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Sep 9, 2021
Close post dialog window [Editor’s note: This week, we are publishing a complete transcript of the Sinica Podcast to accompany the episode interviewing Rosie Levine and Jan Berris of the National Committee on United States-China Relations. Listen to the episode here , or read the full transcript below] Kaiser Kuo: Welcome to the Sinica Podcast, a weekly discussion of current affairs in China, produced in partnership with SupChina. Subscribe to SupChina’s daily Access newsletter to keep on top of all the latest news from China from hundreds of different news sources, or check out all the original writing on our site at supchina.com. We’ve got reported stories. We’ve got editorials. We’ve got regular columns as well as a growing library of videos and of course, podcasts. We cover everything from China’s fraught foreign relations to its ingenious entrepreneurs, from the ongoing repression of Uyghurs and other Muslim people in China’s Xinjiang region to China’s ambitious effort to eliminate poverty. It’s a feast of business, political and cultural news about a nation that is reshaping the world. We cover China with neither fear nor favor. I’m Kaiser Kuo coming to you from my home in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The National Committee on U.S.-China relations (NCUSCR), an organization near and dear to my heart, I should say up front, published a report in early August called “ American International Relations and Security Programs Focused on China: A Survey of the Field .” The study was commissioned by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, and it provides what I thought was just a fascinating picture of, well, the very world on which this program is so often focused and from which so many of its guests are drawn. The report foregrounds five major findings, which we’re going to go through individually, as well as a set of issues that respondents identified as in need of more work, conducted as it was during the nadir of U.S.-China relations. It lays out, unsurprisingly, issues that have come to the fore in large part because of this souring, and this presents us with, I think, a great opportunity to talk through some of the issues that it raises. So joining me to talk about the report is my dear friend, Jan Barris, the long-serving vice president of the National Committee with whom I share an immoderate fondness for rye and caraway seed Triscuits, which I have been frustratingly unable to find of late. Jan… Jan Berris: Me too! It’s terrible. Kaiser: Really! What is up with that? Jan: I don’t know. It’s sad, every time I’m in a store, I grab up an employee and say, why don’t you have caraway flavored rye Triscuits? Kaiser: I don’t understand it, they’re the best. And I mean, whenever I can get them, I buy six boxes. Jan: I buy a whole case, but it’s nigh on impossible these days. Kaiser: It is, but I hope that we end this drought soon. [Editor’s note: It seems that Nabisco has foolishly discontinued this delicious snack]. I am sure it has something to do with the pandemic. Anyway, I was just thinking about how you and Steve — Steve Orlins, the president of the National Committee — you were our very first guests on Sinica after we joined SupChina in 2016, and we started to take things more seriously. Jan: And a great honor, indeed that that was. So thank you. Kaiser: It was a fun conversation. And I have to say you get credit for being the person who basically made Jeremy and me stop with all the gratuitous swearing on the show. So thank you for that. Jan: Well, I’m glad I’ve accomplished one good thing in my life. Kaiser: Many more. Also joining me is Rosie Levine, senior program officer for the National Committee, who really spearheaded this report. Rosie joins us for the first time, but I believe this is also the first time that we’ve had someone on whose mother — or either parent, for that matter — has also been a guest on this show. Her mother is the amazing Joan Kaufman, who’s been on Sinica three times, I think two or three times. And Joan is somebody with a truly storied China career that’s taken her from academia to major NGO operations in China and is now with Schwarzman College. And I think it’s in the cards for Rosie to surpass even that. Rosie, I just delight in seeing a second-generation person getting so deeply involved in China related work. It’s such a pleasure to welcome you to the show! Rosie Levine: Thank you. I feel like I’m the model that all China experts hold their kids up to saying, “look, I brought you to China when you were a kid. You could have a China career too.” So I’m living proof it does happen. Kaiser: It does indeed, and it happens well. So as you’ll see, as we delve into the report. But Jan, let me actually start with you. I mean, so this isn’t the first survey conducted about the field by the National Committee. You mentioned that in the introduction to the report. It seems that you’ve done, what? Four others of the past few decades, is that right? Jan: Yes, we have. So our foray into the field of surveys on the state of the field of China studies began in the early 2000s. The Ford Foundation came to us in 2002 in fact. Took us a little while to get it done, but they commissioned a report that was for its own internal purposes. They wanted to be able to understand the state of the field and in particular, where there were gaps. And all of this was to help them with their own funding decisions. About four years later, that was a period when the field was growing quite a bit, they asked us to please update that report, which we did. The work was done on it in 2005 and six and it was published in January of 2007. So despite what we say, I realized in preparing for this discussion, I went back and looked at things carefully and it’s partially the fault of my — as I get older, my once (what I used to think was a) really wonderful memory is declining by leaps and bounds. And so Rosie we’re going to have to fix something because in the preface to the Carnegie report, we say that this is the first one that was published and that’s not the case. The second, the updated version of the Ford report was indeed published. It was part of a National Committee series of reports that we were doing at the time. So that was the second report. While we were doing that update, the MacArthur Foundation came to us and said, well, this is really interesting what you’ve been doing for the American organizations working on bilateral relations, but we’re interested in knowing for our funding purposes what’s going on in China. So we did a very similar survey looking at the organizations in China, both academic, and at that point in those years, the very fledgling think tanks that were beginning to pop up around China. So those were the first three and then jumping up about another decade when Carnegie Corporation of New York asked us if we would do something similar to what had been done in our earlier two reports for the Ford Foundation. Again, it was for their own internal reasons. And so they wanted us to look at how not just institutions, but also some of the key academics in the field, what their focus was, what they were working on, how they were carrying out their research and how that all came together in terms of the field of China studies. And so we did that report for them in 2013. And then just a year ago, Carnegie came to us again and said, we would like an update of what you did for us for almost a decade ago, but we would like this to take a look not just at the established, the big name organizations, but look at some of the new voices in the field, some of the smaller organizations, some of the very small ones that are embedded in other institutions. And that’s the report that we’re talking about today. Kaiser: Yeah. It would be fascinating to see those other reports, not just the one that you actually did publish, but forgot, but if nothing else, I mean, just to get a sense for how much things have changed and to see the different sets of issues that were