China-U.S. Relations: Navigating New Channels for Cooperation

Only China has the ability to produce, in a mass-produced way, the tools that the world needs to combat climate change.

Editor’s Note: Though the China-U.S. tensions still remain and have affected the bilateral relations, there is huge potential for the two countries to work together broadly, in particular with the climate change. How should the U.S. view China’s development? What kind of bilateral relations is beneficial to both China and the U.S.? In an interview with China Focus, Mitchell F. Stanley, Chairman of the U.S. National Center for Sustainable Development, shares his insights into the China-U.S. competition and cooperation.

As an expert of sustainable development, how do you view China’s development and peaceful rise?

Mitchell F. Stanley: China has exceeded all expectations in the terms of how it has grown, most because of the work of the Chinese people and [because] of the investment of the government into manufacturing and other things that were important infrastructure issues. The United States has, for a long time and very much, enjoyed the number one country in the world. It did so primarily after World War II, when it was the only entity that was still left unhindered by the war.

Now, we look at China’s rise as actually very different. We have to understand one thing about Americans: they do not understand anything about China. They do not understand where it is. Let alone any of its history going back more than a year or two. I think the whole thing in the United States is that what we do not know makes us fearful. Since there really has not been any awareness of what China has been doing in terms of its building, its foundation, and then exercising on good government policy, it makes the United States very concerned.

All political systems are indigenous to the people that create them, and the result is [people] will go back to history [because] no one can replicate them. In the future, one must do the best they can with what they’ve got, where they are. I think that China is going to show some very important elements.

The Biden administration often talks about the competition with China. But the two countries have different ideas on the competition. Do you think whether the United States and China can shape a healthy competitive relationship to boost win-win cooperation, instead of intensifying confrontation?

Mitchell F. Stanley: The United States is one that has, for many years, talked about the benefits of competition, but it is only up to the point where America is still winning. Competition is a fundamental issue upon which China and the United States fundamentally will never really understand. Because in China, competition is that everyone wins, win-win solution. In America, there’s only one winner. And they are better than everybody else because they have won, but that’s not accurate.

It is very difficult to imagine that this is going to be an easy road. It’s not an easy road. I worked in the U.S. government for a long time and it’s very limiting, because there is so much that Americans want to do in terms of accessing China, but they can’t, they don’t know how to do it. The U.S. government has never been good at doing it, individuals here and there can do it. This is we have to get away from the notion that only states to states denominate the health of the relationship. What we need to do is look for other alternatives. And those other alternatives are mainly in the commercial sector, but also in the education sector, in all the sectors that really matter to come to average people.

What are your comments on Chinas green and low-carbon development? What is the NCSDs outlook on participating in Chinas market?

Mitchell F. Stanley: I think the important thing to remember about this is that while many people in the West argue and argue, and the Europeans are constantly arguing about this and that, China with 30-60 [China vows to achieve peak CO2 emissions before 2030 and carbon neutrality before 2060]. They said, look, enough of this, we’re not going to go down and we need to have our own plan. And the plan for 30-60 is very, very important: carbon peak in 2030, carbon neutrality in 2060. The only way you’re going to get there is to give the implements that can deal with this and bring it to fruition. Only China has the ability to produce, in a mass-produced way, the tools that the world needs to combat climate change. Only China has the vision and the ability to deploy resources and allocate resources where they’re needed for what it perceives as the most important problem.

But I think the goal for us is to, because we are a non-governmental entity, an NGO, our goal is to try and do the best we can to figure out a way to take what we can find here in the United States. And just as we did with [American company] Energy Vaults, construct a relationship with a competent, quality Chinese company, so that they can put together on an international business level. In our role, in our approach, we find companies that have a great understanding of the importance of new fuels, hydrogen, the hydrogen economy, things that 10-year looking back, 10 years from now in the future, people will look back and say, “How did this all happen so quickly?” It can only happen when you have two entities, such as a Chinese company and an American company that come together and decide that together, they are better able to accomplish their goals. I think that there should be the idea that people traditionally are cooperative creatures, and they want to cooperate to produce the best results. It’s a unique flavor, a unique blend of skill sets that come together in our approach that we think is very valuable for American small businesses and Chinese small businesses together.

Again, I will go back to a quote from Laozi. Listen to this: Great acts are made up of small deeds. And that should be our motto for relations between the United States and China. Small individual deeds of help and cooperation can make big changes. That is what we believe in. That’s our motto.