Halfway point

Scholar Lyle Goldstein calls for more un­der­stand­ing of China


Lyle Goldstein was a grad­u­ate stu­dent at the Johns Hop­kins School of Ad­vanced In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies (SAIS) in 1996 when the Tai­wan Strait cri­sis broke out. China con­ducted mis­sile tests in the wa­ters there to send a sig­nal to the then-Tai­wan leader Lee Teng-hui who tried to move away from the One China Pol­icy. The US, un­der then-Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton, sent two air­craft car­rier bat­tle groups to the re­gion to show its sup­port for Tai­wan.

Goldstein, then 25, told him­self, “Gosh, this is such an im­por­tant is­sue, the rise of China, and how it (United States) will get along with China.”

The young man, who had stud­ied Rus­sian and lived in Rus­sia, was at­tracted by China but felt un­sure if he could start China stud­ies at such a “late” age.


Lit­er­ally the first day he started his PhD at Prince­ton Uni­ver­sity in the fall of 1997, he talked to stu­dents and fac­ulty about be­gin­ning Chi­nese.

“Look­ing around the world; I thought the big­gest ques­tion fac­ing in­ter­na­tional pol­i­tics was go­ing to be be­tween the US and China. It was ob­vi­ous in 1996 and 1997,” said Goldstein, now an es­tab­lished China scholar and an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor in the China Mar­itime Stud­ies In­sti­tute in the US Naval War Col­lege based in New­port, Rhode Is­land.

He spent the sum­mers of 1997 and 1998 in Beijing, study­ing the lan­guage and China, and re­turned in the sum­mer of 1999 for his PhD re­search at Ts­inghua Uni­ver­sity.

At Prince­ton, Goldstein stud­ied with sev­eral China schol­ars such as Lynn White III and Gil­bert Roz­man. His Chi­nese pro­gressed by study­ing with Perry Link, who spe­cial­izes in mod­ern Chi­nese lit­er­a­ture and lan­guage.

Goldstein re­mem­bers clearly that White al­ways looked closely at how Chi­nese were think­ing about is­sues and brought Chi­nese into the class­room for dis­cus­sion. “That was great, and I feel I learned a lot,” he said.

He de­scribed Roz­man as be­ing very in­ter­ested in co­op­er­a­tion and how to get dif­fer­ent coun­tries to work to­gether.

An­other of Goldstein’s pro­fes­sors was Aaron Fried­berg, whose books, es­pe­cially the one A Con­test for Supremacy: China, Amer­ica, and the Strug­gle for Mas­tery in Asia of­ten spread a pes­simistic view of China’s rise. They con­trast sharply with Goldstein’s 2015 book Meet­ing China Halfway: How to Defuse the Emerg­ing USChina Ri­valry, in which he pro­poses that China and the US should both com­pro­mise to re­duce their ten­sions.

Goldstein thought Fried­berg, who served from 2003 to 2005 as deputy as­sis­tant for na­tional se­cu­rity af­fairs in the of­fice of Vice-Pres­i­dent Dick Cheney, was use­ful to him be­cause he was good at ask­ing the big and fun­da­men­tal ques­tions.

“I don’t agree with him. I think China’s approach to the world is quite rea­son­able,” he said, cit­ing the fact that China has not used force for more than 30 years and doesn’t have ma­jor for­eign bases, and even in the mar­itime do­main, China is not such a chal­lenge.

At Prince­ton, he worked on a dis­ser­ta­tion ex­am­in­ing nu­clear strat­egy and found that while peo­ple like Chi­nese leader Mao Ze­dong talked big and bom­bas­tic and threat­en­ing, they be­came more moder­ate af­ter they de­vel­oped the bomb. That, ac­cord­ing to Goldstein, could offer some in­sights into to­day’s North Korea.

Mar­itime stud­ies

The Prince­ton PhD grad­u­ate got his job at the US Naval War Col­lege shortly af­ter the EP-3 in­ci­dent on April 1, 2001, in which a US spy plane col­lided in mid-air with a Chi­nese fighter jet off Hainan Is­land, re­sult­ing in the death of a Chi­nese pi­lot. The in­ci­dence sparked widespread protests in China and caused a set­back for China-US re­la­tions.

