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What Should Michelle Obama Accomplish on Her Trip to China?

What Should Michelle Obama Accomplish on Her Trip to China?

A ChinaFile Conversation

 
 

Orville Schell:  Looking at the challenges of rectifying U.S.-China relations and building some semblance of the “new kind of a big power relationship” alluded to by presidents Obama and Xi at Sunnylands last year, will most certainly require a multi-stage ongoing effort. Michelle Obama’s trip to China with her mother and her two daughters this week could prove to be a very constructive next step.

Because her trip offers a symbolic expression of a genuine commitment on the part of the U.S. to doing everything it can to achieve a breakthrough in relations with China, the First Lady’s visit could end up being a very sage prelude to the next official meeting between the American and Chinese presidents in the Hague on March 24-25. Indeed, confronting all the problems that divide our two countries —maritime/island disputes, cyber-warfare, human rights, the Ukraine, nuclear proliferation, etc.—will pose an infinitely arduous challenge to Presidents Obama and Xi, but they are inescapably the responsibility of the two presidents, not the First Ladies. So, while these many difficult issues will remain unaddressed by Michelle Obama and Chinese First Lady Peng Liyuan, what makes this visit to China a smart move by the White House is that it will enable the U.S. to demonstrate in the most obviously friendly way the importance it attaches to our future bilateral relationship with the P.R.C. It will allow a highly symbolic interaction between the countries without the two countries needing to get into the host of contentious issues which divide us and which have no easy answers.

But, we should be realistic. Michelle Obama’s trip is only a gesture, albeit an important one. For our two presidents to actually hit the proverbial “reset” button, they will have to evince some real leadership, innovative thinking, even risk taking. Such leadership has not yet been fully manifested. If they fail, the world will then also fail in resolving a range of critical and antagonistic global problems— including nuclear proliferation, climate change, cyber-hacking, pandemics, and other challenges that can only be met through real bilateral cooperation.

If the idea of establishing “a new kind of big power relations” is ever to be made more than an empty slogan, it will be necessary for both sides to become far bolder in their approaches to each other. Having dispatched his family to China on what could be described literally as a “panda-hugging” expedition, President Obama might—if only he will take up the invitation— be firmer in his representations with President Xi when he meets him later at the Hague.

Both sides yearn for the kind breakthrough in the interaction between the U.S. and China that has eluded us since the 1972 Nixon/Kissinger-Mao/Zhou breakthrough, and then the Jimmy Carter-Deng Xiaoping recognition breakthrough in 1979. We yearn for such moments redux because they were the occasions when our leaders actually did reach for the stars and did last succeed in recasting our bilateral relations. To again accomplish such a breakthrough moment, both Obama and Xi are going to have to wade not only into the host of difficult issues which divide us, but also to find new ways to set aside some of the historical suspiciousness with which leaders of our two countries have approached each other lately. That is a far taller order, and not one that a Michelle Obama visit will accomplish. But then her trip does not aspire to such a grand accomplishment. Her visit could serve as an important next step in the far longer process of establishing “a new form of big power relations,” and a smart way to move the relationship forward by expressing the United States’ commitment to “working things out.” But, it will be no a substitute for the kind heavy lifting that will come next.

Responses

Michelle Obama’s visit to China will no doubt draw much attention. The two nations are developing a new type of “big power relationship,” and the meeting of the two first ladies could give an extra dimension to this yet-to-be-defined concept. Journalists may describe this as “first lady diplomacy” between China and the U.S. If it emerges as an important theme then Michelle Obama and Peng Liyuan will no doubt be remembered for this in the future.

Chinese first ladies have always been unassuming and inactive in the past; they lived in the shadow of their powerful husbands, and usually shied away from the media spotlight. Yet Peng Liyuan, herself a celebrity before Xi Jinping’s presidency, has proved to be an exception.

