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Roy Kamphausen had China in his blood: his grandfather lived there for nearly three decades as a German missionary, and his father was born in Changsha. Given that family background, when Kamphausen joined the U.S. Army as an officer, he learned Mandarin and began working on China.
Through the 1990s and 2000s, Kamphausen rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel, working at the Pentagon and in Beijing at the U.S. Embassy -- closely following changes in the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) and ensuring Chinese counterparts were informed of U.S. defensive priorities. Lt. Col. Kamphausen (retired) explains the PLA's concerns about Western interventionism in the late 1990s, fears that were compounded when a U.S. military aircraft mistakenly bombed the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in Belgrade in 1999 and another U.S. plane collided with a Chinese air force jet in 2001 off the coast of Hainan Island. Upon retiring from the Army, Kamphausen has been active at the National Bureau of Asian Research, including some groundbreaking work assessing the costs of Chinese intellectual property theft.
James Green: Welcome to the U.S.-China Dialogue Podcast from Georgetown University.
This podcast series explores diplomacy and dialogue between China and the United States during the four decades since normalization of relations in 1979.We'll hear from former ambassadors, Cabinet secretaries, and White House advisors who will share how they shaped the course of the most complex relationship in international diplomacy today.
I'm your host, James Green. Today on the podcast, we talk to Roy Kamphausen.
When Lt. Col. Roy Kamphausen retired from the U.S. Army, he could look back on a career spent studying, observing, and influencing the Chinese People's Liberation Army, also known as the PLA. At a time when alarm bells are ringing in Washington and other capitals about PLA capabilities and assertiveness in the region, Lt. Col. Kamphausen provides helpful context and backstory on the world's largest standing army.
He was on the ground in Beijing and closely involved in policymaking during times of U.S.-China tension between the two countries and the two militaries. One of the most prominent episodes from the 1990s was when a U.S. warplane mistakenly bombed the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, killing three Chinese embassy staff. Thousands of Chinese students protested the Belgrade bombing by chanting slogans and throwing rocks at the US Embassy in Beijing. Here's some of what President Bill Clinton said to reporters in 1999 just after the U.S. realized the mistaken bombing, and if you listen closely you can hear how a Chinese audience might not see this as an unmitigated apology:
President Clinton (audio): "Unfortunately, the Chinese Embassy was inadvertently damaged, and people lost their lives and others have been injured. It was a tragic mistake. I want to offer my sincere regret and my condolences to the leaders and the people of China. Having said that, let me also remind you that it is clear that we are doing everything we can to avoid innocent civilian casualties."
James Green: In his discussion with me, Kamphausen talks about his family history with China, how the U.S. military has interacted with Chinese counterparts for the last two decades, and his entrepreneurial role in highlighting Chinese intellectual property theft — an issue which has become the centerpiece for current U.S.-China trade friction.
Lieutenant Colonel Kamphausen, thanks so much for joining us today. Great to see you.
Roy Kamphausen: Thank you James, good to be here.
James Green: I wanted to get started by how you got interested in China and started working on China in the first place. Can you just talk about the U.S. Army-Bayo program? What it is, what you're supposed to do, and how you got involved?
Roy Kamphausen: So, I was a career Army officer and the Army has a terrific program for officers mid-career, which allows them to, you might say, take a step away from the operational track and do a deep dive on region or country studies. So, they send you to the Defense Language Institute for intensive language, then to graduate school-
James Green: And so, you went to the Defense Language Institute-
Roy Kamphausen: I went to the Defense Language Institute-
James Green: And that's in the hardship post of?
Roy Kamphausen: Monterey, California.
James Green: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Sorry, went to-
Roy Kamphausen: Felt okay about that because I came from Fort Hood, Texas, so two and a half years of Fort Hood, followed by not quite a year in Monterey.
James Green: And you did Mandarin in Monterey?
Roy Kamphausen: Yes. And then graduate school, Columbia University in New York, and then the third part of the training process was a year plus in your country, in my case, China. In the second class to have lived and studied in Beijing. And we did advanced language study at Capital Normal University and then traveled throughout the country and the region.
James Green: And what year was that?
Roy Kamphausen: But that was really, and this is the part that's interesting, at least from my personal perspective is, my grandfather had lived in China for twenty-eight years and my father was born in Changsha. So, in many respects, although I'd never been, there was this kind of, it was sort of in my genes you might say, with the first time I went to Beijing.
