U.S.-China relations are at their worst in decades, experts routinely declare. A long list of disagreements includes Taiwan, Russia and the semiconductor trade. Is there still any hope for collaboration between the two powerful countries?
A forum organized by the Asia Society’s new Center for China Analysis on “China’s Future: What It Means for Asia and the World” in New York on Monday highlighted at least two areas that are still of promise: the fight against cancer and the push to a carbon neutral future.
Cancer kills nearly 10 million people globally each year, with China and the U.S. suffering the most loss of life. “This is a common enemy of humanity,” said Dr. Bob Li, Physician Ambassador to China and Asia-Pacific from the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, or MSK, in New York.
His suggestion to quicken progress in the fight against it: More collaboration between the U.S. and China in clinical trials that would help bring new treatments to patients faster. “Clinical trials have evolved over the last few decades, particularly in the last decade where international clinical trials have become a reality. And this is where China has actually really demonstrated its contribution,” said Li, who is also a Senior Fellow on Global Public Health at the Center for China Analysis.
Trials involving China with a lung cancer EGFR inhibitor pill, for instance, accelerated their use in treatments in the U.S. and helped to save lives, said Li, who highlighted a “cure4cancer” program being launched by the Asia Society this year that seeks to widely promote that goal.
Widening participation in trials not just with China but globally is “critical” to the cancer fight, noted Dr. Selwyn Vickers, a pancreatic cancer surgeon and researcher who took up a new post as president and CEO at MSK in September. “It’d be shortsighted not to understand that international engagement is going to be critical in order for us to accomplish the goal of curing cancer,” Vickers said. “The fundamental part of the mission in MSK is to be able to lead the world in this space. And probably the most practical way to do it is in clinical trials.” Diversity among participants is important for trials to be effective because of “the broad diversity that represents the scope of cancer disease in the world,” Vickers said. “And then there obviously needs to be efficacy.”
Kate Logan, a fellow at the Center for China Analysis, highlighted the potential benefits of U.S.-China collaboration toward environmental goals. President Xi Jinping said in 2020 that China will strive to peak carbon dioxide emissions before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060.
China has the resources and commitment to achieve its goals, she said. “China has the most massive renewable buildout in the entire world, and is investing incredibly in all these different technologies that we need to decarbonize,” said Logan, a graduate of the Yale School of the Environment and Middlebury College. “It’s not really an issue of money or technology. It really is an issue of motivation and where the policy plays out in practice.”
Private actors have room to advance their efforts in China through organizations such as the Institute of Public & Environmental Affairs, a Beijing non-profit founded by Chinese environmentalist Ma Jun where Logan directed international outreach and green supply chain initiatives. Logan is also co-founder and former producer of Environment China, a podcast on solutions to China’s environmental challenges.
To be sure, collaboration between the U.S. and China can only be substantial with mutual decisions by governments to give it space to develop, said Asia Society CEO and founding chair of the Center for China Analysis Kevin Rudd. The former Australian prime minister and Mandarin-speaking China expert explored the topic in his 2021 book, “The Avoidable War: The Dangers of a Catastrophic Conflict between the U.S. and Xi Jinping’s China.”
The two countries as a first precondition to that end need to identify red lines around critical issues that could escalate into crisis, with guard rails around them to reduce the risk of war by accident, Rudd explained. That would cover geopolitical hotspots such as Taiwan, the South China Sea, the Korean peninsula as well as cyberspace, each of which brings “risks on a daily basis,” Rudd said.
“Second, if you do that, then you can have what I describe as non-lethal strategic competition” that would cover foreign policy, economics, technology and ideology areas, Rudd said.
Leaders in both countries can then provide “political and diplomatic capital in the relationship to encourage collaboration between China and the United States in areas of common strategic interest, by which I mean, global public health, by which I mean global action (on) climate change (and) by which I mean continued global financial stability,” Rudd said.
“Rational grounds for hope exist because these two countries, these two cultures, these two civilizations have things in common,” Rudd said. The two sides need to apply a “magnifying glass to what they have in the common interest and the common interests they wish to pursue. And, unfashionable as I sound, some of the common values that they share.”
Other event speakers and panelists at the Asia Society event included former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, as well as Wu Guoguang, senior research scholar at the Stanford Center on China’s Economy and Institutions; Chris Johnson, president of political risk consultancy China Strategies Group; Evan Medeiros, former top Asia advisor to President Barack Obama and current Asia studies scholar at Georgetown University; and Rorry Daniels, managing director of the Asia Society Policy Institute. Guest attendees included business leaders Joe Tsai and Ray Dalio.
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