Text and Video: Wang Huiyao in Dialogue with Niall Ferguson

June 20 , 2022





Half-way through 2022, the third year of the Covid-19 pandemic, there are many that have proclaimed globalization is over. From globalist elites at Davos, to populists at the ballot box, people from all corners of the world are grappling with the key issues of great power relations between China, America, and Europe and their global implications. As we continue to deal with the socioeconomic throes of Covid-19 and as yet unknown outcome of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, what can we glean from history to help us divine the future in the face of so many uncertainties in the world today?

On June 20, 2022, Prof. Niall Ferguson, renowned historian, Milbank Family Senior Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution spoke with CCG President Dr. WANG Huiyao on the constantly changing relations between China and the United States.  The following is a full transcript of their discussion.


Wang Huiyao:Good afternoon and good morning if you join from us in Europe. Thank you for tuning in. This is the fourth session of the CCG 8th China Globalization Forum – following the dialogue with the former US Treasure Secretary Henry Paulson and Wang Shi, the Ambassador Roundtable meeting this morning, and China-European Roundtable this afternoon. So I hope you all enjoyed the forum discussion so far. You’re now watching the forum’s special online program “History At a Turning Point: Pandemic, Ukraine and Changing Relations between China, Europe and the United States” – a dialogue with historian Niall Ferguson.I’d like to introduce our speaker, Niall Ferguson today. Professor Niall Ferguson is the Milbank Family Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and a Senior Faculty Fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University where he served for twelve years as the Lawrence Tisch Professor of History. He is the author of 16 books, many of them are award-winning and international best-sellers. He has won numerous books prizes, accomplished biography. He is currently writing Life of Henry Kissinger, the first volume was actually published in 2015, and also gathers very critical claim as Kissinger: 1923–1968: The Idealist, the book won the 15th annual Council on Foreign Relations Arthur Ross Book Award. He also wrote War of the World. In 2011, his film Civilization: Is the West History? which has won the New York Film Festival Prize for the best documentary.

Professor Ferguson is the Philippe Rome visiting professor at the London School of Economics in 2011, and was a visiting professor at the School of Economics and Management at Tsinghua University from 2016 to 2021. So, a well-known professor around the world. He has received honorary-degree from University of Buckingham, Macquarie University in Australia and University Adolfo Ibanez, Chile. And he’s trusty of New-York Historical Society, and the London-based Center for Policy Studies. Time magazine named him one of the 100 Most influential People in the World.

With 2022, we have entered the 3rd year of the Covid-19 pandemic that has prompted many to pronounce the end of a globalization. Amongst Washington drive to decouple China, economically and technologically. The Ukraine conflict has produced a rupture in the global energy and food supply chains, as well as the European balance of power.

So, from the globalist elite at Davos… to people from all corners of the world are grappling with the key issues in the great power relations between China, America and Europe, and global implications. So, with the outcome Russian invasion of Ukraine yet to come, how can we use history to help inform and illuminate and present perception the choices and challenges facing the war? This program features Professor Niall Ferguson, one of the most brilliant historian of our age, and his insight on key issues of the day. Thank

So let’s start with our speaker who join us from London. Hi Niall. How are you? Great to have you. So maybe you can have your opening remarks. Thank you for joining us.

We suffer from an attention deficit disorder

Niall Ferguson:

Thank you very much indeed, Henry, it’s a pleasure to join this group. It’s critical time in history, so many different respects. I thought it might make sense just to reflect on at the non-transitory nature of the crisis we face. Transitory is a word that appeals to many people. It’s usually mentioned in connection with inflation. When inflation leapt upwards this year, many economists argued, including economists at the Federal Reserve, that it was just transitory. And of course, that turned out to be very wrong. And the predictions that Larry Summers and others made last year that inflation was going to surge up to levels we haven’t seen since the early 1980s, proved to be right.

Inflation, in other words, turned out not to be transitory, and I don’t think it’s going to go away in the way that the central banks forecasted. A lot of people thought the war in Ukraine would be transitory too. There were people who published articles at the beginning of the war, in late February, suggesting that it would be over very quickly, because Russia would swiftly take control of Kyiv and overthrow the Ukrainian government. When that didn’t happen, there were others who argued that Ukraine was going to win the war almost as quickly. And here we are, it’s June, and there is no end in sight. So that war turned out not to be transitory, and it’s hard to know, but just when it will end. And finally, of course, this Covid-19, the pandemic that has now been going for are close to two and a half years. And anybody who tells you that it’s over and that we’re in the post pandemic era isn’t looking at the data where new variants continue to manifest themselves, and case numbers, hospitalization numbers and death numbers are going up. This very week in many countries.

