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Chinese thinktank calls for restoring ppl-to-ppl exchanges ASAP
After trips abroad, CCG's Wang Huiyao works domestic public opinion
I have never been to the Center for China and Globalization (CCG) or met its leader Dr. Harry Wang Huiyao, but I have always respected their efforts to bridge the world and China, especially in these challenging if not dangerous times.
Plenty of Pekingnology subscribers have dealt with Wang, who has just led a CCG delegation to top think tanks and other counterparts in Singapore, the United States, France, Germany, Belgium, and South Korea. Some of you might have just met him personally.
So what are his thoughts after the month-long visit? More importantly, how does an open-minded, internationalized Chinese think-tanker/interlocutor work the Chinese public opinion in the way that’s fit to publish here?
Wang just gave an interview to Beijing Daily, the flagship newspaper of the Beijing Municipal Party Committee, which published it on its app. It’s not long and I’m translating the interview below. All emphasis, except four subheadings, are mine.
The international public opinion environment has changed a lot
Beijing Daily app: Compared with the time before COVID-19, what is the biggest change you felt during this visit?
Wang Huiyao: The international public opinion environment we are facing has changed a lot. First, Sino-US relations have hit a low point in recent years, and a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center this year showed that more than 80 percent of Americans have a negative view of China. Second, the Russia-Ukraine conflict has sparked a huge global reaction, and Sino-European relations have taken a hit. Both the German and French governments are working on their strategic reports on China, and it is understood that the content of the reports may be more negative compared to the past. There have been similar movements in Asian countries such as South Korea.
With COVID-19 blocking exchanges between Chinese and foreigners for a long time, some scholars who understand China and have a friendly or neutral attitude toward China are doing research using data that is often outdated from a few years ago, with little new material or experience, and their credibility on China issues has been weakened.
In the U.S., groups dedicated to promoting China-U.S. people-to-people exchanges used to have a large presence and often received Chinese groups, but now they are so 萧条冷清 rarely visited that the office lights were dark when we went there.
Other think tanks, such as the Atlantic Council, which is dedicated to European and American exchanges and the Russia-Ukraine conflict, have increased their budgets by 30 percent this year, and continue to recruit and thrive. The international student community also has to choose to study in other regions because they can't get through, and these are all losses for us.
Our fear proved totally unnecessary
Beijing Daily app: What’s the point of the CCG delegation’s visit?
Wang Huiyao: In the aforementioned context, we were worried before we went out that we might run into walls everywhere and people would not be willing to contact us after we arrived abroad, but later we found that such worries were totally superfluous.
We received quite warm and high-profile receptions in all countries. We visited many countries on three continents, carried out more than 70 activities, and met with the heads of many top international think tanks, chambers of commerce and business people, politicians, and media figures. We visited the headquarters of the United Nations, the World Bank, and other international organizations, and also visited Chinese embassies in countries along the way.
Foreign counterparts generally valued the exchanges with us and wanted to hear voices from China. We did a lot of work in listening to and explaining their questions and misunderstandings about China, which I think is the role that think tanks should play. In the current environment, such direct communication is very meaningful.
In addition, our visit itself can be seen as a positive signal. Some foreign counterparts said that since a Chinese think tank has come to visit, does it mean that they can also go to China? Some think tanks and business people were very proactive and said you came in July, then we are going to China in August, even if we have to be quarantined. When our domestic think tank counterparts heard about our visit, they also said that maybe they could also go out. Our trip can be said to play a leading role in setting an example.
The U.S. side is concerned about how China and the United States actually get along
Beijing Daily app: What specifically is the foreign side most concerned about in China? What respective emphasis do the U.S., European and Asian think tanks have on China?
Wang Huiyao: The foreign side is concerned about a lot of things. The U.S. side is concerned about how China and the U.S. actually get along, and what is the bottom of the decline in relations between the two countries now? How can we find a way to get along that is both reasonably competitive and avoids conflict? This is a concern not only for the U.S. side but also for our Chinese think tanks.
U.S. companies are generally concerned about how the Russia-Ukraine conflict will affect their business in China and whether the Chinese economy can maintain steady growth and continue to support the global economy in the face of the current high levels of domestic inflation in the United States. They also care about the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China and how China's reform and opening up will continue. Of course, the most important concern is when China will be able to appropriately relax its entry and exit policies with regard to COVID-19. We have noted that recently the President of Indonesia became the first foreign head of state to make an official visit to China after the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, which is a positive sign.
