He’s al­ways work­ing for pos­i­tive US-China ties

Jeffrey Bader, a long­time China hand, has wit­nessed vi­cis­si­tudes of com­pli­cated re­la­tions

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

Jeffrey Bader, a top China hand in the United States, heaved a sigh of re­lief af­ter Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping’s first state visit to the United States last week.

Bader had be­come deeply con­cerned over the public dis­course in the US about China, with some ar­gu­ing for a more con­fronta­tional ap­proach to­ward a ris­ing China.

“I think the more that kind of at­ti­tude be­comes wide­spread, the harder it’s go­ing to be to main­tain a pos­i­tive re­la­tion­ship be­tween the US and China,” he told China Daily be­fore Xi’s visit.

Bader be­lieves that at­ti­tude is based on a misun­der­stand­ing of China. In a June ar­ti­cle: Chang­ing China Pol­icy: Are We in Search of En­e­mies?, Bader ar­gued that the US should not dis­card the ap­proach taken by eight pres­i­dents since Nixon in fa­vor of an as­sump­tion of in­evitable hos­til­ity and a strat­egy of across-the-board ri­valry that may be com­pelling in in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions the­ory but which no pres­i­dent has found per­sua­sive.

“I hope and ex­pect that the ninth pres­i­dent sine Nixon, though faced with an evolv­ing China, will not dis­card the play­book used by the Amer­i­can states­men who built and nur­tured the US-China re­la­tion­ship and built a gen­er­a­tion of peace in Asia,” said Bader, who from 2009 to 2011 was a spe­cial as­sis­tant to the pres­i­dent of the United States for na­tional se­cu­rity af­fairs at the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil and is now a se­nior fel­low at the John L. Thorn­ton China Cen­ter of the Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion.

On Sept 17, just five days be­fore Xi landed in Seat­tle, Bader, who has been work­ing on US-China re­la­tions since the mid 1970s, wrote another piece ti­tled Chi­nese State Vis­its Are Al­ways Hard: A His­tor­i­cal Per­spec­tive, re­mind­ing peo­ple to have a re­al­is­tic ex­pec­ta­tion of the re­la­tion­ship and state visit.

Bader said on Tues­day that he was just try­ing to calm peo­ple down.

A great trip

“I think the visit went very well,” Bader said, two days af­ter Xi wound up his week­long trip to the US and the United Na­tions.

Bader be­lieved Xi had clearly thought and stud­ied a lot be­fore the trip. “He knew what was on the minds of Amer­i­cans. If you look at his speeches in Seat­tle, and his ap­pear­ance at the joint press con­fer­ence, The Wall Street Jour­nal in­ter­view, he ad­dressed all of the is­sues that were con­cerns to Amer­i­cans,” Bader said, de­scrib­ing the tone of Xi’s speeches as “very con­struc­tive, very pos­i­tive, and not con­fronta­tional, not ag­gres­sive”.

Of the list of con­crete achieve­ments on the trip, Bader pointed to the agree­ments on cy­ber­se­cu­rity and cli­mate change as the most sig­nif­i­cant.

“I think it was a good trip, par­tic­u­larly since the ex­pec­ta­tion was fairly neg­a­tive be­fore the trip,” he said. In Bader’s view, this re­la­tion­ship is al­ways go­ing to be com­pli­cated and dif­fi­cult, with two dra­mat­i­cally dif­fer­ent coun­tries, dif­fer­ent cul­tures, dif­fer­ent his­to­ries, dif­fer­ent philoso­phies and dif­fer­ent po­lit­i­cal sys­tems.

“Peo­ple’s ex­pec­ta­tions should be re­al­is­tic about the re­la­tion­ship,” he said. “They shouldn’t act as if we woke up one day and sud­denly dis­cov­ered that this coun­try doesn’t agree with us on ev­ery­thing.

“It’s not new, and we should be a lit­tle more re­al­is­tic about the re­la­tion­ship,” said Bader, the found­ing di­rec­tor of the John L. Thorn­ton China Cen­ter at Brook­ings.

En­coun­ter­ing China

Un­like many China hands in the US, Bader, 70, ma­jored in Amer­i­can and Euro­pean history as an un­der­grad­u­ate at Yale Univer­sity in the mid-1960s. He later re­ceived his master’s and PhD at Columbia Univer­sity, also in Euro­pean history.

But af­ter join­ing the US For­eign Ser­vice in 1975, Bader, who speaks French, was posted to Zaire, now the Demo­cratic Re­pub­lic of Congo, in a place now called Katanga province. He de­scribed the place as “com­pletely cut off from the world, no com­mu­ni­ca­tion, no ca­bles and no noth­ing”.

