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National Security Advisor Dr. Michael Pillsbury Attends SPP Class to Discuss US-China Relations

Michael Pillsbury

On March 9th, national security advisor and international relations scholar, Dr. Michael Pillsbury, joined the virtual classroom at the School of Public Policy to discuss China strategy with graduate students. The class “Past is Prologue: US International Politics,” taught by Dr. Kiron Skinner, Taube Professor of International Relations and Politics, is one of four masters of public policy electives offered to students pursuing the international relations and national security specialization. The learning objective for the class laid out by Skinner is to explore and analyze historical triumphs and failures of past US global conflicts and apply its lessons to modern-day policy issues. 

Pillsbury shared first-hand experiences on the policy actions taken during the Cold War and offered keen insight into the current power struggle between the United States and China. Pillsbury’s stance on China as an underestimated global player was evident throughout the time he answered questions raised by students. He argued that the needed institutional changes for the US government to embrace such a posture remain complex.

“The same people and the same units that were making China policy 10 years ago or 20 years ago when China was our friend, [are] still there. Their way of thinking is still there. The level of resources they have is still there,” said Pillsbury. The most prominent question that remains unanswered, Pillsbury posed to the students, is how much time is remaining before the United States arrives at a consensus on the terms in which we describe our relationship with China—friend, partner, or adversary? The terminology decided upon will drastically shift the direction of policy decision-making. 

Pillsbury’s notable experience includes more than 40 years of collective advising on matters of foreign affairs with expertise on China policy. During the Reagan administration, he served as the assistant under secretary of defense for policy planning where he managed program operations of the Reagan Doctrine. As an analyst at the RAND Corporation in 1975-1976, Pillsbury’s published research received such wide approval that it later became foundational in establishing military and intelligence ties with China during the Carter and later Reagan administrations. Pillsbury has staffed four US Senate Committees, including the Senate Labor Committee where he authored legislation for the US Institute of Peace, the National Endowment for Democracy, and has led a bi-partisan effort in establishing an annual report from the Department of Defense on Chinese military power. In 2016, Pillsbury became a best-selling author of The Hundred-Year Marathon: China's Secret Strategy to Replace America as the Global Superpower, and most recently joined the Heritage Foundation as a senior fellow for China strategy as part of Heritage’s Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy.