Levine finds joy work­ing on US- China ties BIO

China Daily (Canada) - - ACROSSAMERICA - By CHEN WEIHUA in Wash­ing­ton chen­wei­hua@chi­nadai­lyusa.com

When Henry Levine went home in New York sub­urbs dur­ing the Christ­mas va­ca­tion in 1971, the Buck­nell Univer­sity se­nior had a chat with his high school pal Jeff Shultz, then a se­nior at Cor­nell Univer­sity. They talked about what they were go­ing to do after grad­u­at­ing from col­lege.

The two had both de­vel­oped an in­ter­est in China. For Levine, the “cul­tural revo­lu­tion” (196676) un­der way in China, the so­cial tur­moil and change hap­pen­ing in the US and the Viet­nam War had aroused his in­ter­est in other parts of the world, in par­tic­u­lar China.

He still re­mem­bers how he opened John King Fair­bank’s book on East Asia his­tory and was star­tled to see the long time­line for China go­ing back to Xia Dy­nasty (2070-1600 BCE). US his­tory lit­er­ally started in the mid­dle of China’s Qing Dy­nasty (1664-1911). “That re­ally made an im­pres­sion on me,” Levine re­called.

“We de­cided that we would go to China,” Levine said of his con­ver­sa­tion with Shultz. “Frankly, when you think about it, it’s a lit­tle bit crazy.”

Both knew that as Americans, they couldn’t go to the Chi­nese main­land at the time due to the lack of diplo­matic ties, so they de­cided to go to Hong Kong, then un­der Bri­tish rule. Across the Pa­cific

After grad­u­a­tion, the two drove cross coun­try to San Francisco and tried to find a job work­ing on a freighter go­ing to Hong Kong. “We couldn’t get jobs be­cause we didn’t have any ex­pe­ri­ence,” Levine said.

In the end, they bought their own tick­ets on a freighter that had some pas­sen­ger com­part­ments and sailed to Hong Kong.

It was his first trip to Asia and the far­thest he had gone be­fore that was to Mex­ico.

“It was a won­der­ful, won­der­ful ex­pe­ri­ence,” Levine said of the two-week voy­age across the ocean, look­ing at the stars and hori­zon in the mid­dle of the Pa­cific and chat­ting with other pas­sen­gers who are much older.

How­ever, the hope to find job in Hong Kong was shat­tered due to the strict em­ploy­ment laws there. The two then learned that Tai­wan was a place where they could study Chi­nese and find job teach­ing English.

Levine and Schultz ar­rived in Tai­wan in De­cem­ber 1972. Levine ended up spend­ing three­and-a-half years there, mostly at the Tung­hai Univer­sity in Taichung, Tai­wan. “It was not just my first ex­po­sure to the Chi­nese and so­ci­ety, but a very deep ex­po­sure, be­cause we re­ally in­ter­acted a lot,” he said. He ate noo­dles and meals at lo­cal shacks and chat­ted with the ven­dors.

When Levine re­turned to the US in 1976 he was not sure what to do. He worked at a book­store and then as a tour guide at the United Na­tions head­quar­ters in New York, do­ing both English and Chi­nese lan­guage tours. He de­scribed him­self as one the first four men hired for the jobs which had been staffed en­tirely by women.

Levine went to the Fletcher School at Tufts Univer­sity in 1978 to study in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions. He kept his in­ter­est in China and started a Chi­nese lan­guage lunch group with fel­low stu­dents. A sig­nif­i­cant trip

In the fall of 1980, a high-level Chi­nese gover­nors’ del­e­ga­tion was sched­uled to visit the US. Jan Ber­ris of the Na­tional Com­mit­tee on US-China Re­la­tions called Levine and in­vited him to help with his Chi­nese lan­guage skills.

Levine was not sure how good an in­ter­preter he would be, de­spite his years in Tai­wan. He agreed after Ber­ris in­sisted and told him the State Depart­ment would send a pro­fes­sional in­ter­preter.

The trip took the Chi­nese del­e­ga­tion all over the US and ended up in Hawaii. Levine and the State Depart­ment in­ter­preter, Vi­vian Chang, fell in love and got mar­ried eight months later.

Be­sides find­ing his love, Levine got a chance to meet some Chi­nese provin­cial lead­ers, in­clud­ing Xi Zhongxun, the head of the Chi­nese del­e­ga­tion and Party sec­re­tary of Guang­dong prov­ince. More im­por­tantly to­day, he was also the fa­ther of cur­rent Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping.

