Skip to main content

Live Webcast: The Nixon Forum on U.S.-China Relations

This event is now at capacity. Please return here for the live webcast for a day-long discussion on U.S.-China relations that will be co-hosted by the Nixon Foundation and the Wilson Center.

Date & Time

Oct. 17, 2019
9:00am – 4:30pm ET


6th Floor, Woodrow Wilson Center
Get Directions


The Nixon Forum on U.S.-China Relations brings together leading experts, many of whom contributed to President Richard Nixon’s China policy in the 1970s and to the development of U.S.-China relations over the following 40 years.

The conference featured panel discussions on the most pressing contemporary issues that will shape this vital bilateral relationship now and in the decades ahead: geostrategic tensions, the trade war, and human rights and religious freedom. Keynote addresses by David R. Stilwell, Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs and Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware, member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, anchored the day, which ended with a moderated conversation between three distinguished American diplomats-- Winston Lord, Stapleton Roy, and Chas Freeman-- who worked under President Nixon.

Selected Quotes


David R. Stilwell, Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs

“The three myths that have come to light that we need to discuss. First, that is engagement with the PRC will lead to some sort of liberalization or an accommodation. The second, that the Chinese Communist Party’s goal is simply to remain in power just to survive. The third is that ideology no longer matters … Yeah, you can throw these at the strawman, but I do think we need to address these, you know, as we adapt our relationship.”

“As happens with a lot of people who go to the embassy and come back, I came back disappointed in the complete inability to make changes and to affect that system—In large part due to the restricted nature of our interaction where, you know, we were limited with who we could engage in the Chinese government and in society, in general. And that has only continued, that limitation on engagement, and I think that is probably, if you take anything away from this conversation, that to me is something that has to be addressed. if this relationship is going to continue to grow in a productive way, we’re going to have to have an open conversation, and you don’t have that by limiting access.”

“So, in summary, our goal here is a region that is strong, sovereign, and prosperous. And our goal is also a relationship with China that is fair and reciprocal with Beijing living up to its many commitments; commitments like the Convention on the Law of the Sea, World Trade Organization, its joint Declaration with Hong Kong—fifty years of autonomy—and others … We asked them to live up to these commitments because, in my mind, there’s an equation here. You’ve got words, that’s the commitments you signed up to, and then you have actions, what you actually do, and words times actions equals trust. Trust is a result of stating what you’re going to do, following through with what you’re going to do, and you can’t have trust without that. Words alone, talk is cheap.”

Conversation on U.S.-China Geostrategic Tensions

Dan Blumenthal, American Enterprise Institute

“We know what the Chinese Communist Party wants, but the Chinese are 1.2 billion people. We have no idea what the Chinese want or how much they support it. I mean, we know in Hong Kong they want freedom and probably throughout China they want more freedom, as well … It’s very important to distinguish; the Chinese Communist Party says very clearly that—I’m interpreting—a different world order with China at the center.”

“There’s a lot of talk about One Belt One Road and so forth. Fundamentally, it’s a means to an end … If people are looking for massive amounts of money spent then, you know, they’re not going to see it; it’s very unprofitable for China, it’s a waste of money and so forth, but what they have succeeded in doing is creating an international organization with China at the center and the ability to bring sixty nations to China every year to at least talk about the infrastructure projects even if they’re not going forward.”

"So China wants a different world order. They’re very clear about a community of common destiny for all of mankind; they’re not just talking about the Indo-Pacific. They’re clear about wanting you propagate what they call a socialist culture … but they’re certainly training other countries elites and what they call a socialist culture. Which basically means this Beijing model of elite authoritarian governance with some experimentation with markets. They’re very clear on becoming a world-class military … They’ve changed the balance of power in the Pacific with their military modernization program—probably one of the vastest and fastest military modernization programs in human history.”

“There’s one area, and I think this is part of the competition, that I don’t agree with the administration’s assessment and that is to give up on engagement because it doesn’t change China. I think that, again, making the distinction between the Chinese people and the Chinese Communist Party is extremely important.”

Jonathan Hillman, Center for Strategic and International Studies

“I think the Belt and Road brand has been tarnished in many ways, and yet even in the places it’s really struggled--Malaysia is an example, Pakistan is an example—the leaders of those countries go to Beijing at the last forum and they publicly praised this initiative … The power of inducements, this is really an effective tool for China; it’s something that speaks to the needs of developing economies, so that’s why they get a hundred and thirty-plus countries to sign up … I think it should cause the U.S. to think about, ‘What are we offering to the rest of the world,’ as we think about how to compete with China.”

“China’s not limiting itself to the Indo-Pacific, right? They’re in Eastern and Central Europe, they’re in Latin America, so even as we zone in on Indo-Pacific, China’s thinking and acting globally, and so I do think that we need sort of a broad, attractive economic vision, and it shouldn’t be defined in opposition to the Belt and Road. I think it should be defined as something that’s worth, you know, it’s worthwhile on its own—it reflects our interests, not necessarily something that’s against China’s interests.”

