- How did you come out about your interest towards China for your research
I always start the saying in which the students select their area of interest today, in 1960s, today students are busy asking what the key skills are, and if I study can I found the job? It’s very pragmatic and carrier oriented. In the old days, economy was in such that there was no concern of finding a job if you are doing PhD. I had a very enthusiastic professor in college where he was teaching a course on Politics of Developing Areas and also reading Leadership Biographies. I was so excited by this course, I decided to take all his offered courses one course I really liked about East Asia where we discussed Korea, US-China relations.
In graduate school in Stanford not being sure what to write dissertation on I had one summer course in Chinese. Meeting another charismatic professor who later joined up Jimmy Carter administration National Security Council, he was East Asia specialist which gave the boost to do what I am doing now and during my grad school I took various courses related to Asia.
TV documentaries come up about China in US post-Cultural revolution. No one understand what China was doing in and outside, I wanted to know about them properly which led my interest into China.
- Did you learn Chinese before?
Yes, I did. I came to Taiwan to learn Chinese, to a learning center which used to be called Stanford Center formally known as Inter University Program on Chinese Studies. It got moved to China. It was enormously important to Taiwan, as all USA scholars used to come to Taiwan to learn Chinese. Now it’s run by Berkley. It’s an opportunity which got lost by Taiwan to train the next generation of US diplomats.
However, I learnt French and German before, getting involved in University Social Responsibility (USR) in the University and the discussions followed led me to introduce various languages. Mandarin has been very useful. Latin is very useful to me as it helped me to understand other languages. Many words are related to Latin.
- What’s your opinion to US-China relations, is it moving ahead?
Not at the moment, quiet moving down. We are in a much more competitive process now. I am currently writing a book titled “What went wrong?” which is more of a historical way of putting the USA-China relations into it. It’s a series to one of my earlier book “Fragile Relationship” where I discussed the history of USA-China relations from Détente to Tiananmen Incident. This is more sequel to it. Essential cooperative relations is possible. How to put into centrally is to be questionable.
We tried hard to cooperate in various spheres. “We” here I am referring to is both USA and China. Historically the relationship has been through rough waters, Cultural Revolution, Taiwan strait crisis in 1995 and various sanctions that followed. Role of Ministry of Defense (MoD) was realized during Taiwan Strait crisis. Various strategies have been tried in different forms, which had very different effect, not all succeeded but yes it is very different what it was 25 years ago. Increasingly both sides have realized now it’s a competitive relationship, with the danger of confrontation and also the possibility of cooperation.
In my course where I teach about US-China relations, I explore about the various theories about the prospects of the relationships. Being a constructivist, Alexander Wandt “Anarchy is what states makes of it”. I think that International Foreign Policy, International relations is also what states make of it. Ultimately economic interdependence, military and other issues from past, present and future reflects the current situation of nations’ foreign policy.
- There have lots of cyberattacks reports, how much you came across about them during your research?
No, not well reported in USA. USA have been victim of cyberattacks. It’s hard to identify who did it. General impression is that China is one of many countries that have cyber warfare and espionage capability. We know there has been attempt to acquire personal records from the Office of Personal Management so it have basically some information hacked about who work for US government and possibly who applied for working with US government. China have been certainly acquiring different things through cyber capabilities from defence companies, there has been acquisitions and I have seen no evidence to this, that they are trying to get involve and trying to influence the American political process through the use of social media. Vice President of USA have said that, “maybe it’s even worse than Russians.” We know what Russians did and but don’t know how much impact it did have. Chinese do not seem to have done yet, or possibly not reported yet about using of cyberattacks for destructive purposes, whereas acquiring sensitive information is one thing.
Banking system can be main target which will create lot of chaos, destroy, disrupt, distortion and damage and we might not even know who did what and might also not be able to assess the damage completely. How to respond is also necessary. The more competitive relationship becomes the less physically damaging cyber-attack becomes, it will get hard to respond to such threats. Yes its problem from every side.
