The China Center at the University of Minnesota began its Chinese New celebration by holding its annual Bob & Kim Griffin Building U.S.–China Bridges Lecture recently in the Great Hall of Coffman Memorial Union on the University’s Minneapolis campus. The guest speaker was Burton Levin, former Ambassador to Burma & Consul General in Hong Kong who spoke on The U.S. and China: A Relationship Marred by Misperceptions. By Greg Hugh, Staff Writer
The China Center at the University of Minnesota began its Chinese New celebration by holding its annual Bob & Kim Griffin Building U.S.–China Bridges Lecture recently in the Great Hall of Coffman Memorial Union on the University’s Minneapolis campus. The guest speaker was Burton Levin, former Ambassador to Burma & Consul General in Hong Kong who spoke on The U.S. and China: A Relationship Marred by Misperceptions.
L to R: Bob Griffin, Burton Levin and Yongwei Zhang
Prior to the lecture, Yongwei Zhang, Director, China Center, welcomed the gathering with a few comments and stated that there would be a question and answer session following the lecture and then a reception to celebrate Chinese New Year which is the year of the Tiger, and according to Zhang, this year is actually the Golden Tiger year which occurs only every 60 years. Zhang then introduced Judson Sheridan, President, China Center Advisory Council, who then introduced the speaker for the evening, Mr. Burton Levin.
Sheridan began his introductory remarks by stating that these were interesting times to be serving as president of the China Center Advisory Council while also serving as Norwegian Centennial Interdisciplinary Co-Chair. As he continued with the introduction, Sheridan noted that Burton Levin has served as U.S. ambassador to Burma from 1987 to 1990 and as consul general in Hong Kong from 1981 to 1986. During his 36-year career in the Foreign Service he also served in Taiwan, Indonesia, and Thailand, and as head of the U.S. Office of Taiwan Affairs. He retired from the Foreign Service in 1990 to become head of the Hong Kong office of the Asia Society. In 1995 he became visiting professor of Asian policy at Carleton College. Ambassador Levin, a native New Yorker, has an honorary doctor of law degree from Carleton and is member of the Council for the Johns Hopkins University-Nanjing University Center for Chinese and American Studies.
As Levin began his talk, he noted that what has transpired between China and the United States during the past 60 years has been unfortunately influenced tremendously by law and emotions. He cited that there was concern as to what would happen to Hong Kong when it reverted back to the Peoples’ Republic of China in 1997. Under the principle of one country, two systems, Hong Kong has survived and runs on economic and political systems different from those of mainland China. Much of this is due to Chinese self-esteem and the desire to succeed.
Levin then moved on to the Taiwan situation and stated that he foresees a peaceful reunification and blames American perspectives and misunderstandings for promoting any other outcome; their economies are too entwined. He cited Vietnam as an example of misguided concern to stop Chinese expansion. There were also concerns during the George W. Bush administration that had the United States focused on the dangers of terrorism, nuclear power and China. China became less of a concern after 9/11.
However, as posed by Levin, does that mean that there that aren’t concerns about China as a Communist country? In response to his own question, Levin answered, no. China had abandoned many Communist traits long before Russia and had set upon a period of old-fashioned robber-baron capitalism that was infused with unique Chinese characteristics much like the industrial revolutions of England and the United States.
Photo 3B: Students attend the lecture
As Levin continued his talk, he noted that the United States continues to monitor China’s handling of human rights matters but he cautions that perhaps the United States should leave this to other countries to carry the ball so as not to strain its relationship with China. Since Tiananmen Square the Communist Party has really opened up both the economy and the society and the Chinese, although limited in their criticism of the government or ability to form political parties, have also experienced a dramatic increase in personal freedom.
As the Chinese people experience this new found security and freedom, Levin expressed concerns about misperceptions promoted by the U.S. media, politicians and intellectuals. Based on recent economic trends, U.S. exports are increasing while China’s exports are decreasing so both the United States and China need to focus on their economic development since Europe does not appear to be as concerned about China’s emergence as a world economic power. He further stated that if the United States took a hostile position on China, it would be alone and not supported by many other nations so the United States and China relationship should be built on tolerance and understanding.
A question and answer session followed the talk and Levin fielded a number of questions from the audience that included his views of the sale of arms to Taiwan, the practice of religion in China, China’s dealings with Africa and its environmental policies.
Photo 3C: Levin takes a question from a student
At the conclusion of his talk, Levin was presented with a token of appreciation by Bob Griffin, President of Griffin International Companies, and donor of the gift that makes the Building U.S.-China Bridges Lecture possible.
For additional information about the China Center visit the Web site at www.chinacenter.umn.edu.