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The three-hour face-to-face meeting in Bali between President Biden and President Xi — their first non-virtual meeting in over three years — concluded just over an hour ago.

Much can be said (and is already in digital print) looking at this meeting from various angles:

  • History of Biden’s personal relationship with Xi
  • Composition of the small delegations accompanying the heads of state and what those choices say
  • The wide range of issues discussed including Taiwan, Russia, nuclear arms (and their possible use in Ukraine), North Korea, human rights, resumption of national level cooperation on issues of climate change, health security, global food security, and defense-related communications (to forestall accidents and misunderstandings), etc.
  • Differences in the official post-meeting read-outs from the two sides and what those differences signify
  • Atmospherics of the meeting — effect of recent boosts to each leader’s domestic standing; implications of the third-party location on periphery of G20, etc
US President Joe Biden and China’s President Xi Jinping, Nusa Dua Bali, Nov 14, 2022 (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)

But I will go to what I believe to be the heart of the matter. The bottom line, both immediately and over the medium term:

CONTEXT: Gauged charitably, U.S.-China relations are at their lowest point since at least 1991 (post-Tiananmen and pre-Deng’s Tour of the South). Gauged more hard-headedly, they are in their worst shape since before Nixon’s visit to China in 1972 to begin dialogue and explore a relationship amid the Cold War freeze. The vertiginous decline we’ve been experiencing in recent years started very gradually as far back as 2008 when the (Western) Financial Crisis put shortcomings of the Washington Consensus on display in Beijing at the very moment when China was basking in its success in hosting the 2008 Summer Olympics. The hardening of attitudes became personified on the Chinese side with the emergence of Xi Jinping as paramount leader in 2012. Over the following years, the on-going decline in political relations — as contrasted with ever-strengthening commercial ties — became exacerbated for the Obama Administration as China militarized islands in the South and Southeast China Seas, brazenly breaking a commitment Xi had personally given Obama. It was then personified on the U.S. side starting in 2015 with Donald Trump’s racially-tinged campaign and, following his election, by his go-it-alone crusade to punish China with sanctions and Oval Office invective. The rhetoric was answered in 2017 by Xi Jinping upon his re-election as Chinese Communist Party (CCP) head in the form of an uber-triumphalist speech he delivered from the 19th Party Congress stage. The flash-points multiplied during the pandemic with China working hard to obscure the origins of the Covid-19 outbreak and subsequently using its heavy-handed Zero-Covid policy as the linchpin for Xi’s claim that China offered the world a superior system to liberal Western democracy (a claim which non-Western Taiwan makes a mockery of every day and which Hong Kong once also challenged prior to its being brought to heel brutally by Beijing in 2020). The deterioration continued in 2021 as the Biden Administration disappointed Beijing by not reverting to the softer, Obama-era approach to China that the Chinese leadership in Zhongnanhai had expected. Instead, the Biden Administration worked assiduously and with considerable success, to build a broad, values-based partnership with traditional allies and other aligned countries to answer China with a solid front. The Peoples Liberation Army’s practice-run blockade of Taiwan following House Speaker Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan in August further accelerated the downward spiral. And, while not yet fully appreciated by the American public, passage of the Biden Administration’s CHIPS Act into law in August is perceived in China, rightly, as a policy dagger pointed at the heart of its aspirations for seizing dominance in 21st c. technologies for defense, aerospace and space, surveillance and security, and industrial automation and productivity. (It is with the set of issues in these last two sentences — the interlinked issue of Taiwan and the CHIPS Act — that the Assessing China blog is now focused).

THE BOTTOM LINE: The bottom line of today’s meeting is Taiwan. While both sides settled in their separate post-meeting read-outs on emphasizing the lowest common denominator assertion that they’re now working together to stabilize an unstable relationship, their agendas going into the meeting were clearly different. For the Biden Administration, stabilization was the goal. It was enough just to establish a floor to stop further relationship decline and to limit the negative impact further decline would have on the range of issues under discussion (see above). For Xi, the goal was something more — to leverage agreement to stabilize the relationship toward the end of prying out some glimmer of affirmation from the U.S. side to validate his stance on Taiwan. With his eye on 2027 (21st Party Congress) and 2035 (a key CCP goal for China’s development) and with a domestic lock-hold for the next five years in the form of his new Standing Committee of loyalists, Xi is turning his attention — and ambition — to the international sphere. That means Taiwan as the culmination of his China Dream (and, I would wager, the fulfillment of the backroom deal he likely crafted with the CCP in 2012 to let him off the two-term-limit leash). In Xi’s thinking, if the U.S. could commit to the Shanghai Communique in earlier years, he should push as a next step for formal U.S. acceptance of his claim on Taiwan. As Xi put it, Taiwan is “the very core of our core interests.”

