“MANAGING RELATIONS BETWEEN TWO BIG POWERS”
NOVEMBER 23, 2015
BY DAVID M. LAMPTON
Thank you for the kind and generous introduction. My wife Susan and I are thrilled to be here with you. We could not feel more at home than being with our Shanghai friends and colleagues, the National Committee, and SAIS, Hopkins-Nanjing Center, and Johns Hopkins community members. I want to express my appreciation to the Shanghai Association of American Studies and the National Committee for inviting me here today and AMCHAM Shanghai for being co-host.
Professor Huang Renwei has cooperated with the National Committee over the years and has been a personal friend for decades. The National Committee’s President, Steve Orlins, and the Committee’s Vice President, Jan Berris, know the admiration I feel for all they have contributed to U.S.-China ties over a very long time. Paul Liu, a close friend of the National Committee, a SAIS alumnus of whom we at Johns Hopkins are very proud, and a resident of Shanghai, also deserves enormous credit and thanks for making this lecture series possible. I also must recognize Paul’s parents, Stephen and Christine Liu. They have been active supporters of SAIS China Studies for years and they instilled their support of stronger Sino-American ties in not just Paul, but all their sons.
I also want to acknowledge two other people not here today—Jeanne Barnett, Doak Barnett’s life-long partner, is living in the Washington area, still attends SAIS events, and annually meets with SAIS’ A. Doak Barnett Fellows—numbering 23 since 1999. Jeanne has done so much to keep Doak’s spirit alive, as well as to seize every opportunity herself to actively promote the values and purposes for which their names stand. I am so pleased that some of Doak’s and Jeanne’s extended family are here with us today.
President Carter is someone about whom we all are thinking. He spoke here last year and continues to play an enormous role in Sino-American relations. President Carter changed the life of Mike Oksenberg. Indeed, he changed the lives of all of us, in both China and America, who since December 1978 have tended the garden of U.S.-China relations. I remember a dinner with the former president at the Carter Center at which he, as he did in his memoir KEEPING FAITH, traced his commitment to Sino-American ties to childhood experiences in his rural Georgia church and his exposure to China in 1949 as a young submariner who streamed into Qingdao Harbor.
There is a lesson in President Carter’s personal story. The human links and commitments forged in earlier periods provide foundations for understanding and cooperation decades later, helping our two nations through ups and downs.
An example is the fact that Shanghai was the boyhood home of Doak Barnett. He grew up here. Shanghai was in his blood. In the fall of 1989, Doak and I came to Shanghai at the lowest post-normalization ebb in Sino-American relations. Our purpose was to recommend to the National Committee and others how U.S.-China relations could be advanced in that troubled time. Doak and I met then Mayor Zhu Rongji in a dimly lit upstairs meeting room at the venerable Hengshan Hotel. That trip was the first step in realizing Mayor Zhu Rongji’s and Mayor Wang Daohan’s visit to the United States with fellow mayors the following year. That National Committee-sponsored trip was a significant milestone in the recovery of bilateral ties. Doak was perfect for that mission. It was so natural for him to talk to Chinese counterparts more as a neighbor, a friend, a former resident, than an outsider. Things like this matter.
Today’s memorial lecture also has special meaning to me because I owe my entry into the China field to two teachers, one of whom is honored in the name of this lecture series—Mike Oksenberg. In many ways that they often do not realize, teachers shape the lives of young people. Miss Turner, a teacher at Palo Alto High School, turned my mind toward Asia in the mid-1960s, even before I went to Stanford. It was because of Miss Turner that my mind ignited when Mike Oksenberg suggested that I pursue a life in China Studies.
By this point it should be clear why I am so pleased and honored to be here. Now, I want to turn to the substance of U.S.-China relations. “What is the current situation and what are our tasks?” This is the discussion that would interest Doak and Mike.
THE CURRENT SITUATION AND OUR TASKS
In January 1980, Deng Xiaoping prefaced remarks to Central Committee cadres in a straight-forward and modest spirit I will try to emulate here. Deng said: “At present there are some problems within the Party and among the people which call for solution. Of course it is impossible for me to cover them all in my speech today, and the comments I am going to make on some of them may not be adequate. But since you want me to speak, I will do so.” (SWDXP, p. 224).
These are troubled times requiring both realistic thought and an empathetic spirit. What attitudes and perspectives should BOTH America and China bring to productively managing our relationship? Of course, translating general guidelines into concrete actions is not easy in either of our nations. But, if public and private leaders in both countries fail to manage the Sino-American relationship well, history will be unforgiving it its judgments. Americans and Chinese must jointly navigate the treacherous waters of a world that has become a very different place from the post-World War II era in which the word “superpower” was a relevant concept. The word “superpower” misdirects us in a world of broad interdependence and diffusing power.
Among the harsh facts of our bilateral relationship are two: Since 2003 U.S. soft power as it relates to our reputation for good internal governance and wise international leadership has sadly diminished. Americans need to ask themselves why and do something about this. As for China, its power grew dramatically for thirty years since 1978 without eliciting excessive concern among neighbors and more distant big powers. Why are neighbors and others now more worried and what can Beijing do to engender more confidence, to reassure others?
