Maximizing cooperation with China can maximize US influence: Expert

Source:Global Times Published: 2019/6/7 15:03:25

Editor's Note: 

Carla P. Freeman (Freeman), daughter of former US diplomat Chas Freeman Jr. and a well-known China hand, first set foot on Chinese soil when the reform and opening-up was unfolding. In an interview with Global Times (GT) Washington correspondent Wen Yan, she uses her extensive knowledge of China acquired over three decades to throw light on the trade spat, Korean Peninsula row and other issues. Carla P. Freeman is director of the Foreign Policy Institute, School of Advanced International Studies, John Hopkins University.  

Carla P. Freeman Photo: Courtesy of Freeman

GT: When did you start studying about China and why? 

Freeman: I was very fortunate to have first been "introduced" to China in the early 1980s, when the country was just beginning its reform and opening-up. My father, a diplomat, had been assigned to the US Embassy in Beijing and the family moved to China together. I had a chance to travel widely across China when the country was still very poor and limited transportation options made many regions remote. It was exciting to watch China becoming increasingly open to the outside world. I found China's economic and social transformation fascinating and wanted to learn more about China's history, contemporary politics and economics— and the policy drivers underlying the rapid changes I was witnessing. I began my formal study of China as an undergraduate at Yale — and I am still learning more than three decades later.

GT: As a well-known China hand, what is your view about the challenges and global issues China is facing in foreign affairs? 

Freeman: China's growing power and footprint in the world- economic and politico-military - both raise new questions for countries around the world about China's intentions toward them and also create new expectations about China's international leadership — particularly given some of China's recent initiatives like AIIB and as a provider of international public goods. China's interests and those of other countries do not align in all areas and navigating the differences between national interests and global commitments and expectations is challenging, and the choices China makes today will have long-term implications.  

China is also on the frontline of some of the more serious transnational threats to global security, such as climate change. China has made a positive commitment to global climate change leadership, seeking to mitigate its own greenhouse gas emissions significantly and playing a role in encouraging collective action through the Paris Agreement. Given the role of coal in powering China's economy, this is a difficult challenge but China's government seems determined to take steps to "green" its economy and set an international example as a positive environmental actor — not a characteristic associated with China for many years.

Last but not least, disagreements between the US and China on the trade front not only put this globally important bilateral economic relationship at risk but also run the risk of escalating longstanding but historically managed tensions between the two countries.  The disruption of economic relations has many costs to both countries and to others as well, but until recently it appeared that the US and China would reach a mutually acceptable or at least tolerable agreement. Today, I am, frankly, not very hopeful that such an agreement can be reached soon. It is vital that this combative dynamic between the US and China on the economic front not be allowed to spill into the military arena, which is a real danger given the atmosphere of intensifying strategic competition.

GT: This year marks the 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations between China and the US. Cooperation and strategic rivalry between the two countries take various forms. In your view, can the US and China avoid trade frictions, or what can be done to reduce the intensity of the disputes? Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said China and the US should not allow differences between them to define bilateral ties. What is your view on his remarks? 

Freeman: The US and China have seen bilateral frictions over issues such as market access and economic security intensify to a level I certainly did not expect a few months ago. Resolving or at least reaching a mutually satisfying agreement between the two countries over trade and investment seems to be getting more complicated as the trade war goes on.  

As for Foreign Minister Wang Yi's remarks, my humble reaction is that the US-China relationship was forged on a recognition that the mutual benefits of bilateral ties outweighed the concerns both sides had about engaging with each other; and for much of the past four decades, the US-China relationship has in my view generated more mutual gains than costs.  The ability to manage differences for mutual gain that has characterized US-China relations since normalization should provide the basis for a realistic agreement on trade and a mutual effort to peacefully address other areas of disagreement. 

I direct the SAIS Foreign Policy Institute, where for many years a key figure in US-China ties normalization, Zbigniew Brzezinski, was a senior fellow. In late 2016, Brzezinski argued that "a world in which America and China are cooperating is a world in which American influence is maximized." In other words, Brzezinski felt that, as he put it, "uprooting" ties with China would mean a much less stable world. I agree with Brzezinski that American power is maximized in a world in which the US and China are able to maximize areas of cooperation and minimize areas of conflict. 

GT: In your view, what is the effect of China-US trade frictions on US farmers? What specific harm will the China-US trade war inflict? Is the US waging a new form of cold war on China?

Freeman: American farmers are great patriots and seek to do their best for their country. They are resilient, but the tariffs have unquestionably been very hard for them. There is no doubt that the negative economic dynamic between the US and China has high costs for producers and consumers on both sides but the US economy is more resilient than many Chinese commentators have assessed. What is happening is that longstanding structural issues in the US-China trade and investment relationship reached a tipping point and there is an unexpected alignment of mutual frustration shared by corporate America which has wanted more access to China's market and more protection of their technological innovation, coupled with frustration by American voters who associate the loss of their industrial jobs with China. What we are seeing is not a new cold war. We have not yet reached the stage of economic decoupling and fierce ideological competition that characterized the Cold War. However, the trajectory is of concern.  

GT: What's your view on developments on the Korean Peninsula in 2019, especially after the two top leaders have met twice? 

Freeman: The situation on the Korean Peninsula remains highly uncertain. I personally was hopeful that with President Moon Jae-in's deep-seated interest in bridging the divide with North Korea and President Trump's willingness to engage we might see progress on the nuclear issue. Perhaps after a period of stability, there might have been enough will on all sides to reach a creative solution to ending North Korea's nuclear program. Since much of the progress depends on US-China cooperation, the prognosis for progress this year is gloomy.

GT: China is a country with deep history and culture, as well as a unique political system. Due to the difference in ideology with Western countries, both European countries and the US have seen China differently. However, some Middle Eastern countries' media outlets often say that Western democracy is not suited to certain countries like Libya and Iraq. What is your view on this?

Freeman: I see no evidence that political systems must harmonize with certain cultural traits. Different types of political systems are associated with very diverse societies. Thriving democracies exist throughout the world in big countries and in smaller ones. My own country's political system was arguably forged less on the basis of traditions than on the efforts of a group of idealists (our "founding fathers") who were also problem solvers— and who were dedicated to making government serve people's happiness.

GT: How many times have you been to China? Which was your most memorable one?

Freeman: I am fortunate in having been to China many times --more times than I can remember --over nearly four decades. I moved with my parents and brothers to China in 1981. Each time I learned a lesson about China's tremendous complexity and regional diversity. If there was one trip that most impressed me was the one in 2009, when I traveled with my eminent colleague David Lampton and a group of Johns Hopkins SAIS students to learn about China's water policies. We had a chance to talk about China's management of water resources with government officials and other experts in Beijing and then visited some sites, including the Yangtze River, where we had an opportunity to get a firsthand view of policies at the local level. I also served for a short period as American co-director of the Hopkins-Nanjing Center, which was a personally wonderful experience.

GT: This year marks the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China. What are your views on the contribution China has made to international society? 

Freeman: China's sustained growth and delivery of an improved quality of life to a massive population is deservedly widely seen as remarkable. China's transformation from a very poor country at the start of the reforms to a country with a middle class in the hundreds of millions is both an incredible accomplishment for the Chinese people and an extraordinary international accomplishment. China chose policies that allowed the ingenuity of Chinese people to create an incredibly dynamic economy. China's growth should also be seen as an international contribution because it has helped drive global growth. Also to be highlighted is China's commitment to addressing global climate change, which requires that China change many aspects of its economy, including its energy mix. We should expect more contributions from China with its amazing and talented people.


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