SPEAKER 1: So we're here to talk tonight about the rise of China.
And of course, it's a very timely subject. We've been through a presidential campaign in which China and the rise of China, and the nature of the Chinese threat, if there is one, to the United States was discussed by the candidates-- perhaps not as fruitfully as we would have liked, which is one reason we're here today. But it's a very timely subject. And that's, of course, what we're trying to do with this particular debate series. And it felt natural to us, in this presidential season, if you will, campaigning season, to focus this year's debate on China.
What I want to do is to turn things over to Allen Carlson, who of course, as all of you know, is a faculty member here in the government department at Cornell and is the author of the book Unifying China, Integrating the World-- Securing Chinese Sovereignty in the Reform Era, which appeared in 2005 with Stanford Press. He has written numerous articles in any number of different journals, including the Journal of Contemporary China, Pacific Affairs, Asia Policy, and Nations and Nationalism. His most recent publications are the coedited Contemporary Chinese Politics-- New Sources, Methods and Field Strategies, which came out with Cambridge, and New Frontiers in China's Foreign Relations, which came out from Lexington in 2011.
Allen Carlson has a PhD from Yale's political science department and an undergraduate degree from Colby College. I should also say, by the way, that just today, Allen has published an op-ed piece in The Diplomat. This appeared-- this is really hot off the press-- under the title "The Ultimate Grand Bargain-- a US-China Climate Deal." I think it makes Allen Carlson just right to be moderating this event.
I'm sensing here, Walt, that it may be just a tad loud still. I don't know if our debaters are going to be using this particular mic or not. But what I would like to do now is turn things over to Allen for the proceedings.
ALLEN CARLSON: Thank you, Fred, and thank you all for being here. I'd also like to say it's quite an honor to be moderating a debate between scholars of the stature of people like Aaron and Mike. My beard is not quite as gray-- well, white-- as Mike's hair, but it's getting there. But I am of a different generation, and I have to say that I came through graduate school reading both of your work and was deeply impressed by the arguments which you made.
So beyond that, though, my job is to do formal introductions. And I will briefly then formally introduce both Professors Friedberg, Professor Lampton, and before doing that, also take note of the format we'll be following. Both Aaron and Mike will have about 10 to 12 minutes to speak on the topic of China as the next superpower. They will then have a few minutes to rebut each other's comments. I will then pose one or two questions to them, and then the floor will be open to you. And we really do want to encourage leaving time for the Q&A, because I think there should be some interesting questions from the floor.
Aaron Friedberg here on the far left is Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University, where he's been since the mid-1980s. He served from June 2003 to 2005 as Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs and Director of Policy Planning in the Office of the Vice president. After leaving government, he was appointed to the Defense Policy Board and the Secretary of State's Advisory Committee on Democracy Promotion.
Fred listed my publications, and they sound more than they actually are. In contrast, it would be impossible to list everything that Aaron has written over the years, except to note that his most recent book, which attracted a great deal of attention, A Contest for Supremacy-- China, America, and the Struggle for Mastery in Asia, came out in 2011.
And I'm going to introduce both of you before, and then hand the floor over. So that is Professor Friedberg. So we can maybe give him a hand.
Closer to me is Professor David M. Lampton, who normally goes by Mike. And this creates all sorts of confusion, though, in correspondences, I believe, from people who aren't overly familiar with him. David Lampton is the George and Sadie Hyman Professor and Director of China Studies at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.
He formerly was President of the National Committee on United States-China Relations, and has written several books and articles that have appeared-- and as with Mike, more than one could possibly mention-- in key academic and popular journals and newspapers. His most recent book is entitled The Three Faces of Chinese Power-- Might, Money, and Minds, which came out at the University of California Press in 2008.
I could go on with more about both Mike and Aaron, but rather than taking their time I'd like to hand the floor over first to Aaron to speak to this question of if China is, or is China, the next superpower.
AARON L. FRIEDBERG: Thank you very much, Allen. And thank you, Fred. It's a real pleasure for me to be here, an honor to share the podium with Mike Lampton. And I look forward to our conversation. I hope it will be a debate. I was told we need to have blood on the floor, but it's not clear whether it needed to be ours.
We've been asked to address three questions. First, is China the new superpower? Second, what has been and will be the impact of China's rise, on its region-- on Asia-- on the international system, and on the United States? And then third, how should the United States respond? And we've been given 10 to 12 minutes to discuss those three issues, each one of which could be the topic of a discussion or even a book.
But let me lead off by giving some brief responses to these questions. First, is China the new superpower? The short answer to this question, in my view, is not yet, though it could become one.
What is a superpower? We usually reserve this term to apply to a country that is strong across all of the dimensions of power-- economic, military, political, and so on-- and which has, and sees itself as having, global interests and a global impact. By these standards, China is not yet a superpower.
Its strengths are largely economic, and they're the result, of course, of China's rapid and sustained economic growth over the last three decades, averaging around 9% to 10% a year for the better part of 30 years, since the beginning of the so-called period of reform and opening up that started in 1978, '79, and really got going in the '80s and '90s. And that process of economic growth, as is well known, has now propelled China to the position of number two in terms of the total size of its gross domestic product. It overtook Japan a couple of years ago, and many people anticipate that it will overtake the United States in coming years.
China has also been, and is in the process of, developing impressive military capabilities. And these are the result of sustained investment over a period of time in its armed forces. As its economy has been growing overall 9% to 10% over the last 20 years or so, China has been increasing its military spending on average about 11% each year. And this build-up in its military capabilities is putting China, I think, increasingly in a position of being able to challenge others in its region, if not globally, including the United States. It is not, however, yet capable of projecting military power on a global scale. Only the United States has the capacity to do that.
Regarding the other dimensions of power, China has, I think, increasingly diplomatic influence. And that's, again, largely a function of its economic growth-- although again, its most notable in Asia, somewhat less so as you get further out in the world. And I would say that in the various categories of power, China probably is most notably lacking in what's sometimes referred to as soft power, the attractive power of its ideas and principles, which arguably, the United States still has in considerable quantity.
Now, will China become the next superpower? The short answer to that is, it depends. And I think it depends above all on whether China can sustain something like its previous record of healthy economic growth. In order to do that, in order to stay on an upward economic trajectory, it's going to have to undertake some major shifts in economic policy. And these, I think, are going to require some changes in the structure and function of its political system. And this is an issue perhaps we can discuss as the evening goes on.
So that's my answer to question number one. Question number two, about the impact of China's rise on the rest of the world-- so far, I would say its impact has been mixed. The positives, I think, are primarily on the economic side.
Because of its extraordinary growth, China has been a major driver of both regional and now global economic growth. Its imports of raw materials and also components that go into finished products play a big role in fueling the economies of other countries, particularly in Asia. Its exports have been a source of profit not only for Chinese companies, but for foreign companies that have established production facilities in China. And they have also contributed to higher standards of living in other places, including the United States, by driving down the cost of many consumer goods.
The negatives, I think, are particularly on the political or security side. China's increasing power-- and arguably, its increasing assertiveness in recent years-- are resulting in and have resulted in increased anxiety and uncertainty on the part of its neighbors about its intentions, and also on the part of the United States.