In the U.S., first ladies are completely the opposite: Hillary Clinton had her own office in the West Wing, and Michelle Obama was arguably an important figure behind the nation’s historic medicare insurance plan. They are a part of American political life.

Aside from showing off their stylish dresses, I hope the two first ladies will make some kind of announcement to boost mutual understanding and exchange. This is perhaps the most important thing today, amid the escalation of a zero-sum mentality between China and the United States.

The White House says politics will not be on the itinerary of Michelle Obama’s tour of China. She will give no interviews and no reporters will be traveling with her. This is a shame, especially since the First Lady’s visit comes just one week after a prominent, female rights activist, Cao Shunli, died in custody because Chinese authorities denied her lawyers’ requests to have her released on medical parole, according to rights groups. Cao had pressured Beijing to include the input of Chinese civil society in the Chinese government’s report to the U.N. Human Rights Council, but she was detained at Beijing’s international airport in September while attempting to leave for a training program in Geneva.

Contrast Michelle Obama’s avoidance of the media in China with former First Lady Hillary Clinton’s powerful speech at the 1995 UN World Conference on Women in Beijing, where she declared that “human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights.” Next year marks the twentieth anniversary of the UN Conference on Women, so Michelle Obama – travelling with her mother and two daughters – has a natural opportunity to highlight women’s rights during her trip.

In recent years, contrary to many claims made in the media, women in China have experienced a dramatic rollback of rights and gains relative to men. The gender wealth gap is widening sharply, female labor force participation in the cities is dropping, women’s property rights have been dealt a severe blow with the 2011 re-interpretation of China’s Marriage Law, and the proportion of women in the Party’s Central Committee has fallen to a dismal 4.9 percent.

Even if the First Lady refuses to take questions from reporters, she should meet with members of women’s NGOs and feminist groups, which have lobbied the government for over a decade to pass targeted legislation against the epidemic of intimate partner violence in China. Government figures state that one-quarter of China’s women have experienced domestic violence, but feminist activists say the figure is vastly understated. Ms. Obama should also meet with American Kim Lee, a mother of three daughters who has gone public about violent abuse at the hands of her ex-husband, Li Yang, the multi-millionaire founder of “Crazy English” (a famous way of learning English through overcoming inhibitions).

In spite of all the maneuvering to keep politics off Michelle Obama’s China itinerary, I agree with Orville Schell and Vincent Ni that the First Lady’s trip could potentially be constructive. Ms. Obama is hugely popular in China, and she could demonstrate that “people-to-people exchanges” must include meaningful dialogue about how to improve the status of nearly one fifth of the world’s women.

Orville and Vincent have almost persuaded me that U.S.-China relations will best be served if First Lady Michelle Obama’s trip to China is little more than a public diplomacy tour de force. Indeed, she is already off to a good start. Chinese press commentary surrounding Mrs. Obama’s visit has been glowing.

Yet I can’t help but feel that an opportunity is being sacrificed on the altar of wishful thinking. The opportunity is to use the umbrella of education and culture—the focus of the first lady’s trip—to engage issues such as restrictions on American films, journalists, and educational institutions in China. These are important issues and the first lady has a unique opening to raise them with the first lady of China, Peng Liyuan, herself a singing sensation and embodiment of Chinese culture. The altar of wishful thinking is that this trip will in some way influence how Chinese president Xi Jinping directs the Chinese navy to behave on the East and South China Seas or how he responds to Russia’s behavior in Crimea.

Even beyond the issue of a missed opportunity, I am puzzled at the first lady’s apparent decision not to travel or have interviews with journalists during her trip. Certainly she is making herself extraordinarily accessible via social media, and granted, according to the State Department, public diplomacy means “government-sponsored programs intended to inform or influence public opinion in other countries”—not informing or influencing people at home. However, refusing to address the press directly sends the wrong message not only to people in the United States but also to Chinese citizens, and most critically, doesn’t reflect the first lady’s one policy-related promise: to share American values and traditions.