Goldstein, who started work on Sept 10, 2001, a day be­fore the Sept 11 ter­ror­ist at­tacks at the World Trade Cen­ter in New York, said the EP-3 cri­sis helped him land the job be­cause the school needed more China ex­perts. Though the school wanted him to work on the Mid­dle East and Rus­sia af­ter the Sept 11 at­tack, Goldstein found his way back to China stud­ies af­ter a while.

He be­came the found­ing di­rec­tor of the China Mar­itime Stud­ies In­sti­tute in 2006, gath­er­ing all the Chi­nese writ­ings on in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions, de­fense and mar­itime diplo­macy and study­ing Chi­nese think­ing. He said he is quite proud of the in­sti­tute.

While the school has close ties with the US Navy, Goldstein said the Navy seems to be in­clined to al­low these China schol­ars to study China in the man­ner they them­selves deem most ap­pro­pri­ate. Goldstein’s book Meet­ing China

Halfway calls for mu­tual com­pro­mise be­tween China and the US through co­op­er­a­tion rather than con­fronta­tion. It has won praise by many lead­ing schol­ars as novel, bold and in­sight­ful, but he was also crit­i­cized for buy­ing into the Chi­nese nar­ra­tive.

“It’s true that my view is un­con­ven­tional. That’s prob­a­bly why I wrote the book,” Goldstein said. “I see the world dif­fer­ently than most peo­ple. I don’t fear sort of be­ing lonely.”

Goldstein, who was once a stu­dent of mil­i­tary strat­egy at SAIS, be­lieves it’s im­por­tant for some­one with a mil­i­tary or mil­i­tary strat­egy back­ground to step for­ward and say, “Ac­tu­ally I don’t think China is a threat. I don’t think this is a threat to US na­tional se­cu­rity, and I think most of what China is do­ing is rea­son­able.

“So I can try to play a spe­cial role in the re­la­tion­ship by calm­ing down ten­sions,” he said.

While many Amer­i­cans have de­scribed Chi­nese be­hav­ior in the South China Sea as ag­gres­sive, Goldstein said China has been fairly rea­son­able if peo­ple look at Rus­sia and its be­hav­ior in Ukraine.

China the next US?

He be­lieves schol­ars like Fried­berg are ac­tu­ally wor­ried that China will be­come the US, whose his­tory Goldstein de­scribed as go­ing through a pe­riod of ag­gres­sive im­pe­ri­al­ism and throw­ing its weight around.

“I al­ways tell Amer­i­can au­di­ences: Should we re­ally lec­ture China how it should be­have in its back­yard? Over a small bor­der dis­pute, we took over half of Mex­ico. We just took it,” said Goldstein, re­fer­ring clearly to the Amer­i­can-Mex­i­can War in the late 1840s.

The Treaty of Guadalupe Hi­dalgo in 1848 gave the US undis­puted control of Texas and ceded to the US the present-day states of Cal­i­for­nia, Ne­vada, Utah, New Mex­ico, most of Ari­zona and Colorado, and parts of Texas, Ok­la­homa, Kansas and Wy­oming.

Com­pared to the Amer­i­can ex­pe­ri­ence, China is not re­ally ag­gres­sive, ac­cord­ing to Goldstein. But he said Fried­berg knows the Amer­i­can ex­pe­ri­ence well and is wor­ried that China is go­ing to be just like the US, mean­ing any coun­try given the power and strength will ex­pand.

The young China hand has seen China be­ing smarter than that. “It’s a dif­fer­ent era, but China learned the les­son. They don’t want to get in­volved in the Mideast, they don’t want to throw their weight around too much,” he said.

While say­ing that China will have prob­lems with its neigh­bors, Goldstein ex­pressed con­fi­dence that China and coun­tries such as the Philip­pines and Viet­nam need to solve prob­lems by them­selves. “I think bi­lat­eral ne­go­ti­a­tions are very promis­ing,” he said.

He said it’s a bad idea for the US to get in­volved in Viet­nam, mak­ing Viet­nam-China re­la­tions more com­pli­cated. He cited his­tory in the 1830s, when Texas was its own repub­lic, asked out­side power Great Bri­tain for me­di­a­tion. Amer­i­cans re­sponded ag­gres­sively.

To Goldstein, China has been quite re­strained, for ex­am­ple, dur­ing the dra­matic po­lit­i­cal trans­for­ma­tion in Myan­mar in the last few years when some peo­ple be­lieved it would throw its weight around. “But I don’t see that,” he said.