The bottom line of their meeting in Bali today may then be that Xi, just like Putin with Ukraine, misreads U.S. politics and society and the resolve of most of the international community concerning Taiwan. The evidence for this view would be the public read-outs: Biden achieved his chief objective while Xi did not.

But another view is possible. As Xi has demonstrated over the last twelve years, he is willing to take large risks to achieve the China Dream but he is methodical about how he goes about taking those risks. Militarization of the South China Sea and the ruthless imposition of the Basic Security Law in Hong Kong are just two examples. Militarily, China has been modernizing and arming up with laser-focus on deterring the U.S. in the Strait of Taiwan for far longer than the Pentagon has been taking steps to respond. As a result, the window of opportunity for Xi to move militarily is expected to be at its widest around 2027 or 2028. Following that, the belated U.S. military revamp in the region will be coming on stream and narrowing that window with each passing year. (It’s worth noting that 2027 coincides with the next Party Congress and therefore coincides well with the ‘chapter structure’ of the narrative Xi has been building about his stature as not only a peer of Mao Zedong in the Communist era but as a Chinese leader of destiny for the ages.)

So does the “failure” of Xi’s bottom-line agenda regarding Taiwan at today’s meeting indicate that he misreads Biden and the U.S. political system? Or might he instead be playing a longer game to a wider audience? If Xi’s sights are indeed firmly fixed on the 2027/8 moment (not only militarily but also politically and in the eyes of history) and if he is focused on exploiting that window of maximum military opportunity, his failure today to make any headway toward some type of formal understanding with the U.S. regarding Taiwan may be exactly the point.

The choreography may be designed to show Xi making a concerted effort to get the U.S. to more fully acknowledge his claim on Taiwan. Xi probably recognizes this won’t happen. The U.S. will not cut a deal with an autocrat to throw 23 million people in a thriving democracy under the bus. But Xi can use that show of effort over the next few years to advantage. He will have made a show for the world to see of having tried hard to exhaust “peaceful measures” prior to being “forced” to make a military move on Taiwan. He will have checked that box. And it won’t be a coincidence if the moment of being “forced” happens at the same moment of the PLA’s maximum military advantage.

After a run of nine years and ten months, the Assessing China blog was blacklisted last weekend in China.

How did it last that long given that my view of the Chinese Communist Party (not the Chinese people) is highly critical? By exercising some diplomatic judiciousness in my posts and by hitching my star to a Presidential-level, bi-national program of U.S.-China clean energy cooperation aimed at mitigating the global effects of climate change at scale and speed. It was in the U.S. interest to cooperate with China on climate change mitigation as long as China was willing to cooperate.

What led to Sunday’s change? Three things …

1. China officially ended all high-level bilateral programs of cooperation with the U.S. — not only on climate change but also, among others, on defense coordination to forestall risks of military miscalculation — in the wake of Nancy Pelosi’s mid-August visit to Taiwan.

2. Last month’s CHIPS Act and last week’s National Security Strategy released by the Biden Administration have raised the salience of work, publications and Congressional Commission testimony I previously did in the 2000s, advocating strengthened trade ties with Taiwan and pointing out vulnerabilities in global semiconductor supply chains

3. In light of 1 and 2, I intentionally courted blacklisting over the weekend by including a link to BBC’s coverage of The Bridge Man protest against Xi Jinping’s and the CCP’s rule in Saturday’s post (which contains the link to the BBC report). The censors didn’t miss a beat in catching this. But, given my shift in focus to Taiwan and microchips, it’s better for me that the blog is now blocked in China and can’t become the focus of netizen ire. I’m just sorry for the subscribers in the mainland who find themselves suddenly cut off.

My wife and I were stationed with the U.S. Consulate in Shanghai at the time of The Tank Man’s protest. That act of defiance as well as this month’s ‘cri du coeur’ by The Bridge Man are extraordinarily courageous acts by individuals against a system dedicated to silencing any voices other than those who choose to be fully obedient or, more frequently, are cowed into full obedience.

