Sino-American Relations: Amour or Les Miserables?

Sino-American Relations: Amour or Les Miserables?

Winston Lord, former United States Ambassador to China, tells us he recently hacked into the temples of government, pecking at his first-generation iPad with just one finger—a clear sign that both Beijing and Washington need to beef up their cyber defenses. Below, we share with you the secret transmissions he unearthed—the minutes of two very important meetings—followed by ten policy prescriptions Ambassador Lord found engraved on a stone tablet resting on a mountaintop.—The Editors

Minutes from the Standing Committee of China’s Politburo—Relations with America: The Long March

Decades will pass before even our China is once again the Middle Kingdom. Meanwhile, we must paint simultaneously with two brushes to both assert our interests and avoid clashes with the stronger superpower.

The United States does not necessarily wish us well. We will never be allies, but we need not be enemies. We will often face off when interests diverge, but we can be selective partners when interests overlap. A mix of cooperation, competition, and confrontation.

Clearly, our relationship has a ceiling. From our very core to far-flung zones, the Americans exert pressure. They threaten our political system by promoting democracy and human rights. They mock our territorial integrity by arming Taiwan, meddling in Hong Kong, and bowing to the Dalai Lama. They crowd our borders with provocative patrols.

They challenge our spheres of influence by inciting neighbors to contest our playing field. ASEAN was first to assert seabed rights. Japan bought our islands. We had to respond to preserve our legal positions. Yet the Americans acted like their football referees—they flagged the responders, not the instigators. They seek to contain us with their so-called pivot and its military deployments, bases, and drills. While whining about cyber warfare, they launch their own relentless attacks. And they blunt our global reach through sponsorship of their international law, ranging from sanctions to Western concepts of human rights.

Clearly, our relationship also has a floor. The United States is far away, and we do not dispute territory. Neither of us wishes military conflict, with all its risks and costs and distractions. Both of us have huge domestic challenges—we to become a true superpower, America to stave off decline. Our hands are full with income disparities, migration, corruption, pollution, aging, and unrest fanned by bloggers. We must strengthen the Party—fewer caravans, shark fins, Rolexes, and mistresses—but not copy Gorbachev’s fatal Western reforms. We need a prolonged period of relative calm abroad to focus on our agenda at home.

Besides, there are major areas of cooperation and common concern with Washington. The mutually assured disbursement of our economies and the stability of the global system. The curse of terrorism and spread of nuclear weapons. Safe shipping lanes and piracy. Climate change and clean energy. Health, food safety, drugs, and crime.

Clearly, our foreign policy should reflect our swift ascension. In Secretary Xi’s words, we seek to institute “the Great Renaissance of the Chinese Nation.” For three decades Deng’s dictum—to mask our rising power and comfort the world as we bided our time—reigned. Now we flex our muscles in the East and South China Seas for reasons of sovereignty, security, and resources. Displays of nationalism, especially with Japan, are effective diversions from the five hundred eruptions every day in our villages, highways, streets, and squares.

But we must not overplay our hand and feed a Washington-led coalition. Trying to drive the Americans from the Asia-Pacific region is foolhardy. They have some legitimate interests, and other nations beckon them to offset our mounting strength. Deng’s central tenet remains valid—we must give top priority to building our country.

Thus we must cool the hotheads in the PLA, think tanks, and blogosphere who yearn for more robust contention with a waning America, underrating its steadfast powers. Overly aggressive actions would subject us to severe backlash and forfeit useful cooperation.

So we will be firm on issues of principle and overriding national interests. For our own sake, not as a favor to Washington, we will selectively pitch in on regional and global tasks. Meanwhile we will join others like Russia to dilute American swagger and sway. In the longer term, when we have closed the gap, our course can veer toward more cooperation or more confrontation. It will depend on American attitudes and actions.


Minutes from the U.S. National Security Council—Relations with China: Great Walls and Open Doors

We face both obstacles and opportunities with China. Our strategy mirrors that of previous Republican and Democratic administrations—competitive coexistence. We should manage our differences, expand our cooperation, and work to integrate China in the world system as a responsible stakeholder.

The People’s Republic of China does not necessarily wish us well. We will never be allies, but we need not be enemies. We will undergo the inevitable strains between an established and a challenging power. With firmness and patience, with the aid of others, we should coax Beijing to value the constancy of the international order and engage in solving its challenges.

Meanwhile we insure against a more menacing future, cementing our alliances and forging bonds with China’s neighbors.

Clearly, our relationship has a ceiling. We peer across a chasm in political values—their crushing of dissent, draconian censorship, suppression of ethnic and religious minorities. Today, Chinese foreign policy is more ominous and nationalistic. Their aggressive assertion of maritime claims could ignite military conflict. Despite official denials, Beijing seeks to reduce our influence and gain dominance in their region. They are locking up resources in Africa and Latin America. On many key regional and global issues they straddle or subvert. They are mercantalistic. Their cyber attacks are robbing us blind. They bend or break international rules, whether the WTO’s, human rights covenants, the Law of the Sea, or U.N. sanctions.