Not happy at all work­ing there, Bader was look­ing for his next as­sign­ment. A let­ter for him by his boss in Zaire to the State Depart­ment fi­nally reached Richard Hol­brooke, then as­sis­tant sec­re­tary of state for Asia, and Bader be­came a staff as­sis­tant to Hol­brooke in 1977.

“It was a pure chance. I had no back­ground on Asia,” Bader said.

Though he didn’t ma­jor in China stud­ies, Bader said that as a grad­u­ate stu­dent he was in­ter­ested in Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon’s trip to China in 1971 and 1972.

“The China re­la­tion­ship seems like both a very ex­cit­ing one and a his­tor­i­cally im­por­tant one, and one that would be good to be as­so­ci­ated with,” Bader re­called.

Bader felt lucky. Work­ing for Hol­brooke had been a great learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for him. He de­scribed Hol­brooke as “one of the great­est diplo­mats of our na­tion”.

“See­ing his per­sonal style, read­ing all about Asia and about coun­tries I had never been in­volved with was the main ex­pe­ri­ence in that job,” he said.

It was a time just be­fore China and the US es­tab­lished their diplo­matic tie on Jan 1, 1979. Bader said the main job at the State Depart­ment was to un­der­stand what was hap­pen­ing in­ter­nally in­side China, the path to nor­mal­iza­tion of re­la­tions and what was driv­ing China’s for­eign pol­icy.

The feel­ing then was that China was looked upon as un­known, dif­fi­cult to know, hos­tile to the Soviet Union and a po­ten­tial in­for­mal ally. China’s per­cep­tion of the world was still a mys­tery to Amer­ica, ac­cord­ing to Bader.

“It was per­ceived as a tremen­dous op­por­tu­nity for Amer­i­can for­eign pol­icy,” said Bader, still a ju­nior of­fi­cer in the late 1970s.

In­side the State Depart­ment, a China Work­ing Group had been set up to ad­dress all the changes in es­tab­lish­ing diplo­matic ties with the Peo­ple’s Re­pub­lic of China and to sever ties with Tai­wan.

De­spite the fresh talk re­gard­ing Tai­wan’s up­com­ing elec­tion, Bader be­lieves what has hap­pened in cross-Strait re­la­tions in the last 35 years is largely a suc­cess story. The two economies be­tween the Chi­nese main­land and Tai­wan have be­come com­pletely in­ter­de­pen­dent; in­vest­ment ties and peo­ple-to-peo­ple ties are enor­mous.

“You know the 400-some flights per week was in­con­ceiv­able 20 years ago,” said Bader, who stud­ied the Chi­nese lan­guage in Tai­wan in the 1970s.

China past and present

Bader also vis­ited Hong Kong in 1980, when it was still un­der Bri­tish rule. He did not set foot on the Chi­nese main­land un­til Septem­ber 1981, when he was as­signed to be a po­lit­i­cal of­fi­cer at the US em­bassy in Bei­jing.

China at that time looked pretty grim to Bader. It was gray, and there were no mod­ern restau­rants like to­day. The ho­tels were prim­i­tive, and the streets had no pri­vate cars, but there were mil­lions and mil­lions of bi­cy­clists, all wear­ing the same Mao out­fit.

“There was no com­mer­cial life,” he said. “Western­ers just went to Friend­ship stores. Chi­nese were wary of for­eign­ers, so it was very dif­fi­cult to get to know Chi­nese out­side of the for­mal For­eign Min­istry,” Bader re­called.

He de­scribed it as a kind of ghetto, Western ghetto, look­ing through the glass at China, not un­der­stand­ing what was re­ally hap­pen­ing in China.

It was in a way not the China that Bader had read about, as far as live­li­ness and en­trepreneuri­al­ism. “You could not see the drive of peo­ple, the va­ri­ety of peo­ple; it didn’t felt like the his­tor­i­cal China you read about,” he said.

But when Bader re­turned to China in 1987 as deputy di­rec­tor of the China Desk at the State Depart­ment, he saw a com­pletely dif­fer­ent Bei­jing with street life, cars, restau­rants and neon lights.

“Peo­ple were hav­ing a good time,” he said.

While Bei­jing and most Chi­nese cities are to­tally dif­fer­ent to­day, Bader said one could see the tra­jec­tory of China go­ing on in those years.

