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Professor Greitens Discusses the U.S.-China Relationship

May 26, 2020 |

Dr. Sheena Chestnut Greitens, incoming Associate Professor at the LBJ School and Strauss Center Distinguished Scholar, recently participated in a podcast, dually hosted by This is Democracy and Horns of Dilemma. The conversation on the U.S.-China relationship was wide-ranging, and began with Strauss Distinguished Scholar, and host of This is Democracy, Jeremi Suri, asking Professor Greitens to comment on the development of the U.S.-China relationship from the time of China’s opening in the 1970’s to today. She noted that during the period of China’s opening, the U.S. and China shared a common security rationale for their collaboration—namely, the threat posed by the Soviet Union. While there has always been a mix of cooperation and competition in the U.S.-China relationship, Professor Greitens noted that the dissolution of the USSR, coupled with China’s incredible rise, have served to expand the competitive component. She also commented on the rise to power of President Xi Jinping, whose political stylings have resuscitated the personalist governance of Mao Zedong, which many China analysts had thought was gone for good.

Professor Greitens then commented on the status of foreign and domestic policy under Xi Jinping. On the foreign policy side, she highlighted China’s undertakings in the South China Sea, the Belt and Road initiative, and China’s pursuit of increased leadership in international institutions, as illustrated by its membership in leadership role in four of the fifteen UN specialized agencies. As for domestic policy, Professor Greitens discussed the Chinese Communist Party’s complete overhaul of the domestic infrastructure used to preserve regime security. She spoke at length on the issue of domestic surveillance and the threat posed by the export of the technologies used to facilitate such surveillance, highlighting the results of research she conducted with the Brookings Center. This study found that Chinese surveillance technology had been exported and employed widely throughout the world, surfacing in more than eighty countries. She raised a host of potential negative externalities of this phenomenon, including the possibility that the technology includes a backdoor through which the Chinese government could access sensitive information. Greitens concluded by noting that the Covid pandemic illustrates the need for preemptive strategizing as to the proper balance between surveillance technologies and civil liberties. She views this as an opportunity for the U.S. to be proactive in setting taking on a leadership role in the establishment of norms surrounding this issue. Listen to the full podcast here.

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