China has and continues to provide support for other illiberal regimes in various parts of the world that, like China's current government, from an American or Western perspective abuse the human rights of their citizens, and in several cases have been seeking to acquire weapons of mass destruction, including in particular nuclear weapons. And I would include in that category Pakistan, North Korea, and also Iran.
There are other negatives, and perhaps we can talk about them. One would be the question of China's impact on the global environment. And of course, China is not exclusively responsible for the problems there.
Will China's future impact be more positive or negative? Again, I think the answer is, it depends. And in my view, it depends especially on the character of China's domestic political system. Continued rule by a one-party authoritarian regime of the sort that China currently has, I think, in the longer-run is going to lead to slower economic growth, a continued military build-up, and, I think more likely, aggressive external behavior.
By contrast, the liberalization of China's political regime, I think, would be a good thing not only for China's people, but also for the rest of the world. A more liberal, democratic Chinese regime would be more stable. The country would be more prosperous, and I think it would be less prone to behave in ways that would be threatening to its neighbors.
Last but not least, how should the United States respond? The short answer there, I think, is we should keep on doing what we've been doing, albeit with some adjustments. And those are not insignificant. US policy, I think, towards China over the last 20 years or so has been quite consistent. It's consisted of a mix of engagement on the one hand and balancing on the other, the intention of which has been to integrate China as fully as possible into the existing international system, to encourage, in indirect ways, the liberalization of its political system while at the same time maintaining a balance of power in Asia that's favorable to the United States and to the interests also of its allies.
My own view, just to conclude, is that we need to maintain that mix. I think we need to do more on the balancing part of our strategic portfolio. Thank you.
DAVID M. LAMPTON: Well, good to be here with everybody. And I want to thank Fred and Allen and [? Haika Mickelson ?] for all the arrangements and hospitality, and thank all of you for coming and letting me share my ideas on my favorite topic.
I also want to say how pleased I am to have this opportunity to exchange views with Aaron, and then subsequently with all of you. As I came up from Washington today, I recalled the role Cornell has played in US-China relations. And for some of the younger people in the audience, I thought I might just briefly take 30 seconds and recount it.
I remember speaking with the Chinese leader that handled the transition for Beijing on Hong Kong. His name was [? Lu Ping. ?] And I remember riding in the car with him, and he says, you know, I took extension courses from the Cornell agricultural school. And when I was a young man, we were idealistic. Agriculture and revolution for the peasants was going to change the face of China.
And I also remember I had the opportunity to speak with [INAUDIBLE] on a few occasions. And of course, he talked about his PhD in Agricultural Economics from Cornell University. And then I had the good fortune in the mid-1990s to go with Malcolm Bourne, who is a famous professor at Cornell in the food sciences area, and China lost half of its food between the time of its harvest and by the time it would get to the consumer. And he led a delegation that helped get the Chinese on the road to reducing their post-harvest food loss, increase the nutritional standing of the Chinese people, and so on.
So when I say I'm glad to be at Cornell, I'm not a kidding. I genuinely feel that. And I won't go on any more.
Is China the next superpower? As a first cut, my reply is no. But it is a rising power that requires all the attention and intelligence we as a nation can muster. I put it this way because China is becoming increasingly powerful and important in global economic security and intellectual terms. But at the same time, "superpower" is the wrong way to think about what is happening and what it means.
The term "superpower" evokes the wrong era and predisposes us towards the wrong responses. It also presumes that the principal challenge we face is military in character, when I believe that we should be thinking about China's economic and intellectual competition. Further, the non-trivial dangers that China presents to the world beyond its borders stem from its systemic weaknesses, not its strengths. I believe that if we exaggerate the military component of China's competition, we will underplay the more genuine problem we face as a nation, which lies more in ourselves than in others.
Permit me to elaborate briefly on each of these points. "Superpower" is not the right way to think about China. The term and its Cold War usage referred to a United States and a Soviet Union that were dramatically different from each other in terms of power along all power dimensions, except their capacity to destroy the Earth many times. Aside from this symmetry of destructive capacity, the two countries were vastly different, not least in economic power. The United States had far and away the world's largest GDP during the Soviet Union's lifetime. And of course, much of the Soviet GDP was in weapons that had no utility for the consumer in the Soviet Union.
And if we look at innovation, in all realms other than the military area, the Soviet Union was pathetically weak. I went back and looked-- the Soviet Union only won 18 Nobel prizes in its entire existence. The United States, admittedly, up to the present has 337. But I think that's an index of broad innovative capacity in both societies. The Soviet Union was so weak that it fell under the weight of its own domestic incapacities, and virtually no one died when it fell. The aftermath had lots of consequences, of course.
Indeed, "superpower" must stand as one of the great misnomers to guide thinking about another country, unless all ones means is the capacity to destroy. China's different. China is a nuclear power with a modest but slowly growing and modernizing nuclear arsenal numbering below 400 warheads. Only a fraction of those can hit the United States. Beijing has never thought it needed much more than a relatively small arsenal to deter others from a first strike.
By contrast, even today, the Russians and the United States have deployed weapons near 1,500 each, with many more non-deployed. In short, China has never sought to achieve a nuclear arsenal that is even remotely evocative of the Cold War. Now, of course, to speak of the past and the present isn't to foreclose more unfortunate choices that could be made in the future.
Now second, China's leaders and people have thus far had a different national aspiration. Their aspiration is to become a comprehensive global power with a balanced portfolio of economic, military, and intellectual and diplomatic power. Some may find this vision unsettling, and believe that America needs to maintain dominance, perhaps in all of these domains.
But the Chinese thus far, even with the uncertainties about their military budget, which I'm sure we'll get into, have kept military expenditures at between 2 and 4% of GDP since 1988. The US is about 4.7% of GDP. China's leaders, quite frankly, see that maintaining the ability to meet the continually rising economic and other demands of their people are the greatest threat to the continuation of Communist Party rule. Internal welfare, internal growth, play a much more central role in Beijing's thinking about survival than was ever the case with the Soviet Union.
It's true that China is modernizing its naval, space, cyber, air, capabilities to a degree that has sometimes surprised the outside world, including the United States. And it is true that China's neighbors are concerned. And they have a right to be concerned, given their proximity and small size. And some of China's recent actions, we might say assertive actions, have given additional alarm not only to powers nearby, countries and neighbors, but big powers at greater distances.
But the point is, China has a mix of motives, vulnerabilities, and capabilities that are entirely different from that of the Soviet Union. One of its greatest motives is to do business with all of its neighbors. And quite frankly, all of the PRC neighbors are no less interested in doing business with China. China has established mutually beneficial and voluntary economic relations with the world, and the Soviet Union had precious little to provide anybody in economic terms, not least its own people.
A second major defect of the superpower paradigm is that China's weaknesses are no less a danger than its strengths. The Chinese system's vulnerabilities are great. High expectations of a rapidly growing middle class that may be dissatisfied, either economically or politically, could destabilize China, leading to domestic carnage and migratory flows abroad possibly.
An economy that slows too much and no longer provides the import engine that has energized other economies of Asia, and indeed the United States, is a danger to global economic health. China's been the most rapidly growing big export market for the United States for over a decade. A China that is in disarray and unable to stop lethal viruses from spreading or effectively deal with global warming is a threat to both itself and to others. In many respects, the world needs a China stronger than the one we find today.
