Ambassadors model diplomacy at Anniversary Event

Pictured from left to right: Piram Prakasam, Jakob Lempp, Michael Van Denend, Erica Kubik

Chinese Ambassador to the U.S. Cui Tiankai and former U.S. Ambassador to NATO Nicholas Burns demonstrated what civil dialogue looks like, even given the tension in and high stakes of U.S.-China relations at the 69th annual Anniversary Event of the World Affairs Council of Western Michigan.

Despite a howling snow storm on Friday, February 8, the Ambassador Ballroom of the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel was close to filled for the two seasoned diplomats, who have known one another for over 20 years.

Burns moderated the conversation and although starting with a humorous question about Ambassador Cui's attendance at the Super Bowl, got down to difficult issues between the two countries in a lively 40-minute exchange, followed by questions taken directly from the luncheon audience without filter.

When pressed by Ambassador Burns about technology theft concerns, Ambassador Cui responded by noting the long head-start the U.S. has enjoyed in technology, and implied that the Edward Snowden incident in 2013 indicated how much the U.S. was using this expertise in espionage. Perhaps it is China that should be more worried about unlawful use of technology than the U.S., he countered.

There was also much conversation related to economic competition and that the current definition of competition between the two countries was "win-lose" rather than the harder but more helpful search for a "win-win" result. It was noted that, as the two largest economies in the world, China and the U.S., despite real competition on the global stage, needed to find collaborative ventures on important issues such as climate, pandemics and anti-terrorism for the benefit of all nations.

In an age of bluster and gamesmanship, the pointed yet respectful conversation between two skilled foreign service officers was instructive and gave those attending a lesson on convicted civility--showing that one can have strong views and yet treat a dialogue partner holding opposing views with attentiveness and grace.

The World Affairs Council of Western Michigan is grateful to Amway and Bank of America for co-sponoring this event and for The Cohen Group for expert counsel and support.

Photo credit: David Chandler