China Town Hall gives insight into U.S.–China relations

A live broadcast of the National Committee on U.S.–China Relations’s 2014 China Town Hall event—featuring former U.S. President Jimmy Carter—recently brought a discussion of global politics to Portland State.

Carter’s Q&A session addressed topics ranging from the former president’s political relationship with Chinese statesman Deng Shaoping to the importance of Chinese international relations in the 21st century.

Following the broadcast, assistant professor Xiaoyu Pu of the University of Nevada gave a presentation on current Chinese foreign affairs. Describing himself as “the product of the U.S.–China educational change,” owing to his years spent in the Princeton–Harvard China and the World Program at Princeton University, Pu was no stranger to the two countries’ political history.

“If we watch recent news, we might find that China’s dominant image now is assertive,” Pu said. “If you read all international news, especially in the United States, you will find that the dominant image of China is ‘assertive China.'”

Pu highlighted recent controversy between China and Japan over the Senkaku Islands (also known as the Diaoyu Islands) in his discussion of China’s image in global media. He said that even the historical background of the islands’ ownership could not easily settle the international disputes because it is not an issue grounded purely in politics and legality.

“If students are taking international relations 101, your professor should tell you the key difference between domestic politics and international politics,” Pu said. “Domestic politics are a hierarchical system; it’s very clear who is [the] authority…International politics are an anarchical system…If you call 911, nobody answers on the other end.”

In the scope of conflicts between global powers like China and Japan in the quasi-lawless space of international relations, Pu emphasized the importance of historical context and national image.

“International law, diplomacy are all relevant, but the first relationship to think about [in] the issue…is [the] relationship between history and politics,” Pu said. “History is tightly related to all kinds of nationalism—in China, but also in other countries.”

In an interview after the event, Dr. Sharon Carstens, director of PSU’s Institute for Asian Studies, talked about her own experiences with Chinese nationalism during a visit to the East Asian country in 2004 and 2005.

“Nationalism was very palpable,” Carstens said. “This was a period when China and Japan had a very bad relationship over issues of Japanese memories and non-memories of World War II…I remember taking a taxi once and talking to a taxi driver and he said, ‘Oh, you know, the thing with Japan, if I were young and I had a gun, I would volunteer and go and want to fight them.’ It was just visceral and I was…shocked by how immediate it was in the minds of people there.”

During her visit, she also encountered a second, less xenophobic, form of nationalism in the minds of Chinese citizens.

“There was another sense of nationalism where you could tell that this generation, the younger generation, they were really proud of being Chinese,” Carstens said. “They were very proud of the progress that China had made, so that’s kind of a positive, optimistic sort of nationalism. My husband and I said that it reminded us of the U.S. in the ’50s…that sense of accomplishment and [the ability to] do things. There’s that kind of nationalism as well.”

Looking back on Xiaoyu Pu’s presentation, Carstens was impressed by the associate professor’s forecast for long term international relations between the U.S. and China.

“He did a very good job of saying what we could and couldn’t expect in the long term, because it’s an attractable issue in many respects and a lot of that, he says, has to do with rising nationalism in China and in Japan,” Carstens said.

Jodie O’Brien, a senior at PSU, was pleased with the lecture and Q&A session with Jimmy Carter, but was left wondering why it had not been publicized more visibly.

“I came to this lecture—I actually did not hear about it, even though I’m an international studies student,” O’Brien said. “The reason why I knew about this event was my international studies professor [who] told us that there was an event here today.”

She felt that increased awareness about informational panels like the China Town Hall event could help keep students informed about international affairs.

“I do think that Portland State students should be aware of this and maybe…there should be more ways to get people to know what [is going on around] the world,” O’Brien said. “There were only a few students that actually sat here and listened to the lecture.”

To learn more about PSU’s Institute for Asian Studies, visit their website at