So I think the broad observation I would make is that in our time, we suffer from an attention deficit disorder. We want the new cycle to be two or three weeks, and then we get something new to think about. But history doesn’t provide such short-lived events. And in each case, the economic shock, the geopolitical shock and the public health shock at the event is lasting longer than people were expecting. And indeed, each of these problems, the problem of inflation, the problem of war and the problem of the pandemic, don’t actually seem likely, in my view, to stop any time soon, and may indeed start to feel like permanent features of life over the coming years. So that’s my introductory observation. But for the sake of dialogue, let me stop there and throw the ball back to you, Henry.

Wang Huiyao:

Thank you for the opening remark. You are really such a great historian and has been watching a history unfolding in many aspects. And I also read recent articles in Bloomberg as well. But let’s maybe still concentrate a bit on this pandemic. As we know that, your latest book, Doom, the Politics of Catastrophe, argues that disasters are often consequences of man-made social and economic factors and a political decision. We are still coming back to Covid-19, the virus has claimed many lives. So, as a historian, you look at this in the long term, does the pandemic teach us in terms of international relations? In which ways has Covid-19 changed the global cooperation, and what lessons we can take from the past? So, and this is the pandemic, but also on top of that, we have this Ukraine war, we have this energy crisis, food crisis, also the high inflation. I saw you were also interviewed together with Larry Summers at Bloomberg, he talked about this inflation that has been really driving at all-time high. So, I hope that you can look at history and what can be unfold in the years to come. And you mentioned about the Cold War in the past as well. So, there are so many factors added up. And we are at the crossroads for the mankind. And how can we sail through this kind of a mass, chaotic situation? We need wisdom, we need look at history. And you probably can give us some hints on that.

Niall Ferguson:

I think the first thing to realize is that one thing leads to another, one crisis leads to another, sometimes to more than one other crisis, and this creates a kind of cascade, or avalanche, which takes people by surprise. Many people, when the pandemic first began in early 2020, didn’t appreciate the enormous economic consequences of the non-pharmaceutical interventions, the lockdowns that were recommended by epidemiologists and public health experts. That huge economic shock in early 2020 then led to massive fiscal and monetary measures to offset the costs of lockdowns. But these in turn had the inflationary consequence by 2021, when vaccines became available and the need for drastic lockdowns at least in the Western world, diminished.

Of course, sometimes disasters are unrelated to one another. I don’t think one could claim that the Russian invasion of Ukraine was connected in any way to the pandemic. The reality is that history, in many ways, is just one disaster after another, and you don’t really have any way of predicting what disaster will strike next.

Interestingly, many people, prior to 2020 thought that the problem of pandemics had been solved. My old friend, the Harvard psychologist, Steve Pinker, wrote his book Enlightenment Now, that there really wouldn’t be another pandemic because we had got so good at medical science and public health. And I felt strongly that was too optimistic of view, and that there was going to be, at some points, a new kind of respiratory disease, a new kind of virus against which we wouldn’t be well protected.

Now, compared with the distant past, compared with, for example. the 14th century, when the black death swept across the Eurasian landmass, we’ve made tremendous advances, not only in terms of medical science but in terms of international cooperation, between governments, between public health agencies. And much of that progress in the 19th and the 20th centuries. It was fitful, of course, it was far from a perfect system. The World Health Organization, by the late 20th century, certainly represented the best achievement in international public health cooperation in all of history. So, the big question becomes, why did our system perform much worse than it should have when a Covid-19 manifested itself in early 2020? And I don’t think we have great answers to that question yet, partly because I don’t think there’s been a thorough inquiry into the origins of the pandemic, not only in China but globally.

We also don’t have, I think, nearly enough of an inquiry into why national public health systems did badly. The American public health system was supposed to be the best prepared in the world for a pandemic, and it turned out to perform really poorly, with an excess in excessive a million deaths attributable to Covid. So, I think the puzzle of 2020 and 2021 is that our international systems and our national systems did much worse than one would have expected, on the eve of the pandemic. And I think it’s extremely important that around the world, we really do dig into the causes of this disaster, because clearly this isn’t the last pandemic. There’ll be no doubt in addition to new variants of covered, there’ll be some other form of infectious disease at some point in the foreseeable future. Because in the end, globalization, for all its benefits, created a vulnerability, and that vulnerability was, that there had never been more international travel, there had never been such large volumes of people crossing borders at high speeds, and therefore we were highly vulnerable to any new infectious disease. That I think is the big lesson.

