Transcript: World After Covid with
Amb. Chas W. Freeman, Jr. and Helena Cobban

Webinar recorded on July 8, 2020 


Video and Session Transcript

Helena Cobban (00:03):

Hi, everybody. Welcome to this webinar. It is the fifth in our series, “The World After COVID,” in which we've already had four amazing speakers - and here is our fifth today. Ambassador Chas W. Freeman, Jr. Welcome to the webinar. So, how this will work today is that I'll do just a quick little introduction to everything. And then I'll have a half hour discussion with Ambassador Freeman. And then after that we'll have a Q and A session that will be motivated and hosted by my colleague Charlotte Kates, whom you will meet a little bit later. You can communicate with Charlotte at any point through the chat box. So if you're watching this for the first time, you may want to open the chat box. Charlotte will also be sharing various links and useful information there.

You can stack your questions up by using the Q and A button, and you can also ask questions through the chat box. So those are your main ways of communicating. Before we get into the conversation with Ambassador Freeman, I want to remind you about our resource section that we have created on our website. You can go and visit that, and you will find the videos of all the webinars we've done so far, including today's, once it's been recorded, and a lot of related resources and news of future events in our world after COVID project here.

So what else I want to do is thank all the attendees who filled out the evaluation for the previous webinars. There is an evaluation that we ask you to fill out at the end of the webinar, and these have been really helpful for us in designing the way that the webinar goes forward. Because we're kind of designing this bicycle as we go on the Tour de France with it, a lot of steep hills and down into a lot of rolling valleys.

Without further ado now, Chas Freeman is, as nearly all of you must know, a very distinguished retired diplomat from the U.S. foreign service. I think he has so many great achievements to his name, but I'll just list three. One is that he was the interpreter for President Nixon when Nixon went to meet Chairman Mao in 1972 in Beijing. He negotiated, I think, with Fidel Castro over the withdrawal of Cuban and South African forces from Angola and Namibia. And then he was actually nixed from being President Obama's Director of National Intelligence on account of his upholding of Palestinian rights and his skepticism about many Israeli claims at the time.

And another thing that he has done, and I actually worked with him on this; in my earlier incarnation as a publisher, I was very proud to publish two of his books, America's Continuing Misadventures in the Middle East, and Interesting Times: China, America, and the Shifting Balance of Prestige. I urge you all of course, to go out and buy these books in hardcover, which has a much bigger margin for us as the publisher, and to buy them for all your friends as well, really amazing collections of essays in those in those books.

So now, Chas Freeman, you have been writing and speaking quite a lot. And one of the things I like about the way that you speak is that you prepare your speeches very well. And then you post the texts onto your website. And I think probably my colleague Charlotte will be sharing some of those links throughout this conversation.

In one of your most recent speeches - this was given I think about two or three weeks ago, to the Saudi Arabia Aramco management trainees -  you really did a wonderful tour of the big picture of what's happening in the world after COVID. And your first two points were that the 500 year domination of the globe by European and Western culture has ended and that the American century is now behind us. I'd love it if you could expand on that a little bit and tell people what you think that means for the world of the next 50 years.

Amb. Chas W. Freeman, Jr. (05:48):

Well, there's an excellent article by Mr. Wolf in the Financial Times today, which talks about the American retreat from the world and what that means for the global order. And one of more extraordinary things that's happening is that somehow the United States is apparently decided to do away with most of the strengths that it just had as a leader in the world.

And it has done so at a time when a number of other long cycles are coming to an end. It’s 500 years since Europe exploded onto the world with imperialism and colonialism; it's 200-some years since the European enlightenment and the American revolution. The United States, for the first time in its history, is not only walking away from responsibilities abroad. We've done that before.

But for the first time, doing so in a manner that has called much of the world, actually to pity us – something I never thought I would ever say. I don't have the text of what I said in front of me. So, I will not try to summarize the whole thing but it is deeply disturbing to I think that we would voluntarily give up our global influence and the world that we created after World War II, which was shaped by us rather deliberately to advance both our ideology and our ideals and our interests and which did so quite successfully for 70 years. Much to the benefit, I should say, of most of the world and that is now going away. What it's being replaced with is still unclear.