confronted by people who work on China today and back then. But let’s talk about this report. Rosie, you led this and so maybe talk a little bit about how this report was put together, how you selected the organizations that you solicited, the response rate that you got and what sorts of questions you put to them — that sort of thing. Rosie: Sure. well, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention at the top, the great work of my colleagues who helped on this. So Jan who’s on as well, but also Johanna Costigan, who started as an intern at the committee who did quite a lot of heavy lifting on the writing of the report. Margot Landman and Jason Togut, two other colleagues at the National Committee. It really was a group effort to put this together. But we started with, so to select the organizations that we ultimately surveyed, we started with the list of those we had gone to in the 2013 report, as those were many of the big names that I think most people who are listening would recognize as the kind of the key players in the China field. But really use that as a baseline to expand upon. And so we next went to a number of key leaders in the field to both kind of established names, as well as folks who are more active on Twitter and online, and a little bit more of the new voices to get suggestions for organizations that have cropped up between 2013 and now who are doing great work. So with those suggestions in hand, our criteria were really American organizations not-for-profit who do a critical mass of research on China. By which we mean, not just one person at an institution just doing a one-off report here or there, but really kind of a demonstrated commitment to understanding China through their work. And these are both research organizations, academic centers, as well as programmatic organizations like the National Committee and others who do wider range of work, whether it be exchanges, track twos, other things like that. So once the list was identified, we sent the survey, the 33 question survey out to 125 programs. And we got a response rate of 65%. We got 82 survey responses back, and those responses comprised the basis of our report. Kaiser: Not bad. 82 out of 125 is not bad at all. Jan: Very good response rate. Rosie: Yeah, I think it helps that the field as you know, I think there’s a pretty deep connection within the China field of organizations who work on peer issues. So in this case, it really was helpful for us because we can call up a lot of folks who do interesting work that we know of and try to get their response in. At the same time, this does contribute to some bias as well. So this is as an organization that’s based in the US and doing work here, we have a bias towards those who are similar to us in the way that we do our work. So there is a little bit of a tilt towards the more established and the more well-trodden organizations within the field. Jan: But I would say Kaiser, just that the field as a whole and the people in it are really quite generous with one another. This isn’t a sort of a backstabbing field where people are out to get the others. And because we found that… Kaiser: Have you been on Twitter? Jan: Well, no. I have to say, I am not on Twitter. So I’m basing this on the first connections I have and on the kinds of responses we got in the first four of the reports, because there too, we had very high response rates. And when we didn’t get some, our field was smaller. We were looking at maybe sending things to 50, 60 organizations or even 30 or 40 and getting 25 or 30 responses. And then I would just get on the phone and call people and say, we haven’t heard from you. We expect this to come in, or let’s just sit down right now and you give me the answers. So using personal connections, we’ve been able to beef things up. But on the whole, I think the field is pretty generous toward one another, at least when it comes to this kind of thing. Because everybody also, one of our carrots was that we would give them access to the findings if they participated. And everybody really is very interested in those findings. So that was another thing that increased the response rate. Kaiser: That’s right. So what sorts of questions did you ask to the respondents Rosie? Rosie: So we asked a wide range of questions ranging from their daily operations, their staff size, their budgets, what kind of work and program and activities they do as well as what kind of constraints and challenges they’re facing in just the practicalities of their work as well as in the geopolitical relationship. So we tried to really cast a wide net and get a snapshot of kind of typical practices within these organizations with the caveat that we were asking this in a very atypical time, which was fall of 2020. The pandemic had put most programming on hold, as well as the final months of the Trump administration, which had cast a little bit of doubt of… It was hard to plan at that moment with not knowing for sure what the next administration’s China policy would bring. Kaiser: Right. So let’s not go too much into the methodology. I think it’s all there in the report for anyone who wants to look at it more closely, but let’s go instead straight to the major findings. And you guys had five of them, so maybe we can go through each of them. And as we talk about each of these five key findings, I think it’d be great where appropriate if you maybe had an example response to read out loud to illustrate how the respondents tended to frame each of these issues. So let’s start with this first one. And I think it’s a happy one, that demand for China content is growing in the United States, which is great you would think. So what explains, first of all, the disappointingly flat traffic growth for the Sinica Podcast, if this is not… I’m kidding! Seriously though. So demand for China content is growing in the United States and it’s leading to increased opportunities in the academic community and outside. Rosie: Yeah. So I mean, really, I think we wanted to lead with this key finding, because this is a good news story. There’s a huge amount of demand and opportunity within the field for China content. And although Sinica has a flat growth rate — Kaiser: It’s not flat! Rosie: I mean, I think we’ve all seen China issues go from a sub field to a key area of focus. And that’s had the rising tides lift all boats to some degree. There’s a lot more opportunity out there for organizations within the field, more funding and opportunities in general. One respondent framed this in a nice way. So I’ll quote a respondent here. “Ignorance and hostility on both sides of the US China relationship and China’s rapid growth offer a once in a generation opportunity for China experts to assume the role of educators beyond the academy”. And so that really kind of sums it up. There is ignorance and that’s not necessarily a great thing, but it doesn’t mean that the folks who understand China and have done the work to understand this country have a big role to play in terms of educating policymakers and the public. Kaiser: That actually touches on something that we’ll get into later on when you talk about what sort of the needs of the field are. One of them I think that somebody talked about the need to educate non-China experts, and I think that this is very much related. Rosie: Very much so. Kaiser: I think we can dive in a little bit deeper on this growing demand for content, which I think is interesting because it seems to contrast with the… Well, you keep hearing about flagging enrollment in Chinese language courses or other indicators of flagging interest in China, not just language courses, but also big survey courses on China. I understand enrollment is down. I don’t know what’s driving that. Maybe it’s just because they’ve closed all of the damned Confucius Institutes, but… Jan: As when you jokingly mentioned, we keep saying this and we have to shut up about it, the flat listenership, but it is true. The listenership to Sinica is going way up, but it is true that enrollment in language courses is going down and