In short, in this interdependent world, China's weaknesses can be as threatening as its strengths. The degree of interdependence we now have with China was nonexistent in our relationship with the Soviet Union. Consequently, the word "cooperation" should be as big in our vocabulary as "conflict." The mere word "superpower" loads the intellectual dice in the direction of conflict, not cooperation. Moreover, China has positive incentives to cooperate with America in a way that the Soviet Union never did.
Then there are the dangers of misplaced analogy. Perhaps the biggest danger of conceiving of China as a superpower is that when combined with a sense that a rising power must inevitably come into conflict with a previously dominant power, it inclines the response in a way biased towards military competition. This logic underplays the potentialities for diplomacy, and most dramatically, diverts America from what I believe are our primary tasks-- rebuilding a decaying infrastructure, a physical infrastructure, and a fraying intellectual and human resource base.
In a strange way, America and China have the same strategic problem, a problem that cannot be captured by conceiving this as an actual or potential superpower relationship. Both China and America need to create a more pacific external environment so they each can focus on desperately needed domestic reform. Conflict between the two will be a distraction for both with respect to their strategic challenges.
In this, the 40th anniversary year of President Nixon's trip to China, I believe a diplomatic realist would seek ways of accommodation and a cooperation between China and America so that we each can deal with the real threats facing each of us. There are interests and values that separate our two nations to be sure, but the misplaced analogy of superpower ought not lead us down the wrong strategic road. Thank you.
ALLEN CARLSON: I think we can now speak from the table rather than return to the podium. And I will then hand things back over to Aaron for two to three minutes to respond to what you find the most engaging or pertinent points of Mike's comment. And then we'll go back to Mike, and then I'll probably have a couple questions, and we'll open things up to the floor after that.
AARON L. FRIEDBERG: OK, thank you. I guess just a couple of comments. I won't quibble with-- since I didn't use the term "superpower" myself, I'm not going to defend its use. I'd leave it to you, Allen, to defend the use of the term "superpower," since I think you were the one who asked the question.
ALLEN CARLSON: I'll pass the buck.
AARON L. FRIEDBERG: All right. I do think, though, that there are different kinds of powers. And maybe this is archaic old think, but I don't actually believe that. I think there is some significance to the notion that there are countries which, as I said, have strengths across the entire spectrum of various instruments of national power, and also in particular have this kind of global conception of their interests.
And not very many countries historically have answered to this description. I think Mike is right that in many respects, in retrospect the Soviets didn't answer to it, although it seemed at the time they did. They were weaker, particularly economically, than many people thought.
I think China is the only country on the scene at the moment, although it's conceivable there could be others-- India, perhaps-- that could play this kind of larger role. I don't think that's necessarily what China's current leaders have in mind. I think they would prefer to remain focused, as they have been until very recently, on their own region. But I think they're finding themselves drawn willy-nilly into various parts of the world by their expanding economic interests, and trying to craft for themselves some kind of a global world, which they haven't done yet.
Let me reiterate something that I said earlier. And maybe this is a point of difference that is worth exploring. I do think the character of China's domestic regime makes an enormous difference. And I mentioned it in several regards, and I'd be interested to know more of Mike's views on this because you didn't say anything about that issue in particular.
It seems to me that the current Chinese regime has a variety of insecurities and vulnerabilities that stem in large part from its desire to maintain a kind of control over its own people, which is costing it more and more. It's devoting more and more resources to internal security. It's more and more concerned about domestic unrest, in large part because it doesn't allow-- it doesn't have-- legitimate acceptable mechanisms for people to express their political views. It doesn't have a reliable legal system in which people can expect fair results. I think that many of China's problems and weaknesses have to do with the character of its internal regime.
Moreover, I think the extent to which it is seen by others and is in fact a challenge or a threat to the security of other countries has a great deal, again, to do with the character of its internal regime. It's not to say that democracies can't be threatening to other countries, but a nation with a regime like China's today, with the kinds of insecurities that it has-- that feels, I think, the necessity to emphasize a certain kind of nationalism, which plays on the so-called century of humiliation, and uses anger, not entirely unjustified, that can be directed toward others in order to solidify its position-- is more of a threat to the stability of the international system than a country with a stable, legitimate, liberal democratic regime.
And it seems to me that that's a very important factor, that all these other things matter-- the size of China's GDP, its intellectual contributions, and so on. And yes, it's very different than the Soviet Union in all of those respects. But in my mind, the most important variable that's going to determine whether China's relations with the rest of the world are good or bad, whether China itself is stable and increasingly prosperous, or perhaps more prone to instability, is the character of its domestic regime.
DAVID M. LAMPTON: Well, let me start where you just-- because you're correct. I didn't bring up the political dimension. And I agree with you that it's extremely important, and it fits with your point which I also agreed with, that if you look at China's comprehensive power, soft power is certainly on the weak end of its capabilities. And part of that has to do with internal governance issues, and so on. So we don't find any difference there.
But where I do think we find a difference-- the problem always is, how do you get from where you are to a better place without going through an immense tragedy in the middle? So the problem, from my point of view, is neither really where China is headed over the long run, but it's how you get there at the least human cost and damage to the international system.
And I've been struck-- I was always struck-- by Mansfield and Snyder's idea, yes, stable institutionalized democracies are good in international citizens, generally speaking. But countries moving from authoritarianism to democracy are a real sad story often. You could talk about Milosevic might just be one example there.
So the profession to want democracy is genuine and real, and I think in some reasonable construction of that term, that's where China will eventually end up, something recognizably there. But the practical question, because we're dealing with a polity that's 20% of the world's people, how do you get there with as little damage as possible? And I think that's a serious, serious question. And with 20% of the world's people, it requires some patience, even under the best circumstance. So I think we find agreement.
And just to elaborate a bit more, I think the notion that China's political system hasn't changed-- and I'm not saying you have this view-- is a misnomer. And that is, it seems to me that over the last, well, since 1977 when [? Don ?] came back, you've had the evolution of, over time, weaker leaders in China, you've got a more fragmented society and bureaucracy, and you have an increasingly empowered society.
So I think the problem is now-- and I think that's what the 18th Party Congress ultimately is intellectually about-- is how you bring into alignment a very changed society and even governmental elite with a society, and how you do it in a gradual, progressive, maximally stable-- and so I just see the policy problem as pretty complicated, which leads me to be more patient than maybe other people would be.
Now, I think there are some disagreements that we have, or that one could have Yes, China is the number two big aggregate economy in the world. But you put that into per capita terms, and China is way down there. I remember what [INAUDIBLE] said-- we've got a multiplication problem, and we've got a division problem. The problem of 1.3 billion people, multiply any small problem or number and it's a big number when you're done. And conversely, no matter how big a resource base you have, you divide it by 1.3 billion, you've got a small one.
So I think that point isn't just to sort of talk about power per se, but it's to indicate where the focus of China's leaders are. They are going to think they are poor a lot longer. We're going to see them as rich and powerful before they see themselves. And I think that's an important fact.
I guess just the other thing I would say is when we talk about China's growing military expenditure, I think that's a long, complicated discussion. But I was interested in a study done by Chas Freeman and some colleagues that tried to compare the US and the Chinese military budget by creating common categories.
