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Joseph Nye‘s speech & conversation at book release
Nye says Xi's phone call with Zelensky "an important step in the right direction" but he's "a little disappointed that China hasn't been more critical of Russia"
On April 28th, Professor Joseph Nye’s new book, Soft Power and Great-Power Competition: Shifting Sands in the Balance of Power between the United States and China, published by Springer Nature in English and CITIC Press in Chinese, was released at the Center for China and Globalization (CCG).
Nye made a speech and had a conversation with Henry Huiyao Wang, Founder and President of CCG. CCG broadcasted the release on YouTube and domestically (with simultaneous translation). CCG has put Nye’s speech in Chinese. Chinese media including Beijing Daily, Beijing News, and HaiWaiWang reported the release.
Nye’s speech (not reviewed by Nye)
First, I want to start by thanking Wang Huiyao and the people at Springer and CITIC for the wonderful job they've done in preparing this book. And I'm grateful for the opportunity to able to enable my ideas to reach many people, both in Chinese and in English. So I'll start with that expression of gratitude.
In terms of the topic of the book, and the situation in the world today, I’ve quite worried about the conditions of US-China relations. I'm afraid that, as I said, it's a cooperative rivalry, but there's too much emphasis on the rivalry and not enough on the cooperation. And that’s where the point about soft power comes in, which is, soft power is the ability to get what you want through attraction, rather than coercion or payment. And soft power can be something that can benefit both China and the US at the same time. There can be obviously a competitive dimension of soft power, but there is also a positive joint gain dimension. Some years ago, Wang Jisi of Peking University and I authored an article on US and Chinese soft power, in which we pointed out that if the US becomes more attractive in the eyes of China, and China becomes more attractive in the eyes of the US, it's going to make it better able to cooperate. And the need for cooperation is truly great.
Not only do we have, as mentioned earlier, a great deal of economic interdependence between our countries, from which both countries benefit, but there is, in addition to that, ecological interdependence in which we cannot escape the effects that each other are having on things such as the global climate or pandemics. Take the question of climate change. This can do enormous damage to both of our countries. If, for example, climate change continues on the path that it's now on, you will see situations where we may not be able to meet the “1.5℃” goal, which was agreed upon by the United Nations and 2015 in Paris. And we may not even make the goal of “2℃”. In that case, what you're going to see is the accelerated melting of Arctic, Antarctic ice caps. With that, sea-level rises will have a strong impact on, for example, American coastal cities, or low-line states like Florida or Louisiana. So the costs of dealing with this are quite high, and the interest the United States has in trying to slow climate change is very strong. But the same is true for China. China has a dependence upon waters that come from the Himalayas, in terms of rivers, which they were to dry up, would be devastating.
But also, if you look at Western China, and similarly in the Western United States, there's the danger of droughts, which will greatly affect agriculture production. And you will see a situation where China suffers greatly. Now, the reason that's important or interesting is that the United States and China, the two of us together, put about 40% of the world's carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. So it does no good, for example, for China to cut down on its carbon dioxide production if the US doesn't do so. And it doesn't do any good for the US to cut down on its carbon dioxide production if China doesn't do so. So, there is a strong case for cooperation here, because if we don't cooperate, we're each going to be hurt.
A similar case can be brought and made for cooperation in global health. Pandemics, such as we've just suffered in both countries, in the form of Covid do not respect national boundaries, and yet they can kill millions of people. In that sense, being able to cooperate in early detection and the scientific understanding of cooperation in dealing with pandemics is very important. And there I would argue that cooperation has been diminishing. If we go back to the early 2000s with the SARS, there was a great deal of cooperation between the US and China. When we look at the Covid example, the cooperation has been minimal and decreasing. That's bad for the US and China. So, in that sense, as we look at the prospects that the two countries face, we have a strong interest in cooperation. As we heard, ecological cooperation or ecological interdependence has no boundaries, and therefore they have strong incentives for cooperation.
Unfortunately, cooperation is limited behind the intensity of the great power competition, and that means it's very difficult for us to accomplish what we need to accomplish. Another way of thinking about that is if we don't find a way to increase our cooperation, we both will suffer. And that's where soft power comes in. If we have a situation where China is unattractive in the US, and American politicians demonize China, and the US is unattractive in China, and China demonizes the United States, then we essentially remove the soft power that allows us to improve our cooperation. That is the cost for both of us.