attendance at lectures at least at the university level may have been reduced. But I think that’s a discrepancy that’s pretty easy to explain because so for at least four decades from say from the 80s through about 2010, there was really a gold with of course, three or four years that I’m not talking about right around 10 on month. But for the rest of that time, relatively speaking, China was seen as a very exciting place for young people to be, and for older people who were able to both gain a lot themselves and feel that they were giving a lot in return. I mean, you had a situation where you could go to study, you could work, you could teach, you could research and the economy kept going up and up. Things Western were seen as interesting and cool and Westerners were welcomed. And for the academics, you had universities where you could study or teach. You had archives that you had access to that could help you in your field. You had lots of opportunities for collaborative efforts with professional colleagues. And so it was a, I don’t want to say the wild west, but there were so many opportunities. And so many young people, both those with China backgrounds and without went over and availed themselves with that. I mean, you and your siblings. Kaiser: Yeah, I know. I’m very much a product! Jan: You went over and you did some amazing things. And Rosie, she went as a child but then she decided she wanted to go back because her time too, it was sort of at the end of that period, but it still provided lots of… I mean, she’s a fabulous person who you should walk down the streets of Beijing with because her specific field is historic preservation. And so people with a niche field like that as opposed to when I went into China studies where all you could do with it was sort of teach, now, or at least prior to the last couple of years, anybody who had an interest in a specific field could go to China and feel that they were learning a lot and they were benefiting others. But the tightening and the crackdown has made that not as possible as it once was. So if you’re a freshman or even a sophomore, and you’re looking at well, if I go into China studies, I’ve got years and years of a very difficult language and all for what? It’s not going to be so easy for me to get my research done, for me to make friends in China, have access, et cetera. So I think that discrepancy is an easy one to explain. Kaiser: Yeah, and I think that unfortunately of the people who do remain a larger and larger percentage of them are going in focused on the sort of “know your enemy” approach. This sort of national security thing, which we’ll talk about, which is one of your findings as well. Rosie, if it’s okay, let’s move on to that second finding, which is that, and it relates again to exactly what Jan was just talking about, the domestic tightening has limited information flows. That it’s influenced the sorts of topics that can be addressed productively. It’s choked off access to a lot of the archives. And even, I mean, I think a lot of us have this personal experience now of having interlocutors, who aren’t maybe quite as willing to talk to us anymore. We don’t have the same kind of candid exchanges that we once did for various reasons. If the first one was good news, this certainly isn’t right? Rosie: Yeah. So I think that’s exactly right. And we can get a little bit more into that in some of the other key findings, but I mean, just access to China itself has become very complicated, not just the pandemic, but in general, we’ve seen China increasingly inaccessible to the non-profits and research organizations with the continued effects of the international NGO law passed in 2017 and the kind of unknown future effects of the 2020 National Security Law in Hong Kong making travel harder just in practical terms to get there. But then for those who are able to access China, there’s a feeling that’s increasingly unsafe. So one respondent phrased this as, “The domestic Chinese political environment is so unpredictable as to make collaboration in China far too problematic to contemplate. We cannot risk detention”. So that’s a pretty stark take on the risks that might be at play for those who traveled to China. And then lastly, those who are able to go and feel safe to go have found that their meetings are unproductive. So, exactly as you mentioned, Kaiser, that there’s less of a willingness to collaborate and to speak freely and openly with colleagues overseas in the current Chinese political environment. And that’s a huge loss for the types of discussions that were able to happen on the ground in China up until very recently. Kaiser: Is it your sense that the detention and subsequent arrest of the two Michaels [Micahel Spavor and Michael Kovrig] had a lot to do with this? Do you think that that really spooked lot of people? Rosie: Yeah, I think that’s exactly what is high on the minds of many of the respondents. So 13 respondents, 16% explicitly cited personal safety concerns when traveling to China and many of them referenced the two Michaels directly. So I mean, yeah, earlier this week there was more information about the case against the two Michaels and Michael Kovrig, for example, was cited as having collected state security information that was making its way into reports. And this is the exact kind of work that think tanks do, right? So if report writing is something that could incur a great personal risk, then you would understand why it would be more threatening or feeling a lack of security when doing this kind of work. Jan: And Kaiser, when we were looking at this survey, I was in my mind, and our team actually also took a look back at the 2013 survey to see what were the similarities and where the differences were. And just for me personally, this was the starkest contrast because whereas in 2013, you did have people beginning to complain about the lack of, or the ability to do really the kind of high quality collaborative research they had done in the past because things were just… It was just at the very beginning edges of people not being able to do some of the things they had in the past. But they were still very, very positive looking forward to working with Chinese colleagues and going to China and being in China and whatever one wanted to do there. But this, you never once heard anyone ever express any hesitation whatsoever about personal safety. I think people felt very, very safe there. And now, as Rosie says, that came through and it came through not just in this survey, but it is now coming through in a variety of other ways. And it’s very distressing. Kaiser: And even from a safe distance, even not being there for the many of us who weren’t already regularly going to China, a lot of us relied on the reporters that we had and that finger on the pulse of people who were actually there who spoke the language and who had really good contacts. And now they’re trying to report on Beijing from Taipei or from Seoul. And it’s really frustrating. Jan, just staying with you real quick here, you’ve been through periods where China has turned relatively insular before. Is it your sense that it’s really different this time? Jan: As sad as it makes me to say this, I have to honestly say it does seem different this time. Kaiser: Yeah, I would agree. Jan: I feel certainly when I started this process, when I began studying Chinese, when I was in the Foreign Service based in Hong Kong and certainly when I came to the Committee, we had no contact with China. No one had been in China. There were a few scientists who were beginning to make very brief… Well, not so brief yet, three or four week trips there, but there was a different attitude. There was a different attitude on the part of both governments. There always whether it was back in the early 70s or even after Tiananmen and after the incidents with the EP3 and the bombing of the Belgrade embassy. While those were traumatic incidents in the relationship and while they certainly, in some cases almost totally cut off our 来往 (láiwáng), our back and forth with each