James Green: Wow. And so, when you were offered an opportunity to do something like this for an area officers’ program, you chose Chinese because of that family background, or that's-
Roy Kamphausen: That was certainly a big part of it. The other part of was this was the late 1980's. The Wall had not yet fallen. The Soviet Union had not yet gone away. But my own view was that a change was coming and that to have a specialization on a region other than the Soviet Union would be useful, helpful, and also, I had a really high language aptitude score, which meant they were going to send me to a hard language.
James Green: So, it was going to be Arabic or Russian, or Chinese.
Roy Kamphausen: Or Korean maybe.
James Green: Korean.
Roy Kamphausen: So, then my family history came into play and so Chinese was a natural choice.
James Green: And tell me about you're- why was your family living in China at that time?
Roy Kamphausen: My grandfather was a German; he was a missionary to southern China for about twenty-eight years from the early 1920s till just after the end of the second World War. My father, along with six brothers and sisters, was born in China. And then after the war they emigrated to the U.S.
James Green: Oh. And Lutheran, what was the denomination?
Roy Kamphausen: They were a non-state church affiliated, what we today call a para church organization. And so that was the auspices that they were there under.
James Green: And so, when you were growing up, was that a big part of your family?
Roy Kamphausen: It's a huge part. My grandfather would tell us the amazing stories of when they were in China, and because they were in southern China, they were in a part of the country where many of the people were fleeing from the Japanese military invasion. My grandfather had been there so long that even though he was a citizen of an access power, they were granted an internal Kuomintang passport. I have a copy of my father's at home.
James Green: Wow.
Roy Kamphausen: And so, they were allowed to flee, they were not interned as other German citizens were. And eventually made their way to Chongqing where they spent the last couple years of the war. And amazingly, my grandfather actually served as the de facto chaplain for the American forces that were stationed near Chongqing because there weren't any other ministers nearby.
Roy Kamphausen: Now when I knew him, forty years later, I'm sorry, thirty years later, his English was terrible at that point. I can't imagine how, and that was after having spent nearly thirty years in the U.S. I can't imagine how bad it was in those days. But in any case, he was the guy on the ground.
James Green: I was going to ask, so he had German, he must have spoken some dialect of Chinese? And English. Your grandfather?
Roy Kamphausen: Yeah. I have some tapes of him speaking Chinese. The legend is that his Chinese was great. What I heard on the tapes was him after having been in the U.S. for some time. So, I don't know. I can't judge how good it was.
James Green: Wow. Incredible. So, moving a little bit to this closer part of this century. So, then you spent a year studying in Beijing. What year was that?
Roy Kamphausen: From 1995 to 1996.
James Green: And as a student, what are you supposed to be doing in Beijing, in addition to the language study?
Roy Kamphausen: The defense attaché was a person who had spent a lot of time in greater China. And his principle guidance to us was, this is your one chance to understand China from the grass roots up. If you come back in a capacity representing the country, working in the embassy, your interactions will all be at the high level, the political level, Minister of National Defense level. This is your chance to understand China from the ground up. And allow that to shape and inform how you interact with senior American leaders who don't have that experience. So, use that experience to be useful to policymakers later.
James Green: Then you ended up coming back to the Embassy as the assistant Army attaché. And then you were a little bit less free to travel around. You had the kind of day-to-day work of working at the Embassy. Could you just describe the role of an army attaché at an embassy, and what your position is, and what you're supposed to be doing?
Roy Kamphausen: Sure. Two principle functions that any military attaché has anywhere in the world.
The first is to represent your military to your host country's military and government and people. And so, everything about the United States Army that we wanted to embody for the PLA and for the Chinese people, we were intended to accomplish. That has both official dimensions to it when you escort delegations, either American delegations to China, or Chinese to the U.S. But also had informal ones. I had the privilege to be the speaker at the opening of a museum in Chongqing dedicated to American forces that had operated in that area. And it was an enlargement to the Stilwell Museum, General Stilwell, who had been the American commander of forces in China. And that was a chance that was really not much official interaction, that was very much a public interaction, but I was the face of the United States Army to the Chinese people at that event. That's one part.
The second is by convention. Embassy officers are to observe and report and your job then, in concert with representing your own military, is to understand the developments, the changes that are taking place within your host country's military and to share those back with your colleagues in Washington.
James Green: And so, this is the late ‘90s. What was happening the People's Liberation Army at that time, what were you watching?
Roy Kamphausen: It was a time of great change. 1999 was a point in time in which a number of various serious reforms were initiated. The military academy system, the Chinese had a Russian-style system. Over a hundred academies, really an “iron rice bowl” kind of situation. They determined it was both inefficient and costly. And so, they downsized by more than a third over the course of a couple year period. Very important change. They also instituted a Chinese reserve officer training core style system. Very comparable to our own. And I actually brought a delegation to the U.S. that examined how we did such a system.
