Former U.S. Ambassador On South China Sea, Panama Papers, China Trade09:35
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Outgoing U.S. ambassador to China Gary Locke speaks during a farewell news conference at the U.S. embassy February 27, 2014 in Beijing, China. Locke was the first Chinese-American ambassador to Beijing who presided over a huge growth in economic ties and an increase in Chinese visitors to the U.S.  (Ng Han Guan/Getty Images)
Outgoing U.S. ambassador to China Gary Locke speaks during a farewell news conference at the U.S. embassy February 27, 2014 in Beijing, China. Locke was the first Chinese-American ambassador to Beijing who presided over a huge growth in economic ties and an increase in Chinese visitors to the U.S. (Ng Han Guan/Getty Images)
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Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced Thursday that American and Philippine ships are conducting joint patrols of the contested territory in the South China Sea, where China is building islands and has sent military equipment to make a show of force.

Here & Now's Peter O'Dowd sat down with Gary Locke, former U.S. ambassador to China, to get his take on the situation in the South China Sea, as well as how the Chinese government is dealing with the Panama Papers and what a new U.S. president may mean for the future of Chinese relations.

Interview Highlights: Gary Locke

How likely is military conflict to break out in the South China Sea?

“I think everybody wants to avoid any type of military conflict and that’s why I think people need to basically stand down and focus on diplomacy. You know, with more activity in that area, the chances are increased of a collision, let’s say, between a fishing vessel and some naval vessel and that could prompt or spark a conflict and those are the things that have to be avoided.”

Is China taking advantage of the lack of American interest in getting involved militarily in the region?

“Well, there is no lack of interest by the U.S. government in what is happening in the South China Sea. We're very much engaged in the Asia-Pacific region. That’s part of the president’s re-balance strategy, recognizing that, for the last several many, many years preceding his administration, there’s been such a preoccupation with the Middle East and, as our forces withdraw from the Middle East, we need to resume our attention and increase our attention to the Asia-Pacific region.”

How much pressure do the Panama Papers put on President Xi?

“Well, President Xi is embarking on a very concerted campaign to root out corruption within China. The Chinese government officials feel that the pervasive corruption is a direct threat to the legitimacy, the authority of the Communist Party and so obviously their objective is to maintain their control over the country. What’s interesting is that obviously it raises suspicions, concerns about just how pervasive corruption is and whether it extends to some of the families of the top Chinese government leaders. But actually a lot of this has already been detailed in New York Times articles, Bloomberg reporting, months if not a year or so ago. So some of this, in terms of the business dealings and the assets, large assets held by families of top Chinese government officials is nothing new.”

From your perspective, what is the number one issue that the next U.S. president faces in respect to China?

“Well, there are many issues that the next president will face, the continuation of issues that we have now with China, whether it’s cyber security, the lack of rule of law, lack of aggressive enforcement of intellectual property rights, human rights issues. But what’s interesting is there’s also a lot of partnership and collaboration. Our scientists are working very closely together on clean energy, on trying to find cures for cancer to even working with China on putting pressure on North Korea to stop developing a nuclear weapon. So, of course, we have major differences and that will confront the next president, but, clearly, trade issues seem to be in the fore and the last thing we need is a trade war with any country. We could slap tariffs on Chinese products coming in in the U.S., make them a lot more expensive to the American consumer, all the way from microwaves to clothes, to toys and electronics. But the Chinese can turn right around and slap tariffs on American products. America actually exports more from what we grow on our farms and what we process off of our farms to China than to any other country. If we engage in raising tariffs on all Chinese products coming in to the U.S., China will do the same.”

Isn’t there a point that the U.S. should be more firm with China on trade?

“Well, we have been taking China to the WTO and to world tribunals on unfair trade policies and enforcing the trade agreements that we have. We’ve slapped a lot of tariffs on products coming in from China to the U.S. where they’ve been unfairly subsidized by the Chinese government and so forth. But let’s recognize that 95 percent of the world’s consumers live outside the U.S. and so, if we want our economy to be strong, America needs to export.”

What does a growing Chinese middle class mean for the U.S.?

“The more middle class that there are in China, the greater demand for American-made goods and services, whether it’s medical devices, whether it’s cosmetics, whether it’s airplanes to food because people in China have very little confidence in the quality, the purity of the food that they eat and they love things that are made in America or come from America because it stands for quality, it stands for purity. And so, the rising middle class means more opportunities for American companies to sell their made-in-USA goods and services to China which means jobs for the American people.”

Guest

  • Gary Locke, former U.S. ambassador to China (2011-2014), U.S. secretary of commerce (2009-2011) and governor of Washington (1997-2011). He is now visiting fellow at the Institute of Politics at Harvard Kennedy School, senior adviser at Davis Wright Tremaine LLP and chairman at Locke Global Strategies LLC. He tweets @AmbLocke.

This segment aired on April 15, 2016.

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