other. Still there always was the belief that in the back of everyone’s mind, we all felt this was cyclical, which I’m hoping it still is. But there was at least the concreteness of, or the stability, the underlying stability you could fall back on that in the United States through six presidents and in China through four senior leaders or more, there was the desire to have the relationship do well and progress and find ways to correct the problems that might arise. There’s always going to be bumps in the relationship and it always will be cyclical. But at this point I don’t have that same feeling that on both sides at the top levels of governments, there is a desire to make it all work and to try to overcome the obstacles. That’s why, and this is again, I think we’ll get to later on, but that’s why people to people relations have always been important, but now I think they are even more important. Kaiser: It’s especially maddening to me right now when it feels like there’s this major tectonic shift happening in China, right? We all know what I’m talking about. And it’s moments like this where I really feel like if I were on the ground and were able to talk to a big range of people from all walks of life, from my educated colleagues or dudes in the hood home or my rocker buddies or the 保安 (báoān) in my building or whatever. Now, I mean, I feel like it’s just way too small of a sample size. And I just don’t feel confident about my read on how people are responding to this shift, to the regulatory tightening, to this new language around common prosperity. So yeah, it’s really frustrating. Jan: You’re certainly not alone in there Kaiser. I think everybody who’s involved in the relationship is feeling that so strongly. When Rosie and I and a colleague were interviewing candidates for our PIP application, it was really interesting to us that so many people, despite what we’ve just said about some of the concerns and tensions, there was clearly a strong desire… That people really felt what you’re just talking about. The lack of ability to talk to friends, to talk to families because Chinese Americans were the ones who were feeling this very, very strongly and the inability to go home. And as you know, you’re fortunate that many of your family are here, but for some of the Chinese who have only recently come here or recently become U.S. citizens, the inability to go home and see family is just tearing them apart. And it’s really sad. Kaiser: So Rosie, let’s move on to these third and fourth points that you raised, which are kind of related. So one, it talks about how in America, these institutions and these scholars who are focused on China are caught in a political crossfire and our ability to do the kind of research and programming that we’re interested in doing is constrained by this. And this fourth point, let’s maybe talk about them together. You talk about how this downturn in the bilateral relationship has really politicized work on China, and it’s diminished the quality of discourse in both countries. And I think that the really interesting thing that I think comes out of that, it’s how… Look, we’ve talked already about how we have all encountered these sorts of pressures that might lead us to self-censor, which would ordinarily have been things like our concern for loss of access or denial of visas, or worries about violating the NGO law, or maybe even endangering our Chinese interlocutors, right? I mean, that’s all totally legitimate and while regrettable, these are kind of more understandable. But nowadays it’s not just that. There is a fear that’s reported by some of your respondents, but also by a lot of people who I’ve talked to personally that here in the United States, we might suffer for voicing opinions that aren’t what everyone else is saying, what the blob in DC is saying. For instance, it’s commonplace, I think, to see both sides of the aisle freaking out about funding that comes to some organization from the, God forbid, the much shredded united front work department. But if you point out that Raytheon or Lockheed Martin or General Dynamics has funded some think tank, people just assume that you go home and put on a tinfoil hat, right? Or you’re completely shunned from polite company. If your word for what’s happening in Xinjiang is “atrocity” or “repression” or “crimes against humanity” or “gross human rights violations,” but you don’t go all the way to the G word, genocide, you find yourself being called a genocide denier and morally impugned as though you’ve denied the Nazi Holocaust. And this is worrying to a lot of people that I’ve talked to. This is something that shows up in your report, yeah? Rosie: Yeah, and I think there’s a couple pieces that are interlocked here, so we can try to pull them apart. So one dynamic that we noticed quite starkly was that there have been concerns for a long time about the research environment in China. And all of the mentioned, the aspects that we were discussing and key finding to kind of have been at play for a long time. But what really has been a new development since 2013, and it goes hand in hand with the increased interest in China is the polarized and politicized conversation within the US around how China is discussed. So part of this is playing out in key finding three, we talk a lot about how this undermines the work of organizations that are in between because they feel like they really are the collateral damage in this downturn in the relationship. Inability to get visas for bringing even Chinese participants here to the US to have conversations, of course, will impact the kind of work and conversations that are possible. And that kind of instability is very hard to conduct long-term research and build networks of scholars and connections and things like that, that we all know are so important to getting good quality information about what’s happening in China. But in key finding four and five, I think that’s exactly the dynamic you were discussing, Kaiser, of the political environment in the United States has politicized so deeply the conversation that one respondent framed this as hostility towards even principled engagement with China is now kind of the norm. So there’s a couple of pieces of this. One is the seemingly own goal of the time when we need to know more about China. We’re putting a lot of risk and pressure and attention, negative attention on the very people who have the tools and skills to be able to interpret China’s actions seems like a very tragic policy perspective for the United States and would have huge implications in our own understanding of this very important country. But this has felt more acutely in the Asian-American community where Asian-American researchers and those respondents in our survey who identify as Asian-American stated that they feel that they’re kind of under double scrutiny, I guess. That they feel that by their very ethnic identity they’re seen as somehow suspect or co-opted or in some ways that their analysis can’t be taken seriously. Kaiser: Amen to that. Oh my God, yeah. Rosie: And of course, this is not only taking place in the China field and this is larger conversations in the United States that need to be had about ethnic discrimination and things like that. But there was a recent report earlier this summer about even State Department officials who are of ethnic Chinese descent not being given positions within the region that their family is ethically from. So, there’s some probably grounds for this, and I’m sure there’s a precedent somewhere that necessitated a policy such as this, but at the same time these are the very people who know what they’re talking about. So it has a lot of benefit to get those who have the most skill and expertise and understanding into the positions where they can have influence and power and make decisions. So it’s a complicated conversation. Kaiser: Yeah, it sure is. Jan: All right, hark back to the time when I was in the Foreign Service, you were given a wishlist like you got in the army. What are your top three places you want