I was a big fan of that development because civilian education in China, especially at that point in time, was a more liberalizing experience for a young person than even one in the West. And then so I thought that might potentially pay long term dividends. But then they also significantly reformed their personnel system more broadly. Established non-commissioned officer program. Revised the Military Service Act and so forth. So, it was time of great change. Some equipment was being fielded, which was interesting to pay attention to as well.
But that took place within the context of some interesting bilateral developments, right. Earlier, when we'd been there in ‘95, ‘96, we had the cross-strait crisis. And you've talked with others who were intimately a part of that, I'm sure. But that was a tough moment for the bilateral relationship.
James Green: How was it as an Army officer on the ground as a student during that time? What did you experience there?
Roy Kamphausen: I'll never forget, walking the streets of Shanghai and talking with a person on the street outside of the Shanghai stock exchange, who said, "Why does the United States want to go to war with China?" This is the summer of 1995. So just after the first missile shots in August. And I was dumbfounded by the question. Obviously, it was a function of the propaganda that was being promulgated domestically. And struggled to come up with an answer of, how do you deny the negative.
And so that was a tough period. The policy response, the U.S. policy response to that series of events was to deter through robust engagement. And so, once our bilateral relationship stabilized a bit, then what U.S. policy did, was to bring as many senior PLA officers to the United States and show and demonstrate the high-tech capabilities of the U.S. in hopes that this would be a deterrent to China's top military leaders.
The American analytical response, which I'd been a part of since I retired from the Army, was to solely think about China as a growing military threat. And so, we had a divergence between what the analytical community, even outside of government was looking at, and what the policy response was. And that really came to a head during the early Rumsfeld years, when later in my career, I went to the Pentagon. But we'll talk about that in a moment.
James Green: This was when you were there and it's ‘99, ten years after Tiananmen in which the PLA was called upon to suppress demonstrators and support the Party. As a uniformed Army attaché, did that enter in at all in your conversations, in your interactions with PLA officers that you were dealing with?
Roy Kamphausen: It was the 800-pound gorilla in the room. One of my colleagues in the field, also retired military attaché, Dennis Blasko, has written about the “Ghosts of Tiananmen.” They were very much present and looming in any bilateral interaction. 1999, which was the ten-year anniversary, was a time of terrible insecurity for the Chinese leadership.
You may recall Falun Gong surrounded Zhongnanhai on April 10th with 10,000 people on no notice. In July, Lee Teng-hui gave the famous guoyuguo speech. We had the tenth anniversary of Tiananmen in June. Zhu Rongji came to the U.S. had a great deal for WTO accession and the Clinton administration. The President himself couldn't say yes to a good deal.
So, the Chinese really were wondering, "Does the United States fundamentally oppose our rise?" And so, it was a time of great uncertainty on their part. And a huge part of that was Tiananmen.
You may recall, they put a fence around the center of Tiananmen Square, and attempted to grow grass and it was such a transparent effort to just prevent there being a space where a lot of people could assemble at one point.
James Green: Are you allowed to wear your Army uniforms when you're stationed in Beijing at the Embassy? For all of the events that you go to as a representative of the United States, there's no kind of restrictions on your-
Roy Kamphausen: No. In fact, it's the expectation is that you will. When I first arrived as an attaché in June of 1998, it was just before President Clinton came to China on his historic visit. You may recall that is the longest that a sitting American President has spent in any one country during his presidency. I think it was nine days.
And that was really a high point of bilateral relations. So much so, that even just walking the streets, I wore my uniform. And that changed rather dramatically-
James Green: What was the reaction-
Roy Kamphausen: Ten months later at Belgrade bombings situation.
James Green: What was the reaction you got, just for that time?
Roy Kamphausen: Very positive. Very positive. And in the southwest of China, where there's still a lot of residual goodwill to American military people, even more positive. so.
James Green: I cut you off as you were talking about the things that went south in late 1999 and 2001, the Belgrade bombing, and the EP-3 incident. Two things that I think kind of tested the U.S.-China relationship. Can you just talk about the first of those, the Belgrade bombing, and what your role was and what you were doing at that time?
Roy Kamphausen: Well, in the run up to May 1999 the Chinese system and the PLA were deeply oppositional to the air war over Kosovo. For its own sake and also because they sensed the precedent that such a non-sanctioned military operation could well be directed against them in some future context.
James Green: And the purpose was, at the time, the rationale that the United States said was to do what? What was the United States looking to do in Kosovo? What was the reason for the air war?