Détente is better than confrontation

Wang Huiyao:

Thank you. I think that all the human beings can work together internationally, with this dynamic of the flow of the people, unprecedented the flow of people, travelers around the world. This kind of pandemic, and future pandemic really has to be dealt with internationally, collectively, with some multi-lateral mechanisms, that’s absolutely important. Now we have the pandemic, you mention that it’s devastating. And, we don’t know what’s new coming up. And we haven’t found out what’s really happening in the past. So, we have to really cope for the future uncertainty. But then the world is really at the dangerous phase now. Now we are having this Ukraine-Russian conflict going on. This is probably a man-made catastrophe. And also, this may actually usher in a new area as well. Post and before, it is totally different. So, what do you think about this? You call this historical energy, you have joined your recent article about 1970s, the avalanche of the issue, you know, the collapse of the of history. And in terms of this economic and geopolitical shocks are there happening, and it’s made world more dangerous. What is your take on the current situation, and what you see the end of that? Even though Russia is confronting Ukraine and probably indirectly confronting NATO. The US government is also aiming at China in a large context. And we see the recent visit of President Biden to Asia and then set up the IPEF, Quad and all the system. I saw your article in the Bloomberg talking about déntente, appeasement. Maybe we should probably look at the wisdom and what has been happened in the Cold War experience of 1950s and 1970s. What has happened in 1950s? What has happened in 1970s? You draw very interesting comparison there. And so maybe you can elaborate about your ideas, and let Chinese viewers know what is your key message in the Bloomberg article, which is very, very interesting.

Niall Ferguson:

Well, I think it’s important to try to begin by understanding what exactly is happening in Ukraine, because I think a good deal of confusion has arisen. I’ve been to Ukraine many times. I’ve visited the country almost every year for the last ten years, and it’s been obvious to me for some time that Ukraine was in a very vulnerable position for two reasons. Firstly, President Vladimir Putin clearly did not accept Ukraine’s move westwards, not only with the discussion of potential NATO membership, but also the discussion of European Union membership. In his eyes, Ukraine was a historic part of the Russian empire, and he consistently questioned the legitimacy of Ukraine that effectively decoupled up from Russia and became integrated into the West. That was why, in 2014, Russia annexed Crimea and sent forces into eastern Ukraine to help separatists establish control of Donetsk and Luhansk. It was in response to a political crisis in Ukraine when the then president, Yanukovych turned away from the possibility of European negotiations and triggered a revolution, which in turn led to the Russian intervention. So this story goes back years, not just 2014, but even further back to 2008, when the idea of NATO membership for Ukraine was first discussed.

At the same time, I think it’s clear that the West are offering Ukraine the worst of both worlds. It offered the possibility of NATO membership that which clearly was regarded by Russia as unacceptable, but it didn’t deliver on that promise. So Ukraine had the prospect of NATO membership, but never. And that was really, I thought, the worst possible combination. And I agreed with Henry Kissinger when he argued in 2014 that it would be better to take NATO membership off the table and construct an alternative security arrangement for Ukraine on the basis of neutrality.

Ultimately, I think the West failed to provide sufficient support for Ukraine in recent years to deter Russia from an invasion. There were significant armed shipments to Ukraine, but they fell away after 2018. And it seems to me that one of the lessons here is that if you’re not capable of making a country like Ukraine well enough armed to deter an invasion, then an invasion is quite likely to happen. I think now the West, led by the United States, has committed itself to preventing Ukraine from losing the war, but it’s not clear to me what exactly that looks like. We have now entered a new phase of the war. Russia failed to capture the capital Kyiv, and is now engaged in a war of attrition in the Donbass region. But from where I’m sitting, it looks as if Russia is winning that war, uh, partly because of the very heavy casualties that Ukraine is suffering in this artillery war of attrition. So I think there’s a very urgent need to think of ways to end this conflict before Ukraine is permanently and seriously damaged. As an economy, I don’t think it can be in the interests of the Ukrainian people for this war to go on interminably. And unfortunately, there’s every sign, at least from where I’m sitting, but the war can drag on through the summer and even into the ultimate winter, at which point Russia’s leverage over the European countries grows because the full cost of sanctions, the full cost of cutting off Russian gas and oil from Europe, will become apparent when winter comes.

The last thing I want to focus on, though, is the role of China in this crisis, which I think is crucial in two ways. First, let me be clear. I can’t believe that President Putin would have gone ahead without at least tacit, if not explicit approval from the Chinese leadership. And this is an extremely unfortunate aspect of the crisis. The second point is that in response at the Biden administration seems to see the war in Ukraine primarily in terms of its relationship with China. There are clearly people in Washington who see their support for Ukraine as a signal to Beijing. See Ukraine, in effect, as a proxy in what I’ve called Cold War Two. And the goal of US policy, in the eyes of at least some members of the administration, is to deter China from taking a military action with respect to Taiwan. In my view, the strategy is a dangerous one in two ways.