Helena Cobban (07:53):

So we have in earlier sessions of this webinar series looked at ways in which U.S. power to coerce or to intimidate has started to fray. For example, with the Iranian tankers taking fuel and petroleum supplies to Venezuela, and we have the peace talks in Afghanistan, which I guess what we should interpret as a recognition that all the hopes for fashioning Afghanistan in a way that we like, really, that's not going to happen. But do you think that we're seeing U.S. global power decline in these ways and other ways, and if that is the case, what are the implications of that for various U.S. partners and allies around the world?

Chas Freeman (08:56):

Well, you can divide our power into various components. I think we've proven definitively that our military power, which is unmatched by any other nation, and perhaps unmatched in history, simply cannot resolve many of the issues that we've tried to use it to resolve. And among those are the shape of politics in places like Afghanistan and Iraq. I think much of the American people have long understood that we've lost these wars.

But the Washington establishment, the military-industrial complex, simply don't want to admit defeat. And so every time Donald Trump - to his credit - tries to figure out a way, usually not very cleverly or with much preparation, tries to figure out a way to get out of these wars, the Washington establishment makes it impossible for him to do so. And then the greatest irony of the moment, of course, is that he's been trying to get out of Afghanistan and directed to withdraw, and the Congress is passing legislation saying he can't leave. And this is really a remarkable reversal of the roles that the founding fathers envisaged for the legislative power, which they thought would be cautious about war, and the executive, which they thought would be prone to go to war. Now we have the opposite.

So in the military sphere, we are clearly failing. There's no question that our economy and our geographic situation remain strong, despite the fact that we have demonstrated extraordinary incompetence in managing the pandemic, which we now have suffered from. And we're in a near depression, which is likely to go on, not for a year or two, but it's probably going to be a decade before we begin to emerge fully from the effects of the coronavirus. But still in comparison to anyone else, we're very, very much on top of the world.

And yet our policies are such that this strength is not translated into influence. We've been engaging in trade wars, we've trashed the World Trade Organization dispute resolution mechanism, with the result that the European Union, China and Brazil, and a number of other countries, including Canada, have put together an alternative dispute resolution mechanism alongside the WTO.

We've failed to recapitalize or agree to reform the key Bretton Woods institutions like the International Monetary Fond of the World Bank, and done the same with regional banks with the result that China, India, Brazil, and others, including Russia, have put together the new Development Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and other institutions, which actually don't challenge the existing order. They reaffirm it, they follow the same rules, but they represent a response to either a lack of American leadership or active sabotage.

And finally, on a political level, the United States, which was the great proponent of some version of the rule of law internationally and played a huge role in shaping the charter of the United Nations, which was the fundamental base for a whole apparatus of international agreements, regulatory bodies. The United States has withdrawn from many of them - and doesn't appear to do anything in the United Nations except defend Israel against the global majority, which is concerned about its behavior to the Palestinians. So militarily; we're failing economically. We're not using our strength politically. We are in retreat. This is a sad picture for our country that has had such a role in shaping such a successful era in world history.

Helena Cobban (13:40):

So, Ambassador Chas Freeman, I'd like to just explore a little bit more what you were saying about the United States having a very strong economy, but with this blip of the pandemic. There was a study from the San Francisco Fed not long ago that said that historically the effects of pandemics last 40 years, on the effects of a pandemic on an economy. And I mean, you know, one of my daughters is a New York City public school teacher.

People around the country are really trying to figure out how you can get the economy and all its various component parts back up and running when the pandemic is still running wild through many of the states here. And the plight of school teachers and school children is at the heart of that in a sense, because you can't get people back to work unless somebody is looking after the children. And for some reason, the teachers don't want to be infected by all these charming little vectors who will come into their classrooms. So until we can get ahold of the pandemic, how can the economy come back?

Chas Freeman (15:07):

Well, we have an economy that is based on mass consumption, which is based on mass participation in the job market. And we have just seen a great number of jobs disappear with no certainty that they will return. If people don't have jobs, they won't have incomes. And if they don't have income, they can't consume. So the entire basis of our traditional economy is now uncertain. And something new is likely to emerge unless we just fall into perpetual misery. The school problem is a microcosm, is an element of this.

But the major thing is that many of the activities in a service-driven economy that we've had, whether it's recreation or transportation or restaurants or other gatherings, public gatherings, not to mention higher culture – theater, music, and the like, these things have all become extremely difficult. And I don't think there'll be restored anytime soon.

