#20 event report: New Leaders, New Policies? 18th Congress and China-USA Relations

October 30, 2012, Bridge Café (Wudaokou)

Speaker: Prof. Dr. XIE Tao 谢韬, Beijing Foreign Studies University, American Studies Center


Given the proximity to the American election and Chinese 18th Party Congress, Professor Xie Tao spoke to a captivated audience on the future of China-USA relations. His core argument, supported by a wide range of evidence, was that despite spouts of angry rhetoric, China-USA relations faces no immediate major threats; however, the potential problems that lie ahead could, if unaddressed, lead to conflict or even military confrontation. Positing that the relationship remains strong, Professor Xie cited economic statistics as well as the burgeoning number of Chinese students studying at American universities. Yet he acknowledged trade disputes, sometimes-vitriolic nationalism, and the adjustment to both countries’ changing roles in maintaining Pacific security as the most prescient potential threats to amicable relations.

To address such issues, Professor Xie advocated for both governments to inform their respective publics about the importance and complexities of China-USA relations. He lightly chastised both sides for not using their pulpits to speak about their trans-Pacific partners. Despite President Obama’s aggressive rhetoric in the presidential debates, Professor Xie argued that his re-election would improve relations with China, as second-term presidents tend to implement foreign policy that solidifies a positive legacy in the White House. As for China, he further prescribed two new policies: first, for top leaders to increase transparency in their decision-making process; second, for Chinese leaders to present themselves as more personable and less rigid.


The Q&A session covered a range of topics, including the paramount importance of cyber-security, barriers to the European Union acting as an international mediator, and China’s potential dispatch of warships to guard the shipping lanes from pirates off the coast of East Africa. With regard to political reform, Professor Xie emphasized the potential for a relaxation of internal censorship and extension of local elections to the county level, both of which would almost certainly win high praise from the United States. Driving such reforms, argued Professor Xie, would be the third “cycle of legitimacy” for authoritarian regime, which Professor Xie deemed “post-industrial values.” With many questions still unanswered and audience members captivated as ever, we regrettably had to end the discussion, as we had already surpassed the allotted 90 minutes.

Professor Xie received an extended applause before participants moved to EATalia for continued discussions and a special birthday celebration for ThinkIN China Senior Enrico Fardella.

(Report by Frauke Austermann and Matthias Niedenführ)