Burma Ambassador gives talk on U.S. relationship with China

Sydney Criswell

Approximately 80 professors, students and alumni gathered at the Sid Richardson Hall on Wednesday to hear Derek Mitchell, the U.S. ambassador to Burma, speak on China’s political history and the relationship it has with the United States.

Mitchell, who was confirmed to his current position by the U.S. Senate in 2012, has an extensive background in Asian foreign policy and holds a master of arts in law
and diplomacy. 

The talk is part of a speaker series titled, “Understanding China,” which is co-sponsored by the Robert Strauss Center and UT’s Center for East Asian Studies. 

Huaiyin Li, history and Asian studies professor and director of the Center for East Asian Studies, said students who are interested in international relations should take a more active role in understanding China. 

“Public relations as a major is supposed to train students in international relations, and the U.S.-China relationship is probably the most important,” Li said.

During the speech Mitchell presented his opinion on both China’s politics and how America and China interplay as major political powers.

“China wants to keep their self-image as leaders, as the enlightened civilization,” Mitchell said. 

Mitchell discussed China’s Peaceful Rise policy, which involves China gaining political and economic power without being a threat to peace and security. However, Mitchell said he believes the new generation of Chinese citizens, who have not faced military adversity as the previous generation had, may resort to forceful tactics.

“The question is, do you trust a different generation that doesn’t remember hardship?” Mitchell said. 

Mitchell said he believes America’s biggest problem with China is structural.

“China is not accommodating the security structure built by the U.S.,” said Mitchell. “The U.S. is expected to maintain alliances, but China sees all this as coming at its expense.” 

Mitchell also said China feels trapped by Singapore, Japan, Australia and other islands in the region, which America has a good
relationship with. However, Mitchell said the U.S. and China cooperate with each other in a stable manner when it comes to education. 

“We send our students there [to study], China sends their students here [to study],” Mitchell said.

Law student Kejia Dong, who is from China and was present at the event, said she decided to come listen and see an American’s perspective of her country and how the relationship between China and the U.S. is viewed.

“My mindset has always been that America tries to contain China,” Dong said. “Even after listening to his speech, I still think about that.”