to go? And in those days, I actually had been a Chinese studies undergraduate, but my master’s was in Japanese studies. So my first choice was actually Israel, but they wouldn’t send me there because I was Jewish. So this is not a new phenomenon at least in the Foreign Service. My second choice happened to be- Kaiser: Did they explicitly tell you that? Jan: Pardon? Kaiser: They explicitly told you it was because you were Jewish? Jan: Oh, yes. That was very explicit. And that was well-known within the State Department community that the State Department was concerned. They didn’t want people to be put in a position where they might have a conflict, identity conflict. Unfortunately my second choice was Japan, but I didn’t want to go to Tokyo. I wanted some lovely place like Kyoto or Nara, but in those days they wouldn’t send women to Japan unless they went to Tokyo, because if they’d been any place else outside that big metropolis, no one would, at least the men who made up most of the Japanese hierarchy at the time, wouldn’t pay any attention to a woman even if she were a foreign woman. So in the end, it redounded to my benefit because my third choice was Hong Kong and that’s where I was sent. So I was in the end, pleased with those two negative examples. Kaiser: So Rosie you write — that fifth point that you guys brought up, and that is again about the current US environment, that a lot of China related topics are being v iewed just sort of only through this singular lens of national security. And this results in China being reduced to just a sort of target in US domestic political rhetoric. And that is something that I think I’ve railed against, that many people I know have railed against. I know that I was invited to do a panel along with Jiayang Fan from The New Yorker that Robert Daley put together at the Kissinger Institute. And I’ve done a lot of thinking about this particular issue, but I want to drill down on that because I think that really does plague us, this dominance in the American conversation of national security. I think the respondents had some excellent remarks that are quoted in the report about why this is such a baneful development, but what stood out for you as you sifted through those responses as the issues that are most important and deserving that go ignored because of this singular focus? Rosie: Yeah, I mean, it’s a very complicated point. So I do want to pull out a few pieces just so listeners are clear what we’re arguing here, because there are a couple factors at the same time. So, on one hand there are genuine security threats and that’s not… I mean, I think all of our respondents, not all, I won’t say all of our respondents, but many of our respondents did cite genuine security threats and concerns about what’s happening in China from the South China Sea and Xinjiang and elsewhere as weighing high in their minds and a key part of the new conversation on China. And yet the conversation being so holy dominated by US national security concerns within the American discourse on China, influence what they felt that they could and couldn’t say, and how they could conduct their affairs. So, I think there was a kind of a sense amongst respondents that if you don’t start your conversation by laying out at the forefront all of the genuine concerns, that you won’t be taken seriously, or you’re seen as somehow already co-opted by the nefarious Chinese agenda if you don’t include security in your presentation or your research, even if your work is a historian or a social scientist that doesn’t touch on these types of topics. And so any type of, I think although there can be genuine security concerns, any type of environment where individuals in an academic community feel that they have to be saying a certain thing to be able to be taken seriously should be of concern to anyone who is looking for unbiased research in the field. So there’s that concern, but there’s also the long term effect of funding coming in that only seeks to promote these types of research agendas, including DOD funding and other research, other kinds of military adjacent funding that is looking at China in these types of terms. Which funding is not a fixed sum type of operation, but it does mean that researchers and attention are being directed towards competition and military topics rather than other areas of focus. Kaiser: So what are the areas that are going ignored because of the singular focus then, Jan? What really sticks out for you as things that what’s being left by the wayside now, as we all focus on national security? Jan: Well, I’m not an academic on the ground and I don’t necessarily see in terms of what courses are oversubscribed and what two or three people show up to. And I have to say, even when I was in school, I had one or two courses like on Chinese Yuan drama that there were only two of us in the whole class, but it was wonderful because we had this extraordinary teacher who liked to act out everything. And so we benefited enormously and I was pleased at the University of Michigan let him continue to teach that class with only two of us in it. But I think there is a sense of concern that because so much money is going to the security side of the equation, that that becomes the glamorous field. That’s where the good paying jobs will be. That’s where people know that, oh, well, if I do X, I will be able to get a job in all sorts of places. So I think it is to the detriment of some of the fields of history, maybe demography, anthropology, but there still are. Then I use as a barometer, the kinds of people or what we see from the people, from the applicants who want to be PIP fellows, we are still getting a range, but the numbers that come to us in both history anthropology have lessened, whereas political science IR, security and interestingly sociology, and of course economics, a variety of aspects of economics. Those are way up. But the others, this year, it was very surprising how few historians applied for the program. And I don’t know if there’s any correlation between that and what we’re talking about or however the stars aligned, but that’s certainly what we’ve seen. But there is concern that the lure of the definite job possibilities and funding for research will steer people away from some of these more basic things, the sinological part of what we were all taught and what we… Yeah. Kaiser: And interestingly, you guys identify this as one of the areas where we’d like to see corrective the needs of the field that people have talked about in your report, a “return to sinology.” You just rattled off a long list of disciplines that people are in political science or sociology, or what have you. I didn’t hear a lot of people who were area studies. Jan: Oh, area studies has been a dirty word for the last 20 plus years. Kaiser: To my great chagrin. Jan: That’s actually why we started the Public Intellectuals Program because so many, at least of the major, you find area studies where they’re very popular and very strong is at the smaller colleges places, whether it’s Carlton or Colby or Kenyon or wherever, people still think about and believe in area studies. But at the big research institutions, the priority is for quantitative research. It’s hard to find economists who tell stories anymore. Economists all have to be focused on the quantitative research. And that’s also now true of political scientists. So it’s a problem. Kaiser: I’m very familiar with this issue because what I do basically for a living is I read a bunch of academic work and then talk to people about it. And I mean, there’s so much more a methodological model, all that math in the middle now that we have to deal with. And I mean, it’s been a long time since I’ve had a stats class. So it’s sometimes hard for me to muddle through all that crap. But yeah, I totally feel you. I think it’s such a no-brainer that the foundation is language and that when you are talking about a country like China, that area studies just needs to be re-centered. Anyway, that’s a big hobby-horse for me, but let’s get back. Now