So when Xi Jin­ping vis­ited the US in Fe­bru­ary 2012 as China’s vice-pres­i­dent, Ber­ris, vice-pres­i­dent of the Na­tional Com­mit­tee, put up a photo al­bum from his fa­ther’s trip to the US, in­clud­ing one of Xi Zhongxun try­ing to do the hula at the Poly­ne­sian Cul­tural Cen­ter in Hawaii.

Levine said Xi rec­og­nized his wife Chang from the photo, prob­a­bly be­cause she had in­ter­preted for many meet­ings be­tween top Chi­nese and US lead­ers. A de­press­ing job

Be­fore that trip, Levine had al­ready taken some of the For­eign Ser­vice exams. He fi­nally joined the State Depart­ment in 1981.

But soon Levine was faced with a ma­jor chal­lenge. His new­ly­wed wife was be­ing as­signed to Beijing to work at the US em­bassy but Levine was told by the State Depart­ment that there was no po­si­tion for him there.

Thanks to the in­ter­ven­tion of Sec­re­tary of State Alexan­der Haig, who knew his wife from a ma­jor trip to China, Levine got a po­si­tion in Beijing as a visa of­fi­cer.

While the young cou­ple was ex­cited to be to­gether in Beijing, Levine de­scribed the visa of­fi­cer job as a “very un­happy job, HENRY LEVINE Se­nior Ad­vi­sor, Al­bright Stone­bridge Group

63 Se­nior Ad­vi­sor, Al­bright Stone­bridge Group (since 2006) • US Deputy As­sis­tant Sec­re­tary of Com­merce for Asia (2002-2006) • US Con­sul Gen­eral in

Shang­hai (1999-2002) Deputy Di­rec­tor for Eco­nomic Af­fairs, State Depart­ment’s Of­fice of Chi­nese Af­fairs (19961999) Di­rec­tor for APEC Af­fairs at the Of­fice of the US Trade Rep­re­sen­ta­tive (1993-1994) Grad­u­ated with dis­tinc­tion from the US Na­tional Wall Col­lege (1993) Grad­u­ate work in in­ter­na­tional af­fairs, Fletcher School of Law and Diplo­macy at Tufts Univer­sity (1978-1980) Po­lit­i­cal Sci­ence, Buck­nell Univer­sity, BA (1968-1972) a de­press­ing job” be­cause of the high rate of re­fusal, about 70 per­cent at that time, to­tally un­like to­day.

Levine worked in the State Depart­ment’s China of­fice start­ing in 1986, mostly on ex­port con­trol pol­icy. He said he would laugh in later years when Chi­nese of­fi­cials raised the is­sue.

“I laugh be­cause at that time, I was very much in­volved in a deep fight within the US gov­ern­ment on ex­port con­trol pol­icy,” he said. “My feel­ing was then and still is to­day that we were over­con­trol­ling, and con­trol­ling too much.”

Levine said much of the de­bate he was in­volved in was to con­vince the Pen­tagon and oth­ers to ap­prove items that didn’t seem that sen­si­tive, re­fer­ring to items for duel use. He re­vealed that the views in other de­part­ments were quite ex­treme at the time.

In Levine’s view, the prob­lem was not so prom­i­nent be­cause China was not ex­pect­ing much at that time. Strate­gic vi­sion

Levine and his wife went back to work in the US em­bassy in Beijing in Au­gust 1989. He was the No 2 per­son in the eco­nomic sec­tion. But due to the dras­ti­cally de­te­ri­o­rat­ing re­la­tion­ship at the time, Levine had lit­tle work to do for a while.

In 1990 he and his col­leagues were au­tho­rized to go back to China’s Min­istry of Com­merce to con­duct in­for­mal con­sul­ta­tion about China’s ac­ces­sion to the World Trade Or­ga­ni­za­tion.

It hap­pened after two se­cret trips to China in the sec­ond half of 1989 by then Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­vi­sor Brent Scowcroft and Deputy Sec­re­tary of State Lawrence Ea­gle­burger. Levine’s wife, Chang, served as in­ter­preter for the meet­ings.

Levine re­turned to the State Depart­ment China of­fice in 1996 to head the eco­nomic side of the China desk. It was an in­ter­est­ing three years for him on the job be­cause of the sev­eral high­level vis­its. Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Jiang Zemin vis­ited the US in late 1997 when a bi­lat­eral nu­clear pact was reached. US Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton also paid a state visit to China in 1998. Chi­nese Premier Zhu Rongji came to the US in 1999.

Levine said while many ex­pected China and the US to reach a deal on WTO dur­ing Zhu’s trip, it did not ma­te­ri­al­ize in the end, and for­mer se­nior US of­fi­cials later re­al­ized it was a mis­take not to fi­nal­ize the deal.