Perhaps when we get a vaccine, which is something many people are working on. But the earliest we'll see that deployed is sometime next year, not this year. And then we don't know how well it will work, since this particular coronavirus appears to have the ability to overcome or that has antibodies to it fade rather rapidly and isn't long lasting. So I think the impact of this is huge and we're just beginning to see it. And I wonder whether our economic model really will be able to survive in the new era.

On top of that, we're doing a number of things that are enormously self-destructive. For example, a few days ago, ICE, the immigration service, basically issued an order saying that foreign students could not get a visa or stay in the United States unless the universities where they were enrolled had active classes on campus - no more online teaching.

So this immediately sets up a conflict between the health of the faculty and the students on the one hand and the funding of the university, which, you know, these students pay full freight. But more important, we are destroying the essential ecology that has made the United States the greatest center of science and technology innovation on the planet. Our universities have been world institutions, not American institutions.

We have supplemented our own abilities by importing brains from abroad and training them. And many of them decide to stay here. With the very unwelcoming atmosphere of the visa difficulties we're creating and so forth, it's very hard to imagine that we will retain the status that we've had. Students looking for a foreign education will go to a more open society. One that is more welcoming, and that could be Canada.

Many of our technology companies are likely to go to Canada, leaving the United States, because they won't be able to get the employees from abroad that they require. Many of the foreign entrepreneurs who have started businesses here will now do so elsewhere.

A lot of students from places like China, the largest source of our foreign students, won't come here. They'll be educated at home and they'll contribute to their own society, not ours. And so the combination of essentially very bad government decisions and the dreadful impact of the COVID-19 epidemic are hollowing us out. And this, despite the fact that we retain amazing geographical and strategic advantages, from large oceans, over the fourth of the world's water supplies, a great part of the world's agricultural lands, a population drawn from every part of the world that is genetically and otherwise the most varied on the planet. It's a huge source of strength in diversity. And these things have not gone away, but the policies that exploited them are being done away with.

Helena Cobban (20:06):

So meantime, you know, we are locked in this coronavirus, economic, and,  it has to be said, unresolved racial issues - you know, a kind of a perfect storm of things that are all feeding on each other and, and keeping our society in a very troubled state. But China came down hard on the coronavirus back in February or maybe even late January and seem to be one of the countries, many of them in East Asia, that managed to put a cap on the problem.

And of course there are always little recurrences, but, but they essentially put a cap on the problem along with Taiwan and South Korea and New Zealand and a number of small number of other countries and have a kind of a plan for getting their economy up and running again. And evidently their power relative to ours has shifted considerably. I mean, you were writing about this very presciently 10 years ago - about the shifting balance of prestige, which brings with it a shifting balance of power. And this is now happening in overdrive, if you like. What are the implications for this shift at the global level?

Chas Freeman (21:40):

Well, the United States became the greatest power on the planet sometime in the 1870s, economically. And World War I cemented our position, which we then stepped back from during the period of isolation. World War II took us out of our shell and made us the hegemonic leader of a block of nations against another block, led by the Soviet Union.

In a way, the Cold War was a fight over - it began with squabbles over the spoils of the very bloody global catastrophe called World War II. We're now engaged in a very, very different sort of struggle. There are no blocks. China, as a matter of principle, doesn't like allies, because it thinks they create liabilities. You're having an ally - you're responsible for protecting it. What if it does something or has interests that you are either disinterested in or disagree with?

Helena Cobban (22:50):

Kind of, what if Israel were to drag us into a war against Iraq or something?

Chas Freeman (22:55):

Well, we could get into a war with all sorts of places, dragged in by all sorts of countries that we have extended protection to, but shouldn't do. You know, China and Japan are squabbling over who owns a group of barren islands in the East China Sea. The Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia contest Chinese claims in the South China Sea.

The issue of Taiwan looms large. You know, this is a society to which we've extended protection which is separated from the rest of China by an American intervention in a civil war following the outbreak of the Korean war. So lots of things, not just in the Middle East - of course, there are multiple examples there. But we also have Eastern Europe and the confrontation with the Russians over Ukraine and particularly the Donbass region of Ukraine.

So there are lots of risks in alliances, which differ from ententes. Ententes are limited partnerships for limited purposes. Alliances are commitments by both sides that treat the interests of the other side as is if they were your own. And anyway, the Chinese don't do that. So whatever sort of world we're getting, going into it, isn't going to be one in which China replicates the American approach to global leadership.