Clearly, our relationship also has a floor. Both sides understand the perils and costs of direct clashes. China, unlike the Soviet Union, does not station troops abroad, export its ideology, or seek to undermine other regimes. We have no territorial quarrels. We derive enormous benefits from our economic interdependence and bilateral exchanges. On several international issues we act in parallel.

Thus we should continue to reject the apostles of enmity. No way can or should we keep China down. Other nations would balk, spurning the choice between Chinese economic sustenance and the American security blanket. Containment would drain our assets. Containment would scuttle Chinese help on shared goals.

Moreover, time is on America’s side. Once free from our current gridlock, we can reinforce our advantages: per capita income, military power, strong alliances, two oceans and friendly countries as neighbors, technological prowess, energy production, higher education, demography, and a political system that prompts innovation and provides for justice as well as stability.

In the longer term, we can live with a rising China. While our relative power will decline, our absolute power will not. Our policy can veer toward more cooperation or more confrontation, depending on Chinese attitudes and actions.


These secret papers illustrate the big picture. They provide previews of coming attractions. Sino-American relations will surely not be Amorous or as easy as Pi. But here’s the Silver Lining ... they need not be Miserable or a Dark Zero-sum game.

Hills and valleys score the landscape of past and future dealings. In our long journey we should not succumb to either euphoria or despair. Recall that noted music critic Mark Twain. When assessing the grandiose operas of Richard Wagner, he said that the music is “not as bad as it sounds.” And when judging the music of Britney Spears, he opined that it is “not as good as it looks.”

In short, the fixed menu for our relations is sweet and sour, replete with distinctive historical ingredients. China is not so much rising as returning. For millennia it was the Middle Kingdom, the most powerful nation on the planet. Distant countries were irrelevant, neighbors were tributaries. From one AD to the nineteenth century, China’s share of the global GDP ranged from 22 percent to 33 percent. Then China suffered a century of foreign humiliation from the Opium War to the Japanese invasion, and by 1950 it accounted for less than 5 percent of global GDP.

Hence only in recent decades has China met the world as equals. Its admirable ascent is the most rapid and sweeping ever recorded, but it retains a volatile mix of arrogance and insecurity, envy and xenophobia. Its old grudges are both real and convenient. Its own recent past of havoc, famine, and massacre is airbrushed. Its future ambitions are both audacious and veiled.

Not surprisingly, two basic clusters with multiple voices now debate China’s foreign policy. One camp continues to endorse Deng’s mandate to focus on domestic challenges, refrain from overseas bravado, and project a calibrated “peaceful rise.” Adherents hail the remarkable inroads of this brand since the June 1989 Tiananmen massacre, in contrast to the blowback against China’s recent muscular stance. In the other camp, the military, think tanks, and nationalistic blogs clamor for China to stand up and start supplanting the world’s fading, hostile hegemon. They suspect Washington’s motives and savor a shifting balance of power.

As the Politburo paper indicates, Chinese policy is modulated, realistic about American strength, but increasingly pugnacious on its core interests.

On the American side, too, historical attitudes deepen the complexity of our ties. Americans have pictured the Chinese as both the evil Fu Manchu and the noble peasant of Pearl Buck. Just since the 1940s, they have been allies against Japan; enemies in Korea; yellow hordes, blue ants, and Red Guards; teammates against the Russian polar bear; born-again capitalists; the butchers of Tiananmen Square; potential partners on global challenges; and the menacing new superpower.

Today, there are two extreme camps in the American debate: the apocalyptic and the apologetic.

One sees China as a dragon to slay. Facing its growing economic and military power, its unsavory political system, and fierce nationalism, we are at the dawn of a global struggle with a neo Soviet Union. China is a looming enemy to be curbed.

The other camp sees China as a panda to hug. Beijing has written the book on rapid development. Its fear of chaos is valid. Bilateral tensions can usually be laid at America’s door. China is a looming comrade to be indulged.

The dragon-slayers magnify Chinese strengths, overlook their vulnerabilities, and fail to understand that Beijing, for the foreseeable future, is too consumed by its domestic travails to mount extensive foreign adventures.

The policies of these ideologues and avid military budgeteers would render Chinese hostility a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The panda-huggers disregard the darker features of the Chinese landscape. Contract-hungry entrepreneurs, visa-anxious academics, and fawning former government officials tiptoe around Beijing’s domestic suppression and shrug off its mercantilism, military surge, and shielding of rogue regimes. Their approach would betray American values, sabotage our interests, and lose Congressional and public support.

These tendencies have graduated shadings, of course, and number both Democrats and Republicans. Fortunately, the bipartisan center of gravity rests with those who anchor a balanced approach. Eight successive presidents, from Nixon to Obama, have pursued essentially the same course of seeking positive relations without illusions, searching for cooperation without rolling over.

Against this backdrop, how should we shape our future posture? There are no sure bets or simple formulas. Once again, I needed help. It came recently on a mountaintop, where I discovered a stone tablet with engraved policy prescriptions, aptly entitled Lord’s Ten Commitments. Let me pronounce them.

First, thou shalt not demonize China.

