Sinica Podcast: Danny Russel, former assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs


This week’s Sinica Podcast is now live.

This week on Sinica, Kaiser speaks with Danny Russel, career diplomat and former assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs from 2013 to 2017, and currently vice president for international security and diplomacy at the Asia Society Policy Institute (ASPI). The conversation centers on all things diplomatic in East and Southeast Asia: the Trans-Pacific Partnership; internet freedom in China; the country’s “illiberal turn”; espionage and intellectual property theft during his time in Washington; the Obama administration’s position on the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB); and, finally, reflections on the current state of the U.S.-China relationship.

What to listen for on this week’s Sinica Podcast:

3:20: Kaiser begins the discussion with a question about the characterization of the Obama administration’s regional strategy, the “Pivot to East Asia.” Russel maintains that “[Barack Obama]…understood intellectually and understood viscerally, that America’s economic development, that America’s security interests and America’s future, was inextricably linked to the Asia-Pacific region, which was clearly the driver of global growth.”

38:25: Assistant Secretary Russel elaborates on the driving forces behind the “illiberal turn” that has fueled anxieties among China-watchers. “It felt as if the impact of the 2008 financial crisis had sent a pulse through Chinese thinking. This pulse seemed to dispel the long-held notion that there was something to respect, and to perhaps imitate, in the Western economic model.”

57:31: “If China’s going to throw a lot of money behind the laudable objective of promoting infrastructure development in Asia, why doesn’t it use the Asian Development Bank, or the World Bank, or some of the existing mechanisms that are proven institutions? And if then, if China is going to create not a national bank, but an international development bank, the starting point for any new multilateral banking institution had better be the high-water mark in terms of standards and operations that have been achieved over the last 70 years by the existing multilateral banks.”

59:00: “Early on in the time of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank’s conception, it was all label and no substance. What we were seeing, and hearing was that China was asking governments to buy what was a pig in a poke.”

1:05:36: Kaiser raises a question regarding the anxieties that have taken root between Washington and Beijing and now are straining the relationship, some deserved and others unfounded. “We’re seeing what’s almost a perfect storm in which the accumulated frustration and unhappiness among so many different elements of U.S. society, and so many stakeholders that traditionally have supported the U.S.-China relationship,” Assistant Secretary Russel comments on the continually worsening state of affairs, as there is a the “diminished willingness to speak up” in defense of the relationship.

Listen now to: Danny Russel on the rebalancing and decoupling