So, in that sense, what the book is about of soft power and great power competition, and there will be great power competition. But it has to be seen in this broader perspective of world, which has become much more interdependent. We cannot have a new Cold War, because these two countries cannot afford, either in economic interdependence or ecological interdependence, to pay the costs that would be involved in such a Cold War, not to mention the political and military dangers that accompany it. So that's an argument for seeing what we can do to increase the soft power of China in the US and the US in China. Unfortunately, right now, the trends are running in the wrong direction.
I hope, perhaps with the publication of these essays, which may clear the importance of soft power, even in an age of great power competition, that we yet a broader understanding of what are the tasks that we face, and how we can go back about accomplishing that. So, thank you to all for making it possible to bring these thoughts to a broad audience and to sit in and to Springer. And I hope that maybe the book will have some positive influence on developing that type of cooperation which I referred to.
Before the full transcript of their conversation, here is what Nye said on President Xi Jinping’s phone call with President Volodymyr Zelensky:
I applaud President Xi’s phone call with President Zelensky. I think that was a very important step in the right direction. I hope that a voice will be sent. And I also agree with the statements that President Xi made. But I frankly think we have to speak to the fact that Russia crossed a border into an independent country and now is controlling nearly 1/5 of that country. So if we just have a cease-fire that leaves Russia in control of that country, one-fifth of it. It's not going to be adequate because it violates the basic norms of the United Nations. And in that sense, I'm a little disappointed that China hasn't been more critical of Russia for its actions. But if China can now be a mediator, and if it can persuade the Russians to give back some of the territories that they've taken by force that would be an enormous benefit to the world, and would also greatly increase China's soft power in Europe and in the United States and elsewhere. So this is why I'm very pleased to see the phone call between President Xi and President Zelensky. But it'll have to go further than it has gone so far. And it's going to have to take a more active role in trying to press Russia to give back some of the territories that have been taken. So I think the danger I see, is that this war could go on and on for a long time. That's bad for Ukraine, it's bad for Russia, it's bad for the world. So I would love in trying to bring about peace in Ukraine.
Wang Huiyao: It's really an extreme, great honor to see our old friend, Professor Joseph Nye again. Also, we are very pleased to be joined by the chief editor of CITIC, and the chief editor of Springer, China. And of course, with many CCG fellows and media from China. Also, we're going to put this live later throughout the world. So thank you Joseph very much again for taking the time to attend this book release event for both the English and Chinese versions, global release.
I was really impressed with what Joseph just mentioned that we are in an unprecedented world situation, and we probably never see in the history of such a great power rivalry competition that poses to humankind we never experienced before. So this is really a critical moment now, and that's why I think we are refreshing but also updating with Professor Nye’s idea of soft power, and competition and cooperation between China and the US is extremely important. And I really thank you for your thought to contribute to this great book. CCG, my center, is really honored to translate the whole book. And the book included a dialogue we had about a year ago. That's very important in the current context. Now, we had the economic boom, we had all the prosperities, but now it seems that we still got greatly divided.
So how can we mend differences? How can we really make these things work in China and US? I think that's where soft power, that's where all the culture, all the history, all the tradition, that's all the people-to-people exchanges, academics and think tanks, NGOs and all those have to act together now, to really make this relationship more cooperative. So I would like to start with Professor Nye that you've been the father of soft power. This is really a great coined term. Then with this increasing competition contest between China and US, what can we do to improve on both sides, on the soft power, to really have more convergency rather than divergence? So we need some new ideas and new thoughts.
And how can we get a better understanding that China now is trying to be quite a bit more internationally, and provide more public goods, like quite a few Initiatives, Global Development Initiative, Global Civilization Initiative, and Global Security Initiative. And China is more actively engaged now in breaking the ice between Ukraine and Russia. And President Xi just spoke to President Zelensky a few days ago. So what do you see now as in this big contest of rivalry and competition, but also, very importantly, cooperation between China and US, and how can we both improve that? So we need some advice from you, too, please.
Joseph Nye: Well, those are great questions, Henry. I would say that there are aspects of soft power that are part of the competition. China supports a project in Africa under The Belt and Road Initiative that is designed to make China more attractive. And similarly, when the USAID, Agency for International Development, supports a project in Africa that is designed to make the US more attractive, so that aspect of soft power can be part of the rivalry.