It seeks to spread its authority but not topple governments. While it presses nearby claims, it does not threaten American territory. It is a competitor, sometimes unfair, but it is not a conqueror. We gain from our economic links, our joint projects, our burgeoning exchanges of tourists and students. We cooperate on many international issues.

Second, thou shalt not sanitize China.

Its suppression of freedom is brutal, becoming even more so in certain spheres. On balance, Beijing is a free rider, and derider, of the global system. White-washing China undercuts both its domestic reformers and the world’s governance.

Third, thou shalt not inflate China.

As the Chinese pilot announced to his passengers: “The good news is that we are way ahead of schedule. The bad news is that we are lost.” The Chinese deserve ovations for awesome advances. But Zhongnanhai knows better than outsiders the mountains they must climb. Winning the race for total GDP is not taxing when the baton is passed among 1.4 billion runners. Meanwhile, for a distinct minority, the gap widens and widens. China assembles iPhones; it does not invent them. Corruption infests daily life, from birth to death. Chinese may grow old before they grow rich. Go to any major city and the changes will take your breath away ... and that, of course, is the rub.

There is consensus among the leadership that the 1978 blueprints for economic reform no longer apply. Another transformation is critical. China needs greater consumption, safety nets, innovation, level playing fields, cleaner lands, and cleaner hands. But are there enough heroes and helmsmen to overcome entrenched interests, nepotism, self-dealing, stacked decks, and the perpetual lusting for petty favors and access to Party power?

While China’s swelling military budgets pose some distinct threats, its overall power lags ours by decades. It is flanked by fourteen neighbors—the most in the world—an unsettling medley of habitual enmity, instability, terrorism, large militaries, and nuclear weapons. In Tibet and Xinjiang, 40 percent of the land, reside restless souls. Its few real friends include North Korea and Syria.

No matter how many billions are lavished on Olympics, opera houses, Confucius Institutes, and overseas media, China’s soft power remains an oxymoron.

If Beijing does not enact fundamental economic and political reforms in the next decade, its pilots could well be lost and losing altitude.

Fourth, thou shalt not contain China.

This is impossible. It would guarantee hostility, lose cooperation, divide the world, and squander our resources. China is a great nation and culture. It should be treated with respect. It deserves more seats at international tables. Its return to power should be welcomed, not resisted or feared. As a policy option, containment is a nightmare.

Fifth, thou shalt not coddle China.

Striving for positive relations requires sticks and spinach as well as carrots. Beijing exploits weakness. It respects strength. When China violates trade rules, we should take it to court or retaliate. When it refuses visas for journalists or jams radios, we should reciprocate. When it hacks our computers we should impose sanctions. And when it snags American businessmen, artists, academics, they should stand up. Coddling China makes for a more dangerous world.

Sixth, thou shalt nurture mutual confidence.

Distrust haunts our engagement. Washington professes to welcome China’s rise while Beijing professes to welcome America’s role in Asia. Neither governments nor publics are converted.

True, Americans have ample ground for wariness. But so do the Chinese.

Presidents Obama and Xi have talked but not met since reelection and selection. With no more campaigns for the President and an assured five to ten years in power for the Secretary, the political slate is clean. They should shed their entourages and scripts to huddle on strategic directions at Camp David, in summits, and at regional conclaves. Full mutual trust is a pipe dream. But such explorations would frame our multiple dialogues on economic, political, and military topics to avoid miscalculation, handle differences, and cultivate partnership. Over time, issue by issue cooperation can sow predictability and credence.

The most urgent area is military. While neither side seeks conflict, we could lurch into one by mishap. We need more precise rules of the road. Our ships and planes track and stalk each other. Treaty ties could suck us into Pacific sinkholes. Cyber attacks could launch a rippling calamity. Each of us is uncertain about the other’s nuclear and space doctrines.

Recently, we have seen some tentative progress on this list. Our militaries are already mapping cooperation on easier issues such as piracy and joint exercises. We can build on our mutual interests in securing shipping lanes, responding to natural disasters, and protecting citizens overseas.

Seventh, thou shalt seek common ground.

The guiding principle, as always, is national self-interest.

While economic problems abound, some promising trends exist. Beijing seeks to spend more at home. Labor costs rise. The yuan appreciates. Financial controls should lessen. As China invents more, it should at last protect intellectual properties.

We, in turn, seek to spend less and invest more. In the Chinese market let us focus on competitive sectors like services. Let us press for a bilateral investment treaty. While heeding transparency and security, let us relax export controls and welcome their ventures in America.

Such give and take would shrink our trade deficit and create jobs.

The most dangerous threat of war comes from North Korea, led by the Supreme Thrower of Tantrums, the Dear Leader of Starvation, the Great Leader of Gulags. For two decades China, with some exceptions, has been more part of the problem than the solution. Its anxieties about stability and a unified, democratic Korea on its border trump its growing frustrations with the Kims. Whenever the North is pressured, Beijing discards sanctions and continues to fuel, feed, and finance it. Whenever Pyongyang provokes a crisis, Beijing fatuously calls for restraint by all parties.

