Mark Wu and Tony Saich on US-China Coexistence 2.0

Mark Wu, Director of the Fairbank Center, and Tony Saich, director of the Rajawali Foundation Institute for Asia at the Harvard Kennedy School and Daewoo Professor of International Affairs, outlined their views on the future of US-China relations at the opening of our recent symposium on “Coexistence 2.0.”

Mark Wu

We gather at a time when relations between the United States of America and the People’s Republic of China are fraught. So much so, that when our leaders smile or when they shake hands, as they did in Bali this week, it’s considered headline worthy.

The United States and the People’s Republic of China each face challenges at home: politically, economically, and socially. Yet, despite these challenges, each is confident. Confident that its political governance system is superior. Confident that time and history is on its side. Confident that its society is best equipped to harness the innovations and emerging technologies ahead to forge the societies in the futures of the 21st century.

In different domains, as we will discuss today, one seeks to preserve the status quo while the other seeks to change it.

It is no exaggeration to say that the planet’s two leading nations are locked in a strategic rivalry. Yet even amid this rivalry, there is a need for cooperation. Cooperation because we live on the same planet that is warming at alarming rates. Cooperation because we live in a world where viruses know no nationality nor boundaries. Cooperation because we face common threats from terrorists and anarchists determined to upend our societies and cooperation because the future of humanity depends on it.

It is no exaggeration to say that the planet’s two leading nations are locked in a strategic rivalry. Yet even amid this rivalry, there is a need for cooperation.

Mark Wu

Even as this rivalry comes into clearer focus we must find ways to coexist. And that brings us to the theme of this conference. Because in the end, despite our differences, despite our confidences, the vast majority of citizens of these two countries seek the same thing: Material security, physical security, opportunity and a better future for our children.

In this time of competition, dialogue is more important than ever. That is why we are so encouraged to see so many of you here today with us, both at Harvard and online, from the US, from China, and from elsewhere. Because together we must ponder the question of how we should shape the terms of our future coexistence between these two countries for the sake of our planet.

I hope today’s panel provokes even more dialogue with each other, and more importantly that they forge new interpersonal connections among all of you gathered here today in Cambridge as we find ways to manage what certainly will be some difficult times in choppy waters ahead in US China relations.

Tony Saich

We really are at a key moment in thinking about the relationship between Washington and Beijing. Both states have recently outlined their agendas which run into conflict with each other. In Beijing, we have had the somewhat schizophrenic 20th party Congress in which Xi Jinping clearly outlined China’s model as an alternative to the West; politically, economically, as well as globally. Xi’s focus on the role of the party, industrial policy, Chinese style modernization presents an idea of an international order that differs from one of US dominance.

By contrast, October, was a crucial month in Washington, where we had two key documents published. First, a document banning of exports of chips and semiconductors export to China, which if it goes through will have a huge impact on the capability of the development of the Chinese economy. And that is but one in a set of strong levers that the US can employ to undermine the development of the Chinese economy.

Second, there was the publication of a national strategy that sees Russias as more of a short-term problem, but China as the key long-term challenge for the US.

A key question for me is: what is Washington’s end game with these actions? Is it to affect change in certain practices in China by focusing on areas where there is a sense in Washington that China is not complying with the WTO and other agreements? Or is it to hamper China’s economic development and prevent it from being a challenge to US hegemony?

A key question for me is: what is Washington’s end game with these actions?

Tony Saich

As Mark Wu said, there is the need despite those tensions for collaboration if we want to produce global public goods. Without US China participation in a number of key areas, it will be very difficult to achieve those objectives.

I divide these key areas into three different categories: First of all, what I see are the global commons, including most notably climate change, as well as other areas like the oceans. A second area is global engagement where collaboration would be beneficial includes control in the future of pandemics and how to deal with pandemics. And thirdly, the question of global regulation: cyber regulation, financial regulation, issues around cross border trades, and so on.

Despite those tensions and differences, it seems to me that some kind of collaboration is necessary if we want to move ahead with global public goods in their provision for the world community.