First of all, it’s not clear to me that it works. Extending the war causes all kinds of disruption, including creating an inflation problem for the world. I don’t think it really has a significant impact on the way the Chinese government thinks about the Taiwan question. Secondly, I think it’s extremely dangerous for the United States and China to go down a collision course are over the question of Taiwan. If this is Cold War Two, which I believe it is, with China, as it were, taking the place of the Soviet Union, then the Ukraine War is equivalent to the Korean war in 1950. And the next stage in Cold War Two would be an equivalent to the Cuban missile crisis. Remember in 1962, the world came extremely close to World War Three over an island. And I think we would be running a very similar risk if there were a US-China confrontation over the island of Taiwan.

So my argument is, let’s learn a lesson from the first Cold War. And the lesson is that detente is better than confrontation. And I would argue that it would be preferable to fast forward and avoid the Cuban missile crisis in our time, and go straight to detente accelerate the Cold War cycle, as it were, and get more quickly to a period when the two superpowers focus on reducing tension, slowing down at the arms race, and avoiding the kind of confrontation that would carry with it the risk of World War Three. Apologies, Henry, that was a very long answer, but this is an extremely important point in my mind, and it’s one that I’m trying my best to communicate, not only to people in Washington, but also, I hope to people in Beijing.

A smart step is to reduce tarriffs and end the trade war

Wang Huiyao:

Thank you for your analysis. I think you have given very clear your perspective about how this Ukraine war come along, which I think there is a lot of valuable lessons to be learned. And (you) also analyzed the current situation of what’s the danger of that may be leading to a Cold War? I have one disagreement, is that I’m not sure that the Chinese leadership will probably know this beforehand, because at that time, when President Biden, President Xi had a virtual summit. We had all the good words from President Biden, but the moment he went back to boycott the Beijing (Winter) Olympics. And then suddenly, Russian comes out, Putin said, okay, I’m coming. I’m going to support in a big way, and I’ll be the major power to attend Beijing Olympics. So I think there’s something reciprocal that channel always have all kinds of statement, friendship, memorandum and so I don’t think we were really aware, because China was the last country to pull out its patriots citizens from Kyiv, you know, we almost getting some people killed there. If they knew there was a serious attack like that, they would have put them out the earliest.

So, but other than that, I think you argument also makes a lot of sense, is that this actually is, is a Cold War coming up, and, even if the Russians are involved, there could be more, targeted by the US, like what we see from recent US administration. Also, Secretary Blinken gave a speech lately that they have to invest, they have to align, and then they have to compete with China. So you see that kind of framework that they’re building right now. But, you are right, you talk about detente, that’s a really great word. We should really revisit the wisdom, by President Reagan, who does that with Gorbachev. And Biden, probably doesn’t see many risks for the midterm election coming up, Democrats are probably facing a huge challenge, and may lose both majorities. And also that this tariff has contributed significantly to US inflation. according to some think tanks, they said that could be cost 2 to 3%. This trade war doesn’t make any sense. And Taiwan is really a hot spot, probably, if we are not careful. And as you said, Cuban missile crisis almost led to the Third World War. So those historical lessons, you are a great historian, has reminded the people from East and West of all those dangerous outcomes. And actually, you are the biographer of Dr. Henry Kissinger. And he has said, we are at the foothills of Cold War. So, how do you think we can really get out of this dangerous situation, maybe a Cold War? How can China, the US and the EU safeguard the multilateral system and finally peacefully coexist together? Of course, we have differences. We have value differences, we have different governance systems, but let’s not really get into a conflict. I saw recently in Chinese Defense Minister, answer eleven questions at the Shangri-la Dialogue. And also he met six counterparts from different countries. So, we see some high-level dialogues now. And, you know, Chinese top diplomat, Yang Jiechi also meet Jack Sullivan lately. So, do you see how China US can really get out of this very dangerous trend, as a you are so familiar with the whole situation and also sit in the UK to look at both sides.

