Editor's Note: This is part 3 of The Pacific Dialogue, between veteran Chinese diplomat Ambassador He Yafei and long-time American scholar on China Professor David Lampton. The dialogue took place on June 25, 2020, and was moderated by China-US Focus Editor-at-Large James Chau. The conversation focuses on the June 17 talks in Honolulu, Hawaii, between U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and China’s top diplomat, Yang Jiechi, the first high-ranking meeting between the two powers in months. He Yafei sees the talks as the beginning of renewed positive momentum, while Professor David Lampton calls for more dialogue across the board between government agencies, businesses and ordinary people.
What do you think can be done to utilize the next couple of months? Especially since we’re in the middle of a humanitarian crisis right now, in every part of the world.
Well, I think there are a number of things. First of all, we started with the Hawaii summit. So, I would say, start talking. And I would say, start talking a lot – a dialogue among multiple sectors. And one of the things that strike me is that it’s not only top-level dialogue that has pretty [much] been ended, partly because nobody can travel in this pandemic. But I think, you know, our people, the people - our nongovernmental organization to nongovernmental organization relationships have really frayed and certainly, and the NGO law in China was part of that, the pandemic is part of that, bad bilateral relations are part of that. But I would say, as soon as possible, restart as many dialogues between as many bureaucracies, companies, and NGOs as possible.
Secondly, I think quite frankly the biggest strategic mistake China has made, or among the biggest, is to somehow lose the underlying support of the American business community. For 40 years, American business looked to the future with optimism. It always had its problems. It always was unhappy about something. But in the end, American business always said, “better to have good relations with China than not.” Well, American business isn’t saying that anymore. And so China’s got to turn that around.
One, I agree totally with Professor Lampton that we need to talk. We need to have systemic talk, not only government-to-government, both at federal and state levels, but also, people-to-people exchanges. Once COVID-19 dies away, we need to increase people-to-people exchanges, and we especially need to involve American business in our talks.
Secondly, both domestically, China and the United States need to take care of its groups of people who are vulnerable, who are angry, who are not happy with the distribution of gains, economic gains, whether by globalization or otherwise. Governments have responsibilities for their own people. Internationally, I’ve been advocating the view for some time now, that the world will not be a happy one, that the global economy will not grow anymore if we have a large number of developing countries being left behind. That fairness needs to be addressed. I think the U.S. and China have a common responsibility. We need to unite. We need to work together. We have some successful experience in working in Africa to combat infectious diseases – that was before COVID-19 –The U.S. and China working together to help African countries to build up a public health response system.
Well, as the moderator, it’s been fascinating hearing you both engage on some of the most critical aspects of what I believe to be the most critical bilateral relationship in the world today. Ambassador He Yafei and Professor David Lampton, thank you for joining the Pacific Dialogue. We hope to welcome you back again one day.
He Yafei is a senior fellow of Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China.