And I guess what I would say, what I concluded from that study, is that first of all, the US military budget is bigger than we talk about by a very substantial margin. And secondly, I'll just give you a couple of examples-- in the US military budget, the Department of Energy, which controls nuclear weapons, isn't even in it. Veterans benefits aren't in the US budget, which are a huge item. Well, those are both in the Chinese budget. Now, they leave out procurement of foreign weapon systems, and some R&D spending, and so forth.
So I think we keep hearing about the size of the Chinese military budget. It's true. It's grown by double digits for every year except one since 1990. But I think we have to, as I used to say with my old car, get under the hood and look at what this means.
ALLEN CARLSON: OK, I am now going to use my platform as moderator to pose a couple of short questions to both Aaron and Mike. And I do think, despite some of the commonalities in your analysis, that there are probably some underlying differences, that maybe are not fundamental but that we could draw out, particularly because they lead to, arguably, very different policy orientations when it comes to the American approach to China, both in Asia and on the global stage.
And I have two questions in particular. And the first one-- I don't own the superpower term. It was not entirely foisted upon me, either.
AARON L. FRIEDBERG: Must be Fred.
ALLEN CARLSON: But it does have a pedigree here, and one that's particularly relevant, I think, in the Chinese context. Because probably one of the better-selling books on China over the past four or five years is Susan Shirk's 2008 China-- A Fragile Superpower. And so I've hosted both of you in the interim. Isn't it a long time, but a lot has happened. Have the strengths of China become more pronounced, or its weaknesses more so? And how does that relate to a situation on the world stage? Whomever wants to go first.
DAVID M. LAMPTON: Go ahead.
AARON L. FRIEDBERG: OK.
Well, I think it's the combination of the two actually, which I think makes the challenge for the rest of the world so great. I'd actually like to come bacl-- maybe not now-- but talk about some of the points that Mike made about transition, because I think those are extremely important, and it's something over which I don't think outsiders are going to have all that much to say. A country of 1.3 billion people is going to determine its own fate, and that may create problems even if it ultimately ends up in a place that we would consider to be profitable. But maybe we can come back to talk about that.
I don't know, if we looked at Professor Shirk's book and where we are now, how we would measure the change over the last five years. I think both China's strengths and its vulnerabilities have become more evident. And certainly, its vulnerabilities have become apparent. I made passing reference to what I think is an unsustainable, and what many Chinese experts think is an unsustainable, economic model-- which is going to have to change if China is going to be able to maintain something like its performance over the last several decades.
It's becoming increasingly apparent that this model has outlived its usefulness, and many Chinese observers say this. But the character of the political system is an enormous obstacle standing in the way of the kinds of reforms that will, I think, be necessary for China to continue to grow.
So China's vulnerabilities have become more apparent, but I think its strengths have also become more evident. And we can talk more about the military capabilities. China doesn't have to compete with the United States on a global scale-- it's not trying to-- in order to create serious strategic problems for the United States and for our allies because of its focus on East Asia and the Western Pacific. And I think it has been quite successful, or is on the road to being successful, at doing that, in part because it's doing things in an intelligent way.
The comparison to the Soviets is an interesting one. In retrospect, the Soviets were in many ways the ideal opponent. They pursued completely self-defeating and foolish policies, particularly in the economic domain. They cut themselves off from the rest of the world.
They got to the point where they could only try to keep pace with advances in technology in the west by stealing things, and then they got to the point that even when they stole the thing, they couldn't do anything with it. They couldn't reverse engineer it. They could steal an integrated circuit, but they would have to break it open with a hammer and they couldn't build another one. And that really contributed, ultimately, to the outcome of the Cold War.
China is pursuing exactly the opposite policy. It's embracing the global economy, seeking to be integrated into it for reasons both of promoting its economic development, but also in order to speed the development of its military capabilities. It seeks access to a variety of technologies, which it is now incorporating into weapons systems that are a challenge for other countries, including the United States.
So I would say both the strengths and the weaknesses have become more evident, and I think that's the way things are going to go for the foreseeable future.
DAVID M. LAMPTON: Well, I would agree the strengths and weaknesses are both important. I guess I'd cut into the question a little differently. First of all, I think some historic perspective-- we say now with, let's say, the pillar industries, state domination of state industries in key areas, and the intertwining of family-party power and family networks and so forth have become this a central obstacle to further reform.
But of course, at every stage, China's had major obstacles to the next stage of reform. I think if you'd gotten every Western expert in the world together in 1976 coming out of the Cultural Revolution and asked what are the obstacles to reform there, you would have had a list that was more daunting than today. So I'd just sort of issue the cautionary, let's not underestimate the capacity of this system to see its own interests in long-term survival. And I think the desire of the Chinese to become a comprehensive global power is an overriding consideration here.
Now, what I would say if I was asking where's the big change here, I think the opinions and assertiveness of the Chinese people-- I think public opinion is becoming more important-- you might say nationalism and a regime with weak legitimacy has to curry favor publicly. That might be the least generous way to put it. I think there is some reality there.
But this gets to the point where I said, what is the challenge to the United States? It's to build our comprehensive national power, because frankly, after 2008 I think the Chinese thought we were on the skids. And the way to get better behavior is not to be perceived, much less be, on the skids. And I'm afraid if we get our allocation of attention too much in the direction of the military dimensions of this, we're not going to invest in that that creates our comprehensive national power.
So it's not that I'm not worried about certain dimensions of China's increased power. The question is, what is the most effective way to get compliant behavior from China and be something other than what the Chinese call [INAUDIBLE], empty canon? So I think what I'm suggesting is, to my thinking, a very realistic course. And I think it's too easy in our society to offer the military competition as the sort of ace in the hole.
ALLEN CARLSON: Maybe to put a real point on that, because my sense is the three of us have a degree of consensus over where China now stands, and both some of its internal fragilities and increasing profile on the world stage. I do suspect, though, again, [INAUDIBLE] there are real differences in thinking about the direction of American policy towards China and towards Asia.
And this leads to a question-- and I spent some time last night writing this, so I'm going to read my question, because I think it's very well-written.
Normally something I wouldn't do. In a recent Foreign Affairs article, Robert Ross contended that the Obama administration's pivot in Asia-- and for those of you who aren't Asian security specialists, the pivot is a refocusing of the US on the region, particularly with building up essentially a military presence there.
Ross argues this is based on fundamental misreading of the mindset and actions of the Chinese leadership, and as a result has been quite counterproductive to American interests in Asia. To what extent, then, would both of you agree or disagree with such an assessment? And relatedly, to what degree should the pivot continue around the president's approach to the region during his second term?
And Aaron, I particularly want to direct this question to you, because as I read some of your published work as of late. I think you have engaged aspects of the pivot quite extensively.
AARON L. FRIEDBERG: Well, I haven't read Bob's article, although I did have a little debate with him yesterday at Harvard. So I'm--
ALLEN CARLSON: [INAUDIBLE].
AARON L. FRIEDBERG: --up-to-date. It's like you walk away from your [INAUDIBLE] you think, [SNAPS] I wish I'd said that. So maybe this is my chance.
ALLEN CARLSON: [INAUDIBLE].
AARON L. FRIEDBERG: Well, I'll send it to him. So I won't directly address that. Let me just say a few words about the pivot, because I think that's really what you're getting at.