Levine, how­ever, be­lieves that un­like to­day, it was a pe­riod when both sides re­ally had a strate­gic vi­sion for the re­la­tion­ship. “We are will­ing in­ter­nally to push and try to make progress,” he said. Con­sul Gen­eral

In 1999, Levine was as­signed to be the US con­sul gen­eral in Shang­hai, an as­sign­ment he said should be cred­ited to Susan Shirk, then deputy as­sis­tant sec­re­tary of state for East Asian and Pa­cific af­fairs.

Levine spent a big chunck of his time work­ing with the Amer­i­can business com­mu­nity, in­clud­ing do­ing a monthly brief­ing for them. AmCham Shang­hai was then the sec­ond or third largest chap­ter of Amer­i­can Cham­ber of Com­merce in Asia.

After China joined the WTO in 2001, Levine was busy work­ing with the Shang­hai lo­cal gov­ern­ment help­ing to im­ple­ment the WTO. He was deeply im­pressed by the lo­cal gov­ern­ment headed by Mayor Xu Kuangdi.

“The lo­cal gov­ern­ment wanted to im­ple­ment as quickly and as thor­oughly as they could. He was fab­u­lous and amaz­ing,” Levine said.

Be­sides the business com­mu­nity, Levine also found time to travel to Zhe­jiang, Jiangsu and An­hui and vis­ited univer­si­ties to talk to stu­dents about US poli­cies and US-China re­la­tions. Great sat­is­fac­tion

After leav­ing Shang­hai in 2002, Levine joined the Com­merce Depart­ment as deputy as­sis­tant sec­re­tary for Asia. Along with his coun­ter­part at the US Trade Rep­re­sen­ta­tive, Levine was the lead ne­go­tia­tor for the US-China Joint Com­mis­sion on Com­merce and Trade (JCCT), a mech­a­nism set up in 1983 to ad­dress bi­lat­eral trade and in­vest­ment is­sues. The Strate­gic & Eco­nomic Di­a­logue, known as S&ED, did not ex­ist at that time.

Levine said both sides knew that there was no magic bul­let that would help JCCT get rid of all the prob­lems. “Their eco­nomic sys­tems were dif­fer­ent, there were po­lit­i­cal is­sues in both coun­tries,” he said.

“Chi­nese lead­ers can­not say that we will get rid of SOEs (Sta­te­owned en­ter­prises) to­mor­row. It wasn’t re­al­is­tic,” he said.

He said one has to go into it, un­der­stand that you could make progress on some smal­lor medium-sized is­sues, and that was the best you can do. He saw that progress on those small- and medium-sized is­sues could be very im­por­tant for par­tic­u­lar US com­pa­nies or in­dus­tries.

“So my feel­ing is that we made progress on some is­sues that were help­ful and sig­nif­i­cant. (It) didn’t change the world,” Levine said.

Now a se­nior ad­vi­sor at the Al­bright Stone­bridge Group, a con­sult­ing firm in Wash­ing­ton, Levine feels lucky for his decades of work­ing with the Chi­nese.

He re­called that it was a gen­uine in­ter­est that got him into the China field in the first place, and not be­cause he could go into business and make a lot of money. “As it turned out, China has be­come such an im­por­tant coun­try,” he said.

“My over­all feel­ing was sat­is­fac­tion,” he said of his ca­reer in the China-re­lated field.

To Levine, there are cer­tain things the two sides dis­agree on, and there is no point spend­ing all the time ar­gu­ing about them.

“Be­cause we know we are not go­ing to solve them, we are not go­ing to make progress on them. So the chal­lenge is how do you sit down and find the ar­eas where you can reach an agree­ment and you can get some­thing done,” he said.

Hav­ing en­gaged in bi­lat­eral eco­nomic and trade re­la­tions with China for decades, Levine be­lieves the on­go­ing ne­go­ti­a­tion for a Bi­lat­eral In­vest­ment Treaty is now the most im­por­tant ini­tia­tive be­tween the two coun­tries.

“It’s tremen­dously im­por­tant. If we can achieve a BIT which is of high qual­ity, it will have both a very big eco­nomic im­pact in stim­u­lat­ing a lot of two-way in­vest­ment,” he said. “It will also lead to a pos­i­tive in­flu­ence on the over­all eco­nomic re­la­tion­ship.”


Henry Levine, se­nior ad­vi­sor at the Al­bright Stone­bridge Group in Wash­ing­ton, talks to China Daily in the news­pa­per’s Wash­ing­ton bureau.

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