Here’s What People Are Saying About China at the Bloomberg NEF
(Bloomberg) -- The challenges posed by China’s rise and the incoming Biden administration’s future approach toward Beijing dominated discussions on the first day of the Bloomberg New Economy Forum, as leading global thinkers offered insights into the world’s most important bilateral relationship.
Current and former prime ministers, presidents and other top officials spoke at the virtual Bloomberg forum about the trajectory of U.S.-China ties as the two powers continue to spar on everything from trade and technology to human rights. They spoke about how President Donald Trump changed relations, and the challenges facing President-elect Joe Biden.
Below are some of the key highlights. The New Economy Forum is organized by Bloomberg Media Group, a division of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News.
Lee Hsien Loong, Singapore Prime Minister
In an interview with Bloomberg Editor-In-Chief John Micklethwait, the leader of the Asian city-state said Biden should look to develop an “overall constructive relationship” with China following “quite a tumultuous ride” over the course of President Donald Trump’s reign in the White House. He said Southeast Asian countries don’t want to be forced to choose between the U.S. and China.
“We all want to work together with the U.S., we all want to work together with other vibrant economies, we would like to cooperate within the region,” Lee said. “I think not very many countries would like to join basically a coalition against those who have been excluded, chief of whom will be China.”
Wang Qishan, Chinese Vice President
The influential Chinese official called for global solidarity and a shift away from protectionism, as Beijing assesses changes that may come under a Biden administration.
“Countries must rise above exclusive blocs and reject the zero-sum mentality,” Wang said. “We should build an open world economy that works for all. We must firmly safeguard the multilateral trading system under the WTO and unequivocally reject unilateralism and protectionism.”
Bill Clinton, Former U.S. President
The former U.S. president spoke in a wide-ranging conversation with former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair about how a Biden administration would reinvigorate America’s presence in international institutions, how to prepare for the next pandemic and changes that have taken place under President Xi Jinping. Clinton said there were “clear disagreements” with Beijing over its crackdown on freedoms in Hong Kong and the internment of Uighur Muslims in western China, but said there was a “desperate need to work together” on climate change and the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The old Chinese system, which was by no means a democracy, still guaranteed enough debate, and play, and openness because there was a regular rotation of leadership,” Clinton said. “Now that it appears that a person is in charge of China who intends to stay there for life, in essence, that changes things. But we shouldn’t accept or assume that it’s all going to be bad without working to make it better.”
Tony Blair, Former U.K. Prime Minister
Blair agreed with Clinton that it was time for the president-elect’s team to take a more coherent, coordinated approach to China, rather than relying on the more unpredictable mix of measures -- from tariffs to sanctions -- that were pursued by the Trump administration.
“For the new administration in the U.S., I think the big challenge with China is to get what I would call a strategic framework for dealing with China, rather than a series of ad-hoc reactions to whatever the Chinese may be doing,” Blair said. He added that he had long hoped China’s political system would open up alongside its economy, but that didn’t turn out to be the case. “That was our hope, and possibly and certainly, it was my actual expectation. You’ve got to say in the last few years, there’s been more external aggression and more internal repression. That’s just a fact.”
Charlene Barshefsky, Former U.S. Trade Representative
While many people have focused on how Biden will approach China, an equal amount of attention should be paid to what Beijing can do to mend the relationship, according to one of Washington’s former top trade officials and the chief U.S. negotiator during China’s entry into the WTO. “It should be very important for Xi Jinping to also show good faith here,” Barshefsky said.
“Remember that Joe Biden was in the Obama administration, which after eight years of dialogue, endless meetings, endless series of engagements, sixty-plus working groups, produced almost no results with respect to the key complaints the U.S. had about the Chinese economy,” Barshefsky said. “It was not surprising there was an explosion when Donald Trump came into office.”
“The way he’s handled the relationship, I think, is poor,” Barshefsky said of Trump. “But the fact that the underlying tensions were extremely high would have been the case whoever came into the White House at that point, largely because of conditions on the ground in China were worse for multinationals over time, not better.”
Henry Kissinger, Former U.S. Secretary of State
The long-time diplomat -- an architect of U.S.-China relations and former President Richard Nixon’s landmark trip to China in 1972 -- had a stark warning for the incoming Biden administration. He said Biden’s team should quickly restore lines of communication with China that frayed during the Trump years or risk a crisis that could even escalate into a military conflict.
“Unless there is some basis for some cooperative action, the world will slide into a catastrophe comparable to World War I,” Kissinger said. He said military technologies available today would make such a crisis “even more difficult to control” than those of earlier eras. “America and China are now drifting increasingly toward confrontation, and they’re conducting their diplomacy in a confrontational way,” he added.
Kevin Rudd, Former Australian Prime Minister
Noting that in any relationship “it takes two to tango,” the former Australian prime minister outlined several ways Biden and Xi can avoid any future escalation -- most notably by avoiding confrontations in disputed waters off China’s coast. But there’s also an opportunity for the U.S. and China to mend rifts by working together on climate change, he said.
“China wants to act, but it realizes that China’s national actions will be inconsequential in the absence of global action,” he said. “That’s why China wishes to engage the Americans and why the Biden administration will want to engage the Chinese.”
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