If it ever becomes a global leader, the Chinese are not the Soviet Union, they don't have a messianic ideology. They're not engaged in regime change operations, which we are in many places. They haven't yet managed to define their own frontiers. And in the case of Taiwan, we are engaged in disputing the boundaries of a nuclear power directly on the basis of what principles of international law? I do not know.

And so whatever is going to happen, it's not going to be a replication of either the Cold War or the world that immediately followed it. I would expect that since the United States is dismantling organizations or withdrawing from them, whether it's the WTO or now the World Health Organization in the middle of a pandemic - hard to understand - that what we're going to see is a series of workarounds.

Others will create institutions like the arrangement for trade dispute resolution I referred to which are parallel to, related to, but not part of the previous institutions and which really exclude the United States. We will not have a voice. We will not be at the table. And of course, if you're not at the table, you're on the menu. So we can expect our influence to continue to decline.

We have huge power. We are, I'm afraid, in some danger of losing a major element of it through the abuse of sovereignty over the U.S. dollar - you impose unilateral sanctions, nobody abroad likes thieves, whether they are a U.S. ally or a friend or a partner or an enemy. And there is a real possibility that the advent of digital currencies, especially from China, and the arrival of alternatives to the Swift institution in Belgium, which manages dollar trade settlement communications, that, you know, the dollar will lose its value internationally. That will have a profound effect, if it happens. It will have a very profound effect on us.

I should finish this by saying that one of the more extraordinary things is that it's been decades since the United States has been able to finance its own government operations without borrowing. You know, we're living on credit rollovers, and we're testing the proposition that debt can become infinite with no consequences. I don't believe that. So I think we're taking a lot of risks that we don't need to. And others may not like us more and more, they don't. We have the power, at the moment, to coerce, in many respects. But I see the danger as being that we lose that capacity.

Helena Cobban (28:08):

But well, you know, I grew up in England and the whole sort of history of British decolonization is what I grew up with in the 1950s and 1960s. And one key moment there was obviously in 1956, when Anthony Eden had led the very ill-advised trilateral attack against Egypt that Eisenhower in his wisdom completely disagreed with. And the way he brought Anthony Eden to heal, as it were, in late 1956, was to pull the plug on the British pound. So and that was remarkably speedy and successful as a way to persuade the British and French and ultimately the Israelis to withdraw from Egypt. So right now, a lot of that debt, the U.S. government debt, the Treasuries, is held by China. Do you see them doing something similar to an Eisenhower move?

Chas Freeman (29:15):

No, I don't think so. I do think that the Chinese are moving away from the dollar now, precisely as many others are, precisely because of the U.S. use of it to impose policies and regulate banking operations far away from our own jurisdiction, which is an invasion of sovereignty that they resent. So they're not buying so many dollars, but, I wouldn't say it's the Chinese really. I think the largest holder of dollar debt is Japan. And the issue really is, by contrast with the 1930s when we had a debt problem that was troubling, the debt in the 1930s is all held by Americans. It was the original Hamiltonian idea of giving citizens a stake in their country. Now I think it's almost 40% held by foreigners, so they get a vote.

And at some point the astute foreigner may wake up and ask, by the way, what is the American plan for dealing with all this debt? And will discover that the plan is to roll it over and borrow more, and may then ask, well, is the dollar really something I want to be dependent on?

So I think the issue isn’t China, really, it's - generally speaking, I would say the issue is our own policies and behavior. We don't pay our way. We don't deal with our racial issues. We don't deal with the gun violence issue. We don't participate in shaping the world – we’re withdrawing from it. These are not helpful in terms of our future.

Helena Cobban (31:24):

How do you see the policies and ideas about dealing with China that are being proposed by the Democratic Party in this country? I mean, we kind of, we've seen what the ruling Republican Party has done. I don't even know how you would characterize it, but, you know, you can certainly do it, do some characterizing of that if you want, but how, perhaps more importantly, do you characterize what the discussions that are taking part in inside the Democratic Party?

Chas Freeman (31:59):

Well, they really aren't any serious discussions. There is a national consensus, apparently, that the answer to every American domestic problem is to blame China. We, you know - we've lost jobs. That's China’s fault. There's a virus - that's China's fault. There's uncertainty about American leadership abroad - that's China's fault. Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

Helena Cobban (32:28):

So you see this as bipartisan?

