susan Shirk & more
Andrew Nathan:The new Chinese leadership under Xi Jinping seems to be making some bold opening moves with its attacks on corruption and the announcement on February 5 of plans to reduce the polarization of incomes.  Does this mean Xi is...

Conversation

02.06.13

Airpocalypse Now: China’s Tipping Point?

Alex Wang, Orville Schell & more
The recent run of air pollution in China, we now know, has been worse than the air quality in airport smoking lounges. At its worst, Beijing air quality has approached levels only seen in the United States during wildfires.All of the comparisons to...

Conversation

02.01.13

China’s Cyberattacks — At What Cost?

James Fallows, Donald Clarke & more
James Fallows: Here are some initial reactions on the latest hacking news.We call this the “latest” news because I don’t think anyone, in China or outside, is actually surprised. In my own experience in China, which is limited compared with many of...

Conversation

01.30.13

China, Japan and the Islands: What Do the Tensions Mean?

Orville Schell, John Delury & more
How did the Diaoyu, Spratly, and Paracel islands come to replace Taiwan as the main source of tension for maritime Asia? And how are we to explain the fact that China’s foreign policy toward its Asian neighbors has now morphed from such slogans as...