In others, it's competitive. On the other hand, the point that I was trying to make in my comments is that there is an aspect of soft power, which can be joined again, and that's when China feels more attracted to the US and the US feels more attracted to China, and that's the thing that will enhance our ability to cooperate. Our ability to compete is quite obvious. There's too much of it right now. The question is, how can we increase our ability to cooperate? And I am a big believer in increased people-to-people contacts, so more students, more journalists, more tourists. I think these visits, in both directions, are helpful in developing soft power. It's not that one doesn't complain about the other country, but one understands the other country. And it's harder to demonize other people if you have actually had personal contact with them.
So I would stress that there is a competitive aspect of soft power, but there can also be a cooperative aspect of soft power. And people contact? So I would start with more people-to-people contacts.
Wang Huiyao: Great. Thank you, Professor Nye. That's an excellent point. I think you're absolutely right. Before the pandemic, actually, a number of years ago in the past, China and the US used to have 5 million tourists and various exchanges between China and the United States. Currently, we have still 300,000 Chinese students registered in US universities, but there are only a few hundred US students registered in China. So this Covid has really done a lot of obstacles for those exchanges. So you're right. We have to work together. You mentioned healthy competition, the soft power, which is great. That's probably the positive thing that we need to push forward, for example, how to cooperate on climate change, how to cooperate on the pandemic fighting, how to control nuclear proliferation, and how to promote more Global South development and things like that, development aid and like China also set up AIIB, could be all those good areas that we need more competition and cooperation.
One thing you mentioned, I was quite impressed with during our conversation about a year ago, is that you mentioned there seems to be a cycle every 20 years, that we may reach a new equilibrium or new point of change. For example, when China and US, before diplomatized, there was a lot of containment, there was a lot of Cold War, mentality going on. But then after 20 years, we started to relax and became more friendly and cooperative. But again, now we are having all those difficulties again, it seems that more and more misunderstanding and mistrust have been built up.
So what do you think about when China and US can probably reach a new equilibrium, or maybe finally we have to say: look, we got to live together because we're having this unprecedented challenge facing mankind. We cannot do it by ourselves. We have to work together. And then by that time in the process, we have to avoid this hard war and gradually build up the understanding so probably by 2035 or 2040, we can say: okay, we really get to live together, and we cannot separate. So what do you think about this? We take some time for this difficult period, and how can we overcome this challenge in time?
Joseph Nye: Well, I think you're right that if we look back on the pure US-China relations in the 70 years, since 1949, seven decades. The first two decades, we're open hostility. We even fought each other on the Korean Peninsula. And then that was followed by the period in the 1970s into the early 1980s after Nixon and Mao met or the US and China cooperated because of concern about the Soviet Union. And that followed under the economic policies of Deng Xiaoping, with a period of economic engagement, which culminated in some ways with the US support for China joining the World Trade Organization in 2001. And that period of engagement continues up until about 2015 or 2016 when the stress or emphasis becomes on great power competition.
And, roughly speaking, these different periods have been a decade or two each. Now, if you date this most recent period from about 2016 or 2017, you can say that we're six or seven years into the current period of great power competition. And who knows whether it will take two decades for us to see our way through this. History is not deterministic. We can also make mistakes in making decisions that put things in the wrong direction.
I think in this current period, the important thing will be to realize that there will be competition, but it's important to have guardrails on the competition, to make sure that we have constant communication with each other at the highest levels, and we understand what each other's red lines are, and we also understand not getting ourselves into a crisis situation.
So I think the current period is likely to last for another decade or so, though nobody can be sure. But, we have to make sure that we wind up working together to make sure that things don't get out of hand. And that's often summarized by the term guardrail, on the road, to make sure we don't go off the road.
Wang Huiyao: Thank you. Actually, that's right. I mean, I think during the Bali Summit last November, when President Xi and President Biden met, they said they will begin to establish some guidelines for the bilateral relations. We were expecting some high-level visits, but unfortunately, that's not happened. And I think it’s important to have this high-level visit on both sides and rather than the Taiwan authorities’ visiting the US.
So how can we increase this dialogue And also not decoupling? Because now we see the US is now proposing the Chinese policy to compete, so there's a lack of cooperation. And there's not much cooperation going on. There's a lot of rivalry going on. So what do you think of this? Are we getting into the Cold War? Are we really getting decoupled? Because of what we've seen lately, there's CHIPS Act, and there are new Congress policies. So probably we should have more visits, not only at the administration (level), but even at the Congressman level, I mean also the Senators.
