Yu Maochun: There is no “win-win” in U.S.-China strategic competition

Yu Maochun, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, a U.S. think tank, said in an exclusive interview that there is no “win-win” strategic competition between China and the United States. (Video screenshot)

Host: Hello, this is Viewpoint, I am Tang Qiwei. Today’s guest is Mr. Yu Maochun, a professor at the U.S. Naval Academy and a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, a U.S. think tank. Professor Yu was the chief China Policy planning advisor to the last Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, and is considered the first new Chinese immigrant to enter the State Department’s China policy caucus, having studied in the United States in the 1980s and earned a Ph.D. in history from the University of California, Berkeley. What impact did Professor Yu’s Chinese background have when he helped shape the Trump administration’s policy toward China? In this round of U.S.-China geopolitical competition, what is the medium- and long-term strategic thinking for the United States? Let’s listen to Professor Yu Maochun’s views.

Reporter: Hello, Professor Yu. Thank you very much for your interview with us.

Yu Maochun: Thank you very much for giving me this opportunity.

Reporter: You were one of the core figures involved in the formulation of China policy in the last U.S. administration. First of all, I would like to ask you what impact your Chinese background had in helping to formulate these policies.

Maochun Yu: The United States is a country of immigrants that brings with it a wealth of resources. So this resource includes the background of many of their immigrants. This background has had a tremendous impact on the formulation of U.S. domestic and foreign policy. Escape from centralized rule like Kissinger, and the former U.S. assistant for national security affairs Brzezinski, and the former U.S. Secretary of State Albright, they all had a very great influence on U.S. Cold War policy toward the Soviet Union, and it was very precise. Then there’s a lot more, you said there’s a lot of policy towards Cuba in the current U.S. situation, it also has a lot of immigration influence. These people who are now harsher voices on China policy, like Senator Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, they’re people who have a very accurate view of China. What’s the reason? Because their families are from Cuba, from the communist experience. So as for me personally, these people like me who have a Chinese background, I actually think it’s also very important. It gives me a very important and comparative perspective. For example, we all grew up in China and were indoctrinated with Marx and Lenin. Then we look at Chinese policy from an ideological point of view a little bit more. There is also the fact that we know more about the Chinese language, we know more about the Chinese political Culture. Especially they know the Chinese bureaucracy very well. You know, for example, I once attended a very important meeting. This one was by very senior Chinese officials and American officials. The Chinese officials were basically speaking in a rousing, official way, and then during the break they spoke Chinese. What they said below was completely different. They are also very critical of some of the policies of the Chinese Communist regime. But Americans just don’t know these things. So we know a lot about this dual personality of the Chinese bureaucracy. So experiences like these are certainly not very important. It’s one that is very relevant and targeted to U.S. policy toward China. It’s very helpful. For example, Mr. Pompeo, the U.S. Secretary of State, he and I talk a lot. We talked about a lot of things, that is, China experience, China understanding, and it was very helpful for him to understand China’s policy. Then I also learn a lot from him, so it’s interactive.

Reporter: You said before that China is the number one strategic competitor of the United States. What in your opinion is the medium- and long-term strategic thinking of the United States in this round of U.S.-China geopolitical competition?

Yu Maochun: People actually have a misunderstanding that the U.S.-China relationship, its direction and nature, is largely determined by the tone of each U.S. administration’s policy toward China. This is not true. The most important factor in determining the U.S.-China relationship is the behavior of the Chinese government itself. So what does U.S. policy toward China reflect to a large extent? It’s just the depth of awareness of China’s behavior. So we feel that this President Trump has a very deep understanding of some of China’s behavior, which is different from previous administrations. So China has its long-term policy, it has a long-term strategy. Then China is just two things, one is the Chinese Communist Party to adhere to the leadership of the Party, then the other is to talk about the superiority of socialism. It is to social and political system must be preserved. So China is now a global country. Its economic development, its military expansion, its global influence on the world, especially in key communication technologies, it has global influence. Then the political system of this set is the party leadership and the socialist system. It will expand globally. This is its long-term plan, which is inevitable. The U.S. strategic consideration is to prevent the Communist Party’s plan for authoritarian rule and the Communist Party’s leadership from becoming a reality on a global scale. So this is actually a relatively long-term, which is a big topic.

Reporter: You mentioned the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party and the global expansion of the socialist system. Do you have any specific observations about the Chinese government’s medium- to long-term strategic goals for U.S. policy?