that we’re kind of through the five major findings., I want to ask you a couple of sort of meta questions both of you. One is did you find that there were overlapping areas of concern among the different types of organizations that you surveyed? Like think tanks and NGOs and academic organizations. Or were their concerns quite disparate and maybe divergent from what you saw in the earlier studies? Rosie: Yeah, I think that that was actually something we were surprised by is the amount of overlap between different organizations. And there are a few differences which we can pull out and discuss, but it seems that the challenges mostly are with the activities or the practices themselves of getting to China, getting access, visas, dealing with the current US climate around China, which transcend any type of specific type of organization. The academics did identify more concerns with the pipeline issues and feeling that trying to replenish the bench of academics who focus on China. Think-tanks were those who worked on track twos were quite concerned with efficacy and how track two dialogues are, and other types of engagement on key policy issues are happening when the two countries are at such loggerheads and they feel that they’re not getting much traction in these types of dialogues. And one interesting point was that all American programmatic non-profits to some degree felt that US government actions had an impact on their work. And that was one of the only questions that had some uniformity in response. And it seems that the American nonprofits are a little bit more vulnerable in that sense of to being kind of in the crosshairs of the greater geopolitical tension between the two countries where think tanks and academic research universities, for example, can kind of weather the storm a bit better. Kaiser: So Jan, drawing on your experience and your many years at the National Committee, what was your sense in going through these responses of how much of the change that you saw owed mainly to the idiosyncrasies of the peculiarities of the year 2020? And how much were sort of broader enduring secular trends changes in the field that were spanning many years? Jan: I would say the latter. Everybody during 2020 experienced — it was a crazy year. We haven’t come out of that crazy year yet. And we tried very hard to separate the COVID aspects because we did this survey at sort of the height of the pandemic. And so we did ask people, made clear to them we wanted them to try to separate those aspects out of it. But I think that the other problems, the sort of more generic problems in the relationship have been difficult for several years now. And so I think it definitely wasn’t just the year. Kaiser: Yeah. Rosie, you felt the same way? Rosie: I think it’s a little hard to tell from our current vantage point. From what we surveyed, the information in 2020 when we did our survey, I think we all thought that things would have gotten back to a little bit more normal by September of 2021. Obviously that hasn’t been the case. So I think some of these effects were still a little too close to understand exactly how they’re going to affect the field as things continue. As Jan said, we were asking about typical practice in a very atypical time. So, we tried our best to separate these issues out, but I think COVID itself has become a geopolitical issue in the US China relationship.And of course is still kind of playing into the dynamics as things move forward. So I think in some ways, 2020 and the events 2020 compounded existing issues, or at least brought them into greater relief. Like travel has never been extremely forward for China, whether it’s issues with invitation letters or what is possible on what type of visa and things like this. Rosie: So travel has always been to some extent, but obviously not to the extent in 2020, 20 21, where travel is completely impossible and a two week research trip is just out of the question for logistics and practicalities alone. So I think TBD, you’ll have to get us back on the podcast in five years or so to tell you. Kaiser: Happily. Long before then. One more sort of meta question, was there anything in the responses that jumped out as confounding your expectations or really particularly surprising to you? Rosie: I think we could answer this two ways. So in one way I think this survey was designed somewhat like an AmCham or EuroChamb’s annual business climate survey. So we were thinking about the state of the field and the kind of general practice for not businesses, but these types of research organizations. So to some extent, each individual response isn’t super shocking, but taken as a whole can shed a lot of light on the current climate in this type of work. So in that way, I don’t think anything was outstandingly shocking or surprising. And yet I think a couple of things did stand out. I think one aspect that I think is most prevalent and why this is really relevant at the current moment is just the extent to which academic exchange and research has been politicized in both countries and the toll that’s taking on the types of research and work that can happen. And we’ve seen downturns in the relationship before that have had impacts on exchange back and forth and other things, or the trade war, for example, where there’s a specific issue kind of the US and trying to conspire about. But academic exchange and research has really been carved out of that type of back and forth. And now we see in 2020 and 2021, that academic exchange is very much in the fray of the tit for tat issues. And that is having huge impacts on the type of research and work that can be done. And in turn, the American understanding of China suffers because the research and analysis that really comprises this American understanding of China, the people with the tools to do so, the language skills, the knowledge, the resources, the networks, everything are feeling the pressure and feeling constrained on both sides of the relationship. That is a new phenomenon. Kaiser: So, Jan, I mean, let’s take this and turn it toward the National Committee itself. You’ve been there for well over 40 years. You’ve seen it through thick and thin, through sickness and in health. How has the National Committee faired during these difficult years? I mean, you were one of the respondents to this very survey, presumably because you are an organization that is convening all this work on China. And so, yeah, do you feel caught in the political crossfire? I mean, I imagine it must be frustrating. I think there are probably some organizations that you’ve partnered with for many years who are feeling like they want to hold you at arms length a little more than they might have in years past when engagement wasn’t a dirty word. Because that’s what you’ve stood for all along. So what are you prioritizing now? I mean, how are you carrying out your mission in these difficult times when all these obstacles to that mission or are being thrown up from both sides, from China and from the United States? Jan: So first of all, yes I have been at the committee not just 40 years plus, but this month marks my 50th year at that committee. And it has been, as you said, very frustrating, I think for all of us, for everyone in the field, not just the National Committee. But because exchange and bringing people together is our bread and butter, it has been particularly trying for us because nobody can travel anywhere. Now, thanks to the magic of, I don’t want to give an advertisement for Zoom, but there have been a variety of platforms that the committee and all of our sister organizations in the whole world have been able to use and to use to great advantage. Just if we talk about the access that we have to speakers that we would want to put on a program. It used to be, if we had a public program, it was done in the National Committee offices where we could hold maybe 40 or 50 people. The fire codes wouldn’t even allow 50 people. Or we would find a corporate member who had a larger space that we could use for one or 200, but rarely that