The answer is that many things were lost. China’s move to terminate all official bi-national cooperation with the U.S. to mitigate the effects of climate change was not only short-sighted. It was, for China, a classic case of cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face. The action was purely political — to protest a visit to Taiwan by Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, a visit that had ampled precedent going back to 1977 when Speaker Newt Gingrich visited Taiwan. The consequences of China’s unprecedented and over-reactive action — eliminating countless programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, promote improve water quality, conserve natural habitats and bio-diversity — will have as much of a detrimental effect, if not more, on developing China as it will on the United States’ developed economy.

Here’s a case study of one opportunity — built for scale and speed — that has been lost …

(click for original, free to read version of this article from Environmental Progress & Sustainable Energy)

by Doug Barry, Senior Director of Communications, U.S.-China Business Council

(view original article in USCBC’s Fifty States, Fifty Stories series)

U.S.-China EcoPartners Terry Cooke (CPGP) & Mme. Song Yuyan (TEDA EcoCenter) sign with Philadelphia & Tianjin Mayors

Policy entrepreneurs are plentiful in America. You can find them everywhere, devoting ideas and energy to getting things done. Terry Cooke founded the non-profit China Partnership of Greater Philadelphia with a focus on getting the United States and China to cooperate on climate change. Getting what he wants done has become more challenging as the two countries ping pong between cooperation, competition, and conflict. 

How did he get here and how is he managing multiple challenges simultaneously? He’s been interested in global affairs for a long time, starting in 1988 when he joined the US Commerce Department as a foreign commercial service officer in Shanghai. His two-year posting there bracketed the Tiananmen Square convulsion. Years flew by with postings in Tokyo, Berlin, and Taiwan. In 2002 he took leave from the foreign service and started a consulting business focusing on Taiwan and high tech. 

In 2006, Cooke joined the World Economic Forum (WEF) as Director of Asian CEO Partnership with a focus more on Japan than China. He left in 2008. “It was too much travel,” he recalled. “I worked in New York, had my family in Philadelphia, commuted to Geneva, and had responsibility for multiple events in Asia.” 

One of the best parts of the WEF job was sitting in on multiple sectoral meetings with CEOs. His main takeaway was that many of these corporate leaders were talking about the challenges of climate change, not as PR or greenwashing, but about the need to transform their companies into low-carbon leaders. “I decided that was the hook that I wanted to hang the second half of my career on when I came back to Philadelphia.” 

Cooke recalled his time in Berlin and the impression made by comparing what was then called West Germany with the East, which at the time was terribly polluted. When the Berlin Wall fell, the country united and the cleanup of the Eastern part of the country began. The lesson was that great progress to improve the environment is possible if the political will exists and if clear policy creates predictability for businesses and investors. 

The good old days 

In 2010, Cooke joined the Wilson Center, a Washington, DC think tank, as senior fellow for US-China climate cooperation. His research there led to publication of his book Sustaining US-China Cooperation in Clean Energy. Coincident with this research, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu introduced a “national labs program for the 21st century” for clean energy technologies as an outgrowth of the 10-year framework for US-China cooperation on energy and the environment pioneered by Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson in the waning years of the George W. Bush administration. 

President Barack Obama and Secretary Chu worked to expand Paulson’s program, adding three US-China clean energy research centers in different industrial areas: electric vehicles initially at the University of Michigan, clean coal at the University of West Virginia, and energy efficient buildings through a Penn State-led program at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. 

“Disappointing as these decisions were, there was still potential in the climate change mitigation space, even as other areas like micro-electronics drifted further off-limits.”

To support and expand the energy-efficient buildings program, Cooke founded in 2011 the China Partnership of Greater Philadelphia whose mission was raising awareness and facilitating collaboration to create and bring to market low-carbon solutions for the built environment. For the first years, things went great with lots of local and Chinese partners, mayoral visits, and stakeholders to plan low-carbon futures for urban centers in the United States and China.  In 2014, China Partnership of Greater Philadelphia and its partner organization in China, the TEDA EcoCenter, were competitively selected for and awarded a prestigious U.S.-China EcoPartnership Award, administered jointly by the U.S. and PRC Governments.