Roy Kamphausen: Well, we were trying to effect change on the ground by use of air power. And that's a fraught proposition in any circumstance. And so, it wasn't particularly effective in terms of achieving our policy objectives or change on the ground. And so, in the event, the Chinese embassy was struck by JDAM missiles fired from an American F-16 under the command of NATO. And three embassy officials were killed.
We later learned they were very likely Ministry of State Security officers and so in our interactions with Chinese counterparts, they judged that this was an intentional act. One missile for one person. Which if you deconstruct that with the benefit of twenty years hindsight, it seems ludicrous, but how else do you explain from the Chinese perspective how the most advanced military in the world, can hit the embassy, the sovereign territory of a third party country, that's not involved in the conflict? It was as we said at the time, wukesiyide 无可思议的, it's unimaginable. You can't even comprehend how such a thing could happen.
And so, the process of moving forward after that was quite difficult. In the end, the judgment by the Chinese military, writ large, and I believe it's still held today, is that there was a rogue cabal of Air Force targeting officers and CIA officials who intentionally wanted to strike China as a means of holding them down, or as retribution for perhaps under the table support for various parties in the conflict that might have been in opposition to the U.S.
And they judged that they had to attribute the responsibility below the level of the President because we were in the process of negotiating a WTO agreement. And you could hardly strike a bilateral WTO accession deal with the United States with the very person who had authorized. So, they had to attribute it to a level lower than that.
And at the time I remember being so befuddled at this explanation, right? Because responsibility is ultimately at the level of the highest person involved, so even if the President hadn't ordered it, which he did not, you can hardly say he's without any responsibility. And it spoke to me more about the nature of the Chinese system than it did about American intent.
But it’s still, from the perspective of Chinese security leaders, unexplainable, even today.
James Green: So, to the next incident. The EP-3 incident when U.S. and Chinese planes collide off Hainan Island and the Chinese plane is lost, and the pilot is lost, and the U.S. plane makes an emergency landing. That was your final few months, is that right? At the embassy?
Roy Kamphausen: Right.
James Green: What do you recall about what the U.S. goals were, and how was that interaction with the PLA. This was something that involved a PLA aircraft, and clearly a U.S. Navy reconnaissance plane.
Roy Kamphausen: Well, nowhere near the level of regret. Right. This was not an action resulting in the death of a Chinese pilot that was initiated by the U.S. The facts are that the United States for a very long period of time, not just off of China, but globally, conducts reconnaissance in the international air and maritime space as judged by the UN Convention On Law of the Sea. the Chinese have long told us they don't like this. It's an unfriendly act between countries that are not at war and cooperating on so many levels.
And the argument that the increased transparency from the intelligence gained from such efforts, actually lent itself to stability in bilateral relations was lost on them, as you might imagine.
So, there had been a period of some time. There had been a ramp up to this, starting as early as the end of 2000 and then in the early first three months of 2001. There were demarches, the Chinese military would find the opportunity during visits or when we had the Military Maritime Consultative Agreement Talks, which were already in place from 1998. They would say, this is wrong, it's got to stop. It hurts our national interests. And so fundamentally we- and it's not yet resolved today. We have two goals that are incompatible. We have the American need and desire to operate wherever the UN Conventional Law On of Sea allows. And the Chinese intent to push that activity as far from the Chinese coast as they can.
So, that's the underpinning. The crashing of a jet, Chinese jet fighter into a propeller driven EP-3 aircraft. The physics of it are such that you cannot blame the slower aircraft for the collision. And there was a fair amount of precedent, including of the very pilot involved in hot dogging or show boating and later a Chinese chief for the PLA Navy told his American counterpart, you're at fault for that as well because they watched Top Gun, and so that's what they've got to be. Our pilots feel like they need to be the Chinese version of Top Gun. So, it's your fault in that case as well.
James Green: Hollywood's fault for everything, you know.
Roy Kamphausen: But James, think about it; the guy, the pilot's name was Wang Wei. I mean a homophone for Wrong Way, right? He was doing the wrong thing at the wrong time. And it's tragic that he lost his life, but it was of his own doing.
The miracle is that the Americans weren't killed as well. There's both good fortune, right. The stabilizer cable snapped but it locked in a position that allowed the pilot to land the aircraft. If the twenty-four Americans had lost their lives as well, we'd be in a much different circumstance. That they were detained, for eleven days and ultimately released on Good Friday an American religious holiday, or a Western religious holiday, is its own internal story.
