Award from the United States China Policy Foundation

Remarks on Accepting an Award for Lifetime Contributions to US-China Relations from the United States China Policy Foundation

The Mayflower Hotel
Washington,  DC  19 November 2014

I greatly appreciate the honor that has been bestowed upon me.  In terms of lifetime achievement in promoting US-China relations, the award should really go to Dr. Chi Wang, whom I joined in founding this organization two decades ago, not me.  I’ve been more like Forrest Gump.  Not too bright, but likely to be there when stuff  happens in US-China relations.

Back in 1964 — 50 years ago — when I was pretending to study at the Harvard Law School, I had this weird notion that the global strategic geometry was askew.  I thought that Washington and Beijing needed to develop a relationship.  That was then a politically very incorrect thought, but I was sure it would happen and imagined it could be interesting to help it do so.  And, to my pleasant surprise, I have been able to play a small role.

I entered the Foreign Service of the United States 49 years ago.  I was a Latin Americanist with a  strong background in European history.  After service in India, where I struggled to learn Tamil, I studied both standard Chinese and Taiwanese.   I was then involved in the drafting of the Shanghai Communiqué, the immediate implementation of the normalization communiqué, the negotiation with Congress of the Taiwan Relations Act, and the working out of the August 17 1982 understanding on Taiwan arms sale with China.  Later, as assistant secretary of defense, I reestablished Sino-American military-to-military relations — after their severance in June 1989 — during a November 1992 visit to Beijing.  That was 21 years ago.  The agenda for cooperation I proposed then has now finally come alive.

After three decades of service to our country — much of it involved with China, I burned my tux and retired.  Those of you here in black tie tonight have something to look forward to.  I’ve greatly enjoyed life after the enforced conformity of public service.

I’ve now been in private business for almost 20 years — working on building enterprises around the world, including sometimes with Chinese partners in third countries.  I’ve also kept in touch with Chinese policymakers and the China-watching community here.  I am proud now to have spent 50 years working on what everyone now acknowledges is the most important bilateral relationship of the 21st century.  And I am happy to have 韬光养晦 — “shrouded whatever talent I had and cultivated obscurity” — since leaving government.

I  have a great deal to say about the immense changes  in China and in Sino-American relations over the past fifty years.  Given time constraints, tonight is not the occasion to say it.  I have only one observation to offer before inviting Congresswoman Grace Meng (孟昭文) to the podium.

To me, what is most striking about the Sino-American relationship is the persistence of parallel narratives.  The Shanghai Communiqué exemplifies this with its candid recitation of differences, plus its affirmation of the potential inherent in our transcending these differences.  Our two countries have seldom agreed completely about anything, but we have agreed about enough to produce mutually advantageous results.  We have managed to achieve a reasonable facsimile of cooperation without — for the most part — working together.  We may not have agreed on joint action but we have contrived to follow parallel policies.

42 years ago, during the Nixon visit to Beijing, I got into a mild argument with the late Zhang Hanzhi — a lovely woman whose passing diminished us all — about what “parallel policies” might mean.  “Parallel” can be rendered in Chinese at least two ways.  Ms. Zhang seemed to favor 并行不悖.  This defines parallel in mathematical terms: lines that proceed equidistantly and never converge.  I told her I preferred 异途同归, which means to proceed by different trajectories to a common objective.  并行不悖 implies eternal alienation.  异途同归  suggests that common goals can be pursued by separately decided paths.

We still don’t know which definition of “parallel” will ultimately apply to Sino-American relations.  But I remain optimistic.  I believe that China and the United States can chart the courses we must — either separate or joint — to destinations that serve the interests of both countries.  In this regard, the summit in Beijing last week was encouraging.  We have come a long way.  The future is at least as promising as the course we have followed to get here.

I thank you for my five minutes of fame.