I wrote a piece of passage to the South China Morning Post just about two weeks ago to welcome all the US congressmen to pay their visit to China. And vice versa. We can have China NPC delegations and CPPCC members visit the United States so that we can have all-level dialogues, rather than just at government. We haven't seen the minister-level engagement, not at least a visit. The last time a Secretary of the US government visited China is more than five years ago. So what do you think about this high-level visit? And are we really economically decoupling, or are we getting some kind of Cold Cold War frontier? How can we avoid that? It’s a question that we often ask.
Joseph Nye: I think when we talk about decoupling, we often speak to a wide range of inter-dependencies. In the great power competition, there will be decoupling in some areas which are seen as central for security. Americans, for example, are suspicious about the security implications of allowing a company like Huawei or ZTE to build American 5G communication systems. And similarly, China has not allowed American social media companies to operate freely in China, the Google of this world. So it's understandable that when their security is concerned, there may be decoupling in those areas.
The important thing would be to have discussions in this overall economic relationship. Here are some areas where each of us will say, for security reasons, we are not going to allow deep integration or interdependence to exist. But there are some other areas where we should say these don't have security implications, like trade, grains, or solar panels. And we're not going to interfere with that. And then there will be some areas in between which will be disputed as to whether their security or not. And we could set up special arrangements for discussion as to how we will each treat them. That's the type of approach to decoupling. Not to say it's all or nothing, but to say, how can we make sure that it doesn't spread too far.
Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen gave a quite good speech in the last week, which suggested something along these lines of approach.
I reject the idea of calling this a new Cold War because while there's intense competition, there is a high degree of interdependence, both economic and ecological, that never existed during the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union.
So I think there are procedures we can take, to make sure we have dialogues in specific ways that don't let decoupling go too far. And I think that these probably would be bolstered by having more regular meetings by the highest political leaders President Xi and President Biden. But it has to be at many levels at the same time. So I think we should get away from seeing the issue as decouple or not decouple. There will be some selective decoupling, but we should not let it spill over into allusions that widespread decoupling would do great harm to both our economies and to the world economy. And as I mentioned earlier, in the area of ecological interdependence, it's meaningless to talk about decoupling. The carbon dioxide goes into the atmosphere and we don't know how to decouple or avoid crossing borders.
Wang Huiyao: You are right. We are really deeply associated with each other in the climate and carbon dioxide emissions. We can not decouple it. I mean China and the US have been the two largest emitters of carbon dioxide. We have to work together. And also, the same for the pandemic. The virus knows no borders. I remember last time when we talked together, you talked about how the US and China may set up a global foundation for fighting the pandemic. But unfortunately, that’s not happened. So there's no cooperation, and we have big casualties and devastating to the economy probably for both countries.
At the global governance level, I mean, the UN has been there for 78 years now, and WTO has been there for a long time, World Bank, IMF, and all those infrastructures that the US used to be so active in leading. It is not that active now and even withdrew from some of them, like Trump used to withdraw from WHO, and from TPP and things like that. So how do you think that we are getting in a multi-polar world? Of course, the uni-polar world is efficient and effective. There's one big country driving everything, all agendas. But now we're having a multi-polar world. At least we have a G3 world now, China, the US, and the EU. With this kind of a multi-polar world, let's focus more on the southern part, and then on how can we really fund infrastructure wisely, and on the global governance structure to make sure all the major players can talk. Because right now we have only G20 and that is more on the economic aspect.
But then we see a lot of regional size of economic alliances that started up. So it's really a confrontation to the multilateral system to some extent. So how can we set a better multilateral system to fit the reality of this multi-polar world, if it’s already happening?
Joseph Nye: Let me start by saying I think President Trump was a step backward for the United States. I think he did not serve our interests or global interest with the steps he took. I think it's interesting that President Biden has reversed many of those steps that Trump took, e.g. rejoining the Paris Climate Accords or rejoining the World Health Organization. But during pandemics, the World Health Organization, can't, as a bureaucracy, solve these problems, but it can act as a facilitator of relations between both the U.S. and China and other countries at the scientists level. E.g., to go back to my earlier case, when we looked at SARS in the early 2000s, there was an extraordinary amount of cooperation between Chinese and American scientists and other nationalities as well, which was aided by the WHO, which led to a great deal of cooperation which made SARS did not spread.
