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SCPKU World Leaders Forum features Mike McFaul, panelists exchange views on US-Asia Pacific future relations

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SCPKU's 3rd Annual Lee Shau Kee World Leaders Forum on "US and the Asia Pacific," November 13, 2017.
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Stanford University

The Lee Shau Kee World Leaders Forum on “US and the Asia Pacific” was held on November 13th, 2017. This event that brought 250 participants to the Center also marked the 5th anniversary of the Stanford Center at Peking University’s (SCPKU) anniversary and 10th anniversary of the Stanford China Program.  Stanford Political Science Professor and SCPKU Director Jean Oi welcomed the audience with remarks highlighting Stanford’s initiative to build China studies at the home campus with the creation of the China Program and in China with the construction of SCPKU -- Stanford’s “Bridge Across the Pacific.”   Professor Michael McFaul, Director of the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University, opened the forum with a stimulating keynote address on “The Historical Origins and Contemporary Consequences of President Trump’s Worldview.” In his talk, Prof. McFaul examined the President’s views and characterized them as fitting within but standing on the extreme end of long-standing foreign policy traditions.  Combining his scholarly expertise with his experience in the Obama administration, Prof. McFaul offered the audience a sharp, wide-ranging but balanced overview of the continuities between Obama’s and Trump’s policies and the stark difference in rhetoric between these two Presidents. He used dynamic representations of isolationists versus internationalists, and realists versus liberals to explain that foreign policy differences exist within political parties rather than between them. Prof. McFaul took the audience around the globe, with timely accounts of the continuities, the positive changes and the adverse changes in US foreign policy under President Trump in, for example, the Middle East, Europe and Asia.  Overall, he argued that democratic institutions in the US are open to evolution and renewal; that the structures of American leadership are still robust; and pointed to different historical periods (as during the inter-war period in the 1930’s; the rise of communism in the 1950’s; the rise of the Soviet Union in the 1970’s and Japan’s rapid ascendance in the 1980’s) when pundits declared America’s demise only to be proven wrong. Prof. McFaul asserted that current “predictions of permanent American decline is premature.”  Prof. McFaul, however, did point to North Korea as a major point of worry, which segued into the panel discussion that followed.

Professor Michael McFaul, Director of Stanford's Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies,
keynotes SCPKU's Lee Shau Kee World Leaders Forum.
Courtesy of Stanford University.

 

What will happen with North Korea was a focus of the lively high-level panel discussion chaired by Professor Jean C. Oi on “The US, China and Asia Pacific” with Karl Eikenberry, Former US Ambassador to Afghanistan, Director of US-Asia Security Initiative at Stanford; Kathleen Stephens, Former US Ambassador to the Republic of Korea and William J. Perry Fellow at Shorenstein APARC of Stanford; Thomas Fingar, Former chairman, National Intelligence Council; Former Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence and Research; Shorenstein APARC Fellow; Yu Tiejun, Associate Professor and Vice President of the Institute of International and Strategic Studies at Peking University; and Zhu Feng, Executive Director, China Center for Collaborative Studies of the South China Sea and Director, Institute of International Studies at Nanjing University.

 

SCPKU World Leaders Forum panelists discuss future of US-Asia Pacific relations.
Courtesy of Stanford University

 

Prof. Fingar started the discussion on US-China relations, flatly rejecting the realist theory of conflict between rising and declining powers and the notion that “two tigers cannot get along.” He pointed out that interdependencies between the US and China have grown and that the US and China have more in common than ever before. Yet, with growing interdependence, chances for friction have also increased; thus, “having more issues,” he stated, “does not necessarily mean that the relationship is more fragile – perhaps the opposite [is true].” He also stated that China faces enormous challenges domestically and internationally, and that the US will be reacting to China rather than the other way around.

 

Amb. Stephens, Prof. Yu and Prof. Zhu all turned the discussion more squarely towards the intensifying North Korea missile crisis. The panelists all characterized this as a critical moment not only on the Korean peninsula but in all of Northeast Asia.  Amb. Stephens stressed how important this is in the working relationship of the US and China as they strive to manage future crises and issues. While everyone found agreement on one common point – i.e., the implausible prospects of a “complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization” of North Korea -- each gave unique perspectives on what might happen on the Korean peninsula as the situation unfolds. Prof. Yu outlined three possible scenarios of (i) accepting North Korea as a nuclear power de facto; (ii) imposing increasingly draconian sanctions; and (iii) turning towards the military option against North Kore. But he did not express much optimism that any of these options would, in the end, provide good outcomes. Amb. Stephens, on the other hand, emphasized the strength and resilience of the US-ROK relationship stating “I wouldn’t underestimate [the US’] commitment to the ROK.” She also foresaw a future in which the US will conduct more military exercises, and install more anti-missile defense systems across Northeast Asia as a result of the North Korean threat – a prospect which, she surmised, the PRC would not welcome.

 

Prof. Zhu, on the other hand, offered a more optimistic perspective on the North Korean nuclear standoff by pointing to the increasing cooperation between the US and China. Asking the listeners to “please take the report that China is actively opposing North Korea seriously” he held out the hope that North Korea might return to the negotiating table once it saw that China was supporting the United States.

 

Amb. Eikenberry, as the final panelist to share his remarks, took the discussion to the broader Asia Pacific level and drew distinctions on “Asia Pacific” and “Indo Pacific,” as the latter description better reflects maritime flows, the geographical layout as well trade flows more accurately. He invited panelists to depict what would happen in different possible scenarios and outcomes relating to military crisis in the region. The panelists shared their views on action options involving sanctions and multilateral agreements, and agreed that countries should focus on achieving shared goals.