Yu Maochun: China has always regarded the United States as its main competitor. Then this has nothing to do with the U.S. government’s policy toward China. Even if the U.S. government does nothing, China still considers the United States a number one threat. Why? Because the U.S. political system, the political philosophy, is very powerful in its appeal to the Chinese people. This is what the Chinese Communist Party is most afraid of. So it is very afraid that this American model will become a place of aspiration and admiration for the Chinese people. So ever since Mao’s Time, it has been attacking and distorting this American political system. And another thing is that when the U.S.-China relationship was at its lowest ebb for decades, it wasn’t even due to the hardening of U.S. policy toward China, it was all due to China’s own government actions. You take one of the lowest points, for example, was the Tiananmen Square incident. When the Tiananmen Incident happened in Sino-American relations, that was when President Bush Sr. came to power. He was quite friendly to China. What else, when Yugoslavia bombed the consulate, and when the U.S.-China collision occurred in 2001, both the Clinton administration and the Bush administration were very friendly to China. So those frictions were not able to be properly resolved. These issues have not been resolved, and I actually think the relationship with the United States is not as big as the relationship with China. So I’m telling you that the relationship between the United States and China is actually focused on the behavior of the Chinese government. We are readjusting it according to the behavior of the Chinese government and its intentions and its capabilities.

Reporter: You said earlier that the U.S. and China can no longer seek common ground while preserving differences. But I’ve also seen scholars point out that the current U.S. strategy of the U.S. as good and China as evil, such a black-or-white strategy, would put the U.S. in a dangerous mode. Because this will lose the room for pragmatism and flexibility in diplomacy. What is your response?

Yu Maochun: This argument is also incorrect. Because this argument is also very simple and very impractical. Because this interaction between China and the United States, in many ways it has a special background. For example, the United States has never considered China as its national security strategy imperative and has always played the China card. It then says that China is an actually very minor one. For example, the United States had during the Cold War, for decades, was fighting the Soviet Union, and then later there was the Vietnam War. Then after the Cold War the U.S. focus was on the Middle East, because of terrorism, and Central Asia, Afghanistan, these places. So the U.S. has been focusing its attention on those places. Then China is very happy. It is called strategic opportunities. So it felt that the United States did not put China at the center, so it felt that strategic opportunity to develop. Then the Trump Administration has changed that approach. It is completely changing the U.S. commitment to Europe and to the Middle East and Central Asia as so pivotal. And it has put China as the number one strategic challenge for the United States. So this is a very important point. The other point I think we’re talking about is what is a strategic competition. The Chinese Communist Party has been pouring bewitching Soup and Mon-Han Medicine with the United States for decades, saying that we need to seek common ground while preserving differences. What China is saying is that because of this approach of seeking common ground while reserving differences we can have a win-win situation, we can have mutual benefits. The Trump administration, when he was just starting out, before the end of 2017, he came up with a new kind of national security strategy. A few weeks later the U.S. Department of Defense also came up with a defense strategic plan. So this redefines the relationship between the United States and China. It is not a win-win relationship, because in the eyes of China and in the eyes of the United States, a win-win relationship, as decades of practice have shown us, China wins twice and the United States loses twice. So we are now about strategic competition.

Reporter: You just said that the Chinese government has been giving the U.S. government a bewitchment. I just thought of the argument that it is like a poker game, the Chinese government has been cheating for so many years, the United States has not found, and then in recent years the United States suddenly came to its senses, but behaved a little too aggressive, there is a sense of annoyance.

Yu Maochun: I don’t think it’s called exasperation. Rather, there is a renewed awareness that the U.S. has let down its guard over the CCP’s intentions for so many years, and that it has not paid enough attention to them. So the mainstream in the United States, you just said that the mainstream in the United States is not saying that the United States is the good. The U.S. mainstream is thinking that we have not put a potential competitive force like China in a very important position for a long time. So we are now about strategic competition. The concept of competition is very important. Competition is a race, like a ball game, playing basketball, playing ping pong, running. Competition will have only one champion. There is a winner, there is a loser. There is no win-win. These are all souls. This is the first point. The second point, then as with any competition, the people who participate in the competition have to talk about the rules. If you don’t follow the rules, then you’re breaking the rules. So in the Trump administration, when dealing with China, we put a lot of emphasis on the rules. You know, for example, we talk to it about trade negotiations. We also talk about rules, right. It’s not about how many more tons of soybeans and potatoes China buys from the United States. That’s not going to work. We have to talk about rules. Your fiscal system, your economic approach, any violations. And in China’s geopolitical behavior, for example, in the South China Sea, in the Taiwan Strait, are there rules that are violated? You can’t say that our ancestors have been there for several generations, and that’s what I have, so is there international law? Are there international rules? This is all there, very detailed. So let’s go according to these rules directly. These things are not that we are self-righteous. We have a very realistic understanding of China’s behavior, the Chinese government’s practices, and this realistic understanding is not about good or evil. So China is actually attacking the U.S. political system, it’s attacking the U.S. social institutions, and it’s always thinking that the U.S. is the most evil of all. For example, after the outbreak of the Epidemic, the Chinese government propagandists have been very far-fetched in linking the epidemic situation in the United States to the American social and political system. And this is something that is actually systematic, it is based on the United States as the evil.

