On Thursday, November 12, more than 120 attendees gathered over livestream for the webinar, “Getting China Right: Challenges for the Next Administration.” Robert Daly, director of the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States at the Wilson Center, presented on the challenges and complexities of the U.S.-China relationship. 

Daly began by describing the global changes faced by both China and the United States, including a global pandemic, climate change, new technologies, and environmental problems. Whereas China has embraced a narrative of change and transformation, the slogans of American presidential candidates of “Make America Great Again” and “Build Back Better” seem to hearken back to a time in the past. While China has projected a theory of dynamism, the United States seems to lean into a narrative of stasis, healing, and recovery. The question remains whether the United States will be able and willing to transform itself in the face of today’s global and domestic challenges. 

Daly asserted that the United States and China are competitors not only in the economic and geopolitical realms, but also in terms of global norms, practices, and values. At the same time, Daly cautioned that "our greatest geostrategic challenge, China, may not be our greatest challenge overall." The challenges presented by China must be contextualized in light of larger crises facing the United States. For example, whereas China and the United States are technological competitors, new technology was always going to raise pressing questions around privacy, the relationship between individuals and the state, and the power of corporations and multinational organizations.

Daly then discussed the core values of the two nations, as well as key domestic challenges and foreign policy goals. Daly’s shorthand for China is a “vast, hegemonic, materialist police state.” However, Daly cautions that it would be a mistake to assume that all Chinese people are the enemies of their government. Rather, many Chinese report high levels of satisfaction, and China’s major cities are vibrant and dynamic. 

Daly concluded with advice for the Biden administration as it crafts its policy towards China, and ended with a quote from Alastair McIntyre of Notre Dame University about the role of universities: “How can we come to terms with cultures radically different from our own so that we learn as far as we can to speak as their inhabitants speak, to see as they see, and to think as they think? Such learning involves coming to understand ourselves not as we customarily do, but as they understand us. And it at once raises the question of how we are to decide between their understanding of us and our own understanding of us, between their evaluations and ours."

In the Q&A session that followed, Daly discussed whether the U.S. and China can cooperate on shared challenges such as climate change, the role of the next U.S. ambassador to China, and international education and exchange between the U.S. and China. 

Watch a recording of the webinar


About the Speaker

Robert DalyRobert Daly directs the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States at the Wilson Center. Before coming to the Wilson Center he was director of the Maryland China Initiative at the University of Maryland and American Director of the Johns Hopkins University-Nanjing University Center for Chinese and American Studies in Nanjing. He began work in U.S.-China relations as a diplomat, serving as Cultural Exchanges Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing in the late '80s and early '90s. After leaving the Foreign Service, he taught Chinese at Cornell University; worked on television (北京人在纽约) and theater projects in China as a host, actor, and writer; and helped produce Chinese-language versions of Sesame Street and other Children’s Television Workshop programs. His commentary is regularly featured on NPR, C-Span, the Voice of America, and global television stations. Mr. Daly has testified before Congress on U.S.-China relations and has lectured at hundreds of Chinese and American institutions. He has lived in China for 12 years and has interpreted for Chinese leaders, including Jiang Zemin, and American leaders, including Jimmy Carter.