Some Chinese think tanks and media now challenge this policy. Perhaps the leaders are reviewing it. They must weigh their traditional preoccupations against the growing risks of conflict, the extensive buildup of American and allied military assets in the region, nascent nuclear appetites in Tokyo and Seoul, the drains on the Chinese economy and world repute.

Together with our allies, we must highlight the recklessness of China’s Korean portfolio. Neither current allied policy nor increased pressure nor top level negotiations can have legs when China drags its feet. If we could engage a reluctant Beijing in frank discussions on peninsula contingencies and explore redlines on reunification, troop movements, loose nuclear weapons, and refugees, we might allay Chinese concerns and induce teamwork.

This is an urgent topic for Obama and Xi. After our repeated entreaties, will China finally alter its policy? I fear a comic strip ending—Lucy will keep yanking away the football.

And make no mistake about it: if war breaks out, while the Kim regime will be the culprit, blood will stain the enabling Chinese hands.

Whatever happens on the North Korean external threat, shame on the world if it once again shuts its eyes to an unfolding holocaust.

China is a party to negotiations with Iran, fearing alienation of Sunni regimes and spikes in energy prices due to a Persian Gulf crisis. We should keep encouraging alternative oil to compensate for Iran while leaning on Beijing to crack down on its companies that evade sanctions.

Regarding the Middle East, Central Asia, and North Africa we find common cause, if not always tactics, in countering Islamic radicalism.

Beijing has been generally supportive in Afghanistan. But on Syria, it hides behind Moscow to veto intervention, as in Libya. The stirrings of the Arab Spring sparked Chinese paranoia and tighter repression.

China confronts the most severe environmental crisis in history. Pollution inflicts compounding mayhem on the economy, health, and quality of life as well as begetting comedic bloggers: “We are reaching a state of nirvana. In Beijing you open windows and get free cigarettes. In Shanghai you open water taps and get free pork soup.” Recently the leadership has finally realized that pollution threatens its precious economic growth and political stability. The Chinese have strong incentives to join us in producing cleaner energy and grappling with climate change.

A grand Sino-American bargain could lift our entire bilateral relationship and kick-start genuine global progress.

On some issues we already cooperate—drugs, crime, health, food safety, and U.N. peacekeeping. On others, Beijing’s approach will not ease until it reckons the costs. Most glaring is its screening of depraved regimes, impelled by greed and the fear that international pressures on others will set precedents for China.

On this vast agenda, let us set priorities: North Korea, maritime rules, cyber warfare, the environment.

Eighth, thou shalt shape a Pacific community.

The most important strategic thrust of Obama’s first term was to elevate Asia in our foreign policy. Misperceptions persist. It is not a pivot away from Europe. It did not begin in 2010, but in January 2009. It is not primarily military, but a mix of economics, diplomacy, and just plain old showing up. It is not designed to contain China, but to embrace the entire dynamic region.

Given these misperceptions, we need to convey to Beijing in word and deed that ample room exists for both of us, that together we should build a Pacific community of peace and prosperity.

This quest is made somewhat easier by the current situation in Taiwan, often a flashpoint. Thanks to enlightened policies in Taipei, Beijing, and Washington, cross-strait conditions are the most stable in six decades. The consensus is to keep the status quo of no unification, no independence, and no use of force. Why change the U.S. policy so successfully pursued by both Democratic and Republican administrations? Why fix what is not broken?

Ninth, thou shalt encourage freedom.

Even the most severe critics of China’s political system admit some great leaps forward from the horrors of the Mao era. Today Chinese enjoy the freedom of silence. They also can carp privately about their plights, and some petitioners and media manage to press bureaucrats and boundaries on tolerable topics. They can compete for college, choose their jobs, travel the nation, and spend more money abroad than any other people.

Thanks to technology, there is more wiggle room in sensitive domains. Ubiquitous cell phones and crafty computers often outwit the army of censors and surveillance whose budget exceeds that of the PLA.

With such ways and means and the steady growth in creature comforts, it is not surprising that many Chinese bask in contentment.

Yet, as always, contradictions bloom. In the world’s largest Communist country the middle class so far is co-opted, while it is the peasants and workers who protest.

On human dignity, China is ruled not by law but by a cruelty that secretes the fates of massacred youth; presumes guilt, not innocence, in the Party-run courts; confines, rather than celebrates, Nobel Prize winners, world-class artists, blind whistleblowers, and their kin; impounds citizens without charge or notice; kills female babies; drives monks and nuns to robe themselves in flames.

This issue must be on our agenda. Promoting freedom and human rights reflects our values and international standards. It marshals Congressional and public support for overall policy. It heartens Chinese reformers. It serves our direct national interests because democracies do not war with each other, foster terrorism, cover up disasters, or spawn refugees.

Even so, this subject cannot dominate a relationship brimming with security, diplomatic, and economic imperatives. Only the Chinese themselves can erect a more open, humane, and liberal political system. Thus we must, as always, appeal to Beijing’s self-interest: Without the rule of law, free media, a thriving civil society, and accountable officials, the future will be stormy. The economy will distort and inhibit. Corruption will wax, schools crumble, miners suffocate, trains crash, babies sicken, and pigs float. The people will take to the streets. Taiwan will keep its distance. The United States will hedge. China will not earn global respect or realize its dreams.