When we got to COVID, we didn't have that cooperation and COVID spread. I think the answer there is, let's find ways to let the scientists work more freely with each other. The WHO can be one of the helpful devices to do that. But it's going to require also greater scientists-to-scientist cooperation. Another example to go back to the climate example is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which essentially is a panel of scientists from around the world, which just recently produced its latest report on the situation of problems of climate change, and warned us that things are worse than we expected. The important thing about the Intergovernmental Panel is that its scientists were highly respected by many countries, and therefore their advice is more likely to be taken.
We can think about the high-level political relationships you mentioned, things like AUKUS or the QUAD and so forth, but I think we also have to think about beginning to knit the world together at the practical working level of the scientists and others, economists, and engineers. Hopefully, someday we will find that the competition eases and that can expand. But at this stage, given the problems of the competition, I'd focus on seeing if we can't enhance those contexts, such as we had within the period of SARS, or such as we see now in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Wang Huiyao: Thank you. Absolutely. You're right. I think that SARS and Ebola, all of those good examples that we used to work together, we have successfully contained, and COVID-19 is a disaster for the whole world that stop China for three years of no international travel, and so did it to many other countries. Why we're having those political security alliances? Let's have more other alliances too, in scientific alliances, educational alliances, economic alliances, and trade alliances, so there may be opportunities for cooperation. That seems to be depressing, since we may be emphasizing more on security, on the competition. The cooperation side of it really diminished quite a lot. So I agree with you that we need to revive people-to-people exchanges, scientists exchanges, scholar exchanges, organizational and cultural exchanges and exchanges in all aspects, (particularly) opinion leaders like you, and many others in the world, I was at Munich Security Conference. In February, CCG held a big side event there, and there are more than 20 US scholars, think tank experts, and officials attending. I remember Graham Allison, your colleague, he said, now we're talking too much about competition, and then let’s talk about cooperation. At least we should talk about cooperation as frequently as competition. I agree with him and you too. I think we are in this multi-polar world, at least getting there. So China is expected to play more roles.
And we see the crisis, this Russian-Ukraine war going on. We have nine European leaders visiting China and all want to call on China to be more active on the Ukraine issue and the Russian-Ukraine conflict and crisis. China is really forthcoming now. And Chinese President Xi just talked to President Zelensky two days ago, and China actually started going to send an envoy to visit Kyiv and probably other countries, and Moscow included, to really try to work with the international community to save the peace process being established. So what do you think about this big threat we're having now? Is this possibly a nuclear war? And China said in a peace proposal, no nuclear war, no nuclear weapons should be used, no bombing of civilians and children, women, and sovereignty integrity should be emphasized. That's what President Xi said to President Zelensky as well.
So what do you think about this? How can we walk out? I had an op-ed in the New York Times about one year ago, and I was calling for a seven-party talk, maybe the UN (Security Council) permanent five countries, plus Ukraine, plus the EU. let's have a peace summit of some kind. And how to solve this crisis. We have been plagued by this war for over a year now. So how long are we going to survive this huge disruption upon us? And you are a great expert in security. Please share your view on this, before we open up for the audience for questions.
Joseph Nye: I applaud President Xi’s phone call with President Zelensky. I think that was a very important step in the right direction. I hope that a voice will be sent. And I also agree with the statements that President Xi made. But I frankly think we have to speak to the fact that Russia crossed a border into an independent country and now is controlling nearly 1/5 of that country. So if we just have a cease-fire that leaves Russia in control of that country, one-fifth of it. It's not going to be adequate because it violates the basic norms of the United Nations. And in that sense, I'm a little disappointed that China hasn't been more critical of Russia for its actions. But if China can now be a mediator, and if it can persuade the Russians to give back some of the territories that they've taken by force that would be an enormous benefit to the world, and would also greatly increase China's soft power in Europe and in the United States and elsewhere. So this is why I'm very pleased to see the phone call between President Xi and President Zelensky. But it'll have to go further than it has gone so far. And it's going to have to take a more active role in trying to press Russia to give back some of the territories that have been taken. So I think the danger I see, is that this war could go on and on for a long time. That's bad for Ukraine, it's bad for Russia, it's bad for the world. So I would love in trying to bring about peace in Ukraine.
Wang Huiyao: Great. You're right. I'm very pleased to hear that you mentioned China’s mediating role as a kind of soft power of China. And the same is true for China to broker this peace between Saudi Arabian and Iranian, they've been now in direct talks and established diplomatic ties, and resume all embassy activity. I think China could do more and you are right. And if China can do more on this, China can not only quickly enhance international soft power, but also improve relations with the Western countries and many developing countries. (Enditem)