Ambassador Baucus Speaks to Students at NYU Shanghai

Max Baucus
United States Ambassador to China
Speech to Students at NYU Shanghai
October 7, 2014
As Delivered

AMBASSADOR BAUCUS:  Thank you, Vice Chancellor Lehman, very much for that very generous introduction.

It is very exciting, frankly, to see lots of bright-eyed eager students.  I once went to college myself, and seeing all of you in this auditorium like this obviously reminds me of my days when I was a student.  I’ve got to tell you, at that time I had no idea what I wanted to be and do.  No idea whatsoever.  None.  I was a typical college student. I studied and I tried to get good grades.  I went out at night, had a good time.  But by and large, even though I was fairly conscientious as a student, I had no idea what I wanted to be and do.

I went off to law school.  Why did I go to law school?  I went to law school because I read that that’s a good thing to do.  When the French historian de Tocqueville travelled to the United States, he wrote that in the United States lawyers are the nuts and bolts of what goes on in American society, more than in any other country.  I said to myself, well gee, I think I want to be some of those nuts and bolts.  I want to know what’s going on and help put together agreements and solutions for the United States of America.

Then I went off to work for a government agency in Washington, DC.  But in the interim, when I was a college student, I did just what you’re doing now, I went to an overseas campus.  Stanford University had several overseas campuses.  One was in France.  I went six months to school in France.  At the end of six months I did something that is probably the main reason I’m standing right here at this moment.  What’s that?

Back then, after going to school six months at a foreign campus in France I realized I had not learned anything, so I put a knapsack on my back, a little handbag, and I hitch-hiked around the world for one full year.  I went through Europe and Africa and Asia.  To be fair, I didn’t come to China except for Hong Kong back then.

The year was 1963.  That year opened up my eyes and it was that year that planted the seed for a later interest in public service.  Why?  Because I realized, when I was in the then Belgian Congo, it just hit me.  It was an epiphany.  That the world’s getting smaller, our natural resources are diminishing, and somehow if we’re going to get along better in this world together — this was back in 1963 — if we’re going to get along better in this world together, we have to work harder to work together, share our natural resources, and just work better together, if we’re going to get along better together, because the world’s becoming smaller and smaller all the time.

So I’m really excited to see you here.  Students — some of you from the United States, some of you from China.  I understand some of you are roommates and learning a lot from each other.  That’s just great.  That’s just wonderful.  I’d encourage you to follow your instincts, trust yourself.  Don’t just do what your teachers say, don’t just do what your parents say.  You just do what you think makes the most sense for you in the best sense of the term, the most fulfilling sense of the term.  And just do what you think as you get older would make sense for you.

Remember, there are no closed doors.  If it doesn’t work out, there’s always another route to take, there’s always another course to take, another road to travel.  And I’d urge you to remember all that as you’re studying here at NYU, one of the best institutions in the world.  So good job, good luck, and you’ve got a real responsibility.

Now I’ll give you my formal speech.

I understand that Oscar — Is Oscar Fossum here?  Why did I mention Oscar?  Some of you may know him.  Oscar Fossum is from Montana and I knew his parents quite well when I was much younger.  I knew your parents, Oscar.  Missoula, Montana, then they moved to Helena, Montana.  We Montanans get around.  It’s good to see you, Oscar.

Spencer, are you here?  Spencer — did you work in my office in DC?  Spencer worked in my office in DC, as well as Mark Johnson.  Is Mark here?  Mark Johnson, your dad is a famous football coach in Great Falls, Montana.  Probably the most famous football coach in modern Montana history.  It’s good to see you, Mark.

So thanks to everybody here.  Thank you Chancellor, for your warm welcome, very nice remarks.  I also thank Chancellor Tong and President Chen, East China Normal University.

One of Shanghai’s most famous residents and one of China’s greatest writers, Ba Jin once said, “I live in this world for the conquest of life.”

As I look around this room today, I suspect many of you want to heed the words of Ba Jin.  You want to grab life by the horns and make the most of your opportunities.  And I certainly hope you do.  I did the best I could.  I expect you to be even better.