Cooke (rear row, 2nd from left) at 2014 EcoPartnership Award Ceremony with former SecState John Kerry and Ambassador Max Baucus

“We had some fits and starts, including an unfortunate near-death experience involving IP piracy.” Isn’t this ironic given the long-standing concerns the US government and private sector have about “collaborations” that lead to forced technology transfers and outright pilfering? “It would be if that’s what happened. Instead, the main culprit was an American in an American company.” The company did not want to make a public fuss because of reputational concerns. “We had to shift focus and change our business model to make sure that would never happen again, but it was a one-off, not something endemic with the work we were doing.” 

Pulling the plug on energy cooperation 

If not as immediately dire, there were other experiences that could have been crippling to his non-profit. Two of them involved former president Donald Trump, who pulled the United States out of the Paris Climate Accords and in 2020 terminated the US-China EcoPartnership program just seven days before leaving office. “Disappointing as these decisions were, there was still potential in the climate change mitigation space, even as other areas like micro-electronics drifted further off-limits.” 

The shifting binaries involved with competition and cooperation were making the scope for business cooperation more limited and the non-profit’s work more problematic. Competition is now spilling into the space previously marked by cooperation. The shriveling of discourse between government leaders has only made things more difficult. 


“What used to be very effective work through industrial cooperation in lowering emissions is now off the table, though some academic and some intergovernmental climate cooperation continues.”

Early in the Biden administration, excitement was generated by the appointment of John Kerry as climate envoy. Kerry and his PRC counterpart, Xie Zhenhua, had worked closely and cooperatively under Biden’s vice presidency during the Obama administration but Biden administration policy would not be a simple reset to that period. While cooperation continues in areas such as scientific exchange and standards setting, industrial cooperation toward low-carbon goals now enjoys little federal-level support. This even as the planet continues to warm and nations like China and India continue to struggle reducing their addiction to coal. 

Kerry recently pointed out in a Foreign Affairs article that there’s still time to avoid disaster but that in the coming years many trillions of dollars will be needed to fund and field clean energy technology. The money, he said, must largely come from the private sector which stands to gain from what could amount to a new industrial revolution. 

Cooke worries that the emphasis on zero-sum competition with China over recent years will make broad cooperation in climate change extremely difficult. “The competition drive is spilling into areas that used to be defined by cooperation,” he said. One example is the network of 11 national-level eco parks organized through the Greater Philadelphia-Tianjin EcoPartnership. Germany invested in one such park in 2020, focused on green maritime technology, to the tune of more than $3 billion. The PHL-TJ EcoPartnership had defined a focus on energy-efficient, securely smart and healthy buildings at sustainable-city scale for this network of 11 eco-parks. The emphasis was on large-scale opportunities supported by very large companies and leavened by the innovation of smaller, entrepreneurial companies. “Given the problems in the bilateral relationship, that large scale opportunity has receded for the foreseeable future at least.”  

Enter the contradiction 

Cooke is highly attuned to the potential for contradiction between commercial competition and climate cooperation, worrying that when Kerry steps down, the space for commercially led environmental solutions to be applied at scale and speed in the two largest global economies will shrink even more. 

“What used to be very effective work through industrial cooperation in lowering emissions is now off the table, though some academic and some intergovernmental climate cooperation continues.” He concedes that the continuation of even these relationships is not assured given the political environment in both countries.  

“My organization was about creating a platform for a US-Sino Eco-Park in China bringing advanced energy efficiency services and technologies to the park. That is viewed negatively now in Washington. What’s disappointing is that other countries friendly to us are now established in China in commercial areas that we’re better at but won’t be able to contribute to because official reluctance for cooperation.” 

Cooke says: “The United States needs to be smart about its clean energy approach to China. Yes, China wants to dominate an emerging 21st century industry. But if we out-innovate and out-compete China technologically, we can access their market profitably and also collaborate commercially to forestall the worst effects of climate change. Is it really in the US interest not to have active engagement with China, aside from discrete small companies that are more easily taken advantage of? I’d prefer to see us going in with a convoy approach of large companies and smaller innovators protected by US government policies and focused on delivering measurable, low-carbon solutions at a globally impactful scale. To my mind, this is a huge missed opportunity.”

Cooke as panelist at 2016 U.S.-China EcoPartnership event at Diaoyutai Compound, Beijing

Cooke’s non-profit, which he recently rebranded as ReGen250 to accommodate additional, non-China-focused environmental programs, continues to assess options for low-carbon partnerships with China. What elements would a US private sector partner want to support that his organization could strongly endorse? “Alternatively, we can just decide we’re only going to focus on local programs in the Mid-Atlantic to increase access to a greener built environment.”  