The Obama administration came into office believing not that it needed to overhaul this mixed strategy that I described towards China of both engagement and balancing, but thinking that it could change the mix-- and in particular, thinking that it could increase the engagement party and downplay the balancing piece. It didn't work, and it didn't work for a variety of reasons. We can talk about that.
But in any event, in the period, say, 2009, particularly 2010, as we've referred to, China behaved in ways that were perceived by people in the region initially-- not so much, I think, by people in the United States, who weren't really paying that much attention-- as threatening and problematic.
And the Obama administration's pivot was initially, I think, a reaction to these expressions of anxiety from others in the region, and a way of trying to reassure people that even though we may be drawing back from Afghanistan and Iraq, or perhaps especially because we are, that doesn't mean we're going to pull back from the world, we're going to disengage from the world. Even though we have budget problems, it doesn't mean that we're going to cease to play a global role and continue to have a global military presence, including and in a particular in Asia. So it was meant as a way of reassuring, I think. So it was targeted more at third parties than it was intended for the Chinese leadership.
I actually think the underlying idea of our paying more attention to the Asia-Pacific region-- in the military domain, but in all others as well-- is a good one, so I applaud that. I think the language that the administration used to describe it was misguided in a variety of ways.
For one thing, when you talk about pivoting, you I think unintentionally reinforce the sense that the United States is somehow fickle. If we pivot one way, we could pivot the other way. The administration talked, actually, an issue about returning to Asia, which was, I think, again, misleading, because we were never gone.
My friend and colleague at Princeton, Tom Kristensen, who served in the last administration, says that he really hated that, because it meant that he couldn't explain to his wife what he was doing for the last two years. If we were gone from Asia, why did he have to be working 18 hours a day? So it was misleading and politically motivated.
Now the talk is about rebalancing, which is a lot of blander, and I think perhaps appropriate. So I think the language was not such a good idea.
My bigger problem with what the administration has been doing is that it's the inverse of the Teddy Roosevelt adage that you should speak softly and carry a big stick. We've been talking very, very loudly, and the actions that we've taken and the stick that we are wielding, as I think we have, to some extent, is not very impressive.
And that's not a good combination, because it reinforces the doubts and concerns that others have about where we're headed and whether in fact we have the wherewithal, the resolve, and the resources to continue to play the kind of role that we have in Asia, which I think other countries in the region want us to do, because they're concerned about being left alone to face an increasingly powerful China.
And I think it also sends the wrong message to some people in the Chinese leadership. I agree with you Mike's point that there was a tendency on the part of many observers in China to make the case-- and I think there are still some who believe this after the financial crisis-- that the United States was in a rapid decline, and maybe China was rising more rapidly, and perhaps that meant that now was the time to stand up and push. I think we have to respond to that, as Mike suggests, in a way first and foremost, by dealing with some of our own internal problems.
But we also have to respond to it by maintaining a position of strength in this region and in the world. I see that as necessary, in a sense, to close off avenues that might otherwise appear appealing to at least some people in the Chinese leadership who would like to see China develop and use its military capabilities to push other people around. So I think we have to be dealing from a position of strength. And that involves not only bringing our budget into balance, but maintaining our military capabilities.
DAVID M. LAMPTON: Well, a lot here-- there is much of what Aaron said that I agree with. I agree that the administration made a very forward-leaning attempt to cooperate with China in part of the first term. In some sense that was rebuffed, and what you're seeing is the reaction to that, both a political reaction and many in the region disquieted by the behavior they saw. So I agree with that.
I guess I've just always had an aversion to policy that is more rhetorical in character than real and backed up by the innate capabilities. I mean, part of this is presumed that we're going to be able to move assets from the Middle East and Central Asia elsewhere. I just read the paper, but I see Iran as a problem. I see Syria as a problem. I see Pakistan as a problem. Is this a region that's going to cooperate strategically?
So I hate to pick a fight with 1.3 billion people when I think we've got plenty of other problems strategically, and I'm not sure we're on the glide path that this policy assumes. Certainly, in resource terms we're partly hopeful that our allies will help us and our friends in the region. But quite frankly, I think our friends' strategic problem isn't quite the problem we may think it is. Their problem is how to do business with China on the one hand, and how to get protection from us. At least, that's part of the problem.
And I don't think they're willing to devote on balance very many resources to the balancing part of the equation. I look at Japan hasn't been very helpful on Okinawa, just the basing issue. Take that, for example. The Australians already seem to be having a little debate about how they ought to align with respect to this. We're probably looking for a change in the South Korean government that will be back in a direction that's a little different than [INAUDIBLE] has been and so forth-- that is, more pro-sunshine, more balanced with respect to China.
So our allies are democratic democracies, and their policies change, as indeed they should, to reflect their own societies. So I'm not so sure how much support we can count on among our allies.
And then also, it seems to me it's kind of hard to, on the one hand, assert the importance of our alliances without endorsing all of the claims that our allies have in conflict with China. So how do we be the honest broker, if that's even a remotely relevant concept here, and say to the Chinese, in the case [INAUDIBLE], we don't take a position on sovereignty. Nonetheless, our alliance applies to the claim that the Japanese have, and we would become involved.
So I think this rebalance-- I very much believe we need to keep balance. And it's in the eye of the beholder sometimes what the balance is. So I think that's a worthy objective. But I think we have to keep in mind what you might call the allergies of our allies. Our friends and allies in the region are not only afraid of China. They are sometimes afraid of American overreaction or ham-handededness a lack of diplomatic acuity. And so I just think we need to run a much more subtle policy.
ALLEN CARLSON: Thank you, Mike. I think we should open things up to the floor now. [INAUDIBLE]. So simply raise your hands, and we'll go around. Yes, you were first right there. And your questions can be directed to both or either of the participants.
AUDIENCE: Thank you. Thank you both very much. I'm a first-year PhD student in nutrition studying global health policy. And I haven't heard health policy be mentioned once. And it's well known that the health and nutritional status of a people helps define their economic development and growth.
And seeing as China is such a player in the economic and global economic filed, how do you think the 2009 health policy reforms will inform the future of China's economic growth development, especially with the new leadership changes?
DAVID M. LAMPTON: Can I just ask for a clarification? When you say the 2009 health policy reforms, what do you mentally have in mind there?
AUDIENCE: The health care reforms that are now blanketing 95% of China's health insurance. So they have a very wide breadth, but not a very deep-- I guess you could say a very poor quality, but it's very widely stated.
DAVID M. LAMPTON: It so happens I did my dissertation at the time [INAUDIBLE], who's in the audience, was at Stanford with me on health care policy. So I'm actually very interested. And I mentioned, just by way of acknowledging Cornell's contributions, nutrition and so on. So let me say, I think it's extremely important.
And if I was talking more broadly about managing US-China relations, I think it's those kind of areas we ought to be cooperating a lot more in energy. I wouldn't limit it. But food, agriculture, health care-- those are the areas we ought to be working with China. In fact, we are extensively in reality. But that's, I think, extremely important.
On the health care reform, I think you are right to-- and I haven't looked at it in detail in about two decades, but it's got wide coverage but very low depth. And China is going to face enormous health care and health care cost-related problems. This is why I am so hung up on this "superpower" word.
China is going to be an older society than the United States by 2030, 2035, and it's going to have a lot of problems with the relationship between working-age people and the elders, and all of the chronic health care costs and the kinds of expensive, essentially non-curable chronic diseases that come with age. China is-- I don't know how they're going to pay for this.
