Chinese-Americans and “bridging” organizations such as the Committee of 100 and CCG have a vital role to play in promoting harmonious Sino-US relations, particularly given intensifying trade frictions between the two countries. One figure seeking to play such a role is Frank Wu, Distinguished Professor of Law at UC Hastings and president of the Committee of 100 (C100), a leadership organization of prominent Chinese Americans in business, government, academia, and the arts.
Just over a month after CCG representatives participated in the C100 annual summit in Silicon Valley, CCG returned the invitation by bringing Professor Wu to speak at CCG HQ in Beijing on June 27. The event was chaired by CCG President Wang Huiyao and Ronnie Chan, CCG co-chair and himself a C100 member.
Professor Wu’s engaging presentation covered his own journey and that of Chinese-Americans, on to the work of C100 and the current state of Sino-US relations.
Raised in “Motor City” Detroit, Wu recounted how the racially-motivated murder of Chinese American Vincent Chin in his hometown in 1982 was a spark for the growing Asian American consciousness at large. This incident and the subsequent light punishment handed out to the perpetrators sparked young Frank’s interest in law and the status of Chinese Americans, a journey that would lead him to become the first Chinese American dean of a US law school and eventually to lead the C100.
Wu highlighted the role that Chinese Americans have played in US history, from fighting on both sides of the Civil War and helping to build the first Trans-continental railroad, to the various phases of migration in the 20th century. He also highlighted how Chinese Americans have been involved in shaping US legal history through landmark cases such as US vs. Wong Kim Ark in 1898, which established the principle of birthright citizenship for anyone born in the US.
Despite the rise of prominent Chinese-Americans in the 20th century, this group had little in the way of a formal organization until 1989, when renowned architect I.M. Pei along with cellist Yo-Yo Ma and others got together to recruit distinguished Chinese-Americans to form the C100. Professor Wu described how C100 works today to fulfill its twin missions: to build bridges between China and the US, and support the interests of Chinese-Americans through civic engagement.
Wu sees much of the friction that occurs between the US and China as the result of mistranslation and misreading. To this end, C100 works through various channels to aid mutual understanding, including briefings on Capitol Hill, the Leadership Scholarship Program for elite Chinese students, and acting as a high-level intermediary between Washington and Beijing. Professor Wu noted that thanks to its nuanced understanding of both sides and role as a trusted interlocutor, C100 has been effective in engendering bilateral cooperation and new philanthropy initiatives where other organizations have struggled.
In the final section of his talk, Professor Wu moved on to the outlook for Sino-US relations. Emphasizing that attitudes towards China are often driven by domestic politics, Wu highlighted two trends that will shape the trajectory of bilateral relations. First, the rise of China, its development path and how this is viewed by Washington. Secondly, demographic shift in the US from a White majority towards a society with no clear ethnic majority, and the backlash this has caused in certain areas.
According to Wu, trade frictions are a symptom, not cause of the current bilateral discord, and China is being blamed for many of the US’ internal problems. To overcome these challenges, he underscored the importance of continuing the ongoing process of dialogue started under Chairman Mao and President Nixon and the role that bridging organizations such as C100 and CCG can play.
Following Professor Wu’s presentation, CCG Co-Chair Ronnie Chan shared his views on the topic of Chinese-Americans, underscoring the unique cultural, linguistic and social advantages that this group has to promote understanding between China and the US. Chan also emphasized the importance of educating young people to avoid repeating the mistake that has often been made by great powers in history of failing to understand other countries and civilizations. He expressed his support for the work of Professor Wu, C100 and CCG in helping both sides of the Pacific to understand each other.