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Former Ambassador Locke On The Future Of U.S.-China Relations


Pretty extraordinary few days in the relationship between the United States and China, all, of course, amid the uncertainty of a presidential transition here in the United States. Last week, China seized a U.S. drone in international waters.

President-elect Donald Trump tweeted over the weekend that the seizure was an unprecedented act. And later, Trump tweeted that China should just keep the drone. China says it is giving it back. Gary Locke was U.S. ambassador to China from 2011 to 2014. And he said, beyond this drone incident, he's concerned about some of what Donald Trump has said about China.

GARY LOCKE: We need to make sure that whatever we're doing is purposeful, deliberate and thought-out. Mr. Trump has indicated that he wants to impose almost-45-percent tariffs on all Chinese goods coming into the United States day one.

Well, if Mr. Trump imposes tariffs on even a few items, the Chinese will turn right around and impose tariffs on those U.S.-made goods going into China. And that's going to make those products so much more expensive that those Chinese consumers aren't going to buy American products.

And that's going to hurt a lot of Americans making those things in the United States, whether it's our soybeans or whether it's MRI machines or whether it's Boeing airplanes. So we could end up with a trade war. And in a trade war, no one wins. And the people who really lose are the consumers and the people making these items on both sides of the border.

GREENE: You're talking about a lot on the line and a lot at stake in this relationship. I mean, a moment like this with this drone feels very tense. But is it the kind of thing that really could put all of that at risk, or is it likely that these two countries will sort of just move through this, and things will settle back down?

LOCKE: Well, President Obama's still in office for another month or so. And so I'm sure he and his team are trying to sort out this issue with the underwater drone and try to get that back. And...

GREENE: I hear you saying almost a thank goodness that President Obama is still in office to deal with this and not Donald Trump. Is that what you're saying?

LOCKE: Well, we need to make sure that we're able to resolve this before Mr. Trump gets into office. And then, of course, hopefully, by then, he will have a full team in place that can really work through these issues and advise him and make a considered, collective judgment.

GREENE: Ambassador, I mean it's - once we get through, you know, another month or so, it will be Donald Trump dealing with moments like this with China. I know you had your tense moments when you were the ambassador.

Chen Guangcheng, the human rights activist, holed up in the U.S. embassy when you were there to try and get him and his family to the United States. Do you have any advice for Donald Trump on when these moments of tension arise - how to be tough enough? But also make sure things don't really explode.

LOCKE: Well, that's why it's very, very important that you have a good team surrounding the president. People in the White House and the National Security Council, his advisers - as well as in the State Department, who then are working together, communicating together, bringing together all the information and sitting down in that Situation Room or in the Oval Office and walking through these things, talking them through, understanding the consequences and then making a decision.

GREENE: Based on what you've seen from Donald Trump so far, do you see any reason for hopefulness that that he might do something to improve this relationship?

LOCKE: Well, I know that he has a lot of business dealings in China. And I hope he understands the importance of trade with China, that we benefit. The Chinese people benefit. And I hope that, based on, you know, the travel that he's made and the travel of his family - that he'll understand just how intertwined our two countries are and how important it is for our two countries to work together to solve not just the problems facing China or the United States but, indeed, the problems facing the world.

GREENE: OK. Gary Locke was United States ambassador to China from 2011 to 2014.

Ambassador, thanks so much.

LOCKE: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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