So yes, they've made a lot of promises across a very wide swath of both urban and rural society. But if I was the Chinese leadership, I'd be waking up every midnight figuring, how on Earth are we going to do this? So this is what I mean. There's a big difference between that aggregate world number-two economy, and having enough resources to deal with the challenges that ultimately are going to bear on it. And so I'd like to see more cooperation in this area, more candid acknowledgement of the problems China's leaders have.
ALLEN CARLSON: Mike, basically earlier you said, to quote, the world needs a stronger China. And Aaron, you observed the importance of liberalization. And I wonder, again, is it a question of how you get from point A to point B-- whether it's seeing out points of potential cooperation, the op-ed about just recently the [INAUDIBLE] on climate change?
Or is it more in regards to putting some type of pressure on the regime? Or is this more just a purely internal [INAUDIBLE]? Aaron is not a sinologist, and so may not be familiar with the intricacies of Chinese health care reform laws. But I think he could still speak to some of these broader issues.
AARON L. FRIEDBERG: Well, even if I was a sinologist, I might not be familiar with the intricacies.
Well, I won't attempt to directly address that question. I just wanted to underline something that Mike said. In my view, the demographic challenge that China faces-- which by the way, of course, you need to remember is a byproduct of a policy imposed by an authoritarian regime which now finds it very difficult to figure out how to undo some of the damage that it's done itself-- how the country is going to cope with this, because I think there's growing recognition of the significance of this burden that's going to be the result of a rapidly aging population.
Also, a growing recognition of the changes in the character of the Chinese system, which have moved it away from what might have been universal but not very good care and education and so on to a system that's much more unequal in many respects. I see this as one of the obstacles to China's continued growth.
And I agree-- the notion that somehow China is going to continue to grow and grow at anything like historic rates is nonsense. And not only because of China's particular problems, but because historically, countries, as they reach a certain level of development, begin to slow down. China isn't there yet.
But I think there are a number of things that could cause its economic growth to slow rather rapidly instead of this sort of graceful decline, which people in the leadership would like to project. They could encounter some very serious problems in the relatively near-term. And even if they don't, I think it's going to be harder to sustain growth over time. And this is one of the reasons why.
Now, you've asked another question, which I think is more about strategy. I agree that we ought to be-- and I think we have been-- looking for as many years of convergent interests and potential cooperation as we possibly can find. I think the current administration thought that climate change was going to be the key.
And in retrospect-- and I'll have to read your piece, but it's ironic that anyone could have thought so, given how divergent the views and interests of the two countries have turned out to be. That isn't to say that it isn't possible, but there are other areaa-- energy, agriculture, health care, and so on-- where there is the potential for cooperation. I think we have to be looking for those and pursuing those vigilantly and persistently.
At the same time, I think we have to also be pursuing the kinds of policies that I was describing that are designed to maintain a balance of power. This may be an old-fashioned notion, but I think it's one that still has validity. This is not going to be easy. China, in a sense, whatever else you're going to say about it-- poses an intellectual challenge to Americans.
If you look back at our history, certainly in the last 50, 60 years, we've had the luxury of dividing the world into good guys and bad guys. The good guys were democracies, and they were advanced industrial countries with whom we traded, and they were our principal economic partners and our military allies.
The bad guys, like the Soviet Union, were countries that were our military rivals with whom we had virtually no connection and rather limited diplomatic engagement. China is not cleanly in either one of these categories. It's not at this point an enemy of the United States. I think it's a strategic competitor of the US. We also, of course, have a deep and mutually beneficial economic relationship. We're dealing with China diplomatically all the time.
But striking that balance is not going to be easy, and it's not something that we're used to having to do. And yet, I think that's what we need to do. But I underline the importance of both pieces of that. I don't think we can simply engage and ignore the balancing part, because it seems to me that that's extremely dangerous.
ALLEN CARLSON: Fred? Fred, do you have a question?
So I haven't seen quite the blood on the floor [INAUDIBLE] I was hoping we'd see. But it's a marvelously fine discussion. The question I propose, particularly for you, Aaron-- we've just had a presidential campaign. The two candidates professed to disagree on some of the issues pertaining to China.
But of course, [INAUDIBLE], recently pointed out, [INAUDIBLE] there's much more continuity between administrations on foreign policy than there is change-- and perhaps especially for a first-term president. So with that in mind, I guess since you are in a position perhaps to speak to this a little bit, Aaron, I wonder if you could say what a Romney administration would have wanted to pursue.
He said, I think in the third debate, that he would have declared, the first day of his administration, that China is a currency manipulator. He said that he was going to be tough on China. I think Obama responded, you're the last person who would be tough on China.
But do you think, in your discussion, that there was a sense that Romney [INAUDIBLE] differently on some of the issues that we discussed? I have a sense of your answer given your response [INAUDIBLE], but could you maybe elaborate a little bit? And I don't know if, Mike, you want to also.
AARON L. FRIEDBERG: Well, that this is an historical experiment that we won't get to run, so we don't know the answer. I can tell you whatever I want, and-- yes.
So let me be honest and say I don't know. I honestly don't know what a President Romney would have done on China policy. I can tell you that I wrote memos that went upstairs and disappeared into the stratosphere, and I have no idea if anybody ever read them. My guess would be probably not. So I can tell you what I would have suggested, but I don't know what would have been the outcome.
And that's actually an interesting kind of puzzle, because not only has US foreign policy overall been more consistent than our debates would lead you to believe, but our China policy in particular, I think, has been more consistent than all of the name-calling and who's a panda hugger, and so on would lead you to think. In the last 20 years, there's been much more continuity than change. It's been a matter of degree.
Now, one thing that's notable in fact in the campaign that's just finished is the discussion of China and China policy was very truncated. It had to do only with economic issues, and really, only a narrow subset of economic issues. And most of it turned on this currency issue, with Governor Romney saying, I'm going to name the currency manipulator my first day in office.
And I don't think I'm telling tales out of school if I let you know that there were some meetings that occurred not long before the election at which the subject was, what exactly does that mean? What do we do? How do we implement this, and what are its implications? I hope I'm not shocking anyone by telling you that presidential candidates say all kinds of things in the course of campaigns that they then have to figure out how to deal with once they are elected.
By the way, if you'll let me just go off on this little riff for a moment, I think this is actually a persistent problem across administrations. And I think it was a problem for the Obama administration when it came in. They criticized the Bush administration for many things, but principally for not being forthcoming enough in negotiations, and we're going to talk to Iran and we're going to have a reset with Russia, and we're going to be more open with China.
And that was their critique. And when they arrived in office, that was their policy and they hadn't really thought much beyond that. And the rest was scrambling to fill in the blanks. So it's not unique.
So the discussion was very limited, and it had to do with trying to win votes. This is another observation that I hope will not shock people. To the extent that foreign policy figures in American elections, it usually has to do with domestic politics, with winning. The discussion was focused primarily on some so-called Rust Belt states that were perceived to be up for grabs, where it was thought there were some people who felt that if they had lost their jobs, it was because of unfair economic competition from China.
So it was very, very limited. There wasn't a discussion of overall questions of what our policy should be. There wasn't a discussion of the pivot of our military policy. The only discussion there was about the size of the navy and the size of the defense budget.