It’s this sentiment, as I said, that brought me to China decades ago.  It’s what prodded me to run for office and serve in the United States Senate for so many years.  It’s what made me work so hard to help ensure that China would join the WTO, the World Trade Organization.  And it’s what brought me back this year to serve the United States here as Ambassador to China.

So I feel so lucky to be here today and talk about these opportunities.

That progress happens in this room, and rooms like it all across China and all across America.  There are more than 235,000 Chinese students studying in America.  That is more than twice as come from India, which is next on the list.  And an unprecedented number of American students are studying in China as well.  Dozens of them are here today.

Over the past 35 years, whether as students, as entrepreneurs, or as tourists, it is people to people exchanges like these that bring us closer together.  I believe that very strongly.  The more I work in this job, and I’ve been here six months, the more I realize that’s so true.

Here in Shanghai’s consular district alone, more than 100,000 Americans live, work and visit this region on any given day.  Last year we Americans, all the consulates and the Beijing embassy, handled 1.8 million visa applications for Chinese people.  1.8 million.  And more than 400,000 Chinese applied for U.S. visas right here in Shanghai.

These are people taking advantage of opportunities to travel, to work, invest, and study, that once were not available.  We’d like to see the number of these exchanges grow as our countries grow closer together.  And there’s no better example than our economic relationship where our two nations are “joined at the hip,” as we Americans like to say.

Nearly 11 billion renminbi worth of goods and services flow between our countries every day.  Eleven billion.  Just think about that.  That’s 458 million renminbi per hour.

Our total bilateral trade reached 3.7 trillion renminbi in 2013.

To put that into perspective, that could buy as many as 700 million iPhone 6’s.  [Laughter].  That’s a new iPhone for half the people in China.  That’s about the size of Switzerland’s entire gross national product.

In fact, United States-China trade counts for 15 percent of all global trade.  To expand this massive volume and sell even more, our countries are negotiating a bilateral investment treaty that will further spur economic growth and create jobs in both countries.

Much of that trade is happening right here.  In fact Shanghai, Zhejiang, Jiangsu and Anhui were responsible for over 20 percent of China’s total GDP in 2013.  20 percent right here in this region.

And those numbers continue to grow.  In the 13 years since China joined the WTO, much has changed.  Our bilateral trade is about five times what it was then, more than $600 billion last year alone.

In short, U.S.-China relations have come a very long way.

Obviously they must go further.  We must remember how lucky we are and use that as a foundation to move forward.  We are really lucky.  The Americans are so lucky, and all in China are so lucky.  Just look at how much China’s grown in the last couple of decades.  China’s lucky.  All U.S. and Chinese students are very lucky.  We Americans are very lucky.

In this global age, no country has the luxury, however, to “put their hands up their sleeves and idly watch,” to use a Chinese phrase — let alone the world’s two largest powers.

Let me ask you:  “If the U.S. and China don’t lead, who will?”  When I think of the great responsibility our two countries share, I’m reminded of a quote from Luke in the Bible, “To whom much is given, much is required.”

We have been given much, so now we are required to act.

We face challenges on every front, from international security to pandemic diseases to climate change.  And no country is immune to the threat from ISIL and violent extremism.

The United States and China are working together with other partners to achieve our shared objective of a denuclearized Korean Peninsula.  We’re partnering with the P5+1 on Iran — we and China are.  We’re bringing peace to South Sudan.

We’re striving to remove chemical weapons from Syria.  We’re combatting piracy off the coast of Africa.  We’re working to contain the spread of Ebola.

And on climate change, let me be frank, that threat is real.  Ambitious joint action is needed right now more than ever.

The United States and China are the world’s two largest economies and the leading sources of carbon pollution, together responsible for over 40 percent of global CO2 emissions — 40 percent, U.S. and China together.  We have a responsibility to lead together toward a comprehensive agreement in Paris next year.

We can lead a clean energy revolution on everything from carbon capture and utilization to storage.  We’re improving vehicle efficiency standards and emissions performance.  We’re developing smarter electric grids and more efficient appliances.

Our cooperation will benefit not only our two countries and the region, but the entire world.  And the clock is ticking.