What about the Department of Energy’s prior interest in cooperation? “I have had some high-level discussions within the Department. The entire group that previously supported the commercial exchange at this high level between the national government and subnational actors, including Eco-Partners and city level groups, is not active right now. It was disappointing to learn that.” 

“Despite the challenges in the US-China relationship, subnational initiatives, especially in energy and climate change mitigation solutions, should be encouraged and supported.”

Despite the setbacks, Cooke believes there are still areas for engagement with China regardless of the government in power. One involves people-to-people exchanges, albeit challenging at the present moment given China’s zero-COVID policies. Examples of programs that deserve to survive are the adoption of Chinese children, music (he helped the Philadelphia Orchestra create an artist residency program in China) and artistic exchange, student exchange, and most importantly, business. He believes that the once promising universe of business cooperation has constricted but there still remain spaces outside of sensitive technologies where businesses can and must connect. 

As a member of the local ecosystem that support US-China commercial relations, he’s not giving up. Rather, he envisions the different China business-related ecosystems across the United States networking and sharing best practices. He said that one such effort was made recently at a Midwest university, but he expressed some disappointment at the fact that the focus turned out to be on a recently discovered vulnerability involving WeChat. It was a security-led briefing, not the commercially minded dialogue that is needed. 

Cooke isn’t ready to walk away from his gift of multi-stakeholder cooperation on climate change or the imperative for non-profits like his to act locally and globally. “Efforts at the subnational level have an important place in helping American companies navigate a complex environment in China. They have a great potential impact because they can organize a well-protected convoy in the place of one isolated boat, big or small.” 

“Despite the challenges in the US-China relationship, subnational initiatives, especially in energy and climate change mitigation solutions, should be encouraged and supported.” 

(view original article in USCBC’s Fifty States, Fifty Stories series)

The Shanghai Communiqué was signed on the evening of February 27, 1972 at the Jinjiang Hotel in Shanghai, home to a restaurant my wife and I frequented weekly during my posting to the U.S. Consulate in Shanghai from 1988 to 1990. The Communiqué, as distilled by Wikipedia, “pledged that it was in the interest of all nations for the United States and China to work towards the normalization of their relations, and affirmed a mutual interest in détente.”

Earlier this week, a China-hand friend of long-standing texted me to ask my thoughts about the South China Morning Post’s report on the ceremony conducted a few days ago by the Chinese Government to commemorate this event. Specifically, she asked my thoughts on the comment by PRC Foreign Minister Wang Yi to the effect that China was “willing to work with the US on the Build Back Better World, a G7-led global infrastructure plan, and would welcome Washington joining its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).” (This comment was contextually painted by Wang into a broader picture of how Nixon was far wiser than the current administration in engaging cooperatively with China and that the US should immediately cease and desist from its current posture seeking “hegemony” in Asia.)

Here’s my reply:

“Wishful thinking on Wang Yi’s part. 77 years of U.S. international development assistance have been based on principles of democracy promotion, free market strengthening, transparency and anti-corruption. BRI projects tend to work best where none of those values flourish and instead where those projects serve the personal interests of autocratic (and near-autocratic) leaders. The Rajapaksa family in Sri Lanka and Lukashenko in Belarus are prime examples (with Ukraine being the oddball exception which proves the general rule). Right-thinking US Govt officials have ZERO interest, I believe, in joining BRI projects or in allowing PRC entities to participate in Build Back Better World initiatives until PRC intl-econ-dev standards rise to the level of US/European/Japanese standards. Until that happens, the focus is on out-competing China in the less autocratic BRI countries and with working particularly closely with Japan and Australia in the Asian arena of development assistance competition.”

“So summing up: Wang Yi’s statement is a non-serious and unrealistic throw-away line but one that sounds warm and fuzzy to say on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of signing the Shanghai Communiqué. It has the added advantage of having no prospect of actually going anywhere.”

China Partnership of Greater Philadelphia (CPGP) has been truckin’ along the main street of U.S.-China clean energy cooperation since 2011. As seen through our eyes, it sure has been a trip. Here’s a brief history of the long, strange journey …

Timed well to the moment we’re in right now, the peer-reviewed science journal Environmental Progress & Sustainable Energy has published this month an overview article recapping CPGP’s 10-year journey and peering forward at the road ahead. You can read the article here and feel free to comment below.

