Left to right: Robert Scalapino, Stephen A. Orlins, and Lucien Pye, at the 3 May 2006 NCUSCR program “Past as Prologue.” For more than forty years the National Committee on United States–China Relations has sponsored educational and outreach programs aimed to help Americans gain a deeper and more nuanced understanding of China. COURTESY OF NCUSCR.

The National Committee on United States–China Relations, founded in 1966 by a coalition of academic, civic, religious, and business leaders, is a network of prominent Americans who have influenced U.S. government policy (unofficially and officially) toward China. Through its educational outreach and exchange programs, it has created communities at all levels amongst people and institutions concerned with Sino–American relations.

The National Committee on United States–China Relations (NCUSCR) was founded in June 1966 by a coalition of academic, civic, religious, and business leaders. Their aim was to build a network of accomplished, credible individuals from a broad political spectrum, committed to open discussion and debate and to improving U.S. policy toward China. The Committee’s mission was explicitly to educate the U.S. public, but it quickly had opportunity to offer information and advice to President Johnson and other political leaders, and by 1972 was in a position to co-host (along with the U.S. Table Tennis Association) the Chinese Ping-Pong team’s famous tour of the United States, an event that captured world attention and was covered by all the major newspapers and television networks.

Formation of the National Committee

Diplomatic ties with China moved to Taiwan when the Communist Party took control of the mainland in 1949. Soon after, the “proxy war” (Korean War) put the United States and China into indirect military conflict. Through the 1950s and into the 1960s, the “China Lobby,” staunch anti-Communists said to be funded by the Kuomintang, had the support of many in Congress. An organization called the Committee of One Million actively opposed any U.S. engagement with the PRC.

The Committee was founded soon after two groundbreaking conferences on U.S.-China policy held in 1964 and 1965. A one-day “Institute on China Today” was held in Sproul Hall at University of California–Berkeley on 9 December 1964 with an overflow crowd of over one thousand. Speakers included Clare Booth Luce and Henry Luce, and unprecedented press attention seemed to lift what had been an unofficial ban on public debate about China policy. Buoyed by this success, the organizers soon arranged to hold a “National Conference on the United States and China” in Washington, D.C. on 28–30 April 1965. Participants included China scholars, policy experts, business people, religious and labor leaders, and State Department officials Deputy Assistant Secretary for Far Eastern Affairs Robert W. Barnett and Assistant Secretary for International Organization Affairs Harlan Cleveland, as well as representatives from the Republic of China (Taiwan) Foreign Ministry. Two senators, George McGovern and Peter H. Dominick, who held opposing views on China, nonetheless sent a joint invitation to their Senate colleagues and shared a platform at the conference.

The advisory and program committees for these conferences formed the basis for what was established in 1966 as a nonprofit educational organization, the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations. The Berkeley conference had been jointly organized by the San Francisco–based World Affairs Council, the University of California–Berkeley Department of Political Science, and the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), a Quaker social justice organization dedicated to alleviating poverty and promoting peace. Cecil Thomas, the AFSC’s associate peace secretary and director of the Berkeley YMCA, considered engagement a means to end bloodshed and help the PRC deal with what was known to be widespread poverty (20–40 million Chinese died of starvation between 1959 and 1962). He became the National Committee’s first executive director.

Members of the Committee had widely different views (on the Vietnam War, for example), and the Committee’s first proposal to the Ford Foundation described it simply as a “group of prominent Americans, representative of industry, the academic world, the professions, labor, the churches, and of the nation’s major geographic areas.” The Committee was vehemently committed to non-advocacy, balance, and diversity because it was so clear that the public discourse the members sought would not be successful if the Committee’s membership could be tagged as partisan or biased.

While the Committee’s public mission was solely educational, it was connected, focused, and gave a common platform to leaders from many sectors. The result was, many observers say, influence on government policies during a period when there was considerable disagreement about how best to deal with other global powers and with Communist leadership—especially given that the McCarthy era was still fresh in the minds of many Americans. U.S. presidents wanted to move closer to normalization of relations with China but faced much resistance in Congress. By privately advising Johnson in 1968 and Nixon in 1970, members of the National Committee played a vital role in the move towards normalization.