- Any area where there has been progress between USA and China relations?
Main objective of the strategies is to make the relations more cooperative and stable. Then I think, we have seen positive developments. Firstly, the two societies are vastly connected now, might reverse during present times. Quoting my Professor from graduate school, he wrote an article based on his experience , “before the American ping pong team visited China, at very early stage in 1971, more Americans have been to moon than China” because of lot of restrictions present in the pastt. 2nd, trade was in minimal, now the trade is in billions and very interdependent relationship. Using of soft power by both sides have also helped in boosting people to people connection, it also made relations more stable, which now seems very costly to disrupt. Two countries have Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) policy based on military which is more stable. Some areas are stabilized, normal, and disruptive. Overall more competitive.
- There have been allegations on Currency manipulation, we have the South China Sea issue. How such issues impact the USA and China relations?
There will be continuing test of strength by both sides now it started with trade war. We don’t know what winning means, we even don’t know who is going to win. US is inflecting more damage to China than the other way around. But, in democracy, the ability to withstand the pressure from the trade war is so far less than China. By definition we cannot determine the strength, if we could knew we loose, we never going to enter the taste of strength. So, if both sides don’t back down, they think they are going to win.
It’s like game of chicken, military-to-military incidents is quite a troublesome for both sides. We are going to see test of strength, sometimes direct sometimes indirect. For example, Chinese trying to get Taiwan allies, and American threats to punish them, can also be seen as a test of strength which Chinese have won so far. UN, multilateral forums, air and space and other places we can see a show of strength between the two militaries.
- Do you think CCP will be in power forever? Can you predict?
No. One need to see does China have ex? Does ex exists in China? With 1.3 b people, the odds had to be greater than 1 to 3.
Nothing is forever. I think that, of course there is a chance for fundamental change. It’s a fascinating comparison to make between CCP and KMT in the past. They are cousins. Both are organized, Leninist ideology, one party linear system and then Taiwan came into democracy but not in Mainland. Many are puzzled to this. In Democracy power comes up and down like between KMT and DPP in Taiwan. Maybe not with CCP. We need to look into comparison between all the communist powers in the world. Maybe not anytime now soon. Xi is coming under criticism for various reasons, position is secure but rumblings underneath, now the focus is on rumors domestically than on whether CCP falls or stays.
- What’s your opinion on BRI Plan by China, and can we compare him to Mao Zedong?
Clearly, Xi Jinping thinks his position in Chinese history will be similar to that of Mao. That’s an odd thing to inspire to as Mao was a brutal dictator. Sometime in China there will be an assessment of Mao’s doing but not soon. Xi thinks his role is as important to Mao. I don’t think that’s true. Maybe as Deng Xiao Ping.
Another comparison that Xi is another Mao have been acquiring power and exercising it. Huge differences, if you know Liu Xiao Qi, Mao’s big nemesis, both wanted to basically to deal with different problems domestically basically corruption. Liu wanted traditional top down campaign, Mao into mobilizing people. Xi has no signs of being Mao in that sense, more towards Liu style, tightening propaganda.
- What’s your opinion about the “The Quad”?
What we have the broader Indo-Pacific strategy, goes beyond the Quad. Currently, Taiwan is talking into joining the Indo-Pacific group which will not be part of Quad. It’s still unclear who is going to be in. Vietnam is important to me, it is some sort of immediate to Chinese territory, historically it has never accepted Chinese hegemony, and it has resisted them for long. Yes, they influenced by them but no trust. Membership of this alliance is open, although criteria has not been set yet. Not seeing as military alliance, more into informal relationship.
If US-China relations deteriorate most countries will stay in middle, including India. Lots up to China, if China continues to react by its double down strategy which is if you do something we don’t like, we will hit you harder. It’s a process to recreate the Tribute system- China is happy as long the smaller countries don’t challenge china. What I can see is that there is a chance of bipolar world, and some neutrals like in the past.