And there's one funny thing about it. There's a charter aircraft that flew from Guam to Hainan to pick up the crew, once the negotiations for their release were complete. And the manifest said, 'Hainan Republic of China'. And on that basis, the local officials said, "I cannot release the crew. There is no such place as Hainan Republic of China." And the American defense attaché at the time, Brigadier General Neil Selack said, "So if I correct that ..." And he grabbed a Sharpie, "If I put People’s Republic, is that going to satisfy? There is a place called Hainan Island People's Republic of China." And so, he did it and we were watching this on TV. We watched him run up and down the stairs into the cockpit of the plane, and when he got home later that night, we asked him what was going on. And he shared the story that he simply handwriting in 'People's Republic of China' is what got the plane to be able to take off.
James Green: And that did the trick.
Roy Kamphausen: Yeah.
James Green: After that time, you came back to Washington in 2001, that summer, is that right?
Roy Kamphausen: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
James Green: And then you went to the Joint Staff?
Roy Kamphausen: I started in the Joint Staff and worked there for two years for the Chairman.
James Green: And what was that job like?
Roy Kamphausen: It's a fantastic job. The future generals and admirals of the U.S. military. The vast majority of them spend time working in Joint Staff strategic plans and policy. So, it was a chance to meet really exceptional officers from the other services. Many of whom maybe were not specialists in a region or country but brought really extraordinary operational experience. So, it was a wonderful professional experience.
The aftermath of the EP-3 crisis though, which occurred at the very beginning of the George W. Bush administration, and the leadership of then Secretary of Defense, Don Rumsfeld, caused a reevaluation. The Bush Administration leaders came in already skeptical of the program of robust engagement. They thought it had not paid off and they were looking to scale back the amount of contact between the two militaries.
James Green: And what was their argument that it didn't pay off? That we didn't get to see cool whizz-bang Chinese stuff, and the Chinese got to see amazing technology on our side, or that somehow our appreciation for what was happening in the PLA was kind of clouded? What was there kind of main argument for why it didn't work?
Roy Kamphausen: I think the main argument is that there was a disparity or an inconsistency or an imbalance between the access that we had when we'd visit China, and the access that the Chinese would have. The access the Chinese had; the greater access was intentional. At least during the latter part of the Clinton years, we were deterring by showing how costly a conflict with the United States would be.
The Rumsfeld administration said, we are inadvertently benefiting Chinese modernization program by showing them what we've got. And there's merit to that argument as well. And in fact, the younger officers, so the one stars, during the period of robust deterrents, saw their leaders being deterred by the American systems. And they found themselves motivated to rapidly modernize so they would be in a better position to compete.
And so, both phenomena were true actually.
James Green: So, you're on the Joint Staff. I'd want to hear about that trip, but just keeping to your time at the Joint Staff. What was your main job? You were covering East Asia? You were covering China?
Roy Kamphausen: I was exclusively working on China and Taiwan. So, all policy dimensions related to our military relationship with them. And the Chairman- you know, you work for the Chairman. The Chairman's job is the principle military adviser to the President and the Secretary of Defense. And so, in that respect I was very involved with our then Chairman, Dick Myers.
Now General Myers, Air Force general, was as knowledgeable about East Asia as almost any senior leader I've ever known. In the 70s, he had flown missions out of Taiwan against Vietnam. He had been in the Pacific, he'd been in Alaska, he'd been in Japan. So, he was a treasure to work for because he knew so much. And I thought his instincts about especially our bilateral relationship with the Chinese were really spot on.
James Green: So, you had mentioned that under Rumsfeld there was a scaling back of the kind of military-to-military contact and under the National Defense Authorization Act of 2000 there was specific legislation around it. How did that affect you in the Joint Staff in terms of just planning for what the next year would be for interacting with the PLA?
Roy Kamphausen: Well, it became more of a challenge. The rationale for why you conduct military-to-military exchanges, and the Joint Staff was central in managing the proposed activities of the services—the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines. So, we had to both be true to the policy direction, because we didn't have a separate policy. The Chairman wasn't operating with different- hadn't given different directions than the Secretary had.
But we also had to keep in mind the guidance of the senior military leaders, which is, by and large, every senior person I've ever interacted with says, "You hold your friends close, and you hold your adversaries closer." And if you lose contact, things will happen that you wish you'd known about. And you have less time to be able to react. And so, senior uniform types tend to support engagement, not because they have some kumbaya sense that we can just all be friends. But rather it's how you stay in contact with your potential adversary. And you will gain insights from that, that will make you better prepared for whatever may come.
James Green: And so, after that, then you went to another part of the Joint Staff, is that right?
Roy Kamphausen: No. I was there for two years and then went to work for OSD policy directly.
James Green: I see. And it was at the Office of the Secretary of Defense’s office that you worked on the visit of the Chinese Minister of National Defense?
Roy Kamphausen: Yes.