He also cited MIT pro­fes­sor Tay­lor Fravel who demon­strated that China peace­fully ne­go­ti­ated 17 of the 23 bor­der dis­putes. “That shows China has a record, and we should trust they can work this out,” he said, adding “it can be messy”.

Goldstein said many Amer­i­cans be­lieve that China is so weak and can be pushed around. “What I told them is that those days when China was weak and we could push them around are now over,” he said.

Like some schol­ars, Goldstein be­lieves China is go­ing to have more in­flu­ence in South­east Asia than the US. “To think oth­er­wise is just un­re­al­is­tic,” he said.

He be­lieves China should be ac­corded its sphere of in­flu­ence. “I think spheres of in­flu­ence are nat­u­ral in world pol­i­tics. It’s not some­thing to be feared,” he said.

While ten­sions be­tween China and the US are build­ing up in re­cent years, Goldstein was en­cour­aged by the new type of ma­jor coun­try re­la­tion­ship con­cept put for­ward by Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping. “He does point a way for­ward. I hope more Amer­i­cans would em­brace that,” he said.

Goldstein views China’s One Belt One Road strat­egy to build con­nec­tiv­ity in the re­gion as pos­i­tive for China-US re­la­tions. China could adopt a more con­fronta­tional approach; it could adopt a counter-re­bal­ance strat­egy, but it piv­oted away from the Amer­i­can re­bal­ance.

While ex­press­ing con­cern over a pos­si­ble arms race be­tween ma­jor pow­ers that leads to a new Cold War, Goldstein said China has shown ad­mirable re­straint in de­vel­op­ing its mil­i­tary forces since the old days, start­ing with the min­i­mum deter­rence, re­fer­ring to China’s nu­clear strat­egy.

“I think Chi­nese are proud that they didn’t waste so much money on nu­clear weapons the way Rus­sia and the US did,” he said. “I al­ways thought that if my coun­try does not waste so much money on nu­clear weapons, we will have much bet­ter schools and nice trains,” said Goldstein, who has rid­den China’s high-speed train many times.

China has spent tril­lions of dol­lars on high-speed rails and in­fra­struc­ture projects in the past decade. Goldstein told peo­ple it could use that money on sub­marines and air­craft and nu­clear weapons. “But they didn’t, so you know it’s good that China has ex­er­cised re­straint,” he said.

He be­lieves China could play a pow­er­ful role in ex­er­cis­ing re­straint in its mil­i­tary buildup and in­creas­ing trans­parency.

On the South China Sea, Goldstein be­lieves it’s im­por­tant for China to have some con­crete ex­am­ples of joint de­vel­op­ment, which is part of its pol­icy.

Ro­bust en­gage­ment

Goldstein also be­lieves that the US ad­min­is­tra­tion needs to fo­cus more on US-China re­la­tions. “We say it’s the most im­por­tant re­la­tion­ship in the world; so let’s treat it like that,” he said.

To him, that in­cludes more ro­bust en­gage­ment and ef­forts across the board. For ex­am­ple, on the mil­i­tary side, it means deeper en­gage­ment other than high-level di­a­logue.

He is dis­ap­pointed that while he has stu­dents from around the world study­ing at US Naval War Col­lege, none of them came from China.

“In my view, we don’t just need one Chi­nese stu­dent, we need five or maybe even 10. That’s what I call ro­bust en­gage­ment,” he said.

A post-Cold War China scholar, Goldstein does not see China through a Cold War lens. He said the young China schol­ars in US are quite com­fort­able with Chi­nese, the lan­guage. “We go to China a lot. We see the best of China and the worst of China,” he said.

He again cited the ex­am­ple of high­speed trains, say­ing there are a lot of things that China has done bet­ter than the US. “We’ve seen the blem­ishes too, a lot. The air is pol­luted; the en­vi­ron­men­tal sit­u­a­tion is re­ally bad,” he said.

His chil­dren, a son and daugh­ter, both in their early teens, are study­ing Chi­nese. “We are work­ing on the next generation of China hands,” Goldstein said in Chi­nese.

I see the world dif­fer­ently than most peo­ple. I don’t fear sort of be­ing lonely.” Lyle Goldstein, China scholar


Lyle Goldstein, China scholar at the US Naval War Col­lege, says he tries to play a role in US-China re­la­tions by calm­ing ten­sions.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from China

© PressReader. All rights reserved.