Andrea Su | August 30, 2019
Ceiling and Visibility Unlimited—Reflection on the Georgetown Initiative at This Pivotal Moment
When I first applied to the program a year ago, I definitely would not have expected such a wild and amazing ride together with the ups and downs of the U.S.-China relations in the past year. Reflecting on the whole program, I learned extensively about the U.S.-China relationship, thought more profoundly about the problems haunting the current relationship, and more importantly, got to connect with brilliant and inspiring fellows.
In the Washington D.C. meeting, what struck me the most was the stark contrast between China’s perception of the trade conflict and Washington’s actual attitude towards China over trade and other issues. At that time, the Chinese state media and general public were not particularly interested in the trade tension, and most people perceived Trump’s tweets as minor complaints that can be settled by some Boeing deals just as before. However, I learned a drastically different narrative of the trade conflict in Washington D.C., depicting China’s economic boom as the result of decades-long unfair trade and intellectual theft needed to be correct immediately. Moreover, the projects viewed as the milestones of the Chinese economic success such as the Belt and Road Initiative and Made in China 2025 were considered evidence of China’s global ambition to challenge America’s strategic supremacy in D.C., and this consensus was widely shared among most politicians in the United States regardless of their partisanship. The discussion at the Department of State and at the Chinese Embassy was so different that they made me question the effectiveness of the talks and dialogues between the two sides. My question from the Washington meeting was, how did we end up here?
In the Beijing meetings, with endless rounds of negotiation after the trade disputes, it seemed that the misperception of each other should have diminished, but the disagreements had only become larger and starker. The uncertainty of the relationship a year ago was replaces by a clear sense of pessimism over the future of U.S.-China relationship. The disagreement was no longer restricted in the trade area, from technology to security even to ideology, people in both countries started to worry if this is a new Cold War. At the Foreign Ministry and the American Embassy, we still heard two different stories about why the trade negotiation broke down, but this time both China and United States knew exactly the demand of the other side, yet neither side was willing to back down. A trade deal was still possible, but the competition between the two countries on all fronts had become nearly inevitable. Especially after hearing Ambassador Fu Ying’s view on the disputes and the future of the U.S.-China relations, a sense of pessimism started to dominate my mind: if both sides consider this to be a competition, then it will definitely become a competition, even if it did not start as one. Furthermore, the Huawei ban and technological drifting discussed in the Beijing meeting has an even more profound impact on the future of the U.S.-China relations, that until now China and the United States remained calm because they were deeply interconnected in the current economic and technological sphere, but both sides became uncertain about whether to remain as interconnected in the coming AI age. My second question thus arises: where are we going from here?
Unfortunately, I still have not reached the answers to my two questions arose from our two meeting, but I would like to share my personal observations and thoughts from the Georgetown Initiative that might be helpful to get closer to the answers.
My first takeaway from the program is that people need to truly understand the complexity of the U.S.-China relationship. To some extent this might sound clichés, but it seems many people sometimes still forget that United States and China are two of the most complex and diverse countries in the world, and they have some of the most complicated and intertwined connections in the world. From the government officials in D.C. or Beijing, to scholars in Georgetown or Tsinghua, to business representatives in AmCham or Chinese Embassy, and there will always be losses and gains for every policy implemented between the two countries. China, of course, can keep referring to the profits gained by American companies in China in the past decades, but Beijing also needs to admit that indeed many American companies are treated differently in China, and in some cases this means forced technology transfer. Similarly, the United States has every right to push China to open up more areas to foreign business and to vow to protect American intellectual properties, but Washington needs to acknowledge the benefits brought about by the engagement policy. Neither a full-on trade war nor a dismissal of the trade war would benefit most parties simultaneously in either country, thus the discussion of trade deals should be considered as part of the problem instead of part of the solution. Behind the trade war, I think there is something deeper that keeps the United States and China drifting away, which is related to the my second observation.
My second observation is related to the problem of confidence, which has become an issue for both countries. Washington accused China for using unfair terms to do business with the underdeveloped countries in the One Belt One Road Initiative, but did not offer an alternative for those countries to get loans; while Beijing claimed they have stuck to the WTO terms set 20 years ago, but did not mention to tear down the obstacles for American companies to do business in China. It seemed to me that the United Sates did not have enough confidence to invest billions of dollars in South East Asia and Africa to compete with China’s OBOR Initiative, and China was not confident enough to have its companies competing directly with their American counterparts. When both countries are lack in confidence to compete fairly and candidly with each other in the global atmosphere, consequently distrust and disagreement will dominate the relationship in which no one believes in the possibility of co-prosperity or global governance anymore.
The two assertions above yields very pessimistic forecast for the future of the U.S-China relation, leading to my final thought on the program: if the situation has become irreversible, then what is the point for us to have this initiative? As the program concludes, I begin to understand the priceless value of our program. Evident by the shift in attitudes of both China and America in the past months, I’ve come to the understanding that the government and the people are never isolated, and public opinions in both countries have the power to influence and even to reshape the country’s overall policy towards this relationship. Even though the foreign ministries and embassies may be negligent to the complexity of the relationship, all kinds of connections remain in the U.S.-China relationship. Even though the commerce departments may be lack in confidence to have their companies and business compete candidly in the world stage, it does not impede the companies to realize that their competence can only be optimized in the environment of fair and candid competition and cooperation. What we are doing and discussing in the Georgetown Initiative of U.S.-China Dialogue on Global Issues maybe does not have an immediate impact on the current troubled relationship, but the ideas it has brought about and the people it has inspired will continue to make positive contributions to building a more constructive and more sustainable U.S.-China relationship.
At the end of the meeting, Professor Wilder wrote us four letters “C.A.V.U.”, standing for ceiling and visibility unlimited, to conclude the program. Coincidence or not, CAVU is also the acronym standing for China-America Visibility Unlimited. Favor but not fear, confidence but not caution, dialogue but not disengagement, are the final ingredient for a stable and effective U.S.-China relationship.
Ceiling and Visibility Unlimited.
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