Reporter: So your view is that there is no win-win possibility for the U.S. and China?

Yu Maochun: I don’t think there is a win-win situation. Not that we are very belligerent, but this is a reality. This reality hopes that the Chinese government will not always talk about a win-win situation. It’s ridiculous to talk about a win-win situation, because for decades we have seen various facts that have proven that there is no win-win situation for the U.S. government. China has only two wins: China wins twice and the United States loses twice.

Reporter: I saw you talk earlier about how the U.S. is often influenced by pro-China special interest groups when it comes to U.S.-China policy. But there are also observers who believe that the anti-China faction in the U.S. is also backed by interest groups. So in a way, none of them represent the best interests of the United States. I don’t know what your observation is?

Yu Maochun: The phenomenon you describe is important because the U.S. government it is an open society. And many former U.S. government officials, people who have held important positions, have participated in all kinds of discussions and agitations on U.S. foreign policy after they left office. The key issue is what, in successive U.S. administrations, these former government officials were employed by various interest groups, Wall Street, and even by the Chinese government, directly employed lobbying groups. It is very unhealthy that some of the current U.S. government’s policies toward China have had a very important impact. President Trump has done the best job in this regard. It basically excludes the influence of these people. I wouldn’t say basically not at all, but the major policy decision making process. Like these interest groups our influence on China policy making is minimal. This is very clear to me, but behind many anti-China faction is not also have interest groups it has interest groups. But not soaked into the middle of our policy making process, this can give you assurance. The United States, you know, like when I was in the State Department, I received all kinds of appeals and requests, then these things have very little impact on us. We do have considerations, but it has interest groups. It has all kinds of, we basically follow our own independent way of thinking about policy, based on reliable intelligence, based on reliable analysis. There have also been very important former officials who have come to lobby us, both sides. So the impact of this on us is minimal. I can give you that assurance.

Reporter: Speaking of U.S. interests and policy-making, I see that some Chinese people believe that the U.S. is using the democracy card to suppress China as a double standard compared to the U.S. position on Saudi Arabia and Israel, how would you respond to that?

Yu Maochun: I think the U.S. has many allies, it is allied with it, there are many historical conditions and background, then even if the U.S. contact with Israel, contact with Saudi Arabia, its many aspects, after the public comprehensive screening comprehensive criticism. So that policy can be changed, and the United States has never said that we can condone the assassination of someone by the leader of Saudi Arabia, or that we can condone Israel’s actions against the Palestinians that do not meet international standards. Even if these governments did these things, they would be strongly condemned by the U.S. government, and the U.S. government would have the flexibility to do so. China is different. It’s completely different from the U.S. government playing the so-called double standard, the China card. The U.S. cooperated with dictatorial governments in countries like the Philippines and South Korea during the Cold War in order to deal with the Soviet Union, but in the end, it promoted these governments. These countries moved towards democracy and protected many human rights activists, who eventually changed their countries to be very democratic and very free. Then I think China should not feel that there is a double standard, China always feels a victim mentality, as if the whole world has a problem with it, but in fact it is China that has a problem with the whole world, not the world that has a problem with it. Speaking of which, I see a lot of Chinese people who believe that China’s rise, at least today, is still presented in a peaceful way. Instead, some countries like the United States are what they, in their view, are the so-called neo-interventionist countries, and they don’t see China as a threat to the free Western countries.

Reporter: How would you come to convince them?