Sometimes the light’s all shinin’ on me
Other times, I can barely see
Lately, it occurs to me
What a long, strange trip it’s been…

President Biden’s first in-person appearance on the world stage included a tense but business-like meeting with Vladimir Putin, a NATO meeting in which NATO solidarity was vociferously reaffirmed and a meeting of G7 leaders in which the perceived threats of climate change and China both loomed large.

The final agreement announced at the conclusion of the G7 last Sunday featured two elements with direct bearing on China and, particularly, on China’s Belt & Road Initiative (BRI): a commitment to phase out coal-fired electricity generation and a revived commitment to provide $100 billion in green finance assistance to developing countries.  Both commitments were, however, long on symbolism and short on substance.

Today’s post looks at why the headlines for both announcements were printed in such large banner font, why the accompanying stories were so short in column-inch detail and why both stories serve to center on China at a meeting – involving the heads of state of the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Germany, France, Italy and Japan – where China is not represented.

The electricity generation commitment undertaken by the seven leaders was specifically that their governments would provide no new support for thermal coal power generation except in cases where carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology is deployed in tandem to neutralize the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions produced by coal-firing.  This undertaking supports a previous G7 commitment to halve emissions by 2030 (against a 2010 baseline) on the way to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.

The green finance commitment announced announced Sunday – to provide $100 billion annually to help developing countries decarbonize – was not in fact a new commitment but a reaffirmation of an earlier commitment which had lapsed during the Trump years. It was rolled out on Sunday with a new name – the Build Back Better World Initiative – but with no new funding attached.

Seen from a global perspective, both commitments are intended as a direct response to China and its Belt and Road Initiative.  China’s trajectory of domestic high-growth has resulted in it recently surpassing the GHG emissions of the entire developed world combined, according to a recent report by the Rhodium Group.  Compounding this unfavorable trend, China continues to support its Big Coal industry by encouraging exports of coal-fired power generation equipment to its less developed BRI partner countries.  The G7’s electricity generation commitment is therefore intended to draw a sharp contrast in climate change global leadership between the G7 group of democracies and the China’s competing, more authoritarian model.  Similarly, the green financing commitment is intended as an alternative pool of financing for developing countries to draw on separate from Chinese government lending and the BRI-focused Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).

So what accounts for the splashy headline but dearth of detail?  Two factors. The first is the very evident desire of the other six countries to welcome the U.S., post-Trump, “back into the club” by explicitly amplifying in the international arena President Biden’s domestic Build Back Better theme; and, more importantly, by presenting a show of implicit support for Biden’s “Summit of the Democracies” strategy for countering China. In short, the symbolism was more important than the actual substance for achieving this goal.

Hammering out the details of the power generation agreement and expanding on the scope of the green finance commitment eluded the G7 leaders at this meeting due to a lack of confidence, especially among the three leaders from Continental Europe, that detailed and expanded agreement will stick. There are three levels of doubt contributing to this lack of confidence.  In order of ascending importance, there is:

  • Uncertainty over how Biden and his National Security Council deputies Kurt Campbell and John Kerry are going to square heightened competition with China in the technology space with attempted renewal of cooperation with China in addressing climate change;
  • Doubt over the ability of the Administration to get its proposals through a closely-divided and highly-partisan Congress; and
  • Concern that the American public’s fling with climate science denial and Trumpian America First thinking might not be a one-time affair and could come to the fore again in the 2022 mid-term election and the 2024 Presidential election.

Given these doubts, any effort to provide substantive detail for the power generation agreement and to expand the green financing agreement would have been prone to failure and could have undercut the paramount goal of projecting renewed G7 solidarity and democratic unity.  Looked at from another angle, this result shows how much effort and hard work will be required to reestablish the global momentum toward 2050 climate goals following Trump’s decision to pull America out from the Paris Accord Conference of Parties (COP) process.

On May 27th speaking at the annual Stanford University Oksenberg Conference, Kurt Campbell, Biden’s National Security Council Coordinator for Indo-Pacific Affairs, delineated the new ‘continental divide’ in U.S.-China Relations.

The period in U.S. policy toward China that was broadly described as ‘engagement’ has come to an end, said Dr. Kurt M. Campbell, deputy assistant to the President and coordinator for Indo-Pacific affairs at the National Security Council, speaking at Shorenstein APARC’s 2021 Oksenberg Conference. “The dominant paradigm is going to be competition. Our goal is to make that a stable, peaceful competition that brings out the best of us,” he added.

