Former US ambassadors weigh in on US-China bilateral ties

They described the current United States-China relationship as unsatisfactory, unsettling and complicated.



May 10, 2022

WASHINGTON – Three former US ambassadors to China described the current United States-China relationship as unsatisfactory, unsettling and complicated, but said the two countries are interdependent, and wiser policy decisions and diplomacy would help fix relations and benefit the world.

J. Stapleton Roy, who was ambassador from 1991-95, Gary Locke, who served from 2011-14, and Terry Branstad, from 2017-20, shared their experiences, insights and expectations on US-China relations on Friday at a panel discussion in Washington, DC. The event was hosted by the Committee of 100, a nonpartisan organization of prominent Chinese Americans in business, government, academia and the arts.

Roy said the current confrontational stance between the US and China doesn’t serve the interests of either country. He said there are two “key elements” of US policy toward China: “The first is the one-China policy and the second is the insistence that every issue be resolved peacefully.

Locke warned about serious consequences that would result from US-China confrontation or the decoupling of the two economies.

Branstad said, “There are big contradictions, but the fact is, even despite that, there is interdependency.”

Asked by panel moderator Cheng Li, director of the John L. Thornton China Center at the Washington-based Brookings Institution, to choose one word to describe current US-China relations, Roy said “unsatisfactory”, Locke said “unsettling” and Branstad said “complicated”.

“US policy toward China is heavily influenced by the domestic attitude. It did not take into account the fact that China’s prosperity has been the engine of growth in East Asia and more probably in the world for much of the last two decades,” Roy said.

Locke, who is also a former US secretary of commerce, said: “We are not sure where we are going to go from here. There are a lot of very, very tough issues separating the United States and China.”

He noted that the two countries’ economies are intertwined and said many US jobs depend on selling goods to China, from agricultural products to Boeing aircraft.

He said that neither Democrats nor Republicans are thinking long-term and understanding the implications of China policy on people, businesses and employees at home as well as in China and around the world.

Branstad said there are “complicated and difficult issues” between the US and China, but he doesn’t think they should block bilateral relations.

Regarding areas of differences, the two countries must try to “work those out”, he added.

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