James Green: And who was that?
Roy Kamphausen: It was Cao Gangchuan. Another interesting story because in the 1980s you may recall, or our listeners may recall, we had a close military relationship. This is pre-Tiananmen. We had four programs in which we were selling or making available equipment or munitions to the Chinese military. One of them was an artillery acquisition radar. It's called the Fire Finder Radar. General Cao, as a two star, had been managing that program on the Chinese side. And had frequently come to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, the home of American artillery, to interact with his American counterparts. And that program, like all others, ended abruptly just after Tiananmen when George H.W. Bush instituted the Tiananmen sanctions.
But it spoke to even in that moment, to the longevity of our relationship. Even within the span of, at that point, only fifteen years. It really had swung between two ends of the continuum.
James Green: So, when he came here, how did he hold himself. As someone who was knowledgeable about the United States, and saw building military-to-military ties as an important part of his personal job? Or was he more standoffish and concerned about not saying the wrong thing?
Roy Kamphausen: I was very impressed with his level of preparation. So, Secretary Rumsfeld had the reputation within the American armed forces of being very tough on his generals. And it was called wire brushing. If he didn't like where you were going, it could be a very unpleasant interaction. And clearly General Cao knew that he had to come with a very strong set of goals for his meeting with the Secretary and to be very direct in how he accomplished it. So, I was very impressed.
We had an hour and a half lunch meeting. He didn't eat the whole time. He had issues that he wanted to raise, and he understood that he had to be strong. And the Secretary tried to throw him off by talking about the EP-3. And then later by talking about how the Taiwan room in the Great Hall of the People depicts amphibious invasions of the island. And the Chinese general, General Cao, came back and said, "Well no, it doesn't. Those are not contemporary images. The friezes really relate to the Ming invasion of Taiwan in the 17th century."
Rumsfeld said, "No, those are modern equipment, that was modern missilery, I know it when I see it." Chinese general said, "You must have been mistaken." And so, the meeting was- this is at the very outset. It's really escalating, and I thought, "This lunch may end very quickly." There was one more exchange and then General Cao said to Secretary Rumsfeld, "Well, I invite you to come to China, and when you come, I will host you to a meeting in the Taiwan room of the Great Hall of the People. And I promise you there will be no friezes, no pictures, no images of an amphibious invasion of Taiwan." And the room broke up, because the Chinese were all imagining, we'll show him. There's only eight on either side. And the Americans are all imagining, the PLA privates the night before taking down the pictures and putting up 山水画儿 shanshuihuar of somewhere in Shaanxi or something.
And as a consequence, it actually became a quite productive discussion thereafter. So much so that after the meeting, the Secretary grabbed his hand and walked him down to his personal office and showed him around. And under the desk, the table projector in the center of his room he had that famous image of the Korean peninsula where everything south of the DMZ is alight at night. And everything north is dark. And his point was we got to do something. And so, I was impressed with the level of preparation of the Chinese General. And that led to a reasonably productive discussion.
James Green: I want to talk about your time doing think tank projects, but I just had one final question and if you have any comments on your Joint Staff time or your OSD time. Xiong Guangkai is a person who spent a lot of time interacting with the Americans and was a kind of point person for the PLA in dealing with the United States. There's kind of different models of how different Chinese organizations deal with the United States. There's the American handler type and that's what I'm suggesting Xiong Guangkai made of himself or was kind of asked to do that. And then there are folks who don't fall into that trap and kind of have their regular jobs and don't see handling foreigners as their main goal.
You must have dealt with Xiong Guangkai over the years and kind of seen that sort of approach. Do you think that's effective from the Chinese point of view? And then also I guess from the American point of view, is it helpful to have the go-to one person on the Chinese side to problem solve? Or does it rather just bottle neck it all in just one person and we put too much on that person's shoulders?
Roy Kamphausen: I think there's strengths to it. But there's also downsides as well. The strengths are such a level of continuity that you could be confident that he knew the story, even if his rendition of it in his interactions with his American counterparts wasn't as consistent to our own memories of what might have taken place.
But he had a stranglehold on both the Chinese intelligence and the Chinese military foreign policy system. And that served a disservice to the Chinese leaders, right? In the aftermath of the Belgrade bombing, he attributed the accident to American intent. And that then, being accepted by the top leaders, limited the options in response, right. They could hardly have any sort of accommodating understanding reaction to an event that they had accepted as being intentional.
And so, his strangle hold, Xiong's personal strangle hold on the information flow of a military event, led to less than great options on the part of the top political leadership in China.