Programs 1970 to 2000

During the years leading up to normalization in 1979, the National Committee encouraged thoughtful discussion about China policy among Americans. The founders (who included some of the giants of the China field such as Robert Scalapino, A. Doak Barnett, Alexander Eckstein and Lucien Pye) also believed that direct dialogue between Americans and Chinese would lead to improved understanding and then to stable and productive relations, and to enhanced academic and business cooperation. Exchange programs, tours with Congressional leaders, and hosting events with visiting Chinese officials has been part of the Committee’s work since its earliest days.

The National Committee became the principal organization conducting public policy and other exchanges between China and the United States, and helped to shift U.S. policy and public opinion during the years leading up to the reopening of diplomatic relations in 1979. It worked with other organizations, such as the Committee on Scholarly Communications with the People’s Republic of China (CSCPRC), also founded in 1966 but focusing on academic, scientific and scholarly exchanges, and helped in the early formation of other sister organizations such as the National Council on U.S.-China Trade (now the U.S.-China Business Council) and the Center for U.S.-China Arts Exchange.

In the 1980s the Committee expanded its work beyond its 1970s exchanges in civic affairs, education, performing arts, and athletics to a variety of fields, promoting sustained interchange between influential Chinese and Americans in governance, the media, urban planning, international relations, and economic planning and management. In the mid-1980s, the National Committee established the first formal, ongoing Track II (unofficial) discussion, the U.S.-China Dialogue, an off-the-record gathering of leading citizens of China and America; it was held another ten times before coming to an end in 2002.

While continuing its programs of the past, the decade of the 1990s saw a focus on rule of law, legislative affairs and the expansion of civil society in China. These programs included regular exchanges of city mayors and municipal and provincial leaders, with an emphasis on urban planning, infrastructure development, sustainable development and related environmental concerns; programs in judicial training and exchanges of senior judges, including a 1996 trip to China by U.S. supreme court justice Anthony M. Kennedy; and exchanges and programs focused on banking and economic policy development, journalism, NGO and foundation development, human rights, public health and economic development.

Programs from 2000 on: Evolving Role in Global Cooperation

The National Committee is a network of more than 750 Americans from all parts of the country and nearly one hundred corporations and professional firms. They bring many different perspectives on issues and priorities in U.S.-China relations, but share a commitment to ongoing public education and the enabling of face-to-face contact. Members of the Committee and its board of directors include many distinguished citizens: former secretaries of state Madeleine K. Albright, Henry A. Kissinger, and Condoleezza Rice and other former cabinet secretaries; all of the former American ambassadors to China; Richard Holbrooke, former chair of the Asia Society and Special Envoy to Afghanistan; leading scholars of the past several decades such as Jerome A. Cohen, Harry Harding, David Lampton, Nick Lardy, Kenneth Lieberthal, Susan Shirk, and Ezra Vogel; and Maurice R. Greenberg and many other corporate executives interested in China.

The National Committee’s continuity of experience and depth of associations in Greater China and the United States continue to support its ongoing mission. New programs are regularly developed in response to shifting needs and opportunities, while the National Committee remains true to the founders’ purpose of helping Americans gain a deeper and more nuanced understanding of China and, thereby, insuring a thoughtful, effective U.S. policy on China. These programs have been developed in relation to three main goals.

Informing Policy Leaders and Opinion Shapers

Programs have included delegations of members of congress and congressional staffers to China; special briefings for new congressional members; delegations of municipal and state leaders to exchange best practices in city and state governance; a Policy Leaders Orientation Program that provides an in-depth view of American society, history and politics to Chinese officials and consular officers. A series of in-depth briefings on China for military officers are designed to broaden their knowledge and understanding of China, its culture, society, and politics, in an effort to enhance their dealings in the region.

Developing the Capacity of Next-Generation Policy Leaders

The National Committee is focused on investment in the next generation of American and Chinese leaders by creating meaningful opportunities for outstanding American and Chinese young professionals and students to interact with one another. Programs include the Young Leaders Forum, established in 2002 for under-forty-year-old American and Chinese leaders in many fields, in which those leaders explore substantive issues together and develop collaborative relationships. Annual retreats alternate between a U.S. and China locale. The 2008 Forum, held in Washington State, was designed around the theme of “Discovery.” Young Leaders Forum Fellows, including government officials, authors, university leaders, entrepreneurs, musicians, and artists, discussed with one another how their personal discoveries came about and influenced their lives.