Forgive me for my bluntness, but Mrs. Obama and her family are the best the U.S. has to present to the world. They are, first and foremost, dignified, even reserved in their public personae. Throughout their public lives, they have embodied “family values” in a far more powerful sense than that term has come to imply through the dreary years of its political abasement. Whether or not Mrs. Obama, her mother, and her daughters are accompanied throughout their trip by legions of diplomatic staffers (and they will be), I am certain that they will convey directly to Mme. Peng Liyuan and to the Chinese people a sincere message of mutual respect, shared humanity, sober awareness of unfinished societal tasks and global responsibilities, and genuine celebration of their loved ones, starting with Presidents Xi and Obama. Hopefully, that message will be accurately conveyed—and accurately rendered into Chinese—by China’s media. Mrs. Obama speaks naturally with clear, organized syntax, so I’m optimistic on this front, but it behooves the key interpreters on both sides to work together intensely and (if necessary) instantaneously on language issues throughout the trip.

I have never met Mrs. Obama or her family, but having watched them for some years, now, I believe that they will prove on this trip to be avid listeners, avid observers, and avid learners. I am certain that, without bombast or a barrage of clichés, the First Lady in particular will contribute to a more full-bodied Chinese understanding of our nation and our people.

We learn that the trip will avoid “politics.” Well and good: no long tables lined with opposing delegations, no lengthy recitations of talking points, no wrangling over islets or the denuclearization of this or that hotspot, no bluster about currency manipulation, etc., etc. Let’s let the Obamas be visitors to a land they hardly know, and welcome what will surely be a warm and unusually personal kind of hospitality from Mme. Peng and her associates.

Nevertheless, “All mothers love their children,” unfortunately cannot be the sum total of Major Power Relations in its vaunted New Framework. Celebrations of common humanity can be vitally important, but their half-life, in the real world, can be very short.

For that reason, though the Obamas will surely not be spending much time on Crimea or military-military engagement, it would be very nice if they and their hosts could, by the end of the trip, find common ground for future cooperation in a few meaningful areas of shared concern.

One doesn’t know; I certainly have not been planning the visit. Perhaps nothing “joint” will emerge. But even in the realm of “soft” issues—the arts and literature, early childhood education, family and child welfare, development of non-governmental social cooperative efforts, nutrition, ecological awareness, and so on—we can at least dream of the United States and China taking a few new small steps together, drawn by the compelling image of our two First Families talking the talk, and walking the walk, hand in hand.

The U.S. is no longer the charitable donor (and certainly no longer conceives of itself thus), and China is no longer the needy recipient (ditto for China), in this bilateral relationship; those days are now long past. If we’re lucky, Mrs. Obama and Mme. Peng will give us a glimpse of the Way Forward for our two countries in our highly touted but still misty New Relationship.

But, smog and all, China is simply a mind-bending place to visit, and even if the two First Ladies do not end the tour by agreeing to join hands on specific initiatives, the Obamas are in for an unforgettable experience. I wish them daily enjoyment and plenty of lifelong memories. Let’s hope the American people get a “full report” from the First Family when they return.

The White House has billed First Lady Michelle Obama’s trip to China, in the company of her mother and daughters, as a “cultural exchange.” This seems to be part of an effort to ratchet down expectations and make it clear that the First Lady will not engage in politics.

It is our view, however, that there is already more than enough politics in the U.S.-China relationship and not nearly enough cultural exchange—exchange, of course, being a word that entails reciprocity.

Over the past century and more, China has systematically explored, imported, absorbed, and adapted ideas, values, and art forms from the West on a spectacular scale—the primacy of the nation-state, Marxism-Leninism, the symphony orchestra, and so much more. This is not an aberration, but a tradition—four of the five officially recognized religions in China are foreign imports, as are most of the musical instruments we consider “Chinese.” While we in the West now buy countless manufactured goods from China, we have shown comparatively little interest in its ideas, values, or innovations, frequently denigrating them as communist or copycat.

