Bridging the Gap: Lessons from a Week in Beijing

Dean C. Garfield photo

Dateline Beijing:  Spending this week in Beijing -- participating in the U.S.-China Internet Industry Forum, meeting with government and industry officials from both countries, talking with Chinese entrepreneurs and tech investors -- has given me fresh perspective on how to address the challenges facing both countries, especially as it relates to technology issues.

I’m not suggesting there is a magic formula I’ve suddenly discovered during this trip.  In fact, what best can help to alleviate the rising tensions on cybersecurity and other issues is more roll-up-your-sleeves than magical.  It’s a matter of communication.  The thing that comes through very clearly from all of my discussions this week is the desire to enhancing the clarity and consistency of our communications.  There is a broad recognition that given the interconnection of these two countries and our shared importance to the global economy, it’s critically important to make sure that we have enhanced communication and collaboration. 

And there’s a lot to build on.  In China as well as the United States, there is a strong focus on the importance of innovation to moving both markets forward.  Innovation was a central component of President Obama’s budget released this week, for example.  Here in China, no matter who you talk to, there is a heavy emphasis on innovation and the role it will play in growing the Chinese economy.

Another insight is the growing desire by the Chinese government and its tech industry to focus on expanding global trade.  “Going global” is on almost everyone’s lips here, a recognition that, even with more than 1.3 billion people living in China, sustained economic growth is partly founded on global trade.  Recently, for example, China has stepped up nicely and intensified its support for expanding the Information Technology Agreement, which is all about boosting global trade in tech products.  There is also a broader commitment than I’ve seen before to using global institutions, which is encouraging, though we need to be clear-eyed that China may have some divergent ideas on how best to use those institutions.

These factors, combined with a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem, provide a framework on which both sides can build.  There are shared priorities and common economic beliefs that provide an opportunity for greater understanding and collaboration.

Without question, there are major hurdles ahead in the relationship between the United States and China.  Cybersecurity is a major one.  The rhetoric of the past few weeks going back and forth across the Pacific has fostered a tense atmosphere.  In working to address some of that tension, I’ve found this week that there are genuine differences in how the issue is viewed.

So we’ve tried to pull the issue apart into its component pieces, with a heavy emphasis on global standards and how best to advance them.  Though tensions may be high, there are players here in the ministries and industry that want to work on this issue area in a collaborative, consensus-based fashion.  Similarly, there seems to be a growing consensus about enhancing safety and dealing with cyber criminals.  When we disaggregated the cyber issue, we found more common ground than we anticipated.

A second critical issue is how best to maintain the openness and vibrancy of the Internet.  The tech sector believes it is critical that we stick to a multi-stakeholder approach, recognizing that some international bodies can have a role in helping us to navigate the differences we have on Internet governance.  There remains substantial disagreement over which appropriate international bodies should play what roles.  But, I think we have the baseline for a constructive conversation. 

So as we go wheels-up for home, I have a stronger hope for the future of our bilateral relationship.  This has been a very constructive week.  And it has underscored, for me, the critical role the tech sector can play as a bridge between the two governments.  We work in a sector where we have market players who compete with each other aggressively around the world.  But we also see those same market players collaborating on issues of common concern.  It is that competitive collaboration we want to bring to the discussion between the United States and China.  We’re not going to agree on everything, but, where there is an opportunity of shared interests, we need to have clearer communication and understanding so we can seize those opportunities.

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