Chas Freeman (32:31):

It is, it is totally bipartisan. I think some of the more extreme views - you know, we have senators calling for studies of how to use nuclear weapons against China. We have people doubling down on defense commitments to Taiwan that arguably need to be reexamined. And we, we have people trying to stop the withdrawal from Afghanistan.

These tend to be Republican, but there are plenty of Democrats who go along with these  things. So this is just a classic instance of “wag the dog.” If you have a lot of problems at home, find a way to pick a fight with foreigners and everyone will rally around the flag, and it seems to be working. So I don't see any really constructive ideas out there. I see people putting forward notions about what we should talk to the Chinese about - we should work with them on some things like climate change and so on.

And others saying, well, we need to beef up our defenses and we need to do this, that, and the other, but nobody proposes resources to do any of these things. I have not seen a single proposal which addresses the question of how the United States will pay to become more competitive with China. The whole approach seems to be not to raise the United States, but to try to lower China, to beat it back into underdevelopment. Well, that's not going to work. This is not – again, China's not the Soviet Union. It doesn't have a failing system. It's not going to go quietly into the dustbin of history, as Mr. Gorbachev took the Soviet Union.

So what is our answer? Where are the resources to come from for this fight that we've picked, which is so politically appealing and convenient. You know we've got an FBI now, which is looking under ever and into every Chinese student or professor in the United States. Talking about racial profiling. I mean - we are it in that field. And I suppose there might be other problems going on, like crime. And perhaps there are other countries that are doing things here that they shouldn't be doing. And so anyway, I think we're a bit off our our meds on this issue.

Helena Cobban (35:13):

Well, do you think that there's a possibility that this kind of rise of Sinophobia, that is bipartisan certainly, and, and as you said, it's a kind of wag the dog-type thing, that it could lead us to very badly escalated tensions, or God forbid a hot war?

Chas Freeman (35:37):

Well, that's the direction it's going in. I mean, this all began - I was astonished by the way  the press covered the opening rounds of the so-called trade war, which the United States launched deliberately. Remember trade wars are easy to win and other notions like that? Why on earth anyone could imagine that you can assault another country in a key area of its interest and not have that have implications across the board is utterly beyond me.

So we began with a trade war. Now we're in a war for capital markets. We're in a war over finance, we're in a monetary war over whose currency should settle what, and what sanctions should be allowed where. We're in a political war over Chinese influence in the World Health Organization? We're in a shooting war potentially, in both the South China Sea and in the Taiwan Strait. And the Chinese have responded to all this by becoming increasingly assertive - not to say aggressive - on their borders as we've seen in the recent Sino-Indian dustup.

So if the purpose was to bring China to heal, it's had exactly the opposite effect in fact. And we are moving into - it's not a cold war, as I say, because it's too different, but it's certainly a great power contention, which embraces every element of state power, including the military.

Helena Cobban (37:17)

Well, that sounds very depressing. I just hope that we have the chance to make the conversation more rational and forward-looking and humane. So I'm going to open it up now to questions from the floor, as it were - the virtual floor. And so to do that, I'm going to invite my colleague Charlotte Kates to come onto the screen - and Charlotte will be the host for the Q and A session. So over to you, Charlotte.

Charlotte Kates (37:50):

Well, thank you so much. And thanks so much to both of you for such an informative and elucidating discussion. We have a question here from David Rands who asks, For the United States, what are our most problematic alliances? What do you think that the United States could do to change those alliances, so as to improve our position in the world?

Chas Freeman (38:12):

Well, let’s start from the basic premise that, after World War II, the United States really had essentially a monopoly on power, outside the Soviet Union and its immediate periphery. The countries of Western Europe, the defeated Japanese, and other countries on China's periphery were destitute. They were prostrate, they were unable to defend themselves. And the United States, I think very wisely, extended protection to them. And we conducted the Cold War which, in the end, led to exactly what George Kennan predicted - namely the Soviet Union defaulting, the struggle collapsing, as it were, of its own defects.

 But we seem somehow to have overlooked the fact that all these countries, whether it's Germany or Japan or France, or the UK or Korea, South Korea - they are now strong, prosperous, well-armed countries that have a great potential for defending themselves.

