Steve Orlins is the president of the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations. The following is the full text of his speech in Beijing for the The Carter Center’s 4th Annual Forum on U.S.-China Relations.
I can speak English faster than Chinese so let me speak English in the 8 minutes I have. The views expressed today are my own and not those of NCUSCR. Let me thank Ambassador Baucus for his service to our country in the U.S. Senate and now here in China.
At the time that Senator Baucus was beginning to serve in the U.S. senate in 1978, I sat in the State Department waiting for the acclaim and the storm that was going to follow the announcement of the establishment of diplomatic relations. I was a xiao tu dou- small potato- working on the legal aspects of this historic endeavor. President Carter and the team surrounding him knew that there was strong opposition in the Congress and realized that Presidents Nixon and Ford could not complete the normalization of relations that started with the Shanghai Communiqué. A survey just prior to normalization showed 265 House members- a majority of the House- opposed the establishment of diplomatic relations with China. President Carter knew that leadership required doing what was in the national interest, even if he was to pay a political price. In China, Deng Xiaoping believed that leadership required making the tough decisions so he decided to act even though not all of the terms were to his liking. Both put national interest above political self interest because it was the right thing to do for their nations.
As we expected, the Congress’ criticism of President Carter was fierce. Former Republican Presidential candidate Senator Barry Goldwater said “The President’s decision on China represents one of the most cowardly acts ever performed by a U.S. president”; even former liaison office head George HW Bush said, “I think he’s dealt a major blow to our already declining credibility.” The critics were wrong, President Carter and Deng were right. The results are clear. For 35 years we have seen a peaceful and prosperous Asia with a constructive U.S.-China relationship serving as its foundation.
Today, while the economic relationship continues to prosper in the form of vastly increasing investment and trade, and our leaders have met 16 times since President Obama took office, contentious issues around the margins hurt the relationship and mistrust grows. Disputes over the Diaoyu Dao, SCS, announcement of China’s ADIZ without consultation, a near collision of an American P-8 and Chinese fighter jet, treatment of foreign businesses, NGOs and journalists, have put the relationship on a downward slope. American elites and media distrust the Chinese Government and Chinese elites views U.S. policy as containing or constraining China. Many ask is the new great power relationship one of confrontation rather than cooperation. Can the leadership of both America and China follow the path of Deng and Carter and set the relationship on a path that preserves peace and stability in the Pacific for the next thirty five years?
I respond with a resounding yes. My sole caveat is only if our leaders lead. Leadership will be required to dissipate the mistrust and will allow this relationship to reach its potential. Sunnylands was terrific but we need more.
When President Obama visits China this November he should directly address the National People’s Congress in this great hall with a live uncensored broadcast nationwide. He should announce the abandonment of the ill conceived and poorly implemented pivot or rebalance. Those responsible for that policy failed to understand that trade and investment flows between the U.S. and Asia exceeded those from Europe in the mid 90s and America’s Asia century began long before the pivot. They failed to acknowledge, that America was already placing more diplomats in Asia in China than even before. They failed to understand that American forces being withdrawn from Iraq and Afghanistan should go home not to Asia where there is no strategic threat. While what President Eisenhower called the military industrial complex and the think tanks funded by those companies benefit from the rebalance, America suffers because of this misdirection of resources and China suffers because of its perceived need to respond and the resulting misallocation of scarce government resources. The American people understand that the true threats facing America are economic and financial crisis, climate change and terrorism. These are the same threats that face China. President Obama should say so and emphasize that America’s strategic imperative is to deal with these threats and look for ways to cooperate with China, along with our traditional allies and friends in Asia.
He should announce that the U.S. had invited China to join discussions for joining the Trans Pacific Partnership and entering into a free trade agreement with the United States. He should announce that he and President Xi have instructed their negotiators to conclude a bilateral investment treaty by the time President Xi visits the United States in January.
President Xi should arrive in the United States on January 29, 2015 -the 36th anniversary Deng’s arrival in Washington-hopefully the weather will be better than it was for Deng on his arrival- he should visit Atlanta, Houston and Seattle thereby retracing Deng’s steps. He should directly address the American people and at each stop explain the Chinese dream and how U.S.-China relations fit into it. He should welcome all Americans to visit China including those scholars that have not been granted visas. He should announce that American journalists are welcome to report on China as Chinese reporters are free to report on America and that websites of legitimate U.S. news organizations will no longer be blocked in China because the American people have great difficulty trusting a government that blocks news from its own people.
He should announce the creation of the China America Infrastructure Fund and announce that China will invest $50 Billion in American infrastructure. The first such investment will be the construction of an LNG export terminal to export LNG to China. When Chinese government money helps rebuild America’s ports, roads, railways and inner cities, Americans will understand what China means by a shared future and when America’s exports and technology help clean China’s air the Chinese people will understand the benefits the new great power relationship brings to them.
To be sure, there are obstacles, symbolic and practical. But great leaders see beyond obstacles, as Carter and Deng did, and act boldly, even in the face of criticism.
Critics in Washington and Beijing will say your vision is unrealistic and politically impossible. I will remind them of the Carter/Deng path and use a favorite quote of Senator Robert F Kennedy, the first political leader I worked for even before I worked for President Carter, “Some see things as they are and ask why, I dream things that never were and ask why not.”