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Robert L. Suettinger


Robert L. Suettinger currently is a consultant in private practice. Previously, he has been Director of Research for MBP Consulting Limited LLC, a Senior Policy Analyst at RAND and a Visiting Fellow at the Brookings Institution.

Mr. Suettinger retired from federal government service at the end of 1998, having served for nearly 25 years in the intelligence and foreign policy bureaucracies. A China specialist by academic training (Columbia University M.A.), he joined the Central Intelligence Agency in 1975. After several years as an analyst and manager in CIA's Directorate of Intelligence, he was assigned as Director of the Office of Analysis for East Asia and the Pacific in the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research. Subsequently, he served for five years as Deputy National Intelligence Officer for East Asia on the National Intelligence Council (NIC).

Beginning in March 1994, Suettinger was Director of Asian Affairs on the National Security Council, where he assisted National Security Advisors Anthony Lake and Samuel R. Berger in the development of American policy toward East Asia. He returned to the NIC as National Intelligence Officer for East Asia in October 1997.

Suettinger is the author of Beyond Tiananmen: The Politics of US-China Relations, 1989–2000, published in June 2003 by The Brookings Institution.

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Recent Commentary

Foreign Policy

The Rise and Descent of "Peaceful Rise"

by Robert L. Suettingervia China Leadership Monitor
Saturday, October 30, 2004

A controversial formulation about China's emerging global role and responsibilities appears to have been set aside, in part as a result of leadership disagreements. The idea of China's "peaceful rise" (heping jueqi) as a responsible and benign global power was introduced into China's foreign policy discourse by Party General Secretary Hu Jintao associate Zheng Bijian in November 2003. It caught the interest of many Chinese foreign affairs specialists, becoming the subject of intense and surprisingly open debate. Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao both used the formulation in speeches in December 2003, suggesting that the idea had become an authoritative component of Chinese foreign policy statements. But Jiang Zemin and some members of the Politburo Standing Committee are rumored to have raised objections, and the leadership is said to have decided in April 2004 to drop the formulation in public statements. The concept itself has not been anathematized, however, and it remains the subject of academic debate in China. Still, it has lost much of its policy salience and some of its intellectual luster, a casualty of China's more open scholarly environment, the omnipresent Taiwan issue, and leadership jealousies.

Foreign Policy

Leadership Policy toward Taiwan and the United States in the Wake of Chen Shui-bian's Reelection

by Robert L. Suettingervia China Leadership Monitor
Friday, July 30, 2004

It is hardly surprising that the People's Republic of China (PRC) reacted negatively to the reelection of Chen Shui-bian as president of the Republic of China (ROC) on Taiwan. Leading up to the March 20, 2004, election, Beijing adopted a careful, low-key approach, in contrast to its missile launches in 1996 and its shrill threats in 2000. But there was little doubt that it hoped Chen would be defeated by the pan-blue coalition of the Kuomintang (KMT) and People First Party (PFP). In the run-up to Chen's victory, Beijing had once again failed to influence events in Taiwan. Still, the narrow margin of victory, the recount, the court challenge, and hopes that Chen might adopt an accommodating stance on cross-Strait relations in his May 20 inauguration speech all apparently combined to stay Beijing's hand. Now that Chen's speech has been delivered, assessed, and found wanting, however, high-level officials, media commentators, and "track two" scholars are pressing a harsher, more confrontational line. The revised approach will have consequences both for China's relations with the United States and perhaps on the domestic front as well.

Foreign Policy

Of Successors, Memories, and Guidance: Qian Qichen Defines His Legacy

by Robert L. Suettingervia China Leadership Monitor
Friday, April 30, 2004

In advance of the 16th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party in November 2002, some observers of China wondered who would succeed China's éminence grise in foreign affairs, Politburo member and Vice Premier Qian Qichen, who was obligated to retire. Although he lacked the stature or political clout of Zhou Enlai or Chen Yi—foreign ministers in the 1950s and 1960s—Qian was credited with having been the principal architect of China's emergence from diplomatic isolation and disrepute in the wake of the 1989 disturbances and violent crackdown in Tiananmen Square. His low-key but dignified and professional management of China's principal foreign relations during the 1990s won him promotion to the State Council in 1991, to a vice premiership in 1993, and to the Politburo in 1998. Qian's quiet grace and unflappable mastery of China's diplomacy won him many admirers in the West, as well. Analysis of Beijing's present foreign policy leadership and the prominence given to his recent memoir on his years guiding China's foreign policy suggest that Qian retains significant influence.

Foreign Policy

China's Foreign Policy Leadership: Testing Time

by Robert L. Suettingervia China Leadership Monitor
Friday, January 30, 2004

Over the course of the last two years, and particularly since the elevation of Hu Jintao to the most prominent positions in China's leadership, China's foreign policy appears to have undergone a significant transformation in favor of enhanced pragmatism, flexibility, and sophistication. This transformation has coincided with what leaders both in Beijing and in Washington have characterized as the best period in U.S.-China relations in more than a decade. Nevertheless, it is evidence of the volatility of the U.S.-China relationship, and of the difficulty of managing it consistently, that commentators on both sides have recently begun forecasting considerable tension. The proximate cause of this rise in tensions, as it has been so often in the past, is the Taiwan issue, specifically the U.S. attitude toward the Chen Shui-bian government and recent actions Taiwan has taken that Beijing interprets as moves toward independence. For China's leadership, the ensuing months are going to be a time of further testing. Although neither party General Secretary Hu Jintao's nor PRC Premier Wen Jiabao's job security is not in jeopardy, neither man's reputation will be burnished by the after-effects of the latest contretemps over Taiwan. How strongly they will push back against domestic critics to maintain China's mild-mannered approach to Washington and Taipei remains an open question.