This low-key pronouncement is attention-grabbing for several fundamental reasons: (1) it marks the end of a 39-year bipartisan effort to encourage China to become, through a concerted program of cooperative outreach, a “responsible stakeholder” in the post-WWII liberal democratic world order and (2) the epitapth was delivered by one of the principal architects of that cooperative program.

To back up this somewhat sweeping statement on my part, I’ll be spending the weeks ahead examining what this sea-change portends from three perspectives:

Aspirationally …

On Mondays, we’ll be looking at various aspects of what heightened competition with China will look like for the Biden Administration in the tech sphere. This will include high-level perspectives of competition in artificial intelligence and robotics; sourcing of rare earths needed for smart phones, electric vehicles and other high-tech products; 5G build-out in domestic and international markets; quantum computing competition; the Great Firewall of China as an export product to Belt & Road partners countries; and social media platforms and data privacy issues. But most saliently, we’ll be looking in-depth at global supply chains in microelectronics and the fraught issue that 40% of the world’s microchip production — and 80% of its high-performance products — are produced in Taiwan at a distance of only 90 miles from the PRC mainland.

On Wednesdays, we’ll be examining the fields of energy and environment where cooperation still rules the day under Cabinet-level John Kerry’s aegis but where cooperation is shifting from a government-to-government level to a more market-based model of comparative advantage cooperation.

On Fridays, we’ll be examining what these changes look like from the Chinese perspective. Our sources for this perspective — what cultural anthropologists call the emic (in-group) view as opposed to the etic (outside observer) view — will include macro-perspectives such as the Five Year Plans, primary-source research findings provided by my UPenn masters-level students, and also micro-perspectives such as interviews and insights gleaned from business people operating on the ground in China.

My heart-felt thanks go out to the many subscribers who have been with me on the journey to date. I look forward to welcoming hopefully many others choosing to subscribe to the blog for this next leg of the journey.

Everything that I have ever done professionally has been approached and viewed through the lens of one of two disciplines.  Eventually, I learned to combine the two.

The first was the discipline of cultural anthropology. A twelfth-grade class in 20th c. religious thought led me to major in Asian Comparative Religion at Princeton which led me (after a year of traveling overland from Europe to Taiwan via Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Nepal) to a joint MA/PhD program at the University of California at Berkeley.  Two and a half years living at 10,500’ in the village of Tengyi in the Manang Valley north of Annapurna (pictured below), taught me how to see the world through the eyes of people with different circumstances and values.

 

The other was the discipline of diplomacy.  I joined the U.S. Foreign Service in the spring of 1988, a little more than two years after getting my degree.  (I should mention at this point that I made very good use of the intervening time by moving to New York to court Grace, by marrying Grace, and by renovating our first house in Brooklyn.) Having cleared the various assessment hurdles of the Foreign Service test and having been given an offer to join, it wasn’t a hard decision.  My clearest career idea upon receiving my doctorate was that I did not want to stay in academics.  And my only interview in the corporate world – with SmithKline (now Glaxo) – could have made for an amusing episode of The Office.  So I took the offer. Having come in initially through the State Department, I asked for a lateral transfer into the U.S. Department of Commerce branch of the Foreign Service, because my sense was that — for the two places I really wanted to be posted, China and Japan – a lot of the Embassy action was on the business side.  I wasn’t wrong. Anyway, the point I want to make here is that the anthropological viewpoint worked well with the diplomatic viewpoint to help me see issues in three dimensions and, with that better field of vision, helped me resolve some the issues at the heart of the U.S.-Japan Auto Talks and other knotty diplomatic challenges.  I don’t think I ever told business clients, and rarely told Embassy colleagues, that I was trained as a cultural anthropologist.  I definitely never contemplated for a moment putting PhD on my business cards. But I used the anthropological perspective every day during my time in the Foreign Service.

 

With this as personal introduction, I’ll share here the three roadmaps – ‘pathmaps,’ more accurately – which have been most helpful in guiding me through both the magnificent panoramas and the minefields of modern U.S.-China relations.  In coming weeks, I will give each of these works its own dedicated post.  Today will simply list the three with brief thumbnail intros and identify the common thread I have found most useful.