Subsequently, I think the Chinese leaders judged that they didn't want to repeat that approach. And so, subsequent leaders were in the position for not as long and sometimes they were leaders who then took on higher level operational experience. So, a good example is Ma Xiaotian, Air Force general later, after he was Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence and Foreign Affairs. Later, he became the chief of the PLA Air Force.
And so, in that respect they have begun to adopt a model that's more akin to how the U.S. does is, which is your policy folks also have a range of operational experiences as well.
James Green: Well, I'd like to talk a little bit about your time at National Bureau of Asian Research, and about the PLA conference, just as an example of the sort of work you've done. When you joined the Army and then you became a foreign area officer, this is kind of pre-Internet or Internet was just kind of taking off at the time. The knowledge of the PLA was pretty limited. I mean there weren't that many people who knew much at the People's Liberation Army. And they were probably all, most of them were within different parts of the U.S. government.
After twenty-plus years now, there's actually a fair amount of information that's in public domain. That's published reports, part of it's the DOD Military Power Report. Part of it is other think tank reports. Can you just kind of think back about that level of knowledge when you started, about was known about the PLA to where we are today? And maybe your role in that diffusion of knowledge so that more people have a good idea of what's happening in the PLA?
Roy Kamphausen: Well, there's certainly the technological piece to it that you've talked about, right. The flow of information was not, especially outside of the government, was not as easy. But there's also the fact that the Chinese military just didn't matter very much in a global sense. Even a regional sense.
When we took over the partnership, the non-governmental side of the partnership with the Army War College on this annual PLA conference in 2005, the field of PLA watchers was still very much a kind of cottage industry. Very niche group of folks; specialized, generally people that had experience very much like my own. Had spent time as an attaché and then time in government.
This was not a topic that was widely studied in academic programs across the country and mostly because it just didn't matter. And what has changed really in the last fifteen years is a much greater sense that what China does, and also what the Chinese military does on a regional and global sense, really is consequential.
And so, as a natural biproduct of both better information flow and the fact that what you're studying really matters, we've seen an explosion of interest and it's well beyond simply the U.S. government, its analytical and policy folks. We see PhD candidates writing dissertations that are as sophisticated as you can possibly imagine about very detailed pieces of not just Chinese broader security strategy and strategic intent, but also about the military's role in that. And so, it's very much becoming a much more sophisticated set of non-governmental specialists who are looking at the topics.
So, we're fortunate that we get to bring them in and provide a setting, a high-trust setting, in which you can have people from academia, from think tanks, from consultant groups, from intelligence organizations, from policy groups. And in an un-classified setting, grapple with the big issues of the day.
We think at NBR there's great value in having government specialists interact with private citizens. It both tempers their judgements; it provides nuance and insights in ways that ultimately make their decisions making better we believe.
We have a Chair in National Security Studies at NBR called the Shalikashvili Chair, named for General John Shalikashvili, 13th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. Moved to the Seattle area when he retired and joined NBR's board. And he was adamant on this point. He said, "government leaders are awash in classified information." I suspect it's even worse now.
What they don't have is perspective. Or what they really need. And they have their personal experience and judgment, but we can be valuable and useful to decisions makers by providing perspective. And oftentimes that comes from outside of the system.
James Green: I want us to actually end with work that you did for the IP Commission, because it must have been quite gratifying to see a U.S. administration take the work that you all did on the IP Commission and really put it front and center for how they saw the need to confront China on IP practices. Can you just talk a little bit about the IP Commission and your role in it?
Roy Kamphausen: Sure.
James Green: And what it was designed to do?
Roy Kamphausen: The IP Commission is a private, independent entity established and funded by NBR to look at the theft of American intellectual property. It was actually begun in 2012. Our initial co-chairs were Governor John Huntsman, who had been our ambassador to China, and- and one of America's leading public policy China hands.
James Green: Also, Deputy United States Trade Representative.
Roy Kamphausen: In an earlier iteration-
James Green: And Ambassador to Singapore-
Roy Kamphausen: Ambassador of Singapore, and currently Ambassador to Russia. And his counterpart was Admiral Dennis Blair, who had been the last commander in chief of U.S. Pacific Command. And had also been a Director of National Intelligence for President Obama. And they came together and said, "We think there is an issue that threatens the health of our bilateral relationship. And it is largely unappreciated by American leaders. We would like to shed light on this topic. We would like to do robust research. We'd like to think through very deep policy recommendations that an administration want to consider."
So, we did a year of informal hearings, we commissioned research. We plumbed the depths of what was available internationally on the topics. And I served as Deputy Director and Chief of Staff of the commission. So, I was really leading that research effort. And we ultimately came out with a report in May 2013, that said China is the principle illicit appropriator of American intellectual property. Globally. Russia's doing some, there are other smaller players in niche fields, but across the board, no matter how you measure it, between 60 and 75% of global IP theft of American IP can be attributed to China.