Other programs include the Public Intellectuals Program, which nurtures the younger generation of leading American China scholars, giving them the skills and opportunity to inform policy and public opinion; and the U.S.-China Student Leaders Exchange Program, which provides exchange opportunities for Presidential Scholars (specially selected American graduating high school seniors) and promising Chinese students.

Fostering Dialogue on Cutting-Edge Issues

The National Committee runs innovative programs in response to new and emerging needs and opportunities. Some recent initiatives have included a program on community planning for HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment; a ground-breaking visit to the United States by the chairman of the China Foundation for Human Rights Development; working on the reform of labor law in China under the U.S.-China Labor Law Cooperation Project; the Land Use and Public Participation Program, that addresses rights and ownership issues in land development; and the Museum and Educational Outreach program, featuring exchanges to bring progressive educational methods to prominent museums in China.

In addition, the National Committee remains at the forefront in promoting substantive dialogue and Track II exchanges on sensitive and important subjects. In addition to its own programs, the Committee has had a decade-long relationship with the Stanford–Harvard Preventive Defense Project that focuses on Northeast Asia security issues and the cross-Strait relationship between mainland China and Taiwan. In partnership with the Shanghai Association for American Studies, the Committee cosponsors the Barnett-Oksenberg Lecture Series on Sino-American Relations, an annual lecture in Shanghai featuring such speakers as Ambassador J. Stapleton Roy and World Bank President Robert Zoellick and honoring the memories of China scholars and long-time National Committee leaders Doak Barnett and Michel Oksenberg.

Facilitating the Exchange of Ideas

The National Committee expands knowledge about China by Americans and the United States by Chinese through exchange of professionals in a variety of fields (be it education, energy and the environment, the media, rule of law, etc.). The Teachers Exchange Program provides full academic-year opportunities for Chinese (K–12) teachers to teach (usually Chinese language and culture) in the United States and American teachers to teach (usually English as a second language) in China. One teacher described the experience of American teachers in Chinese middle schools as invigorating personally and professionally: Teachers in this program are loved and respected in China. They bring back more information and understanding of China into the classroom, but they more critically examine what they teach, how they teach, what should change, and appreciate more the very best things in American education.

The Committee also has a rich and varied public education program that regularly provides timely information directly from leading specialists on major issues of U.S.-China relations through seminars, panel programs, publications, e-mail briefings and conference calls. These offerings are coordinated with the National Committee’s Web site (www.ncuscr.org), which provides video, audio, and transcripts from selected programs, as well as selected publications. Recent public programs have included CHINA Town Hall, a program on China conducted simultaneously in thirty-five American cities in cooperation with the local World Affairs Councils and other policy and educational institutions, and “Once Upon a Time in Beijing,” a panel featuring all five living former U.S. ambassadors to China reflecting on their tenures in China and the future of U.S.-China relations.

The National Committee has long benefited from the experience and expertise of its staff leadership. President Stephen A. Orlins speaks fluent Mandarin and was a member of the State Department legal team that created the framework for the historic opening in 1979. He has also served as president of Lehman Brothers Asia and as managing director of Carlyle Asia. Former presidents and executive directors John Holden, David M. Lampton, Arthur Rosen, and Preston Schoyer also had extensive China experience. Vice president Jan Berris has been with the National Committee since 1971 and has managed and led hundreds of delegations between the United States and China, including the 1972 Chinese Ping Pong Team, the first PRC group to visit the United States. The Committee has had a long line of distinguished chairpersons whose prestige and influence has been of great help to the organization; the latest is The Honorable Carla Hills, former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and U.S. Trade Representative.

In the early years, the focus of the National Committee was on public education and outreach programs; private talks with leaders at the highest level and public policy conversations contributed to normalization of relations between the United States and the People’s Republic of China. Efforts now are more far-reaching: seminars and exchange programs for public officials, professionals, and students not only provide briefing for current leaders but develop new ones.