was mostly our reach. We rarely went beyond that. We had begun to do some videos prior to the pandemic, but it was really after March, April, the spring of 2020, that we like everyone else embraced this new technology. And we found that despite the huge and terrible downsides of the pandemic, there have indeed been some upsides for us. If we have a program, we don’t have to wait until someone comes to New York city to convene a public program. We can just call anybody we want to not just in the United States, but any place in the world. And we don’t have to keep it to the 40 or 50 people in that room. We can have thousands and we can have hundreds of thousands. So we have found that in terms of access both to speakers and new ideas, but also to new audiences, that in some ways, the last year and a half has been a boon for us. In 2019, the National Committee released a total of 45 videos. In 2020, we released 224 videos. That it took us nearly a decade to reach our first million views. And now we have a million views every six months. So for us, this has been a huge change. Now, I need to stop here and say, just as Rosie, I needed to stop you at the beginning and say that it took this wonderful team of five people that we had working on this project, and actually more. It also has taken the whole team at the National Committee to make some of these statistics be what they are. I have been very, very proud of the organization and how it was able to sort of turn on a dime, embrace this new technology, figure out ways that we could be reaching out to these wider audiences. So in that way, it’s been a real boon for us. In other ways, it’s very distressing and very frustrating. First of all, as you mentioned, not being able to be there and to be on the ground and get the sense, just stepping off the plane and you’re enveloped in another culture, in other physical atmosphere, you see friends and you can talk to friends that you can’t necessarily see or talk to over a telephone or a Zoom call or whatever. So it makes a tremendous amount of difference in just not only how we think about China, but how the Chinese think about us. And I am very concerned about that aspect. In terms of the committee, so we have prioritized public education because that’s the best thing that one can do using these new platforms. And actually that was the first mission. That’s why the National Committee was formed back in 1966, because there were a number of Quakers and US businessmen and academics and children of missionaries, all who felt that the US needed to be thinking about China in a different way. Or even if it didn’t need to be thinking, at least we needed to provide or find a safe place for people to come and express different points of views. And that’s what the National Committee did. And then it tried to take those views and introduce them to a wide range of people. So public education has always been our primary and only mode of interacting with the rest of the world for the first six years of our existence. Once we began, once ping-pong [diplomacy] happened and we brought the ping-pong team over, we did very heavily get into the exchanges mode and sort of stepped away from public education for a while. But we did bring that back when Mike Lampton became the president of the Committee. And ever since COVID, it has been sort of public education on steroids, but we knew that we couldn’t just only do public education. We had to think about some of the other programs we’ve done and ways, so programs that are bringing people together physically, and ways that we might do that online. So we have continued with all of our track two programs that we had done in the past. Our econ program, which just had about two weeks, three weeks ago it’s 23rd iteration. Now, 18 of those were all in person and the last four or five have been in Zoom, but at least we’re still doing them. In healthcare, maritime, legal issues, our digital economy and we’re even reviving one of our track two dialogues in the field of energy. So we have been able to do track twos. Are they perfect? Absolutely not. We miss terribly the ability to go for a walk in the woods, on the beach, around the corner, wherever we happen to be, because those are the moments when… Kaiser: The magic happens, yeah. Jan: I won’t name the Chinese public intellectual who said this, but there is a Chinese public intellectual who when asked what would be the best way to improve track twos? The person’s response was… Kaiser: Alcohol? Jan: No. Alcohol can help. The person’s response was, “Shorten the panels to 25 minutes a day and lengthen the coffee breaks to 20 hours a day.” There are other programs that are much more difficult. We used to have a program, our student leaders exchange, which brought some of the presidential scholars who are young American, two of whom are chosen from each state because of their strong academic and extracurricular activities. And we send them to China for two weeks and they live in the homes of high school students. These are just recent graduates from high school. They live in the homes… Kaiser: Yeah, I’ve been involved in that before. That was fun. Jan: Yes, you briefed those kids. And it was terrific. Well, we can’t do that. Our young leaders forum which brings together Chinese and Americans under the age of 40 in a variety of fields, that depends really heavily on personal interaction. Even our Public Intellectuals Program. While we’ve found ways to keep them engaged by holding meetings of the group once a month, we’re coming up on doing our first in-person, we hope, program for the newest cohort. And we are very concerned that if the Delta wave gets any heavier that we may not be able to do it in person. And that will have a very, to my mind, deleterious effect on how we can provide the same kind of bonding and interaction among the fellows that we all feel is so essential for the success of that program. And Kaiser, another thing you mentioned in your long multilayered question was the fact that engagement has become a dirty word. And that is one of the most frustrating things that I found ever since Ely and Kurt came out with their article in foreign affairs. Because for me, first of all, I take issue with some of their premises, but also we have to have engagement. It can’t be a dirty word and it certainly isn’t around the National Committee. It’s not only our bread and butter, but it’s something that we feel about very passionately. Is it as much fun as it used to be? Sometimes, but a lot of times it’s just very hard and very frustrating. But it’s all the more important that we keep engagement alive and that we keep this people to people relationship going. At this point for whatever crazy reasons, our two governments are so mistrustful of one another. When they talk about each other to us, you can just… The mistrust drips from everyone’s… Oozes out of the pores. And they seem to be only looking at the dark side of each other rather than at the positive energy that we once did or once were able to create together. And hopefully we can again. But we can’t give up on that. We have to find ways to take that mistrust and turn it into believing again. When I started out the relationship was pretty mistrustful. We didn’t talk to one another. We didn’t see one another. We couldn’t go to one another’s countries. We can’t let ourselves get back into that rut. And so we really have to be there. We have to be talking to one another, and that’s what the committee is all about. And engagement is our holy grail. And that gets me to something you said in your, or an assumption you made in your question is that the counterpart organizations that we have dealt with all these years may be a bit standoffish or not want to be interacting with us. And actually we have found that to not be the case. Kaiser: I’m glad to hear that. Jan: And in fact, the organizations, not just the ones that are our oldest ones like the Chinese People’s Institute of Foreign Affairs with which we have now done at least two or three programs that have been done