It wasn’t always this way. Indeed, there was a period—sometimes known as “Sinomania”—when many European intellectuals perceived Chinese culture as superior. The great German polymath Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716) was fascinated by Chinese language and philosophy and argued that the trade of “merchandise and spice” should become a “commerce” of ideas, discoveries, light and wisdom in which China and the West would “trade each other’s talents” and “catch fire with fire!” The French writer Voltaire (1694-1778) admired Confucius and wrote a play based on the Yuan Dynasty drama “Orphan of Zhao,” while the princely elites of Europe built pagodas in their gardens and decorated their palaces with Chinese-influenced “Chinoiserie.”

That all largely ended with the nineteenth century and for the past 200 years we have absorbed Chinese immigrants—along with their cuisine, and, to a lesser extent, medical philosophy and martial arts—but have rarely reached out in a systematic effort to learn from China so as to improve, enlighten, or augment our own culture, or even simply to better understand the nation that many now see as a rival. The result is a lop-sided “exchange”—Chinese media call it a “cultural deficit”—that is increasingly irksome to China and harmful to our chances of establishing a balanced and productive relationship with an ever stronger, confident, and pro-active PRC.

If the magnetic Michelle Obama were to take a genuine interest in China’s culture and help spark a true exchange—meaning one that is sustained well beyond her week of sightseeing—it would do far more to improve our increasingly intertwined political and economic relationship than any cherry-picked discussion of controversial issues. It’s time to resurrect the open-minded optimism of Leibniz and catch fire with fire!

Keywords: 
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...
Vincent Ni is currently Europe Correspondent at Caixin Media based in London. Previously, he was North America Correspondent based in New York. Since the Egyptian revolution in 2011, he has been...
Leta Hong Fincher is the author of Leftover Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China (2014). She recently completed her PhD in Sociology at Tsinghua University. She has...
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...
Robert Kapp began his working career as an historian of twentieth century China at Rice University and the University of Washington. However, his main career contributions have been to the building...
Jindong Cai is a Professor of Orchestral Studies at Stanford University. He is co-author, with Sheila Melvin, of Rhapsody in Red: How Western Classical Music Became Chinese.
Sheila Melvin writes about culture in China.  She is a regular contributor to The International Herald Tribune and Caixin, and her articles have appeared in numerous other publications,...

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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 softens up potential targets of...

Conversation

09.27.13

Can China’s Leading Indie Film Director Cross Over in...

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 found that as the screening...

Media

09.26.13

Execution or Murder? Chinese Look for Justice in Street...

TEA LEAF NATION

This morning, a Chinese street vendor named Xia Junfeng was executed. Xia had been found guilty of murdering two urban enforcers, known colloquially as chengguan, in 2009. Xia’s lawyers argued he acted in self-defense, presenting six eyewitness accounts and statements from...

Conversation

09.24.13

A Shark Called Wanda—Will Hollywood Swallow the...

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 felt that the money could have...

Conversation

09.17.13

What’s Behind China’s Recent Internet Crackdown?

THE EDITORS, XIAO QIANG & more

The Editors: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 blogger to be...

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 China-Japan relations has gone...

Conversation

09.09.13

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

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 decade.The U.S. clearly is...

Conversation

09.05.13

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

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 economic tension where questions of...

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 terrifying truth confirmed in the pro...

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 Jinan in Shandong province, east...

Conversation

08.15.13

What Should China Do to Reverse its Tourism Deficit?

THE EDITORS, LEAH THOMPSON & more

The Editors: 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 money to travel...

Conversation

08.07.13

What Will Come out of the Communist Party’s Polling...

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-blogging platforms like Weibo...

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 can manage to rise above the...

Conversation

07.30.13

Is Business in China Getting Riskier, Or Are...

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 Organization. Soon after the WTO-...

Conversation

07.25.13

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

THE EDITORS, JEROME A. COHEN & more

The Editors: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 between factions in...

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 indirect and unanticipated...