 

1

Wealth and Power: China’s Long March to the Twenty-First Century

By Orville Schell and John Delury

Random House (2013)

Given to me for Christmas in 2013 by James Gibney — former Foreign Service colleague in Tokyo, editor extraordinaire, and godfather to my younger son – Wealth and Power brings to life a simple but profound insight.  Through the life stories of eleven completely different individuals — in some cases, mortal enemies – Schell and Delury show how all eleven hew to a single goal, China’s rejuvenation through the acquisition of wealth and power.  The early 19th c. scholar Wei Yuan and the activist Feng Guifen proposed completely different courses of action; the Empress Dowager Cixi, the “new citizen” Liang Qichao and the reformer Sun Yaat-sen all saw radically different pathways to modernization, Chiang Kai-shek and Mao Zedong led opposing sides of a decades-long civil war, and Zhu Rongji (whom I met as Mayor of Shanghia on several occasions during my first posting there) and Nobel Prize winner Liu Xiabo had entirely different conceptions of the moral duty of a citizen in modern China.  Nonetheless, despite differing in their ideas of the best means to reach the goal, they all shared an absolutely identical understanding of the most urgent goal in their lives – helping China acquire enough wealth and power to regain its traditional standing as a world colossus.  (This goal, incidentally, continues to be inculcated in the education of every school child in China today).

 

2

Belt and Road: A Chinese World Order

By Bruno Maçães

Hurst Publishers (2019)

 

This book is included not because it is one of the best books about China.  Far from it.  John Pomfret’s The Beautiful Country and the Middle Kingdom and countless other books would make that cut in front of Maçães.  The reason for Belt and Road’s inclusion here is that Maçães does something few too scholars and commentators on China bother to do.  He puts himself into the minds and mindset  of the Chinese government planners who are charting China’s future.  This is what an anthropologist does and the insight it provides helps minimize misunderstanding and creates more space for successful diplomatic outcomes.

Maçães is himself a former Portuguese diplomat with extensive experience in Hong Kong and China.  To give just a sense of his approach, Maçães argues that Western theories of international relations entirely miss the basic conception at the heart of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).  In Maçães’ view, that conception “follows Taoist logic: the single concept first divides in two — land and sea — then in several — the corridors and coutnries — then in many — the specific projects and privileged locations” in the BRI enterprise.

 

3

The U.S. and China in the 21st Century: Sub-National Sino-American Relations

Course Number IMPA 608 in the School of Liberal & Professional Studies (FY 2019 & 20)

International Masters of Public Administration, Fox Leadership International

Instructor: Terry Cooke   Co-Instructor: Liyiran (Shelly) Xia

 

This is the course I taught at Penn for two years before COVID-19 hit and the course was furloughed.  I hasten to point out that I am adding it here because of the input from students, rather than because of my syllabus.  The course is designed in two parts: the first seven weeks involves readings, lectures and classroom discussion structured on the basis of my syllabus; the second seven weeks, the most valuable part of the course, is a knowledge co-creation exercise based on original research, much of it in Chinese, which the students conduct and present.  It is through this knowledge co-creation exercise and through insights provided by the students and Co-Instructor Shelly Xia that I have been able to articulate the framework which informs the Ambitions portion of the TEA Collaborative project (T = Technology, E = Energy/Environment, A = Ambitions).  The Ambitions portion seeks to understand and systematically present the MacroDevelopment vision which Chinese government planners have been elaborating and adjusting since the birth of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 (and have been communicating clearly in their Five Year Plans).  It is an effort to apply the joint lens of anthropology and diplomacy to better understand the motivation and to better delineate the opportunities and challenges associated with China’s MacroDev trajectory.  We use three time periods (and, in the last time, period two different geographies) to organize this undertaking:

1949 – 1978:               Version 1.0 of the PRC MacroDev Model

1982 – 2009:               Version 2.0 of the PRC MacroDev Model

2012 – Current:           Version 3.0 of the PRC MacroDev Model
A) Domestic Release
B) International Release (Belt & Road Initiative

Note: the years not covered above were years of opaque, internal deliberation
within the Chinese Communist Party leadership

 

The Common Thread

 

 

I hope the point is obvious.  The common thread here is being able to understand the world as seen through the eyes of your counterpart.  As in business, you don’t always know whether your counterpart will prove to be protagonist or antagonist, friend or foe.  In order to negotiate the best possible deal, however, it is always vital to understand as well as possible that counterpart’s motivations, core values and thought processes.  Whether the climate of U.S.-China relations is chilly or warm, I choose to stand firmly on that ground.

 

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