Jean Lee, Wilson Center

“We don’t have to go that far back in history, but remember that in Korea we still refer to China as Chungu, Middle Kingdom or Middle Country, and so there’s a long history that goes back centuries of China seeking to play that essential role, the central role within the Asia region, and perhaps what we’re seeing is a strong bid to reassert itself as the Middle Kingdom, as the country that can perhaps treat neighboring countries as vassal states.”

“Korea has been dealing with the concept behind Indo-Pacific strategy for not only decades but for centuries and North Korea, perhaps, can be seen as a cautionary tale. What happens when a small country feels the only way that it can remain relevant within this larger US-China competition is to arm itself with nuclear weapons, and I would go one step further and say that if the diplomacy around this issue doesn’t right itself soon, we may start to see some of the other small countries in that region—South Korea and Japan—seeking to arm themselves as well to remain relevant, protect themselves within this broader US-China competition.”

“South Korea’s a great example of a very recently developing country that is now a developed country … Eleventh-largest economy and can really serve as a role model to countries in Southeast Asia and in the broader region as a country, an Asian country, that can serve as a role model, rebuild its economy, and I think what we need to do as Americans is to encourage them to take the next step and think about the values that we share—the United States shares—with countries in that region and encourage them to pick the path with values that they would like to embrace.”

Edward Wong, NYT and Wilson Center

“There’s a fundamental difference in ideologies that these two countries, because of the status they occupy now in the world and because of the economic status that exerts, is hard to reconcile with each other. And I think that the U.S. can work with authoritarian regimes; the question is can the U.S. coexist in a world where authoritarian regime is as powerful as the U.S. is economically, and I don’t think that we’ve had that before—like the Soviet Union never occupied the same economic space in the world that the U.S. does.”

“I don’t think that it’s clear cut, but I do think that there are concerns about whether [China will] push certain constraints on free societies such as what we’ve seen with what happened with the NBA this week—that because of their power economically, that we want access to their markets … They have so much leverage over us in the capitalist system that we embrace that they’re able to force constraints on us that the U.S. doesn’t want. And I think that’s whats is the fundamental tension at the heart of this relationship.”

“There is this idea that capitalism should be unfettered to a certain degree, and so like for example, institutions like the NBA should be able to do business on whatever grounds that they want and accept these constraints. But at the same time, that acceptance of that undermines the sort of liberal democratic values that America is based on. So, how do you reconcile? … In the eyes of a lot of American strategic thinkers, that’s the most fundamental threat that I think China poses.”

“I think anyone who reads President Trump’s transcripts and looks at speeches, whether it’s Chinese officials or us, like he rarely talks about human rights or about sort of the liberal values that the United States traditionally projects. I think that when other nations look at that then they wonder whether, you know, then it’s fine to deal with China on its terms because the U.S., what used to be the beacon of these values … might not stand for those anymore depending on the leadership.”


9:00 am                           Welcome by Congresswoman Jane Harman and Hugh Hewitt

9:15- 9:45 am                 U.S.-China Geostrategic Tensions

            Keynote Address by David R. Stilwell, Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs

9:45 – 10:45 am             Conversation on U.S.-China Geostrategic Tensions

                 Dan Blumenthal, American Enterprise Institute
                 Jonathan Hillman, Center for Strategic and International Studies

                 Jean Lee, Wilson Center
                 Edward Wong, NYT and Wilson Center

                                         Moderated by Abraham Denmark, Wilson Center

10:45 – 11:00 am           Coffee Break

11:00 - 12:00 pm           The Trade War: Any End in Sight?

                Meg Lundsager, Former executive director, IMF, Wilson Center

                Bob Davis, Wall Street Journal and Wilson Center

                John Frisbie, Hills & Co
                Moderated by Shihoko Goto, Wilson Center

12:00-1:30pm                Luncheon with Address by Senator Chris Coons of Delaware in Conversation with The Honorable Jane Harman and Hugh Hewitt

1:45- 3:00 pm                Human Rights and Religious Freedom in U.S.-China Relations

                                       Dave Rank, Cohen Group

                                       Nina Shea, Hudson Institute       

                                       Christopher Walker, National Endowment for Democracy                      

                                       Robert Daly, Wilson Center

                                       Moderated by Katie Stallard-Blanchette, Wilson Center

3:00 – 3:15 pm              Coffee Break

3:15- 4:30 pm               The Nixon Legacy and U.S.-China Relations

               Ambassador Chas W. Freeman, Jr, The Watson Institute
               Ambassador Winston Lord
               Ambassador J. Stapleton Roy, Wilson Center

                                       Moderated by Robert Litwak and Hugh Hewitt   


Hosted By

Kissinger Institute on China and the United States

The mission of Kissinger Institute on China and the United States is to ensure that informed engagement remains the cornerstone of U.S.-China relations.  Read more

Event Feedback

This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.