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Experts Offer Assessments of China-U.S. Relations During Eighth Annual China Town Hall

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Overlapping territorial claims and maritime rights among nations in South-East Asia, as well as conflicting Chinese and U.S. interests in the region, all require careful consideration from today’s policymakers, said an expert on U.S. diplomatic history in East Asia.

Retired Rear Admiral Michael McDevitt, a senior fellow at the Center for Naval Analyses, spoke Thursday evening about the fragility and the potential for conflict involving the U.S., China, Taiwan, Japan, and other neighboring countries in the Pacific.

“This is a serious, no-kidding possibility that you could have a war if things don’t go right,” he said.

McDevitt spoke to a crowd of about 40 listeners following an hour-long live webcast featuring President Jimmy Carter, who answered questions from viewers around the country regarding his previous and current experiences with the People’s Republic of China. Both speakers’ commentaries were part of the eighth annual CHINA Town Hall: Local Connections, National Reflections program hosted by the National Committee on United States-China Relations. The webcast was held in the Cyber Café of Ben M. Cherrington Hall thanks to the Josef Korbel School’s Center for China-US Cooperation. 

President Carter’s commentary ranged from topics such as his insights regarding the current political unrest in Hong Kong, to his musings about working with former PRC Chairman Deng Xiaoping. Although it has been many decades since President Carter helped normalize relations between China and the U.S. in 1979, he said he makes every attempt to still maintain his relationship with the country, to the extent of making a trip there almost every year.

“I’ve had a wonderful relationship with China,” he said.

At the conclusion of President Carter’s portion, the locations that had broadcasted the interview then presented local speakers who provided insight into the current and future state of U.S.-Chinese relations.

McDevitt, who said he averages two trips a year to China, emphasized the importance of delicacy in U.S. policy around the South and East China Seas. 

“You have to be able to put yourself in the other person’s shoes,” he said. “Strategy is not a game of solitaire.”

How strategically the U.S. cooperates with China and surrounding nations will play a large role in either diffusing or escalating tensions in that part of the world, McDevitt said. 

In the meantime, McDevitt said China’s strategy of claiming islands and trade routes in both of its neighboring seas has been proven to be effective through a steady progression of small steps.

“What’s the rule of international relations?” he said. “If you’re a big power: Do it, because you can. And they (China) can. 

“Hopefully cooler heads will prevail.”