Yu Maochun: Chinese public opinion you just said that many people in China, this thing is very problematic, the argument is very problematic. Because the voice of opposition in China is basically non-existent. The so-called public opinion in China that we see is officially allowed by the Chinese Communist Party, so we don’t see this opposition at all, and in fact there is a lot of challenge to this statement of the Chinese government. So I think that’s one point. Another point is that it’s naive to say that China is not a threat to the world. You ask the countries around China, almost all of the countries in the southwest and east of China, they all think China is a threat. A lot of what the United States it is, it’s a response to, you know, for example, China’s argument that the United States is the black hand of the people protesting in Hong Kong, there’s absolutely no truth to that argument. Then China says it’s the United States that is interventionist, interfering in its internal affairs, which is not only condemned by the United States. Britain, Canada, France, all the world powers have condemned what China is doing. So that’s what it’s doing with Xinjiang. So when you say that the United States has some kind of new interventionism, it means that the U.S. government is no longer protesting some of the international acts that the Chinese government has done that are very contrary to human rights and very immoral, as it did before. In this case it says you are interfering, I think it is no different from a thief calling out to catch a thief.

Reporter: In international politics, each country has its own national interests, and your identity determines that you are in conflict with the interests of the United States and China. Your decisions must be in the interest of the United States, and we know that sometimes decisions that are in the interest of the United States are not necessarily in the interest of China and the Chinese people. How would you face this conflict?

Maochun Yu: I think in terms of fundamental interests, there is no conflict between the Chinese people and the American people. We both need democracy and freedom, and we both need public openness. In the United States, if I feel that the U.S. government is doing something that is not in the interest of the United States, not in the interest of ordinary people, then I have the right not to participate in this politics. But I think I am doing my duty as an American citizen, doing what I should do as a human being, and I wonder why so many people think first of all that they are a Chinese or an American. The first thing that comes to mind is that they are a, a political definition of a person, and the last thing they should think about is a person, no matter what they are. You have to speak from the basic nature of human beings.

Reporter: You came to the United States to study in 1985, right?

Yu Maochun: Yes.

Reporter: What kind of ideals did you have when you came to the United States?

Yu Maochun: The American dream in the 80s. We all felt that there was a sense of going to a different country to absorb some fresh air, because the air in China was too dull. 89 during the pro-democracy movement, it was very shocking for all the young people in China. In addition to the sadness, it also redefined the goal of his Life. This goal of course has a personal element in it, but the main thing is that he will make a choice. How to combine your personal life and a larger, a philosophy to be combined, this is not my personal experience, are thousands of people’s experience.

Reporter: Today you are very successful in the United States, but you have been called a traitor by some Chinese people and removed from your clan. What is your greatest feeling?

Maochun Yu: I don’t have any feelings in my heart. I think these people are very ridiculous and pathetic. The first thing they think of is that they seem to speak on behalf of the whole country, as if they speak on behalf of the whole country, the whole nation and the whole party. He did not think about how to speak as an individual with a conscience, but I can understand because China is after all a country where it is a crime to say otherwise, so it may be a problem if you do not call Yu Maochun a traitor, but if you are someone who knows Yu Maochun, he has to tell you to draw a line. We all know that there was also this problem during the Cultural Revolution, where children had to draw a line with their own fathers if they said their fathers were not liked by the Communist Party. So this political culture is a legacy of the Cultural Revolution, and I think this Chinese society still needs a long way to go to improve these things. I see a lot of online talk about this, the crowd of melon eaters, they make a sound as if they are not careful when eating melon, the melon shells stuck in the neck, making a very painful and very distorted sound. So I feel very sympathetic to them, but the people who support me are massive. And the people who were encouraging and supportive of me were far better than the people I saw criticizing. So I don’t think I’m very radical, I don’t feel very isolated, because I think a person who speaks the truth often will receive a lot of sympathy and support. Every Chinese person should learn to be a free person, to be a person who understands his own rights and fights for his own interests. This will be beneficial to the whole society and the whole country.

Moderator: Professor Yu has been teaching at the U.S. Naval Academy for nearly 30 years. What are his unique observations on the strength of the Chinese Communist Party’s military and intelligence strategy? After the serious setback to “one country, two systems” in Hong Kong, Professor Yu believes that the United States should re-evaluate its policy toward Taiwan. Does his “reassessment” involve the Chinese government’s bottom line, the “one-China policy”? For more of Professor Yu’s views, please check back next time. All right, let’s share a different perspective on “The View”. I’m Tang Qiwei, thank you very much for watching. We’ll see you on the next show.