Is this sound analysis or merely a balmy projection of democracy’s virtues? Can Beijing continue to defy history?

Increasingly, some Chinese scholars and netizens champion political reform. Certain leaders pay lip service to the objective, but it must stay strictly within the Party.

I do believe a more open society will emerge, impelled by universal aspirations, self-interest, a rising middle class, the return of students, and social media. No one can predict the pace or the contours of the process. We might as well consult fortune cookies.

Finally, thou shalt get thine own house in order.

The last shall be first: this is the most vital commitment for all our foreign policy. Boosting growth, slashing debt, reforming immigration, and investing in the future are keys to American credibility and competitiveness. How can we promote our political principles abroad when we malign them at home? It is harder to criticize the Chinese model when Beijing builds airports faster than the Big Apple plugs potholes.

I am, of course, not drawing direct parallels between our systems. There you have the fleecing of liberty. Here you have the failure of nerve. There the police are hooligans. Here the politicians are holograms. The world, including the children and cash of Chinese princelings, wants to come to America.

But craven legislators and manic media, pandering and polarizing shackle our nation. Let us hope that our leaders will soon cross aisles not swords, the media will instruct not inflame, and Americans will once more embark on bold and common enterprises.

Given our current political impasse, economic angst, and mood of melancholy, optimists are rare. But our assets remain unrivaled, and across this nation coalitions, ignoring the Washington debacle, explore new frontiers and sculpt an American renaissance.

From de Tocqueville to Lee Kuan Yew, foreign observers have marveled at our ability to overcome trials, fix faults, revive the body politic, and refresh America’s soul.

For we have seen this drama before. Sputnik and the missile gap. Vietnam, assassinations, riots, and Watergate. Hostages, energy crisis, and malaise. Japan number one, Rockefeller Center, and Pebble Beach. Crumbling towers.

I recall the late sixties as if it were yesterday. This country was in the most dire straits, whiplashed by domestic turmoil, mired in a foreign quagmire, and wrestling with a nuclear superpower. America, as always, rebounded. Out of trials we derive strength. Now our uniquely immigrant society should flourish in a shrunken world, its fabric much sturdier thanks to movement on the bus and shattered ceilings and the new look of schoolrooms, barracks, stadiums, studios, rotundas, sanctums, Foggy Bottom, and the White House.

What about China? How will it look? If Nancy Tucker were here, she would, I believe, summon Lord Tennyson:

Far away beyond her myriad coming changes, China will be
Something other than the wildest modern guess Of you and me.

My own wildest guess—and hope—is that in our long march, as China frees its stride and America lifts its horizons, we will scale walls and open doors.

Winston Lord was U.S. Ambassador to China from 1985 to 1989. He was sworn in as Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs in 1993. Before assuming his duties, Ambassador Lord...

Editors’ Note

This Viewpoint was adapted from Ambassador Lord’s inaugural Nancy Tucker memorial lecture delivered at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C. on April 18, 2013. Dr. Nancy Bergkopf Tucker, who died in December 2012, was a highly respected China and Taiwan scholar at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service.





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Down on the streets occupied by the striking students, the city feels new: roads normally accessible only on wheels look like familiar strangers when suddenly you can walk down them. Big, immovable concrete partitions still separate the lanes, and...



The Day that China Came to Hong Kong

Mark L. Clifford
Hong Kong’s massive protests should have surprised no one. A bitter debate over political reform split the city. Beijing’s high-handed diktats deepened the anger. Before the protests, the question was whether or not the vast majority of this city of...



‘Against My Fear, I See That You Hope’

Denise Y. Ho
A week ago today I sat together with you outside the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s library, a teacher among other teachers, a university member beside students, 13,000 strong. The weeks before had felt quiet: at the three previous all-student...



‘The China-U.S. Relationship is Basically Good’

Wu Jianmin
A few days ago, I was in Washington, D.C. for a conference. While there, I met some American friends. We had an interesting discussion about what seems to me to be a debate going on in the U.S. about China-U.S. relations: One side believes the China...



How Bad Does the Air Pollution Have to Be Before You’d Wear a Face Mask?

Stephanie Ho
“Mommy, why don’t I wear a face mask?” asked my nine-year-old daughter Maggie nearly every day during the first few weeks of school. Two of her expat classmates had been in Beijing less than a year, but it seemed as if they wore theirs all the time...



“Daddy’s ‘Friends’ Are Actually Plainclothes Cops”

Zeng Jinyan
[Updated March 18, 2015] The essay that follows was written by Zeng Jinyan, whose former partner, Hu Jia, has been prominently involved in activism around environmental issues, AIDS, and human rights in China over the past decade and a half and is a...



More Exploitation, More Happiness

Kevin Slaten
It was one of the deadliest industrial disasters in recent Chinese history. On August 2, a massive metal dust explosion killed 75 workers and injured another 186 at a factory in Kunshan, in Jiangsu province, that supplied wheels to General Motors...



