Two areas where the US and China can still work together

US-China relations are at their worst point in decades, experts often say. A long list of disputes includes Taiwan, Russia and semiconductor trade. Is there still hope for cooperation between the two powerful countries?

A forum organized by the Asia Society’s new China Think Tank on “The Future of China: What It Means for Asia and the World” in New York on Monday highlighted at least two areas that still hold promise: the fight against cancer; and the push for a carbon-neutral future.

Cancer kills nearly 10 million people worldwide each year, with China and the US suffering the most loss of life. “This is a common enemy of humanity,” said Dr. Bob Lee, Medical Ambassador for China and the Asia-Pacific at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, or MSK, in New York.

His proposal to speed up progress in the fight against it: More cooperation between the US and China on clinical trials that would help bring new treatments to patients faster. “Clinical trials have evolved in recent decades, particularly in the last decade where international clinical trials have become a reality. And this is where China really showed its contribution,” said Li, who is also a Senior Fellow for Global Public Health at the China Think Tank.

China’s trials of an EGFR lung cancer inhibitor pill, for example, accelerated its use in treatments in the U.S. and helped save lives, said Li, who highlighted a “cure4cancer” program launched this year by the Asian Company and seeks to further this objective.

Expanding participation in trials not just with China but globally is “critical” to the fight against cancer, noted Dr. Selwyn Vickers, a pancreatic cancer surgeon and researcher who took up a new position as president and CEO at MSK in September. “It would be short-sighted not to recognize that international commitment will be critical in order to achieve the goal of curing cancer,” Vickers said. “The fundamental part of the mission at MSK is to be able to lead the world in this space. And probably the most practical way to do that is through clinical trials.” Diversity among participants is important for trials to be effective because of “the wide diversity that represents the range of cancer disease in the world,” Vickers said. “And then obviously there has to be efficiency.”

Kate Logan, a fellow at the China Think Tank, highlighted the potential benefits of US-China cooperation toward environmental goals. President Xi Jinping said in 2020 that China would strive to peak carbon dioxide emissions before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060.

China has the resources and commitment to achieve its goals, he said. “China has the most massive build-out of renewable energy in the entire world, and it’s investing incredibly in all these different technologies that we need to decarbonize,” said Logan, a graduate of the Yale School of Environment and Middlebury College. “It’s not really about money or technology. It’s really a question of incentives and where politics plays out in practice.”

Private actors have room to advance their efforts in China through organizations such as the Institute of Public & Environmental Affairs, a Beijing nonprofit founded by Chinese environmentalist Ma Jun where Logan led international outreach and green supply chain initiatives. Logan is also the co-founder and former producer of Environment China, a podcast about solutions to China’s environmental challenges.

Certainly, cooperation between the US and China can only be meaningful with mutual decisions by governments to give it room to grow, said Asia Society CEO and founding chairman of the China Analysis Center Kevin Rudd. The former Australian prime minister and Mandarin-speaking China expert explored the issue in his 2021 book, “The Avoidable War: The Risks of a Catastrophic Conflict Between the US and Xi Jinping’s China.”

The two countries as a first condition to this end must identify red lines around critical issues that could escalate into crisis, with guardrails around them to reduce the risk of accidental war, Rudd explained. That would cover geopolitical hotspots such as Taiwan, the South China Sea, the Korean Peninsula as well as cyberspace, each of which poses “dangers on a daily basis,” Rudd said.

“Second, if you do that, then you can have what I describe as a non-lethal strategic competition” that would span the fields of foreign policy, economics, technology and ideology, Rudd said.

Leaders in both countries can then provide “political and diplomatic capital to the relationship to encourage cooperation between China and the United States in areas of shared strategic interest, by which I mean global public health, by which I mean global action (on climate) change (and) by which I mean continued global financial stability,” Rudd said.

“The logical grounds for hope are there because these two countries, these two cultures, these two civilizations have things in common,” Rudd said. The two sides must apply a ‘magnifying glass’ to what they have for the common good and the common interests they wish to pursue. And, as long as I don’t sound trendy, some of the common values ​​they share.”

Other speakers and panelists at the Asia Society event included former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, as well as Wu Guoguang, a senior fellow at Stanford’s Center on China’s Economy and Institutions. Chris Johnson, president of political risk consultancy China Strategies Group. Evan Medeiros, former top advisor to President Barack Obama on Asia and current Asian Studies Fellow at Georgetown University. and Rorry Daniels, managing director of the Asia Society Policy Institute. Among the invited attendees were business leaders Joe Tsai and Ray Dalio.

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