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Dr. D. Michael Lampton’s Lecture on China’s New Leadership

On July 8th, the U.S.-China Policy Foundation (USCPF) hosted a luncheon for the Congressional Staffers participating in the Policymakers annual seminar series and trip to China. This year the group of congressional staff was treated a talk from Dr. Mike Lampton. Dr. Lampton is the director of Chinese Studies at the Nixon Center and has a long and distinguished career in studying and working in U.S.-China relations.

After a brief introduction and thanks of Dr. Lampton from Dr. Ernestine Wang of the USCPF, she thanked this year's participants. Dr. Lampton began his talk by explaining that he was going to focus on the change in current PRC leadership through their recent decades of reform and he hoped to surprise some of the U.S.’s perceptions of Chinese leadership with some interesting facts.

First, he explained that the quality of leadership has changed since President Deng Xiaoping first initiated reform after the leadership of Mao Zedong. He explained that new leaders are “too busy being capitalistic to fight capitalism,” and are becoming increasingly comfortable and eager for globalization. He made special note of the differences in the leadership shift between former President Jiang Zemin and current President Hu Jintao. Noting that, despite their different styles a trend in the increasing openness of the Chinese government can be seen. He also noted that the transition between leaders was also particularly smooth, and that has meant that the Chinese government and Communist Party did not experience any halting political snafus and perhaps that has contributed to recent growth.

Next, he hypothesized that the new leadership in China, that is the transition from Jiang to Hu, was able to gain such a sizeable amount of legitimacy early on because of their approach to pressing issues that the people of China faced at the time of the transition. More specifically they: exercised swift action and handling the SARS crisis, began to rely on using a populist approach for appeal, were lucky to enter power at a time of economic growth and success.

Dr. Lampton noted that the Chinese leadership is also becoming increasingly educated. For example, in 1978 only twenty three percent of the Politburo had a college education, currently ninety two percent have. Furthermore, in 1982 only four percent of the military had had a college education, by 1992 seventy eight percent had. He noted that the shift should not be completely shocking because China has always put a high value on education, as its culture is rooted in Confucianism, but that it was stifled during the Cultural Revolution and under Mao. The educated leadership is contributing to a better understanding of international politics and foreign relations.

He concluded his talk with the thought that the new government leadership is focused in a pragmatic and factual approach to both internal and external issues and that he thinks that the new China is one in which the United States can and should have successful relations with. The leadership is increasingly educated, interested and eager for the path for China ahead.

Upon opening the talk up for discussion and questions, Dr. Lampton was asked how China views its role in the world. Dr. Lampton explained by citing a book he had read, that China, up until 150 years ago, had consistently controlled 30% of the world GDP (since the birth of Christ) and that China had always been a hugely powerful country. Now, he explained, the Chinese feel that they are slowly returning to their “normal” place in the world, and ending what is referred to as the “150 years of humiliation.” Next, Dr. Lampton was asked to further his comments by answering what he thought China’s place in the world was. He answered that the Chinese have an intrinsic confidence and sense of nationality and that they are extremely focused and determined to “regain” world respect through diligent and strategic domestic and international affairs. He also noted that the Chinese were in the habit of making no enemies abroad, adding that the Chinese government’s mentality is they have no room for mistakes or hostilities. The final question was in regards to if the increase in the number of educated Chinese officials was also being seen among the populous. Dr. Lampton explained that there has been a dramatic increase since Mao and that one of the first reforms that Deng Xiaoping made was to send Chinese students abroad to the U.S. to quickly catch up with the rest of the world in terms of education. Dr. Lampton only sees the number of educated Chinese increasing in the future.

Dr. Lampton thanked the participants for their questions and time, and Dr. Wang concluded the luncheon by again thanking Dr. Lampton for his interesting and insightful lecture.

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