The strategic direction of the U.S.-China relationship is not healthy, several recent positive and important developments notwithstanding. Among those welcome events, one must count President Xi Jinping’s September journey to the United States and this month’s historic meeting in Singapore between Mr. Xi and Mr. Ma. One also should include: Progress on climate change cooperation; military-to-military exchanges; the development and use of crisis management mechanisms; guidelines for air and sea encounters; further progress in bilateral economic relations; and, tenuous movement in the realm of cyber space. Also encouraging is mounting Chinese investment in the United States creating 80,000 American jobs in China-affiliated enterprises, and the literally hundreds of thousands of Chinese students contributing to, and taking advantage of, American education and research. Not to be overlooked are current cooperative plans to greatly increase the number of American students learning the Chinese language. Strategically important is some cooperation between our two countries with respect to the Iranian nuclear negotiations, anti-piracy initiatives, and joint efforts to combat Ebola in Africa. In short, there are things to celebrate. These examples highlight the potential of a more fully cooperative relationship.
BUT, underneath these welcome developments is a deepening mutual strategic suspicion. The center of gravity of elite discussion in both capitals has shifted away from a vocabulary of partnership and strategic cooperation, migrating through a stage in which each hedges its bets, to what now is becoming a deterrence vocabulary. Fundamental to deterrence is threat, establishing credibility, and the urge to see big principles at stake in seemingly smaller issues.
Consider the South China Sea in recent months. In the pursuit of deterrence we see progressively tougher talk and action in both countries. America and China solidify outposts in the region, whether through alliance strengthening, land reclamation, long-term access agreements, and base enlargement. In terms of big power ties, Beijing and Washington each are drawing closer to third parties hoping to restrain one another through triangular, balancing efforts—Washington and Tokyo draw closer as do Beijing and Moscow. Both our militaries are developing new weapon systems, in part aimed at each other. In another vein, consider that meaningful space cooperation with the Soviet Union was possible under American law at the depths of the Cold War—this is not so with China today. A few years ago I had the privilege of meeting China’s first person sent into space, Yang Liwei, and recall thinking at the time how much better off we all would be if space were a zone of Sino-American cooperation. Parenthetically, I recommend that you see two recent movies that fulfill that dream of mine with story lines in which the Chinese space program provides aid to American astronauts in distress—“The Martian” and “Gravity.” Alas, my dream only seems to be coming true in Hollywood!
Outside the movie theaters, we are in a downward strategic drift that demands our reflection and action. It was security that brought Nixon and Mao, and Carter and Deng, together. We now find security becoming a net negative in the relationship. This creates the obvious danger of militarization, which brings with it all the attendant risks of miscalculation, escalation, and preemption. If unchecked, such strategic deterioration will infect the bilateral, economic, cultural, and diplomatic facets of the relationship that have been such a boon to everyone.
So, what should we do to deflect or stop this slide? Three perspectives may offer guidance on managing this relationship. These perspectives can be viewed as my initial attempt to respond to President Xi Jinping’s call at a recent meeting with Henry Kissinger in which China’s President said: “The two countries should have a correct understanding of each other’s strategic intentions and strengthen pragmatic cooperation at all levels to expand common interests by thinking in an innovative way.” I agree.
Perspective One: International power relationships are changing with the rise of China and others. This does not mean that America is becoming absolutely poorer or weaker or that Chinese people have achieved the per capita welfare level they desire or deserve. But, changes in relative power have consequences. These changes mean that the quest to maintain primacy by the previously dominant party will become progressively more difficult to realize and progressively less tolerable to the ascending power.
Changing power relationships require each party to perform an essential task to preserve system stability. The previously dominant power must make room for the rising power in established global and regional institutions. In the World Bank and in the United Nations system, the United States has done a pretty good job at this. In the International Monetary Fund much work remains to be done. And, in the imbroglio over the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank we were given a textbook lesson on how not to do things. For its part, China has to be patient, keeping the frustrations born of its painful past in check so that the international system can gradually adapt. Neither Beijing nor Washington should have as its first recourse building separate economic, trade, and security institutions that seek to exclude the other. We should strive to build common institutions. The gradual increase in the international role of the RMB approximates the progressive adaptation and patience I have in mind.
Perspective Two: Successful political leaders must maintain balance between their international entanglements and available resources and simultaneously maintain balance among essential external commitments and domestic needs. This means setting priorities. Currently neither Beijing nor Washington is doing a good job at this.
The United States in recent months has declared the Islamic State and Al Qaeda to be immediate, severe non-state threats; Russia to be a very significant big power threat; and, China to be a longer-term, dynamic challenge to elements of the world and regional orders. We won’t even mention the Middle East and Central/South Asia—Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Thus far, Washington seems averse to prioritizing these challenges. As then U.S. Ambassador to the PRC Sandy Randt put it (in paraphrase) to SAIS students shortly after 9/11, “We have seen the enemy and it is not China.” The United States will be unable to maintain its comprehensive national power base, much less meet its own growing development needs, without priorities that remove something from its global “to do” list.