Niall Ferguson:

Well, I think that the lesson of history is that, and this was an argument my old friend Graham Allison, made several years ago, is that a rising power and an established power are quite likely to come into conflict. This is one of the patterns of history. The interesting thing about the relationship between the US and China is that it went through a period of being relatively harmonious and cooperative, the era of what I call Chimerica. But then, quite quickly, Chimerica, the partnership between the US and China, which was mainly economic in its nature, began to crumble and was replaced by something that looked and sounded a lot like a Cold War. Now, when I first made this argument in 2018, not everyone agreed. This was partly because they’d forgotten the true nature of the first Cold War, that the true nature of a Cold War, as George Orwell said in 1945, is that it is a peace that is no peace. There isn’t an outright world war, but the two superpowers engage in all kinds of indirect conflict. The arms race was the most obvious example of the first Cold War, the nuclear arms race, but there was also a space race. A Cold war is a technological competition, but it’s also an ideological competition. And then it has, in addition, a classic territorial aspect where the two superpowers seek to have spheres of influence, or reach far abroad in search of support. So if one compares Cold War One with our present situation, the truth is that we now have most of the characteristics of a Cold War, and I think it’s important for both sides to recognize this. Part of what made the first Cold War dangerous was that there was no precedent. And I don’t think people fully understood the risks that were being run in the early phase of the Cold War. The Korean War was a very risky moment. There were serious debates about whether nuclear weapons should be used against China by the United States. In the Cuban missile crisis, in 1962, a Soviet submarine came very close indeed firing a nuclear torpedo at American naval vessels, which we really would have triggered a World War. So, the lesson of history is, when you’re in a Cold War, it’s good to recognize that and not be in denial about it. And it’s also good to recognize that Cold War is better than World War Three. The most important thing is to manage the relationship, manage the technological competition, manage the ideological competition, to avoid escalation to outright World War. That’s the critical lesson, I think, of the first Cold War. And if you ask how that was done, then I think you have to give some credit, indeed, quite a lot of credit, to Henry Kissinger and the presidents that he served, Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, who did a great deal to relax relations with the Soviet Union, and of course, began that process of building a diplomatic relationship between the United States and China, beginning with Kissinger’s secret trip to Beijing in 1971 and Richard Nixon visit to China 50 years ago. That from my vantage point, I would far rather that we tried to revive some of that spirit of detente, the term that was used in the 1970s. Because it seems to me that the alternative is an increasingly a competitive combative and ultimately conflicts oriented relationship, which will have more than one flash point. It’s not just about Taiwan. It’s also about the South China Sea. Listening to Anthony Blinken’s recent speech, almost every issue was mentioned in that speech, including Hong Kong and Xinjiang, the administration seems to be on a collision course, and unfortunately, one hears somewhat similar rhetoric from the Chinese side. My message to both sides is you really do not want to replay the Cuban missile crisis over Taiwan. Nobody would benefit from such a risky escalation. Far more important, I think, at this point, to seek a new era of detente and to revive the kind of communications, the kind of strategic dialogue, that the US and China used to have.

Let me add one more point. It’s come as a great surprise to many people, including, I think, in China, that Joe Biden’s administration has in some ways been more combative towards China than President Donald Trump’s. Trump was interested in a trade war. He wasn’t really interested in any other kind of war. And my sense is that if he’d been reelected, we would probably have seen negotiations about the tariffs by now. Ironically, Joe Biden ran against Trump, partly arguing that he would be tougher on China than Trump. And he’s followed through since being inaugurated by pursuing a policy that I think authentically is tougher. Why the Democratic Party wants to persist with Donald Trump’s tariffs has never been clear to me, because they opposed them at the time that they were being imposed. So there’s something a little odd here about the way in which the US administration is proceeding. And considering the inflation problem that the Biden administration faces, it would seem to me perfectly obvious that a smart step in the right direction would be to start discussing how to reduce the tarrifs and bring to an end a trade war that, it must be said, did not achieve terribly much, even in its own terms.

Detente – it takes two to tango

Wang Huiyao:

