Former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers was in attendance at the conference which had the theme "Huge Shake-up, Big Test, Great Cooperation: China’s New Journey toward Modernization and Building a Community with a Shared Future for Mankind."
The conference, which featured nearly 20 Chinese speakers, depends on Western figures to grant legitimacy to the event. It argues for increased cooperation between the Chinese Communist Party and the rest of the world.
Summers is an economist with deep ties to the Democratic party. After his stint as Treasury secretary during the Clinton administration, he had also served as Director of the National Economic Council for former President Barack Obama. More recently, Reuters identified him as "advising Joe Biden's presidential campaign."
Other Western-based personalities included British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, German Minister of Finance and sitting president of the Bundestag Wolfgang Schauble and Berggruen Institute founder Nicholas Berggruen.
The Berggruen Institute has links to the Transition Integrity Project, which backs Joe Biden. The latter's co-founder Nils Gilman, serves as Vice President of Programs and editor of the former's magazine. Gilman is notorious for having threatened former Trump administration officials Michael Anton with execution in September.
On the Chinese side, among the high-ranking officials in attendance where Zheng Bijian, who directed a state-run think tank’s Research Institute for Marxism, Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought, and Ye Xiaowen, a former Vice President of the Central Institute of Socialism and director of the United Work Front Department. The latter agency has been identified by the U.S. government as being involved in neutralizing "potential opposition to the policies and authority of its ruling Chinese Communist Party” through the use of influence operations targeting foreign actors and governments. (Related: The Joe Biden transition team is compromised by Chinese elites who have already taken advantage of Hunter Biden’s White House connections.)
That Summers was at the Understanding China Conference shouldn't come as a surprise. He has previously argued that the U.S. and China should engage in closed-door diplomacy to forge agreements and understandings to guide their bilateral relationship out of its current, turbulent state.
Speaking at the annual Caixin Summit in October, Summers stated that Beijing and Washington are "sharing a life boat in a turbulent sea a long way from the shore." He said that, under such circumstances, a "Cold War" mentality would be "catastrophic.
He continued saying that both sides "need in different ways to adjust our policies, to show the requisite respect offered the other side, and to be sensitive to what are the red lines of the other side."
Summers also acknowledged that such closed-door diplomacy existed during his tenure as Treasury Secretary under Bill Clinton, adding that it needed to be restored.
The ideas Summer's espouse represent an about-face from the current, openly confrontational approach that has been adopted by the administration of President Donald Trump since he came to office four years ago. Should Joe Biden come to power then, it's reasonable to expect his administration to approach China along the lines laid out by Summers.
But the question is whether or not Summers will have a place in a Biden administration. Summers has claimed that he's not looking for a job under a Biden administration. That said, his past history of holding positions under previous Democratic presidents seems to indicate otherwise.
In addition, his position as an adviser to Biden's campaign could mean that the latter could still implement Summers' ideas regardless if he gains a position.
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