Last November, Professor Yanzhong Huang of the School of Diplomacy and International Relations, logged thousands of miles flying from meetings to conferences where he shared his perspective on issues related to China's emergence as a global power. An adjunct senior fellow with the Council on Foreign Relations and Director of Seton Hall's Center for Global Health Studies, Huang is an in-demand contributor to current discussions on China's engagement in global governance. He is regularly asked to weigh in on how the Chinese government can address the complex public health, environmental and governance challenges it currently faces.
Back on campus at the end of the fall semester, Huang, whose tenure at Seton Hall began in 2003, paused to reflect on the complexities of governance in China and where the country, and its relationship with the U.S., might be heading.
You recently spent time in Racine, Wisconsin, where senior scholars on international relations convened for a closed- door conference -- sponsored by Johns Hopkins University and the Johnson Foundation -- examining a half century of engagement between the U.S. and China. What was that like?
Well, I did not have much time to explore Lake Michigan. We were very busy looking at the different dimensions and principle effects of U.S. engagement with China, and what the U.S. China policy will look like given the current precarious state of the relationship. My research on U.S.- China cooperation over public health suggests that the bilateral cooperation we've had in the past has been an important stabilizer in terms of U.S.- China relations. For many years, as an example, the U.S. and China shared information and virus samples to help both countries to prepare for a flu pandemic. The U.S. shared information on H1N1 that helped China to become the first country to mass produce the H1N1 vaccine. China did the same thing when the H7N9 virus broke out in the country in 2013, which allowed us to prepare better. So, it was big news last year when China announced that it was going to stop sharing virus samples with the U.S. In addition, China produces the material used to make 97% of our antibiotics, so a potential trade war could be very dangerous for us.
In the last few decades, China has seen a tremendous rise in cancer, diabetes and other non-communicable diseases. You were invited to speak on NCDs and health governance at the inaugural Xiong'An International Health Forum in November. What is your assessment of China's response regarding public health?
NCDs are having a significant impact on the country's economic and social stability. The Chinese government needs to invest more in NCD-related public health programs. Currently, 60 percent of Chinese diabetes patients are not aware of their conditions and only 26 percent of them are treated. There are more than 300 million smokers in China. Obesity is also a big problem and there is a lack of access to effective medicine. The government also needs to introduce policy innovations to combat cancer and cardiovascular disease. One idea we talked about involved imposing a "sin tax" on alcohol and tobacco products which could generate sufficient funding to help control NCDs.
How much impact do you expect discussions like these will have on health department practices at the local and national level?
I am cautiously optimistic. But it takes time and the right approach. Two years ago, I delivered a public lecture in Beijing on China's public health challenges, which was broadcast nationwide by Phoenix TV (the largest private TV network in China). In the presentation, I emphasized the need for China to change its policy of jailing people for importing generic anti-cancer drugs from India. Cancer treatments are unaffordable for the majority of people in China who need them. This summer a new film, "Dying to Live," looked at the same subject. The movie immediately became one of China's biggest hits. The public outcry triggered by coverage of these problems has forced the government to take action. One positive development is that it has significantly reduced the tariffs for importing drugs.
You're working on a new book that looks at the connection between environmental factors and China's health crisis. Are we likely to see China leading globally on climate change any time soon?
This century has seen the emergence of China as an active participant in global governance. The current U.S. administration's retreat from its global commitments has only emboldened China to fill some of void on leadership over key global governance issues, such as climate change. However, there are many internal challenges in areas such as environmental health. Air pollution alone is killing 1.6 million people annually and the government has been placing pollution control at the top of its agenda. I think at present Chinese leaders will remain occupied by domestic challenges, and there is still a long way to go before China can confidently claim global leadership.
In 2017, over 30,000 people died of AIDS in China. Certain vulnerable populations that are most affected by the disease are stigmatized and often lack adequate access to treatment. What should China be focusing on in terms of HIV?
Resources for supporting civil society organizations' engagement in HIV prevention and control in China used to come through international organizations. The China AIDS Fund for Non-Governmental Organizations (CAFNGO) was set up to replace outside funding. At the invitation of UNAIDS, I reported on how government money and private funding could be used to support civil society organizations involved in HIV prevention. The report will also hopefully shed light for other countries who face a similar situation and are looking for domestic resources to fund their HIV response.
Back to US/China relations. How does the future look for bilateral engagement given the tariffs the U.S. has imposed and the recent arrest of Huawei Technologies Co.'s CFO?
China and the U.S. used to have shared interest in promoting dialogues and cooperation over security and economic issues. U.S. policy makers were convinced that by cooperating we could achieve a win-win situation. That kind of attitude dominated previous administrations from Nixon to Obama. Now the two countries are at an inflection point in their relationship. The dialogue mechanisms are falling apart. We are hearing officials from both sides firing off accusations. There is a lack of understanding, respect and trust. At the same time, we are seeing a rise in nationalism in China and a more hawkish attitude on the part of the U.S. The Huawei case was just another example of the rapidly deteriorating relationship.
Cultural diplomacy builds better relationships between countries. Over the years, Seton Hall has hosted many delegations from China and sponsored study abroad programs and other academic projects that have benefited students in both countries. Are there any other promising initiatives on the horizon that Seton Hall students can look forward to?
The Institute of American Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Studies, which is one of China's most prestigious think tanks is interested in developing a partnership with Seton Hall. We are also looking at the possibility that the UNAIDS country office in China will host interns from the School of Diplomacy in the near future. There are always new insights, new developments in the field and it's important to share those with our students.
Categories: Nation and World