So, then what do you do about it? And the Commission said, fundamentally you have to change the cost benefit calculus of the bad actors. And even if you set aside the question of whether it's state sponsored or not, whoever is doing the misappropriation has to feel the pain. And then the Commission said, "So what do we have as leverage?" And they judged the American market, the American financial system were points of leverage that could be used against the bad actors. Not in a blunt way, but think of them as a scalpel, right? So very sharp, tailored to the specific instances or entities.
Unbelievably, when we had first begun, Governor Huntsman said, "For this to matter, for our work to count for anything, it has to be elevated to one of the top three policy issues of the Obama administration." And you know, we started, we thought, how could that possibly- IP? No one knows what the acronym IP stands for. Now looking back seven years later, everyone knows what IP is. My neighbors talk to me about IP theft. And so, the efforts were very successful at that level. But they were also successful at getting the Obama administration, President Obama himself, to raise the issues with Xi Jinping, especially in their June 2013 gathering at Sunnylands in California.
Now there were other events that conspired against the success of those entreaties, right? Snowden had just come out, even I think the week before they gathered at Sunnylands, and so the accusation, well-informed accusation, that President Obama laid with President Xi that Chinese entities are using cyber means to seal American IP, fell a little bit on deaf ears because she was able to resort to some of the Snowden accusations as well.
Nonetheless, that became a process that really built momentum and during the early days of the Trump administration, at the IP Commission we had a lot of interaction because the administration wanted to understand: how do you use the tools we have? Some of which had lain dormant, right? The 2016 National Defense Authorization Act gave the President exceptional authorities to act unilaterally in instances where American IP was being taken. And they hadn't been used.
And so, the Commission was able to shed a light, both on those existing authorities, but also to say, these are tools that are available that leverage American strengths. And I think there have been some success. We're not yet at the point where we can say we've changed the Chinese approach to technology acquisition, right? The foreign sources of technology are still very lucrative location which Chinese entities will look.
But we're at a place where the Chinese understand the gravity with which, or the depth of the importance of the issue to American political leaders. And that is at least a step in the right direction.
James Green: I think you're also at a place where the Chinese companies invest a fair amount in R&D themselves, and they see the benefit of-
Roy Kamphausen: Sure.
James Green: Protecting IP. It's not for every company and there are plenty of bad actors out there, but it's starting to change the corporate landscape instead of just, "Oh we need to steal this from the Germans or the Americans." Chinese companies are putting money forward to try to find their own technological advances and solutions. And so, the picture is starting to change, but as you say, it hasn't changed.
Roy Kamphausen: I think you're absolutely right. One of the challenges with the whole 'Made in China' suite of policies ... it's not just one, as you know. Not one edict. It's a really a suite of industrial policies. One of the challenges though is, a central understanding, when you read those documents is, that the acquisition of technology by any means necessary is central to our development in these strategic industries.
And so, that is at the heart of the current challenge we have with the Chinese system. Is there a reasonable expectation that as a result of this ninety-day hiatus that we’ll get a fundamental change? No, that's not.
And I think there have been some good arguments of late to suggest it's a pathway that has to be laid out and benchmarks along the way agreed to. And an important one, and maybe not as well understood as what you highlighted James, which is there's also a growing constituency within China that it serves domestic interest to be able to protect domestic IP. And ultimately that might lead to some good as well.
James Green: I think one of the troubling parts of Made in China 2025, is these basically import substitution targets of the domestic market should be x percent controlled by Chinese companies and x percent foreign companies. Market based economies just don't need to use those targets, and so that's just a very troubling way to think about it.
Roy Kamphausen: Right.
James Green: And I understand from the kind of broader macro Chinese economic development view why their central planners have those goals. But that doesn't mean I accept them or it's okay-
Roy Kamphausen: Right.
James Green: ... for them to do them. And so, I think there are a number of troubling elements. And as you say, it's not just one policy, it's really a suite of different policies of preferential retreatment, and then guidance and then funds and other things that skew the incentive at the provincial, municipal, and at the firm level for what they kind of end up doing. And they lose some guard rails as to what's important.
Roy, thanks so much. I really appreciate your time and your deep experience on China.
Roy Kamphausen: It's been my pleasure James, thanks for the opportunity.
James Green: Roy Kamphausen, speaking with me from Washington, D.C. You’ve been listening to the U.S.-China Dialogue Podcast from Georgetown University. I’m your host, James Green.