Absolutely. So you gave a very good analysis about this Cold War danger that we’ve been seeing more and more now. And you’re right. I mean, many people in China felt that when President Biden comes up, and maybe we should have little relax, since he is, he is an old friend of President Xi. During the time, there are many meals and meetings they had together, he understands China and also all the previous visits. He’s been quite a number of times. But at the end, you know, it seems that it was not the case. I mean, he’s even more systematically containing China and also encroach China and encirle China and things like that. So that that really made people wondering, what’s going on? And you mentioned about this history, this historical lessons. I mean, we probably really should visit the wisdom of Dr. Kissinger and President Nixon You’re right. This is the 50-year anniversary of Nixon visit to China. And we just recently had another televised event about Kissinger’s 99th birthday, with Chinese and also American top diplomats and think tankers. So, I think that can we have some realistic view, because I think China, US are number one and number two largest economy in the world, has a moral responsibility. I’ve been discussing with the Graham Allison a few times, on similar dialogue. And Joseph Nye and Larry Summers. I mean, they all felt, we shouldn’t have a Cold War. Nobody wants to Cold War you know, they were saying, yeah, we have competition. We have also cooperation. That’s competition or cooperative rivalry is from Graham’s words. So can we, U.S. and China, really get into that kind of situation? Because you mentioned about Chimerica a few years ago. That was a, you know, very popular name. Yes,300 million Chinese migrant workers married with 300 million consumers in the US. We assume this intertwined ecosystem that really seems to have carried on forever, but then, unfortunately, things started to change. So how can we really get back? Because the world is really facing all the difficulties dangerous risks. We’ll probably have a famine with all the food prices going up. And China’s energy is 70% depending on the import. I mean, with this oil present, all time high. So we really want to see China and US get along, manageable admit their differences. There’s some problems. and, let’s face it, but we shouldn’t go to the extreme of really, I’m going to contain you everywhere, or I’m going to drive up the military budget of all the countries in the region and everywhere. So that’s really concerned, because giving half how dangerous of what the world, how vulnerable of the world we have to face now, we can’t afford the US and China not to work together. You are the historian and, you know China so well. You need to subscribe something for it for us. I’d like to hear from you as well.

Niall Ferguson:

Well, I think one of the key lessons of dentente is that it takes two to tango. Both sides need to be ready to make concessions or it’s simply not going to be meaningful. By the late 1960s and early 1970s, the cost of the arms race was becoming a major problem for both sides, and indeed, it was a heavier burden for the Soviet Union, with its relatively smaller economy. I think the United States and China each need to look at long and hard in the mirror and ask, what exactly is it that we’re trying to achieve here? I’ve already said why. I think it’s strange for the Biden administration to pursue such a hawkish policy towards China, particularly since part of it originated with the previous administration. I think at the same time, Xi Jinping and his colleagues in Beijing need to ask whether wolf warrior diplomacy was really the way to go in communicating China’s views to the rest of the world. In my most recent book, do I argued that much that Chinese diplomats said and did in 2020 was deeply unhelpful to China itself by alienating European and other countries. The tone of Chinese diplomacy became rather shrill in recent years. And I don’t think that was helpful. I think to state to a forthrightly, ambitions are of geopolitical apparently, if not dominance helps in no way, because this only arose the suspicions of Americans and others that China’s aspiring to world domination. I don’t think that is the goal of the Chinese people, but it sometimes sounds like the goal of the Chinese government. There won’t be an era of detente unless both sides dial back the rhetoric, dial back the slogans that we currently hear. As you suggested, they have all kinds of reasons to cooperate. Most people talk about climate change in this context, but that’s only one of many things that the US and China need to cooperate over. Public health. We touched on earlier. One of the reasons that US Chinese relations have deteriorated is mutual mistrust over the question of the origins of the COVID pandemic. And then we have the big economic questions. The less globalization, the more decoupling, the bigger the inflation problem. And nobody really wins from a world in which we drive inflation up towards double digits. You mention, Henry, the danger of famine in large parts of Africa as a result of the destruction caused by the war in Ukraine and the sanctions. It’s in no way in the interests of the United States and China for the poorest part of the world to descend into the kind of instability that we’ve seen in the past. So it seems to me that there are eminent practical reasons why Washington and Beijing should be talking more. And the first step, I think, is to try to put aside the Cold War rhetoric and learn the language of detente again. And that’s one reason that I’m motivated to write the Second volume of my Henry Kissinger biography, to remind people that detente was not a naive policy. It was not that Richard Nixon deeply trusted and loved Leonard Brezhnev. Nor for that matter, did Henry Kissinger regard Zhou Enlai as his best friend. These relationships were based on an understanding of mutual interest, and I think that should be the basis of a new era of detente. As I said, it must be preferable for the two sides to talk about their common interests, then for them to use a high-flown rhetoric and ornaments programs to move us down the road towards a confrontation over Taiwan. And let me remind those listening that when my good friends Robert Blackwill and Philip Zelikow studied the issue of what a conflict over Taiwan would look like in a recent paper for the Council and Foreign Relations, one of the obvious points that they made was this would be absolutely economically disastrous, quite apart from the disastrous military damage that would arise. So, I think it must be the case that both sides need to change their attitudes before we get ourselves back into such a perilous situation as the world found itself in back in 1962 over Cuba.