China’s Tough New Internet Rules Explained

Hu Yong
On August 7, the State Internet Information Office issued a new set of guidelines entitled “Provisional Regulations for the Development and Management of Instant Messaging Tools and Public Information Services.” These regulations require that...



The Danger of China’s ‘Chosen Trauma’

Harry W.S. Lee
When we see young Chinese people at a state event collectively chant, “Do not forget national humiliation and realize the Chinese dream!” we may be tempted to dismiss it as yet another piece of CCP propaganda. But we may also find ourselves...



China’s Nicaraguan Canal

Carlos F. Chamorro
While Nicaragua was once a central concern—indeed, almost an obsession—of Washington, as Sandinistas and Contras seemed to be battling for the soul of the Western Hemisphere, in more recent times our small and quite impoverished country has slipped...



Equal in Inequality?

Marc Blecher
For the past several months, readers around the world have been buying, discussing, and even occasionally reading Capital in the Twenty-First Century, French economist Thomas Piketty’s magisterial analysis of the relationship between capitalist...



Arrested Chinese Lawyer Pu Zhiqiang Speaks from Prison

“They bring me in for questioning practically every day. Sometimes the sessions last as long as ten hours. My legs are getting swollen, probably from sitting on a bench without moving for so long.” He said of these grueling interrogation sessions, “...



China’s Maritime Provocations

Susan Shirk
Last weekend I attended the Shangri-La Dialogue, an annual gathering of Asian, European, and American defense and military officials and strategic experts in Singapore hosted by the London International Institute of Strategic Studies. China sent a...



Government Steps Up To Labor’s Demands

Kevin Slaten
On April 14, most of the 40,000 workers at the Dongguan Yue Yuen shoe factory—supplier to Nike, Adidas, and other international brands—began what would become a two-week work stoppage. While there are thousands of strikes in China every year, the...



From Half the Sky to ‘Leftovers’

Mei Fong, Leta Hong Fincher
The three-plus decades since the inception of the ‘one child’ policy have resulted in a huge female shortage in China. The country is now seriously unbalanced, with 18 million more boys than girls. By 2020, there will be some 30 million surplus men...



The Specter of June Fourth

Perry Link
If yesterday was typical, about 1,400 children in Africa died of malaria. It is a preventable, treatable disease, and the young victims lost their lives through no faults of their own. Why it is that human beings accept a fact like this as an...



Why Taiwan’s Protestors Stuck It Out

John Tkacik
Some might say, “a half-million Taiwanese can’t be wrong.” That’s how many islanders descended upon their capital city, Taipei, on March 30 to shout their support for the several thousand students who have occupied the nation’s legislature for the...



How Chinese Internet Censorship Works, Sometimes

Jason Q. Ng
Earlier this week, Chinese Internet services blocked searches for the phrase mìshū bāng (秘书帮). Roughly translated as “secretaries gang,” the term relates to the speculation surrounding government probes into public officials linked to former...



Can America Win in a New Era of Competition with China?

Geoff Dyer
Beijing was in a state of heightened anxiety and had been for weeks. Each day in the run-up to the National Day parade, the security measures seemed to get a little bit tighter. Our apartment building had a distant view of Jianguomen, which is the...



Why Frank Underwood is Great for China’s Soft Power

Ying Zhu
In depicting U.S. politics as just as vicious, if not more, sociopathic than its Chinese counterpart, House of Cards delivered a sweet Valentine’s Day gift to the Chinese government. The show handed the Chinese state an instant victory when the...



In Slickness and in Wealth

Leta Hong Fincher
Under the harsh glare of a studio spotlight, bride-to-be Tong turns her face until it is almost completely in shadow. Tong is posing for a three-day session of wedding photographs at Shanghai’s premier Princess Studio, where couples spend between 3,...



Xi, Mao, and China’s Search for a Usable Past

Paul Gewirtz
Since its founding, the United States has had understandable pride in its great achievements, but also has had to reckon with its complex moral history—beginning but hardly ending with the fact that our original Constitution accepted the evil of...



‘Community Corrections’ and the Road Ahead for Re-Education Through Labor

Robert Williams
Chinese and foreign observers welcomed the recent announcement that the Chinese government will “abolish”—not merely reform—the administrative punishment system known as re-education through labor (RTL). The proclamation, part of a sixty-point...



Xi Jinping Refills an Old Prescription

Orville Schell
The reforms called for by the Third Plenum of the Eighteenth Party Congress have been, like so much else in China over the past few decades, part of an ongoing Chinese quest for national unity, wealth, and power. But, for those of us steeped in...



China, One Year Later

J. Stapleton Roy, Susan Shirk, Evan Osnos, Orville Schell
In November 2012, seven men were appointed to the Politburo Standing Committee, China’s supreme governing body. At the time, economic headwinds, nationalist protests, and the Bo Xilai scandal presented huge challenges for the regime. Would the...



Deciphering Xi Jinping’s Dream

Ouyang Bin, Roderick MacFarquhar
On November 9, the Chinese Communist Party will host its Third Plenary Session of the Eighteenth Central Committee. This conference will be a key to deciphering the ruling philosophy of the new Chinese leadership, who will run the country for the...



