The day after President Trump arrived in China recently, National Public Radio sought out Randal Phillips, a Mintz Group partner who heads the company’s Beijing office, for insight into the rising Asian nation. On November 7, NPR’s Morning Edition ran a seven-minute interview with Phillips from Beijing that touched on his 28 years in the CIA in Asia, culminating in his being station chief in China, as well as on the diplomatic and economic struggles between the two countries.
The show’s host, Steve Inskeep, asked Phillips what term best captured Washington’s approach to China — adversary, friend, ally, enemy, or rival?
“Frenemy,” Phillips replied, because of economic competition and the differences in their political systems. As for China’s view of the U.S., he said it was “less friend, more enemy…The discussion amongst that elite is really, the U.S., of course, is trying to hold China down because the U.S. is – they see has been the No. 1 position. Why wouldn’t you try to hold down somebody else who’s rising?”
He also spoke about the challenges Western companies face doing business in China. As a member of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in China, Phillips has advised top U.S. corporate leaders — as well as officials from the Obama and Trump administrations, and members of Congress – on these myriad difficulties.
While Chinese firms are on a shopping spree buying high-tech U.S. businesses, in semiconductors, robotics, artificial intelligence, and the like, Phillips said, U.S. companies are “for all intents and purposes blocked off because of regulatory action” from buying into the most advanced Chinese companies and technologies.
The Trump team on China policy, while it has a number of astute officials, has made only limited progress in crafting an overall China strategy, he said. “We’re almost a year in now,” Phillips said. “Certain aspects of the approach really should be in place by now, one would think.”
Inskeep recounted how on his visit to China this past week, he had left his laptop unattended for a time, then discovered that the hard drive had been dislodged. Could the Chinese have hacked him? “Either you’re very clumsy in an exceptional way, which I highly doubt,” Phillips said, “or somebody went into image your hard drive and wasn’t particularly careful about putting it back.”