Wang Huiyao:

Thanks. You know, I think that that is really a good one advice, you know, let’s really get together talk about it. I think also, probably the pandemic has accelerated this kind of isolation, mistrust and less communication dialogue. Hopefully, you know, now we can have G20 later this year. I heard the Indonesian ambassador mention this morning that, you know, the G20, we will probably, we have a very successful attendance. So we hope that, this top leaders meeting would really reach something. And but, you’re right, I think, every country has its own views, and sometimes how we can really get this third party international organizations, multilateral system to really glue things together, glue countries together, is really what we need to upgrade and also reinforce the global system. I mean, the global governance is probably a falling global practice, after the war and famine and, pandemic and all those crises. So, the Chinese economy is also facing a lot of challenges with the COVID recurrence. And US is having this historical high inflation stagnation, that we have so many headaches at home should not really be too busy with all the things outside the country, and so before we, really think hard on this thing, one of the things I’m wondering all the time is that because China has a different system. China has 5,000 years of history, culture and they always practice some kind of collectivism. There’s always seniority, family values, education emphasis, hardworking and things like that. Whereas I think Western culture, there’s Renaissance, there’s individualism, there’s freedomall have been highly emphasized. So you think that from historical point of view, different values, different system, different ideas can somehow really, at least, not convert, but at least they are peacefully coexisted. I was talking to Joseph Nye, he tells me maybe by 2035, or 2040, it will be okay. China is China, this is a fact we have to accept. If China is lifting 800 million people, representing 70% of global poverty reduction, if China also contributed over one third of global GDP growth, became the largest trading nation, with 130 countries. You know, somehow, even though China has a little different system, can West in the end, accept it and or maybe we find a way to recognize each other, not just as a country, but maybe the way of life and the way of a government. So there is a bit of more a philosophical question there, to ask you.

Niall Ferguson:

Well, I think the lesson of the First Cold War is that in order for the to be detente, there has to be a kind of mutual tolerance of difference in domestic political institutions. There shouldn’t be an aspiration on one side to make the entire world in its own image. Ultimately, each side thinks it has a superior system, or it has the appropriate system for its own conditions. I think that’s the starting point for detente One focuses on the international interests and leaves domestic politics pretty much off the table. The only reason that you end up with arguments about domestic politics, I think, is if one side believes that the other side is engaged in espionage or other activities that, in fact, intrude into the domestic politics, into the realm of its adversary. So, I think there’s a fairly clear way forward. I don’t think it’s likely that Americans will stop criticizing the ways in which Hong Kong’s new National Security law operates, or the ways in which the Uygur population is treated in Xinjiang. I’m sure we’ll continue to disagree about the status of Taiwan. Those things, I think, are not going to change. But it seems to me we could learn from 1972 how to agree to disagree. That was the essence of how Kissinger and Zhou Enlai dealt with the problem of Taiwan, ushering in half a century of what became known as strategic ambiguity. It seems to me one of the worst ideas of the last few years in the United States was to get rid of strategic ambiguity. And when Richard Haass has First suggested that in 2020, I was quite shocked, because it seems to me it’s worked pretty well. Why change something that has stood the test of five decades? Philosophically, I think each of the two superpowers has a completely different approach to politics, which is historically based. We should accept that each system has its problems. Nobody could pretend that American democracy has worked with perfect smoothness in the last few years, but nor could anybody claim that Chinese, the Chinese Communist Party, has done an awesome and perfect job of governance in China. Both countries have problems. In the United States, we have at the highest inflation since 1982. In China, the lowest growth really, since the 1970s. So I think both sides have reasons to be conscious of their own shortcomings. Nobody can claim to be perfect in this debate, but as I said, the most important thing in foreign relations is not to criticize the domestic politics of the other side. The most important thing is to find common ground on those international, those global issues that are most urgently needed to be addressed. And I’ve already mentioned the key ones. Normally people put climate change first. Somebody might put public health first. But in my view, the one obvious lesson of the war in Ukraine is that war is the biggest disaster. War is the disaster you want to avoid. That’s the thing that shortens lives, lives most ruthlessly, and causes the worst damage and disruption. So the top priority for US China relations has to be: face it war in a Cold War. Let’s make sure it doesn’t turn into World War Three. And there are some extremely important lessons we can learn from the era of detente in that regard.

Wang Huiyao:

Yes, that’s a great message today. I think detente will be really good. Particularly the wisdom of Doctor Henry Kissinger and President Nixon.As also we are celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of Nixon’s visit to China. But maybe finally, as the second at a time you’re writing the biography for Doctor Henry Kissinger. He is a brilliant figure in 20 and 21st century. We saw him just celebrate his 99 birthday. Incredible. He’s so clear minded. Perhaps you can tell as a bit about how you go about this book, and what can we expect and when is your book coming out? And we can do, I’m sure, will best selling in China by then. And so maybe you can maybe disclose a little bit what you’re working on and what we can expect.

