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Conversation with Four Leading China Experts at the World Peace Forum

August 10, 2016

On July 16-17, hundreds of policy thinkers, including five former heads of state, dozens of ambassadors, and experts from leading think-tanks and universities across 20 countries gathered for the fifth World Peace Forum in Beijing to discuss and confront key foreign policy issues affecting China and the region.


On July 16-17, hundreds of policy thinkers, including five former heads of state, dozens of ambassadors, and experts from leading think-tanks and universities across 20 countries gathered for the fifth World Peace Forum in Beijing.

Relations between China and the United States, arguably the world’s most important bilateral relationship, took center-stage given the rise of China’s influence in global affairs and a presidential election campaign underway in the U.S. Increasingly, the two countries are bound by trade, security, and environmental concerns, and with those stronger ties come greater challenges. This year, the forum showcased the deep experience and expertise of The Asia Foundation with the participation in panel discussions of seven current and former members of the Foundation’s board of trustees.

In Asia spoke with four preeminent China experts and past and present Asia Foundation trustees who attended the World Peace Forum for their insights on the evolution of China-U.S. relations, as well as The Asia Foundation’s cooperative role in China.

How have U.S.-China relations evolved and regional roles changed?

The U.S.-China relationship has evolved significantly over the past few decades. I think the most significant driver of this change is China’s emergence as a major power that is able to shape global affairs. – Elizabeth C. Economy, C.V. Starr Senior Fellow and Director for Asia Studies, Council on Foreign Relations

It has become a much more complex relationship … as [China] has grown both in speed and extent. We bump up against each other as competitors and hopefully to a greater extent as cooperators in dealing with things like terrorism, humanitarian relief, and managing pandemics. – Douglas H. Paal, Vice President for Studies, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

The U.S. has been engaged (in East Asia) for a long time and has established a prominent presence there. It’s important for countries in the region to adjust to the new reality – that there is another player and that player is China – which has its own interests and priorities. But I have always said, China doesn’t exist in a vacuum. – Surin Pitsuwan, former Secretary-General, ASEAN

“The incredible trends of globalization mean that no matter what particular issue is going on between China and the U.S., these two countries are increasingly more tied together than ever before.” – Howard L. Berman, former U.S. Congressman, Senior Advisor, Covington & Burling LLP

What do you see in the future?

In some cases, American and Chinese interests may not directly align, but when the United States and China can find common ground and work together to address global challenges, the entire world benefits. – Economy

I think both sides have realized that there is an enormous common interest between them, and mechanisms have been established in order to manage and to guide the relationship. – Pitsuwan

And that’s the future … there is going to be more interaction, more cooperation, and occasionally, more friction. – Paal

To me, the destiny of these countries is that of one that is no longer two great powers vying with each other; it’s instead a destiny of two very important countries so bound to each other that they need to find a mutual path forward. – Berman

I think the American people need to understand what makes China tick … and I think the Chinese need to understand what drives American perspectives of its interests in the region. So I think it’s important to keep working on this human infrastructure of future cooperation, relations, and common interests. – Pitsuwan

Can you share your thoughts on The Asia Foundation’s role in China?

The Asia Foundation is at the heart of U.S.-China cooperation by working with China to build institutional capacity in areas that the Chinese government has prioritized. These include, for example, supporting China’s efforts to improve its environmental protection practices, disaster preparedness and assistance, and women’s entrepreneurship. – Economy

It is an incredible part of building capacity, operating carefully and thoughtfully, and not looking for the big splash but for long-term improvement in all of the areas where it works. In this way, The Asia Foundation delivers the goods. – Berman

In building resilient societies and governments, there is no substitute for the on-the-ground, capacity-building work that The Asia Foundation undertakes to enhance knowledge and strengthen institutions of good governance. As someone who has spent most of my life studying and writing about issues related to environmental protection, I am especially thrilled to play some small role in the Foundation’s efforts to help countries meet their environmental challenges. – Economy

I personally have had that great opportunity of being a Congressional Fellow under The Asia Foundation Thailand office’s Young Diplomats Program and I have met all the people (from China) who have had the same opportunity. They are all playing a constructive role in trying to help a better East Asia become a more important player in the world. – Pitsuwan

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the interviewees and not those of The Asia Foundation or its funders.

Related locations: China
Related programs: Regional and International Relations


About our blog, InAsia

InAsia is a bi-weekly in-depth, in-country resource for readers who want to stay abreast of significant events and issues shaping Asia’s development, hosted by The Asia Foundation. Drawing on the first-hand insight of renowned experts, InAsia delivers concentrated analysis on issues affecting each region of Asia, as well as Foundation-produced reports and polls.

InAsia is posted and distributed every other Wednesday evening, Pacific Time. If you have any questions, please send an email to [email protected].


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