Conversation

07.18.13

Xu Zhiyong Arrested: How Serious Can Beijing Be About...

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 the web site of The New...

Conversation

07.16.13

What’s the Senate’s Beef with China’s Play for...

THE EDITORS, ARTHUR R. KROEBER & more

The Editors: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 the Committee on...

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 action to interpret and...

Conversation

07.03.13

How Would Accepting Gay Culture Change China?

THE EDITORS, FEI WANG & more

The Editors: 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 novelist and...

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 Gorbachev phenomenon and doesn't...

Conversation

06.25.13

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

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 arrest, a process which the U.S. hoped...

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 tries to push loan growth from...

Conversation

06.18.13

What’s Right or Wrong with This Chinese Stance on...

THE EDITORS, SHAI OSTER & more

The Editors: 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 week in Hong Kong...

Conversation

06.13.13

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

THE EDITORS, TAI MING CHEUNG & more

Editor’s note: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 dissidents....

Conversation

06.11.13

What’s the Best Way to Advance Human Rights in the U....

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 a gradual enlightenment of the...

Conversation

06.06.13

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

THE EDITORS, WINSTON LORD & 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 summit and then write the joint...

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.There’s no question that an...

Conversation

05.29.13

What Should Obama and Xi Accomplish at Their California...

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 scripted for them to develop a...

Conversation

05.23.13

China and the Other Asian Giant: Where are Relations...

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 trade between the two...

Conversation

05.21.13

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

JONATHAN LANDRETH, ORVILLE SCHELL & more

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, introduced former U.S....

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 science to come, things are...

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, what was once a joke had...

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, its top leaders, so far,...

Conversation

05.07.13

Why Is a 1995 Poisoning Case the Top Topic on Chinese...

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 brilliant and beautiful...

Conversation

05.02.13

Does Promoting “Core Interests” Do China More Harm...

THE EDITORS, STEPHANIE T. KLEINE-AHLBRANDT & 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 Interests’? The participants...

Conversation

04.30.13

What’s Really at the Core of China’s “Core...

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 vast chunk of the...

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 a series of recent Chinese...

Conversation

04.23.13

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

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 sending American scholars to Oxford...

Conversation

04.18.13

How Fast Is China’s Slowdown Coming, and What Should...

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 credit in an effort to fuel...

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.  That’s the first...

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, and respect.Israel and Saudi...

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, 1,000 ducks, and a few swans...

Conversation

04.02.13

Why Did Apple Apologize to Chinese Consumers and What...

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 establishment media would both...

Conversation

03.28.13

Will China’s Renminbi Replace the Dollar as the World...

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 that the renminbi is well on...

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 ubiquitous in Southern...

Conversation

03.19.13

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

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 water.” This put Li on message...

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 burdens only children feel when it comes...

Conversation

03.13.13

China’s Post 1980’s Generation—Are the Kids All...

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.K., “The Balinghou: Chinese...

Conversation

03.08.13

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

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 his fiancée could never...

Conversation

03.06.13

Are Proposed Sanctions on North Korea a Hopeful Sign...

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 denuclearizing the DPRK, but what it...

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 protection problems have...

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 information is a state secret. (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 think it will tell us? This...

Conversation

02.20.13

Cyber Attacks—What’s the Best Response?

JONATHAN LANDRETH, JAMES FALLOWS & more

Jonathan Landreth:With regular ChinaFile Conversation contributor Elizabeth Economy on the road, I 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 naming and...

Conversation

02.15.13

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

DORINDA ELLIOTT, ELIZABETH ECONOMY & more

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...

Conversation

02.13.13

North Korea: How Much More Will China Take and How...

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 to—at last—not only help...

Conversation

02.08.13

Rich, Poor and Chinese—Does Anyone Trust Beijing to...

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 leading China in new directions? ...

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 London, Los Angeles, and New...

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 yours, I’ve seen the...

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: “Keep our heads down, and...