European think tanks are more concerned about China's position on the Russia-Ukraine issue. They have a lot of misunderstandings such as that China does not support Ukraine enough. We explained to them that China provides humanitarian aid to Ukraine and that China advocates that the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries, including Ukraine, should be respected, which had a certain effect in increasing confidence and clearing doubts. The European side also repeatedly mentioned the China-EU Investment Agreement that was frozen due to sanctions, and was concerned about whether the two sides could reach an agreement on lifting the relevant sanctions. In the contact with the European counterparts, I feel that there is still a basis for consensus between China and Europe on issues such as multilateralism, climate change, sustainable development, and the digital economy, and we should continue to promote and strengthen cooperation between the two sides in these areas.
We also went to Singapore and South Korea, where the Singaporean counterparts mainly suggested that tensions between China and the U.S. are detrimental to them, and they are not willing to choose sides and want to try to reconcile the two sides, and the South Korean counterparts are facing a similar situation.
Currently, South Korea is economically dependent on China, and the total trade between China and South Korea is more than the sum of those between South Korea and the United States, Japan, and the European Union combined. But on geopolitical issues, the U.S. has recently been pulling South Korea closer, inviting them to the NATO summit and helping to ease relations between South Korea and Japan, all with the aim of building a coterie to contain China. In response, there are voices in South Korea that believe South Korea should maintain a degree of neutrality, which is something we need to actively pursue.
Cautiously optimistic about the future of U.S.-China relations
Beijing Daily app: At present, Sino-US relations are at a low point, how do you see the future development of Sino-US relations?
Wang Huiyao: I am cautiously optimistic about the future development of China-US relations. In other words, I’m not optimistic in some aspects. The world today is in a state of "one globe, two systems", can the U.S. side accept this reality, and can they truly live in peace with China? This is very important. We have always said that the economy is the "ballast" of Sino-US relations, I think people-to-people exchanges have the same role. In addition, we have to deal with the 主要矛盾 “main contradiction,” that is, the contradiction with the United States. All other conflicts are secondary, and we have to ease the secondary contradictions as much as possible. If we can do well in these aspects, I think it is still possible for China and the United States to usher in a cautiously optimistic situation.
In May this year, Secretary of State Blinken, in his speech on China policy at George Washington University, changed the "competition, confrontation, and cooperation" triad he had proposed to an "investment, alliance and competition" triad, which means further investment in U.S. domestic construction, consolidation of the alliance system, and open and fair competition with China on from the “position of strength.” That indicates that U.S. policy toward China is also changing and that it is necessary to manage U.S.-China relations well. State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Blinken also met in Bali, Indonesia, in July. I think these are relatively positive signals.
[Ministry of Foreign Affairs: China’s comprehensive, systematic and elaborate response to Secretary Antony Blinken’s China policy speech.]
China-U.S. and China-Europe should restart people-to-people exchanges as soon as possible
Beijing Daily app: Does the CCG have any specific suggestions for improving Sino-U.S. and Sino-European relations?
Wang Huiyao: The first suggestion is to restart the exchanges between enterprises and governments as soon as possible. During our visit to the U.S., the Wall Street Journal published an article by 14 senior figures from U.S. companies, chambers of commerce, and think tanks calling for the rebuilding of U.S.-China relations. In addition, there is still much room for cooperation between China and the U.S. in terms of local government cooperation. Unlike the federal government and Congress, local state governments in the U.S. are mostly welcoming to the Chinese side on exchanges and cooperation.
The second suggestion is to increase the exchange of international students. We learned that the U.S. side is generally welcoming to Chinese students. They believe that Chinese talents going to the U.S. can help them, and at the same time, international students can also play a role as a bridge to promote exchanges between the two countries. We also need to attract more American students to China. Tourism also needs to be restored. Chinese outbound tourists exceeded 150 million in 2019 before the epidemic and spent over $200 billion abroad, which is very good soft power of ours.
The third recommendation is to strengthen communication with the U.S. side on multiple levels. We should maintain contacts in various aspects such as climate change, digital economy, education, culture and tourism, business, etc., and make China's voice heard from all levels to offset many negative reports and one-sided perceptions of China in the Western media.
The fourth recommendation is to welcome more foreigners, 包括对中国有偏见的人士 including those who are biased against China, to visit China, including visiting Xinjiang. This is the most convincing way to eliminate the gap and misunderstandings and dispel some of the lies about China abroad.
Considering the impact of COVID-19, some flexible approaches can be adopted to carry out the above-mentioned people-to-people exchanges, such as inviting foreign personnel to China for exchanges based on the closed-loop model of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic Games, so that to reduce the obstacles from COVID-19 control measures and they do not have to worry about spending a long time in quarantines.
Chinese personnel also need to "go out" more often. There is a trend that the regional centers of people-to-people exchanges used to be more in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Hong Kong, but now they are gradually shifting to Seoul, Singapore, and Bangkok due to COVID-19. These places are paying attention to building their own influence, which should attract our attention.
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