U.S.-CHINA SYMBIOSIS: A CONVERSATION WITH JOE TSAI

by Jasmine Moheb
Staff Writer

As two of the largest powerhouses in the world, the United States and China have a vital relationship that proves necessary for economic, military, and scientific advances. However, with recent geopolitical strife, it is more important now than ever to understand the magnitude of this relationship and how to facilitate an environment that promotes its sustainability.

As part of the Sokwanlok lecture series, where distinguished speakers are provided a forum to discuss U.S.-Chinese relations, Joe Tsai, a co-founder and the Executive Vice Chairman of the Alibaba Group, discussed “U.S.-China Symbiosis” in its eighth annual distinguished lecture. The conversation was directed by Professor Susan Shirk, chair of the 21st Century China Center through UCSD’s School of Global Policy and Strategy.

Having a major role in one of the largest and most successful commerce and technology corporations in the world based in China, Tsai was able to voice his unique first-hand experiences in the dialogue regarding the rise of China and its implications for U.S.-Chinese relations.

Professor Shirk prefaced the discussion with the definition of “symbiosis” as two dissimilar organizations in a mutually beneficial relationship, and asked Tsai how he believed the relationship between China and the United States was a symbiotic one. Tsai explained that the mutual benefits in this interdependent relationship included the significant gains through trade that benefit both the United States and China. These include billions of dollars of exchange, widespread corporate activity since 65,000 U.S. companies have bases in China, and development at an intellectual level as people from China frequently contribute to U.S. life and business. The conclusion that can be drawn from these major dependencies for the success of both countries and economies is that a faltering relationship would take away from the benefits of cooperation.

Tsai went on to address the claim that the United States and China are in a competitive relationship by acknowledging that China is becoming more affluent in the sectors of technology, military, and overall global influence. However, he brought to light the idea that it is still a choice whether the two countries choose to approach this with conflict rather than cooperation. Additionally, he presented the alternate view that China does not see the relationship as a competitive one, stating that the Chinese Communist Party merely seeks to improve their economy, life of citizens, and therefore legitimize their one-party system.

Specifically, Tsai claimed China’s revitalization efforts–perceived as aggressive competition by the American public–are actually misinterpreted intentions of the Chinese Communist Party. The national rejuvenation was meant to be a renaissance of Chinese culture and tradition to counteract what the Chinese government believes has been an era of shame inflicted by foreign powers. He exemplified this negative global image by explaining how Japan refers to China as the “sick man of the east,” a sentiment with which the Chinese no longer want to be associated.

Within the technological niche the Alibaba group specializes in, Tsai disputed other misrepresentations of China in the Western perspective. Although many believe China has severe problems with intellectual property protection, he mentioned that China has improved their safeguards against copyright dilemmas and pays the second largest royalty payment for intellectual property in the world. Beyond this, Tsai explained that while the United States sees China’s promotion of socialism as paralleling the extent of Marxist values, it is not comparable due to their government’s characteristics of being entrepreneurial-focused, similar to the free market values of the United States.

Finally, the symbiotic relationship was further emphasized as Tsai explained that with greater divergence among U.S.-Chinese cooperation, two parallel and antagonistic universes could not work together, and business would be harmed for both major powers if they try to expand beyond their intended sphere and into the other’s. However, he described solutions as not only being possible, but fairly easy to access.

First, in the technological domain–while we may not immediately return to integration between the two countries–there is still great room for cooperation. In applications of Artificial Intelligence, for example, the sharing of data between the two countries can be promoted through encryption of valuable information that one country does not wish to release to the other. With certain privacy trade-offs, it would still be possible to reap the gains of an advancing technological sector that can only be fully attained through global cooperation.

Second, in a nongovernmental domain, we can reduce the increasing hostility between the two countries. Nongovernmental groups provide forums for exchanging views, enabling Chinese nationals and representatives to discuss their perspective of controversial matters, in an effort to promote a more holistic understanding of the motivations behind the actions of the Chinese government.  He encouraged people from China to talk about their country and culture with others as another source of information for Americans to gain true insight into a world that can only be fully encapsulated through knowledge of first-hand experiences.

Although China and the United States have seen a more conflict-ridden relationship in the past few months, keeping an open mind and finding ways to cooperate are a step in the right direction. Conversations such as the one facilitated by GPS prove that there is still much to be learned and benefits to be gained from the rising power–and not necessarily the rising threat–that is China.

Image by UCSD School of Global Policy & Strategy

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