over a virtual platform, but also some new organizations that we didn’t even know before the pandemic we have been able to get together with. So I don’t know that this is the experience of all organizations like ours, but for us, I’ve been very, very pleased that we, as I said, have been able to do better things in public education. We’ve been able to hold our own when it comes to some of our track twos. And we’ve been able to create new programs with both long-time friends and new institutions. Kaiser: Yeah, I think on that optimistic note, that’s a really good place to transition on to recommendations. Jan and Rosie, it’s just been such a pleasure to have you on the show and please know, I’ve put my hand up here for anything that you might need before, whether it’s teaching a best practices class on how to do podcast interviews with your PIP scholars, many whom I’ve already interviewed. So maybe it’s too late already. But I just did one that dropped today with Yuen Yuen [Ang] on her book, which is terrific. And I continue to look to your list every time I’m thinking I need some fresh blood. So it’s all been all super valuable or like you said, people in the United States who might need to meet with congressional staffers or anything. You know that you can always count on me. Jan: Thank you for that. Kaiser: So let’s move on to recommendations. Thank you guys so much. It’s just a fantastic report. You can download it on the National Committee site, really, really great work from Rosie and all her colleagues there. Recommendations, but first super quick reminder that the Sinica podcast is powered by SupChina. You guys know the drill. If you want to show us how much you value this show and all the other shows in our network, the thing that you need to do is subscribe to our daily email newsletter, SupChina Access. Look, we’ve done like 500 episodes of Sinica. I’ve got another 500 in me, at least, as long as we remain solvent. So do your part on that end and help us out. Thank you in advance. Okay, Jan, why don’t you kick us off with a recommendation? What have you got for us? Jan: So my recommendation is based on what I did this summer and actually what I did last week this summer. So last week I did something that I’ve always wanted to do. Well not always because it only began in 1961, some very clever people who I think were just doing it to try to raise money. People who were leaders of the University of Michigan’s alumni association started something called Camp Michigania. And they bought 500 acres of an old camp that was going out of existence up in Northern Michigan, not the Upper Peninsula, but the northern part of the mitten on a lake called Walloon Lake. And every year they run a family camp and it’s only for, you have to have been a graduate of the university, but that graduate can invite mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, spouses, et cetera. And I went. The camp sessions are one week. So they have 10 or 11 over the course of the summer. And last week I went. Usually people come with a husband, a wife, maybe a child or two or three. I went with 15 people which included my brother and his three kids and their spouses and their children and their in-laws. And so we were a whole huge clan. And it’s just wonderful because for me growing up, camp was when I was a camper and then a counselor and then a unit head et cetera. I just loved camp. It was very important to my life. And I felt like I was right back in camp, whether it was at arts and crafts or canoeing or whatever I was doing. And the best part of this was that it was off the grid because there’s no WiFi in camp. The cell reception is pretty spotty. And so I had to be doing things like playing, rowing the canoe or paddling the canoe and learning how to wave surf. I was really proud that the two women, it was the women in the group that got up on the first try wave surfing and the men all who just kept falling on their faces. Kaiser: Well, you’re an avid skier. So I think you probably had an advantage there. Jan: No, there were some avid skiers who couldn’t do it either, but in any event it was really a wonderful experience and the fact… So my recommendation is that everybody should get off the grid for at least a week. Kaiser: Go to camp. Jan: Go to — go back to camp no matter your age, but also, this will resound with you Kaiser, since we were on… Does the phrase Lake Walloon or Walloon Lake have any meaning for you? Kaiser: Sure. The Walloons, sure. I mean — Jan: No, not that one. This is the Walloon as in the lake on which Ernest Hemingway grew up. Kaiser: Oh, no, I did not know that. Jan: So Ernest Hemingway’s family had a cottage on Lake Walloon starting in the early 1900s. And he went there every summer as a teenager, as a kid. And if you read his short stories, you will find many references to Walloon Lake and Horton Bay. And so I went out before I went, I went to the local library and I got the complete short stories of Ernest Hemingway. And my goal was to read all of them, or at least all the Michigan related ones while I was there. Sadly, I failed in that because there were so many other things to do, but I still have it here. And I’m determined that before I go back to New York, I’m going to finish those short stories. Kaiser: All right, that is a lot of packed-in recommendations. We’ve got going off grid, going to camp, reading Hemingway. All right, fantastic. Okay Rosie, you’ve had time to think. What have you got for us? Rosie: All right. Well, my suggestion is the opposite of going off grid at camp. But as Jan mentioned, that I was very involved in historic preservation in Beijing, I’m really interested in urban issues. So I’m a huge rail fan, fan of trains. So I am recommending two things, one podcast and one short article about high speed trains in the US. So the first one, I mean, I’m sure many of the listeners have been to China, marveled at the amazing speed by which you can get from Beijing to Shanghai or other places, and wondered why the US can’t have nice things. So if you want to know more about these questions, one is an article from Vox called ” Why does it cost so much to build things in America? ,” which is talking about the just kind of snarling issues that hold back many transportation projects and infrastructure projects in the US. And the second is a pretty interesting interview from Freakonomics Podcast with the current and former secretaries of transportation , Elaine Chao, and Pete Buttigieg, which also talk a lot about China. So I think hopefully it’s coming in our future high speed rail, but at least for now you have some listening and reading to understand why it might be a longer process in the US than elsewhere. Kaiser: That’s fantastic. I actually also have a podcast recommendation. I want to recommend the Ezra Klein Show’s recent episode with one of my favorite public intellectuals, Robert Wright , who is a journalist, and he’s also the author of this excellent newsletter called Nonzero. He’s sort of like me, he’s a big advocate of cognitive empathy as a concept. And I love the guy, he’s fantastic. I’ve had the pleasure of being on his program and I’m going to have him on mine, but I think Ezra Klein is just fantastic. So you mentioned Vox. He of course used to be a very senior editor at Vox and he’s now with the New York Times, but that is… The other thing that I was actually reading this interview with Jude Blanchette in the Wire China , which I also think you should all check out. He mentioned — there’s this little throwaway box in there where they ask you what your favorite film is. Jude had written Jaws as his favorite film. And I realized that I had never actually seen the movie Jaws. When it came out in 1970, my parents didn’t let me see it. They actually let me buy the book. I bought the book and I read it and it’s much more lurid than the film it turns out, just like the Godfather is. Anyway, I c
Carnegie Corporation of New York Team
5 Team Members
Carnegie Corporation of New York has 5 team members, including current President, Vartan Gregorian.