China Town Hall 2017 feat. Ambassador Susan Rice

Two men speaking in front of audience

Brad Jensen and Dennis Wilder speak at the China Town Hall event 2017

October 27, 2017
by Lindsay Swisher

On Tuesday, October 24th, 2017, the Initiative for U.S. – China Dialogue at Georgetown University hosted a viewing of the China Town Hall 2017 featuring Ambassador Susan Rice, former National Security Advisor and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations during the Obama Administration. China Town Hall is an annual event sponsored by the National Committee on U.S. China Relations, and was broadcast this year to over 80 locations across the United States and China. Professor Brad Jensen, Chair in International Business at the McDonough School of Business, and Professor Dennis Wilder, Managing Director for the Initiative for U.S. – China Dialogue and Assistant Professor of the Practice in the Asian Studies Program, spoke live at the Georgetown event before the commencement of the webcast.

Jensen opened the event, speaking about the immense growth of China in recent decades and how it relates to the backlash to globalization currently being experienced in the United States. With regard to China’s growth, Jensen stated, “The gains from those benefits in the developed world were not evenly shared. So we see, in our current political dynamic, a backlash from the people who feel that they were adversely affected by China’s entry into the global trading system, and not compensated by that dislocation…And that sets the political stage for where we are now.”

The discussion quickly turned to the role that China can play in the current nuclear crisis in North Korea.

According to Wilder, “This is verging on a world crisis. We are at a moment where, if we and the Chinese, and our allies in East Asia, can’t find a way to deal with this diplomatically, I fear that the Trump administration will decide it has to use what is euphemistically called the “kinetic option” – some sort of force.”

Wilder went on to say that China wants the United States to push the “freeze for freeze” option with North Korea, but according to Wilder, “[North Korea] is not willing to talk to us right now, they’re not willing to say they would be interested in this idea. So there is a disconnect in diplomacy right now.”

Rice then joined via webcast, sharing her experience on China from her time in the Obama administration. “We viewed the U.S. China bilateral relationship as the most complicated, complex, but also consequential relationship in the world. And we invested very heavily across both terms of President Obama’s administration to try to get this relationship right…the challenge is to maximize cooperation while managing the competition, whether economic or strategic, responsibly…,” said Rice.

Susan Rice also attended many state visits during her time in the Obama Administration. With President Trump’s upcoming visit to Asia planned for early November (making stops in Japan, the Republic of Korea, China, Vietnam, and the Philippines), Rice spoke about what constitutes success for state visits. “A success, in my judgment, is best judged by the quality of the outcomes, and whether we have moved the needle on key issues that matter to both sides.” She went on to explain that the Chinese, in particular, excel at ceremony and the atmosphere surrounding state visits.

“In the case of President Trump’s upcoming visit, I think it’s very important that he not simply settle, as the Chinese may want him to, for pomp and circumstance…We need to go in with a very concrete set of asks and demands [because] there are real issues we need to deal with…,” Rice said.

According to Rice, China’s powerful rise will continue, in population as well as in economic terms, and the United States should not be worried. “With wise and thoughtful leadership on the United States’ part, we can manage a world in which China grows and continues to prosper, and view it as not antithetical necessarily to our interests, but potentially beneficial given the size of its market, given the fact that it can play, if it chooses to, a larger and more meaningful role on the global stage.”

Steve Orlins, President of the National Committee on U.S. China Relations, moderated the discussion with Ambassador Rice.