Further Reading

Barnett, A. D., & Reischauer E. O. (1970). The United States and China: The next decade. New York: Praeger.

Berris, J. (1986). The evolution of Sino-American relations: A view from the National Committee. In J. K. Kallgren & D. F. Simon (Eds.), Educational Exchanges: Essays on the Sino-American Experience (p. 92). Berkeley: University of California, Institute of East Asian Studies.

Cohen, W. (1986). While China faced east: Chinese-American cultural relations. In J. K. Kallgren & D. F. Simon (Eds.), Educational exchanges: Essays on the Sino-American experience (p. 49). Berkeley: University of California, Institute of East Asian Studies.

Harding, H. (1992). A fragile relationship: The United States and China since 1972. Washington DC: The Brookings Institution.

Kallgren, J. K. (1986). Public interest and private interest in Sino-American exchanges: De Toqueville’s “Associations” in action. In J. K. Kallgren & D. F. Simon (Eds.), Educational exchanges: Essays on the Sino-American experience (p. 65). Berkeley: University of California, Institute of East Asian Studies.

Madsen, R. (1995). China and the American dream: A moral inquiry. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Magliocco, M. T. (2008). Unsung Alchemists: The National Committee on United States-China Relations and the Path to Sino-American Rapprochement, 1949–1972. Yale College Senior Essay.

Mang, R., & Mang, P. (1976). A History of the Origins of the National Committee on United States-China Relations. Prepared at the request of the Christopher Reynolds Foundation.

National Committee on U.S.-China Relations. U.S.-China Teachers Exchange Program. (n.d). Retrieved February 23, 2009 from http://www.ncuscr.org/programs/tep

Scalapino, R. A. (1967). An annotated guide to modern China. New York: National Committee on United States-China Relations.

Source: The Editors. (2009). National Committee on United States–China Relations. In Linsun Cheng, et al. (Eds.), Berkshire Encyclopedia of China, pp. 1548–1555. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing.

President Lyndon B. Johnson briefing with National Committee representatives in 1968. From left to right: unknown, Lucian Pye, Alexander Eckstein, Ambassador Edwin Reishauer, President Johnson, Robert A. Scalapino, Carl F. Stover, A. Doak Barnett, and unknown. Although the committee’s original mission was explicitly to educate the U.S. public, it quickly became a viable source of information and advice to President Johnson and other political leaders. COURTESY OF NCUSCR.

National Committee program “Once Upon a Time in Beijing” in celebration of the thirtieth anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations, 9 December 2008. Left to right: Winston Lord, James Lilley, J. Stapleton Roy, James Ralph Sasser, Joseph W. Prueher, and Stephen A. Orlins. The National Committee became the principal organization contributing to the shift in U.S. policy and public opinion during the years leading up to the reopening of diplomatic relations in 1979. COURTESY OF NCUSCR.

The 1969 First National Convocation of the National Committee. During the National Committee’s early years the McCarthy era was still fresh in the minds of many Americans. By privately advising Johnson in 1968 and Nixon in 1970 in their dealings with Communist China, members of the National Committee played a vital role in the move towards normalization. COURTESY OF NCUSCR.

Jan Berris (NCUSCR’s current vice president) in China during the 1970s, surrounded by curious people. To expand knowledge about China by Americans—and the United States by the Chinese—the National Committee sponsors the exchange of professionals in a variety of fields, including education, energy and the environment, the media, and rule of law. COURTESY OF NCUSCR.

Photo from the Public Intellectuals Program visit to China 2007. In the front row are Ezra Vogel (striped tie), who is at the Fairbank Center for East Asian Research at Harvard, Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Yesui, Stephen Orlins, and Jan Berris. The Public Intellectuals Program series is intended to nurture the younger generation of leading American China scholars, giving them the skills and opportunity to inform policy and public opinion. COURTESY OF NCUSCR.

National Committee on United States–China Relations (M?i-Zh?ng Gu?nxì Quánguó W?iyuánhuì ?????????)|M?i-Zh?ng Gu?nxì Quánguó W?iyuánhuì ????????? (National Committee on United States–China Relations)

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