What the Heck is China’s ‘Third Plenum’ and Why Should You Care?

Barry Naughton
China’s economy is already two-thirds the size of the economy of the U.S., and it’s been growing five times as fast. But now, China’s economy is beginning to slow and is facing a raft of difficult problems.  If China’s leaders don’t address...



Stark Choices for China’s Leaders

Damien Ma, William Adams
One Beijing morning in early November 2012, seven men in dark suits strode onto the stage of the Great Hall of the People. China’s newly elected Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Chairman Xi Jinping stood at the center of the ensemble, flanked on each...



Innovation in Britain and What it Means for China

Vincent Ni
On the occasion of a high-level British delegation’s visit to Beiing this week, Vincent Ni, the long-time New York-based U.S. correspondent for the independent Caixin Media group, shared his views about China’s ability to innovate relative to what...



Trust Issues: Hong Kong Resists Beijing’s Advances

Sebastian Veg
When Hong Kong reverted to Chinese sovereignty in 1997, expectations were high—in Beijing and among the pro-mainland forces in Hong Kong—that identification with the Chinese nation would slowly but surely strengthen among the local population,...



The Urgency of Partnership

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...



Beijing’s Air in 2013 or Ground Zero’s After 9/11: Which Was Worse?

Emily Brill
When I moved to Beijing from New York in February to study Chinese, a question began to haunt me: Could Beijing’s air in 2013 be more dangerous than the toxic brew produced by the 9/11 attacks on New York City’s World Trade Center, which hung over...



The Confessions of a Reactionary

Teng Biao
This article first appeared in Life and Death in China (a multi-volume anthology of fifty-plus witness accounts of Chinese government persecution and thirty-plus essays by experts in human rights in China). When I wrote it [on the evening of June 3...



China’s Higher Education Bubble

Carl Minzner
The number of university graduates in China has exploded.In 1997, 400,000 students graduated from four-year university programs. Today, Chinese schools produce more than 3 million per year. But employment rates at graduation have plunged. And remote...



How Bo Xilai Split the Party and Divided the People

Ouyang Bin
After the 1989 Tiananmen Incident, Chinese political struggles became milder and more mundane. Members of the Politburo and politicians of higher rank rarely were toppled (except for Chen Liangyu in 2006) and ideology seldom triggered significant...



Five Years On

Jonathan Landreth
On August 8, 2008, I was in Beijing reporting on the media aspects of China’s first Olympic Games, and I am still amazed that the four-hour opening ceremony, as designed by film director Zhang Yimou, was seen by sixty-nine percent of China’s...



CFIUS and the U.S. Senate’s Anti-China Bug

Samuel Kleiner
Last week, senators from both parties finally came together for a common objective: stopping the $4.7 billion sale of America’s largest pork producer to China. Their reason? The sale of Smithfield Farms to a Chinese company, Shuanghui, could pose a...



China at the Tipping Point?

Carl Minzner
What will be the future of China’s authoritarian political system?Many predicted that China’s rapid development over the past several decades would inevitably lead to gradual liberalization. Economic growth was expected to generate a cascade of...



How the Snowden Affair Might End Up Helping U.S.-China Relations

Orville Schell, John Delury
The reason why both Americans and Chinese have become so nostalgic for the great Nixon/Kissinger-Mao Zedong/Zhou Enlai breakthrough in 1972 is because that was the last time that Sino-U.S. relations experienced a dramatic breakthrough. Now, most...



A Re-Opening to China?

Paul Gewirtz
Five months into his second term, President Obama is about to undertake the most important diplomatic initiative of his presidency: an effort to reshape the relationship with China. With little fanfare thus far but considerable boldness on both...



Maoism: The Most Severe Threat to China

Ouyang Bin
Ma Licheng (马立诚) is a former Senior Editorials Editor at People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s most important mouthpiece, and the author of eleven books. In 2003, when Japan’s then-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s visits to the Yasukuni Shrine...



Christopher Hill on North Korea’s Provocations

Ouyang Bin
The first months of 2013 have seen a rapid intensification of combative rhetoric and action from North Korea. In the sixteen months since Kim Jong-un assumed leadership of the country, North Korea has run through the whole litany of provocations his...



‘Hi! I’m Fang!’ The Man Who Changed China

Perry Link
In China in the 1980s, the word renquan (“human rights”) was extremely “sensitive.” Few dared even to utter it in public, let alone to champion the concept. Now, nearly three decades later, a grassroots movement called weiquan (“supporting rights”)...



For Many in China, the One Child Policy is Already Irrelevant

Leslie T. Chang
Before getting pregnant with her second child, Lu Qingmin went to the family-planning office to apply for a birth permit. Officials in her husband’s Hunan village where she was living turned her down, but she had the baby anyway. She may eventually...



Xi Jinping Should Expand Deng Xiaoping’s Reforms

Zhou Ruijin
A month after the conclusion of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) 18th National Congress, the new Secretary General of the CCP and Central Military Commission, comrade Xi Jinping, left Beijing to visit Shenzhen, the first foothold of China’s...