So I don't know the answer. Let me say one thing, though, that's a little bit more concrete. I do think that there was a sense, at least in-- I don't want to say in Governor Romney's mind, because I don't know what was in his mind. And I think this is actually not unique to Republicans or to Romney. Last time I saw Mike, he was in the position of moderating a debate in which I was defending the positions of the Romney campaign and Jeff Bader, a former official in the Obama administration, was taking the other side.
And we agreed on many things. And I think there is agreement. There are problems with the economic relationship as it's evolved over time-- that it has become distorted in various ways in part because of policies pursued by the Chinese government that are beneficial to the interests of Chinese actors and companies and are not beneficial and arguably are unfair by the laws or rules of the international trading system to others, and that this distortion has grown over time, and it has partly to do with the means that the government uses to protect its domestic market that don't take the form of traditional barriers to imports but still protect the interests of some state-owned enterprises.
It has to do with the new so-called indigenous innovation policy that the government has announced, which essentially forces foreign companies that want to set up production facilities in China to turn over newer and newer technology sooner and sooner to companies that are going to become their competitors.
It does have to do with the currency issue, although I think that's really a very small part of it. It has to do with protection of intellectual property rights, which is an enormous problem. Theft of intellectual property is estimated, by unbiased think tanks and units in the US government, to be in the hundreds of billions of dollars.
Part of that has to do with the problem of cyber crime. There's a wide range of issues in the economic relationship between the US and China that are problematic. The question is, what do you do about it, and what are the sources of leverage to encourage or compel China to alter some of those policies?
And that's, I think, where the disagreement comes. And ultimately, I think what administrations have concluded once they've arrived in office is that, at least thus far, the remedies are potentially more dangerous than the disease. And there's been a big concern about provoking trade rivalry and so on. But that doesn't mean the problem isn't real and is not in fact getting worse. I think it is.
So I think that's actually an interesting area where there probably is some agreement about the diagnosis. The question is, what's the proper prescription?
DAVID M. LAMPTON: I agree with almost everything said. Just a couple of points-- first of all, I think we have to acknowledge eight administrations have kept a pretty-- we tack around the midline of the river of policy, and usually, campaigns you get off center in the river but by not too long later you're back out towards the midstream.
And I think that's been true for eight administrations, because what you say is we pretty much agree what the problems are, and there are a limited number of feasible options. And so if you're rational, you're going to end up not so far from where the last guy was.
The currency manipulation thing, though, I think, points to a structural problem in our political system, which is much observed-- not obviously unique with me. But to get nominated in our parties that have the activists, whether they're the left or the right, you have to appeal to the activists at the first part of the process, but then you've got to get the mass votes in the center. And so you always get whiplash.
And I must say, with candidate Romney in that big debate where he talked about China, it was a more liberal formulation than the president had. The Chinese want peace. The Chinese don't want war. And Obama was talking about the adversaries and the pivot.
And so what I worry about, really, is you're the Chinese listening to this-- where's the credibility of the system? I really worry we've got a system that people almost have to discount because of the process that we've got. So I think that's a problem.
Just on currency manipulation-- actually, to my understanding, not being a lawyer-- it had very little consequence in objective terms whether he had said it. All it requires under our law is to talk to the Chinese about it, and then there are some things you can do with the cooperation of Congress.
So in fact, that wasn't the Draconian thing it sounded like, which probably in that sense served his political purpose. The only thing problematic was that of course, the Chinese would have totally overreacted. So actually, a fairly meaningless move would have had really undesirable consequences.
AARON L. FRIEDBERG: Just if I could on that point, because it's an interesting example of something where the issue of currency manipulation and the accusations of currency manipulation by the United States-- not just the accusations, the reality of it-- of course, go back quite a long way. And American presidents and presidential candidates talking about that issue initially, I think, was a way of fending off protectionist pressure from particular sectors and interests.
So you didn't want to have protection on steel or automobile tires or whatever. Your response as the chief executive was to say, well, we're going to deal with this currency issue, because that's going to affect everybody but it doesn't get us in the business of helping out particular sectors. And that was the position of the Bush administration.
It required, then, sort of jawboning, or constantly saying to the Chinese, you need to adjust the currency values, and arguably had some impact. But then you also get into this kind of rhetorical escalation-- so candidate Obama said, I'm going to go to the mat with China on this currency issue. And then once he gets in, he did the same thing that Bush did, which was the Treasury Department examined the issue every six months as it's required to do by law, and ultimately decided not to designate China as a currency manipulator.
So candidate Romney comes along and says, I'm going to be even tougher than you. On the first day, I'm going to do that. And I'm sure that seemed like a great idea. I never was actually able to determine when it started, when it was first said.
The other thing I guess I've learned from experience is that, particularly in the modern age of computers, nothing ever goes away. So anything that a candidate has said in the past exists somewhere, and his current positions have to be somehow brought into alignment with whatever it was he said. So it's possible he said this seven, eight years ago. Anyway, but there's a real issue there. And that's, I think, the important question.
By the way, just to say also in terms of our domestic politics, I think there is a change underway in the domestic political foundations of the existing US policy towards China, which has until now had very strong support from most parts of the American business community. The people who didn't like it were representatives of older industries, were labor unions that felt they were being harmed.
But now, increasingly you have people in a variety of sectors, including higher-tech industries, who are very disillusioned, who have come to the conclusion they can't make money in China, who are very upset about intellectual property, and who are less enthusiastic about supporting good relations with China come hell or high water. And that could mean that we're headed in perhaps a somewhat different direction than we've followed up to now.
ALLEN CARLSON: OK. Other questions from the floor? Sure.
AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE]. These kind of discussions. You mentioned about [INAUDIBLE] example as part of China's problems or perhaps challenges. And also, being in the US for so many years, in my field-- that is, arts and humanities-- we have also been thinking for quite awhile how we can make our own disciplines, our own academic specialities, relevant to what is happening so rapidly, both in China and in the US, and also in terms of relationships.
So I would very much like to hear a bit more about how we can negotiate the differences, and perhaps also dealing with some similar issues, such as the lack of relevance that some of us have been feeling in the field of the humanities, when we come to issues such China-US relations and such as global political relationships.
AARON L. FRIEDBERG: OK. Mike made the observation about the way in which China's system has changed. And it has in many respects become more open, and certainly, there's more discussion that goes on at more levels between people in Chinese academic institutions and even in parts of the government or Asian think tanks and so on that are connected to the government than there was 20 or 30 years ago.
What impact that has on the relationship, I'm not sure, because I'm not sure how much of those conversations actually gets back into the policy processes of the two countries. But it's certainly desirable.
As you were speaking, I was thinking of the anxieties that the current Chinese regime seems to feel about people who, from an outside perspective, seem utterly harmless, who are artists or lawyers or people who have authored or co-signed statements calling for multiparty competition and so on.
And it's, I think, an indication of the lack of security, or the concern that the current regime has about legitimacy that it feels the need to put people in prison or have them disappear for awhile so that they're not making comments that are in some ways embarrassing or critical to the regime.
