Editor’s Note: Roach authored this column in response to Letter 09.24: Regarding “Yale affiliates not worried by new rules for visiting Chinese diplomats”
A 30-year career on Wall Street requires a thick skin. From time to time, that has come in handy during my 10-plus years at Yale. This is one of those times. Kelsang Dolma’s impassioned advocacy of human rights in China is admirable. Her distortion of fact is not.
The U.S.-China conflict is a relationship problem. As such, there are two sides to most of the contentious issues that are now at the heart of the political discourse in both countries. As in human relationships — a subject of one of Ms. Dolma’s more captivating columns in the YDN as a student — the blame game is a recipe for conflict escalation. The recent politicization of the China debate as America’s greatest existential threat since World War II is a most unfortunate case in point.
China is far from perfect. The same can be said for the United States. Generalizing by fixating on the flaws of both nations — whether it is ethnic persecution in Xinjiang Province or police violence in America — does a grave disservice to the positive accomplishments of two very different systems. I am afraid that Ms. Dolma’s loose connection of the dots — from U.S. State Department restrictions on the travels of Chinese diplomats to instability in Hong Kong to the very motives of Xi Jinping — speak mainly to her own political agenda.
I am an economist by training and practice. As such, I have long focused on China’s key transitional challenges, with a critical eye toward its macroeconomic imbalances such as excess saving, trade surpluses and a fixation on hyper growth in its economy that has led to serious problems of environmental degradation and pollution. And, yes, I have shared these views on China’s major media platforms — as well as on Western media outlets — in an effort to foster debate about the risks and opportunities that lie ahead for the Chinese economy. Contrary to Ms. Dolma’s reactionary assertions, the Chinese press has published uncensored commentary of my views — hardly qualifying me as having “stumped for (the) Chinese Communist Party” as she unfortunately alleges.
I take particular exception to her broadside attack on the debate over surveillance and privacy that I spoke of in my class, “The Next China.” One of my former teaching fellows, Liza Lin, an outstanding journalist for the Wall Street Journal, has in fact led the charge in investigative reporting over AI-enabled Chinese surveillance. Harvard professor Shoshanna Zuboff’s latest book, “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism,” makes a compelling case against U.S. surveillance by leading U.S. technology companies such as Google, Facebook and Amazon. This is an example of what I mean by two sides of a relationship conflict. Both arguments need to be heard. There is no better venue than the free and open exchange of the classroom to foster such a debate.
My records show Kelsang Dolma never enrolled in any of my courses during her years at Yale. Her criticism might have been on more solid ground had that not been the case.
STEPHEN ROACH is a Senior Fellow at the Yale Jackson Institute for Global Affairs. Contact him at email@example.com.