With all this remarkable progress, we still face challenges we could not have envisioned 35 years ago.  We have disagreements, as all countries do.

The United States must ensure a level playing field for American companies doing business here, just as Chinese companies compete fairly against their American counterparts in the United States.

We want the same fairness to apply in cyberspace.  We’d like to see improved protection of intellectual property rights.

We also want to see a strong and confident China that honors the rights of its citizens.  Because history shows that a nation rises in proportion to the freedom and dignity it grants its people.  And nations prosper in proportion to the talent they unleash.

This is why we continue to urge the Chinese government to respect rule of law, and uphold universal rights and freedoms.  It’s not a policy unique to China, but rather a global approach to United States foreign policy.  It is a reflection of who we are as Americans.

As we meet today the world is closely watching Hong Kong.  We encourage differences between Hong Kong authorities and protesters to be addressed peacefully.

We believe that an open society, with the highest possible freedom, autonomy, and governed by the rule of law, is essential for Hong Kong’s stability and prosperity.  Hong Kong’s continued success is in the shared interests of the United States and China.

As we move forward, the question on the U.S.-China relationship is one of courage, one of vision.  Let me ask you: “Are we prepared today to show the same courage and vision as former President Jimmy Carter and Deng Xiaoping showed when our countries established diplomatic relations 35 years ago?”

Just think about it.  What courage they had.  Jimmy Carter and Deng Xiaoping.  Each had to take risks to normalize relations between the United States and China.  Jimmy Carter had to push back against the right wing of the United States. Deng Xiaoping had to push back against the left wing here in China.  It’s amazing what they did.  It’s incredible.

I first met President Carter when he was elected as our 39th President in 1976, shortly after I was elected to Congress.  And I shook Deng Xiaoping’s hand when he visited the United States in 1979.

These men, in the words of Robert Frost, took the “road not taken.”  That brings me back to Ba Jin.  Ba Jin also said, “At first, there is no path. But once many people travel a certain way, then a path is formed.”

President Carter and Deng Xiaoping began that path for our two countries, and the people of our two nations.  That path in part has led us here today.  They did the right thing, and we must do the same.

This relationship is important.  Let’s get it right.  We have a moral obligation when we leave this place to leave it in the same shape or better shape than we found it, for our kids and for our grandkids.

This is the spirit with which President Obama will visit China next month.  President Obama will meet again with President Xi to continue deepening our cooperation on major regional and global challenges — building a relationship that allows us to work together on shared interests and to talk frankly about the areas where we disagree.


We don’t have all day to ponder.  We can’t permit the voices of rivalry and doubt on either side to hold us back or to prevent our solving — or at least managing — these urgent challenges.

Let me close with a story about opportunity.  A young man from Hangzhou had a dream.  Despite failing the college entrance exam twice, he persevered.

He finally got his bachelor’s degree in English and became an English teacher.  He founded one of China’s earliest internet-based companies, and recently completed the world’s largest-ever initial public offering in New York, and became the wealthiest man in China.

You all know whom I’m talking about.  I had lunch with Jack Ma shortly after arriving in Beijing, and I was deeply impressed with him.  In many respects, he represents the new China and the new U.S.-China relationship.

The world needs more people like Jack Ma, along with so many other leaders in China and in the United States.  There are urgent challenges out there that need smart, devoted people to devise new solutions.

Jack Ma explained to me his strong drive for environmental conservation.  What dreams drive each of you?  Our future is only limited by our imagination and our resolve.

I also have a dream.  It’s what brought me to China instead of heading back to my home state of Montana.  It is a dream for both China and America.  After all, the United States and China are in the same boat.  We must help each other weather the inevitable storms that lie ahead.

My dream is to see a China that continues to have a healthy, durable relationship with the United States.  It’s to see the United States and China working together on any problem no matter how large or small.  For us to build a world better for Americans and for Chinese — for everybody.

It’s to see the emergence of a strong confident China that welcomes foreign businesses, treasures its national environment, and honors the rights of its citizens.

I want each of you in this room to dream big, to help China thrive.

As the philosopher Laozi once said, “The thousand mile journey begins beneath your feet.”

Let’s keep walking together.

Thank you very much.