For China, without effective efforts to reassure its neighbors, its rapid moves toward more involvement in the region and the world, acquisition of impressive military capabilities, and expenditure of greater energy in asserting sovereignty claims, Beijing runs the risks of creating counter coalitions and fueling a regional arms race. Beijing’s posture may prove premature. History may assess this to have been an impatient move away from the priority of internal development. Time will tell, but I don’t believe that either country now has feasible strategic priorities.
Perspective Three: In the early 1970s the new U.S.-China relationship started as a concept shared between strategically minded elites in both countries—Nixon-Mao-Kissinger-Zhou and Carter-Deng-Brzezinski. Thereafter, it evolved into a set of intergovernmental linkages (currently embracing about ninety agency-to-agency dialogues and agreements, as well as extensive relations at the sub-national, local level). Beyond that there are now uncountable corporate and NGO linkages binding our two societies together. Today, the U.S.-China relationship is society-to-society in scope. The corporate, local, NGO, and individual levels are where cooperative and win-win impulses find their fullest expression. These levels must be strengthened and nurtured.
In the late-1970s I was a young assistant professor at Ohio State University. There I saw how a popular governor, James A. Rhodes, forged a powerful and broad-ranging connection between the State of Ohio and Hubei Province, then under the leadership of Provincial Party Secretary Chen Pixian. This relationship fostered trade and the deepest Sino-American social science and humanities academic exchange of that era. Similarly, thirty years ago, my own school, Johns Hopkins University, along with Nanjing University, built a new type of educational partnership to train future leaders for U.S.-China relations. The Hopkins-Nanjing Center now has nearly 3000 alumnae in China and the United States. Looking at agriculture, Iowa Governor Terry Branstad notes that around one in four rows of soybeans planted in his state is exported to China.
Put differently, I calculated roughly how many presidential electoral votes are in U.S. states that have a billion dollars or more in Chinese foreign direct investment and/or 1000 or more American workers employed in Chinese-owned facilities. Fifteen states with 242 out of 538 total electoral votes fall into this category—it takes 270 electoral votes to elect a president. By the way, these states have thirty senators, alone sufficient to greatly influence legislation as it moves through Congress. My point is not that Chinese investment can determine elections, or U.S. Senators will become mere vessels of China’s will, but rather that the reach of U.S.-China relations at the level of employment in localities is growing. And this is not even to mention the farm states, agriculture, and U.S. food exports. These local realities likely will shape the larger relationship in ways similar to those we saw when Japan invested in the auto industry in Ohio and other U.S. states. Similarly, mounting employment-generating American investment in China will shape local attitudes and national behavior in the PRC.
This society-to-society relationship is why I believe that it is imperative that Beijing draw up needed rules to govern China’s own social organizations and foreign NGOs and that great care be taken not to damage these bedrock ties. Both China and America need to be bold where our interests most converge. Let’s exert ourselves to build a future in which China is in the Transpacific Partnership (assuming it comes into existence), where the U.S. actively cooperates with the AIIB, and where together we build infrastructure and foster positive development around the world.
Today’s U.S.-China relationship is the handiwork of many people in both our countries over the last 45 years. As the Chinese chengyu enjoins, “Those who drink the water should remember those who dug the well” [Ying Shui Si Yuan]. History often speaks in terms of elites and national leaders. They are important. But, also essential is the vision of our local leaders, our private and non-state sectors, and our citizens. Doak Barnett and Mike Oksenberg are emblematic of this essential part of the picture on the American side, as are others running the gamut from Yo-Yo Ma, to Bill and Melinda Gates, and from Milton Friedman who famously visited China in the 1980s to the thousands of American students who now have come to China, to learn, understand, and shape a better future.
In concluding, I wish to acknowledge the role of Chinese individuals and officials. I first landed here in Shanghai at a modest Hongqiao Airport in the third week of October 1976. From the moment I landed in this city jubilant at the fall of the “Gang of Four,” I saw the lights of China come back on – the lights in people’s faces, the lights in universities and academies, and the heat and light of Chinese entrepreneurship. The neon lights that now bedazzle were reinstalled after so many years of being dark.
During the nearly four decades following those heady October days, mayors and Party secretaries of Shanghai such as Wang Daohan, Jiang Zemin, Zhu Rongji, Xu Kuangdi, and many others I knew less well, turned those lights ever brighter, not only for this city, but for China as a whole. This benefitted the entire world. They were joined in this effort by bold thinkers such as Madam Xie Xide at Fudan University. I remember Zhao Qizheng well.
Today’s question is whether or not we will preserve and enhance the legacy of the Chinese and Americans I have mentioned today. Building constructively on their positive legacy must be our current task. This is a task about which we should be strategically optimistic. Public opinion polls by Pew show that in both of our societies younger people are predisposed to have more positive views of each other’s countries than are older persons. Mao Zedong put it poetically in the 1960s: “Young people beat the old. In the Yangzi River the rear waves push those in front; in the world new people chase after the old.” THANK YOU.