We continue to insist that they remain dependent on us, and then we're surprised when they don't increase their defense expenditures and step up to the challenge of an independent existence. So I think the first thing to do would be to recognize, reshape, rebalance, the alliances, whether it's NATO or Japan, to require a lower level of American commitment and a higher level of allied commitment.

And I think if you look at East Asia, for example, it's impossible to argue on the basis of experience that Vietnam can’t defend itself. It showed the French it can, it showed the Chinese it could, and it showed us that it could. And I think countries like Indonesia and India are very strong and able to handle their own affairs quite effectively. So the role of the United States should be to backstop, to lend support when it's in our interest to do so, not to try to usurp the forward position.

And so listen, in fact, goes back in a way to what Richard Nixon suggested at Guam in 1969. And that is that the United States would look to others to defend their own interests first. And we would intervene only when our interests were at stake. Of course, getting to this point requires diplomacy. And unfortunately we have been conducting a diplomacy-free foreign policy punctuated by invective and insults to allies as well as enemies. And we need to recover our diplomatic power as we reshape our military power to be affordable for this country.

Charlotte Kates (41:33):

Thank you very much. We also have some questions here about the future, the upcoming U.S. elections, and what you think about what's going to take place. So one question we have is from Carmen Grayson, who asks, would it be possible in your eyes to begin changing policies if there is a change in governments, and if Trump does lose the election? And in that context, how can the Schumer-Pelosi Democrats be weaned from their current military policies and engagement with these regime-change disasters? And we also have Rick Saling, chiming in to ask if you have any feelings or guesses about what a potential President Biden's policy might be toward China or Russia?

Chas Freeman (42:21):

Well, I'm not an expert by any means on American domestic politics. I think there is some concern and it's not entirely dismissible, that President Trump might use his emergency powers, if the election is close, to ensure that it he is proclaimed the victor. And there are people researching those emergency powers with a view to fending that off. But let's assume the election takes place as scheduled. The result is clear, Mr. Trump loses, I'm assuming Mr. Biden is indeed the Democratic candidate. Then he will inherit a government that has been in many respects enfeebled. The institutions of that government are broken; many of the best people in the civil service, foreign service, intelligence service - all of whom have been derided and demeaned by the current administration have left. The institutions themselves are full of vacancies in the leadership positions.

The practice of whatever they were doing, whether it was human intelligence collection or analysis, or diplomacy, or even conventional warfare, as opposed to fighting people with our air defenses and no air force - all these things are are weakened. So the first task for the next president, whoever he or she is, will be to rebuild the United States and rebuild government capacity and competence, assuming you can do that.

And assuming that is Mr. Biden's role, then we get to the question of what might be different. I think in some respects, given his record, which has been very much in favor of regime change and war abroad, that we won't see a fundamental change. What we will see is a politer, and therefore probably more effective, relationship with allies and security partners and maybe a more productive dialogue with enemies or foes or adversaries, whatever you want to call them.

But I don't see a structural change. I think the best we can hope for is that Mr. Biden and a Democratic administration would address some of the domestic weaknesses and impairments of our competitiveness that I was referring to: have a better immigration policy, invest more in science and technology, start investing once again in infrastructure, both human and physical. And try to make the United States once again competitive which is, I think, possible. So as I say, I'm not an expert in American domestic politics, but those are my expectations at this time.

Charlotte Kates (45:39):

Thank you so much. We also have some questions about financial policy and trade that have been coming in as well. So Tim Barner asks, you know, what was your view of the transpacific partnership? Would this have been a positive step? Would it have been a balance to Chinese power, or would it have been a threat to either Chinese or U.S. interests if the TPP had proceeded?

Chas Freeman (46:01):

Well, it was a bit of an afterthought. First came the so-called rebalance or pivot to Asia, which was mostly rhetorical, because it had no resources attached to it, military beef-up against China in the region. And so once again, the United States, with it's very heavily militarized viewpoint about the world, used the military power, the instrument of military power to address a problem which is essentially economic.

That is to say there is a Sino-centric corridor that has emerged in East Asia, and it's based on Chinese economic power and connections. Like the Belt and Road Initiative builds on this to extend those connections or all the way to Portugal and East Africa. But it was only after people began to criticize the rebalance for lacking an economic component that the United States stepped in and essentially took over an existing Singapore, New Zealand, Chilean idea called the Trans-Pacific Partnership and reshaped it to be a geo-economic weapon against China.