Niall Ferguson:

While I’m writing it now, I’ve written the introduction in four chapters. That probably means I’ve got about 16 or so more chapters to write. So I have a lot of work still to do. I hope very much that I can get the book finished for his centenary, for his hundredth birthday next year, and have it published soon after that. Needlessto say, this volume contains the critical events that we’ve been talking about, in particular, the opening to China and Richard Nixon’s visit to Beijing in 1972. So I think from the point of view of US China relations, it really repays a return to the primary sources. I’m working my way through tens of thousands of documents from the period, trying to piece together the origins of the improved relations with, between the United States and China. And I’m hoping that the publication of the book will remind people of just why it happened, and how important it has been for the United States and China to have a relationship, to be in dialogue with one another. As I said, this is not about naivety. Doctor Kissinger never pretended, as some people believe, that China would magically turn into a Western style democracy. And understood, it is always understood, the extraordinary power of history in shaping the political differences between nations. I’m hoping therefore to get this book out as soon as possible, because I think it’s urgently needed. We’ve forgotten, in all the upheaval of the pandemic in the most recent upheaval, caused by the war in Ukraine, we’ve actually forgotten the dangers of Cold War, the risk in any Cold war, that it becomes a hot war. And that, I think, is the thing that I’m most struck by, is I read the documents from the early 1970s. They saw, Dr. Kissinger and his colleagues saw clearly how catastrophic it would be if the US-Soviet relationship escalated into World War Three. We’ve forgotten how catastrophic it would be if the US and China went to war. It would be as catastrophic in terms of the military and economic as well as the human damage that would be caused. So if I can do anything to remind people of how dangerous the downside is, then it will have been worthwhile to write this very lengthy and detailed biography.

Wang Huiyao

Thank you. I think this is going to be a great book that we all expecting. And you’re right, the wisdom of Dr. Kissinger. And he, 50 years, some years ago, came to China and reopened US-China relation with President Nixon changed the world, you know, changed a destination of those countries, and to that matter, the hope, globally. And so I’m sure that your book will be serving as very timely and very prudent reminder of how the world we are getting to another dangerous phase. And this the detente is really absolutely should be revisited. And Richard Nixon and Doctor Kissinger should be revalued as well. I mean, we are really needing this kind of people that still live today, had witnessed both centuries and has written, so many things happen. And you are doing such a great job summarizing, analyzing and also looking at history and predict the future. So we really appreciate you taking the time to talk to us, and I’m sure we’re going to get a lot of food for thought out of your talk with us. So you are really appreciated you taking the time. We have little technical a problem at the beginning, but I apologize for that. But we had a very busy day. You know, today we had A Henry Paulson in the morning. We had 20 ambassadors come to the to the CCG meeting room. And we have another , China EU Business round table this afternoon, right before we started. So there’s a bit of catch-up, but I’m really glad that we really worked it. out. And so, this is Wang Huiyao , the founder and president of Central for China and Globalization. I really appreciate you speaking with us. We actually talked, I was ini London quite a number of years ago. We were at the same panel at a think tank forum. You were just flying from US with your jet leg. I remember we shared the same stage with a great discussion.tank. So that was really great. So, any last word, and we will close the after your final talk.

Nail Ferguson:

Very briefly. Henry, I think it’s extremely important that we have conversations like this, and that through the unofficial channels of academia. We have a discussion about where the US China relationship goes from here. It seemed to me that in the last few years, there’s been more and more conversation within the United States about China, or within China about the United States. In the end, we need to talk across the Pacific. We need to talk in ways like this. And I hope very much that it won’t be too long before we can get off zoom and be once again in the same room as one another, whether in Beijing or somewhere in the United States. It’s been a pleasure to have this conversation with you. It’s an important one, and I congratulate you on pulling together such an impressive program for this event. Thank you for making me part of it. And I look forward to our next shaking hands, so hopefully in in real space as well as real time.

Wang Huiyao:

Yeah, Thank you. We really hope to welcome you here in China, atand to CCG. I hope that when G20 leaders, starting to travel, whole world can be lifted from current isolation probably of some degrees. So that day will come soon. I really hope and really appreciate your time, and look forward to see you again in Beijing. Thank you. I also thanks about audience, the participant of the conference. Thank you very much, see you next time.

Note: The above text is the output of transcribing from an audio recording. It is posted as a reference for the discussion.

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