A Beginning for China’s Battered Women

Ying Zhu
Like it or not, it takes an American woman to give a face, bring a voice, and deliver a victory to battered women in China. On February 3, a milestone court decision in Beijing granted a divorce to Kim Lee, a victim of domestic abuse, from her...



China at the Tipping Point?

Perry Link, Xiao Qiang
Of all the transformations that Chinese society has undergone over the past fifteen years, the most dramatic has been the growth of the Internet. Information now circulates and public opinions are now expressed on electronic bulletin boards with...



Will Xi Jinping Differ from His Predecessors?

Andrew J. Nathan
As part of our continuing series on China’s recent leadership transition, Arthur Ross Fellow Ouyang Bin sat down with political scientist Andrew Nathan, who published his latest book, China’s Search for Security, in September.In the three videos...



Is Xi Jinping a Reformer? It’s Much Too Early to Tell

Rachel Beitarie, Jeffrey Wasserstrom
Last weekend, Nicholas Kristof wrote in the pages of The New York Times that he feels moderately confident China will experience resurgent economic reform and probably political reform as well under the leadership of recently installed Communist...



Age of China’s New Leaders May Have Been Key to Their Selection

Susan Shirk
Earlier this week, before the new Politburo Standing Committee (PBSC) and Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party were announced, I argued that the Party faces the difficult problem of how to allocate power in the absence of an open and legitimate...



The Future of Legal Reform

Carl Minzner
Carl Minzner, Professor of Law at Fordham University, talks here about the ways China’s legal reforms have ebbed and flowed, speeding up in the early 2000s, but then slowing down again after legal activists began to take the government at its word,...



Change in Historical Context

Peter C. Perdue
China’s Communist Party has only ruled the country since 1949. But China has a long history of contentious transfers of power among its ruler. In these videos, Yale historian, Peter C. Perdue, an expert on China's last dynasty, the Qing, puts...



Are You Happier Than You Were Ten Years Ago?

J. Michael Evans
“Many Chinese feel that they have not participated in the economic benefits of an economy that has been growing very rapidly,” says Michael Evans, a vice chairman of the Goldman Sachs Group and head of growth markets for the Wall Street...



China’s Next Leaders: A Guide to What’s at Stake

Susan Shirk
Just a little more than a week after the American presidential election, China will choose its own leaders in its own highly secretive way entirely inside the Communist Party. What’s at stake for China—and for the rest of the world—is not just who...



Pragmatism and Patience

Hamid Biglari
Hamid Bilgari, Vice Chairman of Citicorp, the strategic arm of Citigroup, is a leader in international investment banking. Bilgari says that pragmatism and patience are the dominant qualities exhibited by cultures facing major change, such as...



Who is Xi Jinping?

Orville Schell
In an era of great change and economic uncertainty around the world, one might expect a leadership transition at the top of one of the world’s rising powers to shine a light on that country’s prospective next leaders so the public might form an...



Peering Inside the ‘Black Box’

Orville Schell
Just hours after the United States voted for its next president, China, too, is preparing for a leadership change—although much less is known about that process, which begins Thursday with the start of the 18th National Congress of the Communist...



The Big Enterprise

Orville Schell
In days of yore, when a new dynasty was established in China and a new emperor was enthroned, it was known as dashi, “The Big Enterprise,” and it usually involved mass social upheaval and civil war. The latter-day version of changing...



Hollywood Film Summit Draws Chinese Movie Moguls

Jonathan Landreth
LOS ANGELES—Hollywood and Chinese movie makers and industry hangers-on will gather Tuesday at the third annual Asia Society U.S.-China Film Summit on the campus of the University of California, Los Angeles.At a gala dinner Tuesday night, organizers...



Myanmar Envy

Bi Cheng
Chinese netizens’ reactions to tentative democratic reforms in neighboring Myanmar, including to the recent repeal of censorship rules for private publishers by the Southeast Asian nation’s reformist government, reflect just how closely it’s...



Dirty Air and Succession Jitters Clouding Beijing’s Judgment

Stephen Oliver, Susan Shirk
Last week the Chinese government accused the U.S. Embassy and consulates of illegally interfering in China’s domestic affairs by publishing online hourly air-quality information collected from their own monitoring equipment. (While the critiques...



The Sweet and the Sour in China-U.S. Relations

Winston Lord
At this very hour, one early May, just shy of a half century ago, I married a girl from Shanghai and we launched our joint adventure.Ever since, Bette Bao and I have practiced the precept of Adam Smith—division of labor. She manages our finances and...



Chen Guangcheng: A Hopeful Breakthrough?

Orville Schell
The arrival of the celebrated Chinese rights activist, Chen Guangcheng in the U.S. after years of prison and house arrest, raises the larger question of what the whole incident will come to mean in terms of the status of dissidents in China and in U...



China Plays the Market

Orville Schell, Todd Lappin
With the Chinese stock market in turmoil earlier this month, Orville Schell, Arthur Ross Director of the Center on U.S.-China Relations, wrote about the dramatic crash for The Guardian: “Why China’s Stock Market Bubble Was Always Bound To Burst.”...