I read the text as much as I could, as it was being negotiated, and in the final text, I didn't think it was going to do very much for the United States, frankly. I didn't think it was an economic move. I thought it was a global political strategic move. And it was designed to ensure that China could not join it. And of course, once the United States walked away from it, other members like Vietnam, which has exactly the same sort of issues that China does economically, then stripped out the American insistences we'd had on different provisions in TPP, reduced its scope and went ahead under Japanese leadership. So the Japanese have instead used TPP quite effectively to reestablish a position of leadership in East Asia, while the United States has disappeared from the scene.

The Chinese are now thinking seriously about joining it, but they place much more emphasis in something called the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership or RCEP, from which the United States will also be absent. And a trilateral South Korea-Japan-China free trade area, from which the United States will also be absent. So we started by trying to assert our military presence and beef it up. We then tried to exclude China's economic influence. We ended with nothing. And I think that's a shame. I think the United States should rejoin the Trans-Pacific Partnership. And maybe we could, if we did so, we could negotiate some better provisions in terms of job creation in the United States. Because it wouldn't have created many jobs here at all.

Charlotte Kates (49:31):

Thank you for these responses and thanks to everybody who has submitted questions, there have been so many great questions that unfortunately we haven't had the chance to respond to or discuss further today. But with that being said, I'd like to turn it back over now to Just World Educational President Helena Cobban for the rest of today's discussion.

Helena Cobban (49:52):

Thank you, Charlotte. And thanks to everybody. I saw some of the questions coming in on the chat and there were some great potential discussions. I think we'll probably have to try and persuade Ambassador Freeman to come back another time and pursue this discussion even further. This is kind of a continuing conversation that we're having with a whole series of experts one a week. We started this in the middle of June, and I like to think that we were kind of ahead of the curve in seeing that COVID is going to be changing the whole world order in ways beyond just fighting over who gets a vaccine or whose supply chain is stronger or weaker than the other nation in the world.

So we have had thus far Richard Falk, Medea Benjamin, Bill Fletcher Jr., and Vijay Prashad. And so now I'm very pleased to add Ambassador Chas Freeman to this list. You know, we are putting all these videos, the videos of all of these webinar sessions onto our resource center, which is growing and is a big part of this project. People can go to the resource center at

But of course all these things take themselves take resources. So if any of you feel moved to support what we're doing with these web-based learning efforts and by the way, this one, The World After COVID, is going to continue in new ways in the fall. We're just still trying to figure out what's the best thing to do in the fall.

But if you'd like to contribute, go to our website,, you'll find a donate button and you can donate, obviously extremely generously or just whatever you can afford right now - and we are very appreciative of that.

We have a great conversation lined up for next Wednesday with Professor Hilal Elver, who is the recently retired UN special rapporteur on the right to food - with obviously hunger and food insecurity being a huge part of what is happening, including in this country, here in the United States, but also globally and the disruption of supply chains.

And so we're going to hear from Dr. Elver next week on Wednesday. And then the week after that, we will have Professor Marjorie Cohn, who is a an international law specialist. And then we're going to wrap up on July 29th, with a discussion of the UN. We're still assembling that panel, and we're not even sure if it will be a panel or one guest.

And then we will have this amazing library of videos on our website, and we will start using that material and figuring out how to proceed in the fall. So that's kind of what's going on in the future. Now, it's sort of bittersweet, sad to say goodbye and thanks to Ambassador Chas Freeman, because it's always such a pleasure to talk to you, Chas. It's even more of a pleasure to listen to you talking and drawing on your amazing breadth of expertise. Thank you very much for giving us the time here.

Chas Freeman (53:42):

Pleasure. I wish I could have gotten into some more positive territory. Maybe next time.

Helena Cobban (53:50):

Maybe - I hope so. And I want to thank Charlotte Kates, who's been working behind the scenes and on the screen here, and I want to thank everybody who sent in questions and ideas. You will have more opportunity to interact with the project as you leave this webinar today. You'll be sent to an evaluation form, and we really do rely on people's comments in the evaluation forms to help guide the way that we'll take this project forward.

So now all that's left for me to do is to urge you all to wear your masks and to stay safe and hope to see you next week. Thank you and goodbye.

Session Resources

Speakers for the Session


Amb. Chas Freeman, Jr. 


Helena Cobban

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