I don't know that there is much that outsiders can do about that except to acknowledge and to make clear that the rest of the world is watching and is concerned what happens to people like Ai Weiwei, disappears for 40 days and then reappears. I think we have to continue both at the governmental level, but also at the level of civil society, non-governmental organizations, and so on, to make clear that this is something that's of concern to the outside world, because I think the current regime would like to believe that because it sits atop a growing economy, because it has more influence in the world than it used to, it can get people to quiet down and not be critical of what it does internally.
And I think there is some danger of that happening. You mentioned the interests of US allies, other countries in the region which now have China as their principal economic partner, feel some discomfort or uncertainty about how to proceed on issues where once they might have thought the answer was very simple. We'll say something, we'll make a statement, we'll send a representative to Oslo to be present at the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to a Chinese author and dissident. And now, there are some internal debates and uncertainty about doing that. I think it would be a mistake to back away from that, but there may be some cost to continuing.
I don't know if that really addresses your question, but those are the thoughts that it brings to mind.
DAVID M. LAMPTON: If I understood the question that you posed-- essentially, how can humanists and the humanities in China contribute to a better situation-- is that broadly?
AUDIENCE: And both sides, as well. Humanists.
DAVID M. LAMPTON: Well, I think there are a number of things. And if I am not misquoting Terry, but it always struck to me-- one thing I thought you said, [INAUDIBLE], is that when I think when American scholars go over to China, they go out in the villages, and they go out and they really dig into the society. We may not understand well, but there is an interest in religion and culture and so on.
And my observation is that there isn't as much interest in what you might call the cultural origins of American behavior. I'd like to see more interest in what I think is really American Studies, and almost an anthropological interest. So I think broadening out the exposure that China has in the United States beyond the technical areas, beyond engineering and math-- and of course, increasingly, it's business school and law, and it's broadened out enormously over the last 30 years.
But I think it's still too little understanding of what are the origins of American behavior-- political behavior, international behavior, and so on. It doesn't mean China will actually like it much more after it understands it, but I think somehow, understand [INAUDIBLE] behavior. So that's the first thing I would say.
Secondly, I think China's intellectuals have an obligation to try to educate the public and tone down nationalism. I don't mean patriotism. I don't even mean what you might call stabilizing nationalism. But I was in China in September when the, I'll say anti-Japanese demonstration, took place. And that isn't attractive. And I would like to see Chinese intellectuals stand up for that fact.
And so, I mean, I think China's intellectuals have an obligation to try to educate their people in a more holistic kind of way. And of course, there are many Chinese intellectuals that do do that. But it's just not attractive what I saw in September.
ALLEN CARLSON: [INAUDIBLE] contentious issues in China's relationship to the outside world, thinking about maritime disputes and its [INAUDIBLE]
AARON L. FRIEDBERG: Please do.
AUDIENCE: No, my question was actually-- my name's Jonathan. I'm on my second year of master's degree in public affairs. So the question I have is not quite about maritime disputes, but sort of tangentially related to that. It's the question of how the United States is configured as a country. You see, especially in the last election, we've sort of reaffirmed that it's a very multi-ethnic society.
And comparing that to China, what is sort of the assessment, if you were a country that's not the United States and not China, that's other countries perceiving these countries and you're trying to make a choice about who you would rather have as being the dominant power in the world, how does that play into the thinking of other countries-- let's say, in Africa or in Europe, say? If you were to choose a hegemony globally, who would you choose?
AARON L. FRIEDBERG: Are you asking me? Yeah, I think my answer is obvious.
Well, I think this goes back also to the issue of soft power, what's appealing. And I think some people in China, analysts and scholars, recognize the difficulty that China has. And you find some people saying, if we're truly going to be-- they don't say "superpower," but if we're going to be a great power on the world stage, we have to have some of that stuff. And then there's a sort of puzzlement about what exactly it consists of.
And I think the answer is-- and not necessarily the answer of many Chinese observers, although some-- is not that it's popular culture, the kinds of things that people tend to talk about when they talk about soft power-- but the extent to which the United States is perceived-- and it's not always seen this way-- as speaking in favor of what are not distinctively American values.
I always hate the use of that term, because I think what people are usually talking about when they use it is universal values, things that most Americans believe apply universally and ought to apply in all countries to all people, individual liberties in particular.
And I don't think, as it's currently structured, China has anything like that. And it can't just sort of make it up out of whole cloth. In fact, I think again, speaking of my reading at least of what some Chinese intellectuals and policy analysts recognize, that China as it's presently organized is very particularistic, very kind of self-absorbed in the ways that all countries and individuals are, but perhaps even more than some, and that what it has to offer is primarily in the economic domain. And even that has problems.
People in the West coined this term, the Beijing consensus, and the idea that maybe China had an alternative model for development that could be attractive to other people in other parts of the world. The Chinese themselves, I think, have been allergic to that, because they don't want to be in the business of selling something to the rest of the world. They have very particular interests in their reasons for wanting to trade with this country or that, but they don't see themselves as having something that they want to spread.
So I don't know. If you look at opinion polls-- and there are some interesting ones that have been done in Asia in attitudes towards the United States and towards China; it does depend on how the question is posed-- there is a great deal of warmth towards the United States-- not always towards the particular policies of the US government-- and increasingly, uncertainty about, suspicion about, concern about, the direction of Chinese policy.
DAVID M. LAMPTON: I guess what I would really say is I think most small countries don't want any hegemony. What they want is the capacity to achieve balance. And that may take a fairly powerful state, the United States, [INAUDIBLE] one possibility to maintain balance. But I see hegemony as maybe on the spectrum, but it's not at the same place as the capacity to meet balance. And I think most small and medium states want to achieve balance in their region, not the hegemony of one or the other power.
And in fact, I think that's the problem of the United States. How do we exert influence, keep balance, without seeming domineering, which I think is generally not an attractive feature to most people? So I'd say that's the first thing.
Also, it seems to me that, if we get back to the soft power that Aaron was talking about, you want to attract followers. You don't want to compel followers. In other words, I think we need to-- and I think an important part of the capacity to attract is the-- I've had several Chinese come up to me to say something that boils down to the following.
Some years ago, when we came out of the Cultural Revolution and that whole period, we admired the governance of the United States. Here was this country that was so polyglot, a melting pot, decentralzied, and yet it was well governed. And now we don't quite see the United States as that well governed. Now, partly it was an allusion perhaps earlier. We didn't see all the warts coming out of the Cultural Revolution. And I don't mean we've just totally deteriorated.
But the point I want to make is I think the capacity of the United States to govern itself well and continue to achieve progress in what you might call the innovative domains-- that's our greatest power. So I think we have the capacity to dominate in soft power, and I just see us not doing as well as we could. I think that's the general way to put it.
ALLEN CARLSON: It's actually past 6:30. And we've just, I think, sort of scratched the surface in some ways. It could continue all night. But rather than doing that, I think we should end things here. And we'd like to thank both you, Aaron and Mike for your contributions.
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The 2012 Lund Critical Debate took place on Wednesday, November 14, focusing on the rise of China, under the title "Is China the New Superpower?"
The speakers are David Lampton, Dean of Faculty, George and Sadie Hyman Professor of China Studies, and Director of the China Studies Program at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), and Aaron Friedberg, Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University. Allen Carlson, Professor of Government at Cornell University, served as the moderator for the event.
The annual Lund Critical Debate Series is part of the Einaudi Center's Foreign Policy Initiative.