De­spite the lack of in­ter­ac­tion with or­di­nary Chi­nese dur­ing his two years in Bei­jing from 1981 to 1983, Bader was able to travel a lot in China. He said things out­side Bei­jing were more lively.

From Harbin in Hei­longjiang, Ho­hhot in In­ner Mon­go­lia, Urumqi in Xin­jiang in the north to Kun­ming in Yun­nan and Guilin in Guangxi, Bader trav­eled across China, of­ten on slow trains.

“I loved it. I love trav­el­ling. … That was very ex­cit­ing, and frankly made the job worth­while,” he re­called.

When Bader trav­elled from Taipei to Bei­jing in 1981, he felt that he was go­ing from First World to Third World. But now trav­el­ing be­tween these cities, Bader feels it’s just go­ing from one part of China to another part.

Dif­fi­cult time

When China-US re­la­tions suf­fered a ma­jor set­back in 1989 fol­low­ing the Tianan­men Square in­ci­dent, Bader de­scribed the next year as “ba­si­cally a pro­found strug­gle to try to keep the re­la­tion­ship in­tact”.

He de­scribed the work at China Desk as how to keep the con­ti­nu­ity and line open, so af­ter a cer­tain pe­riod of time, this re­la­tion­ship can be re­stored. “That was the ob­jec­tive,” said Bader, who was in­volved in form­ing the US re­sponse in those days.

Bader be­lieves many Amer­i­cans have an ar­ro­gant view to­ward China. “There is a lot of ar­ro­gance about the Chi­nese gov­er­nance sys­tem. They don’t un­der­stand it, and they bring on their own prej­u­dice and their own views to a sit­u­a­tion that they don’t un­der­stand.

“But it doesn’t mat­ter that much, Amer­i­cans don’t get to make de­ci­sions any­way,” he said.

Bader de­scribed then Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush, and his Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­vi­sor Brent Scowcroft as com­mit­ted to a long-term re­la­tion­ship with China. Bush sent Scowcroft and Deputy Sec­re­tary of State Lawrence Ea­gle­burger on two se­cret trips to China in 1989.

The el­der Bush headed the US Li­ai­son Of­fice in Bei­jing from 1973 to 1974 and has a deep un­der­stand­ing of China.

Bader be­came di­rec­tor of the State Depart­ment China Desk from 1995 to 1996 and then deputy as­sis­tant sec­re­tary of state for East Asian and Pa­cific Af­fairs. He moved to the White House Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil to be in charge of China af­fairs from 1997 to 1999.

Bader be­came the US am­bas­sador to Namibia from 1999 to 2001 be­fore com­ing back to serve as as­sis­tant US Trade Rep­re­sen­ta­tive in charge of the Chi­nese main­land, Tai­wan and Hong Kong. His boss was Robert Zoel­lick.

Bader de­scribed China’ WTO ac­ces­sion in 2001 not as rad­i­cal think­ing on the part of the US be­cause ne­go­ti­a­tions had been on­go­ing since the mid-1980s.

The ra­tio­nale was the belief that it’s im­por­tant to China’s rise, and China will be a part of all ma­jor mul­ti­lat­eral in­sti­tu­tions, of which the WTO has been a prin­ci­pal one in eco­nom­ics and trade.

Bader ex­plained that a WTO that ex­cluded China, in­creas­ingly im­por­tant glob­ally, was not go­ing to be ef­fec­tive.

“We want China to be play­ing by the same in­ter­na­tional rules,” he said.

While the US re­bal­ance-toAsia or pivot-to-Asia pol­icy has been met with deep sus­pi­cion in China over the past years, Bader said he never used the word “pivot” and did not think of the re­bal­ance in terms of cap­i­tal­ized R. “Pivot was not part of my vo­cab­u­lary, still not. I re­ject the term,” he said.

In Bader’s un­der­stand­ing, Pres­i­dent Barack Obama meant it when he talked about wel­com­ing China’s rise, be­cause Obama said the same thing in meet­ings with South Korean and Ja­panese lead­ers.

Bader was not es­pe­cially happy with China’s role in the ten­sions over dis­puted ter­ri­tory in the South China Sea; he was also crit­i­cal of the US stance on the Asia In­fra­struc­ture In­vest­ment Bank (AIIB), call­ing it “so ter­ri­ble”.

“I hope the ad­min­is­tra­tion learned from that les­son,” he said.

Con­tact the writer at chen­wei­hua@chi­nadai­lyusa. com.


Jeffrey Bader, a se­nior fel­low at the John L. Thorn­ton China Cen­ter of the Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion, talks to China Daily in his of­fice.

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