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Former NIC chair talks American, Chinese relations

June 6, 2012


Thomas Fingar, former chairman of the National Intelligence Council, spoke to students, faculty and guests Wednesday in the Templeton Room of the Mitchell Memorial Library at Mississippi State University on the topic of China’s rise and United States interests.

His speech was a part of the Radvanyi Chair in International Security Studies and marked his first visit to MSU.

Fingar discussed the ways U.S. policies assisted in the rise and accomplishments of China from a historical and practical perspective, citing several past presidents’ views that a strong and stable China was in the best interest of the United States.

“China’s rise is good for both of us,” Fingar said. “It’s not a see-saw.”

Fingar said many of the fear-based messages he hears can be traced back to the media.

“A lot of it is the media, but some comes from a realist school of thought on international relations,” he said. “They say it’s inevitable that a rising country would challenge the status quo country, which is us.”

This line of thinking, Fingar said, shows a lack of confidence in the United States’ own infrastructure, which he said he believes is overdue to be rebuilt.

“We’ve got all of these things that we know we need to fix, and in many respects it’s an effort to shift blame,” he said. “We’re trying to blame our problems on somebody, and the Chinese are the only real game in town.”

Fingar said that modernization efforts are still underway in China and called the visual changes he had witnessed over the years stunning.

“The Chinese think endlessly about us, but most Americans don’t spend any time at all thinking about China,” he said. “Many don’t see China as a threat.”

Fingar said that discussions concerning China can often lead to both difficult and interesting conversations, but that most Americans might not understand the importance of staying educated on certain issues.

“It’s important for us to pay attention to what happens outside of our borders,” he said. “We have to think on a more global level.”

Between 1975 and 1986, Fingar held a number of positions at Stanford University, including senior research associate in the Center for International Security and Arms Control.

Fingar said he taught at the beginning of his career, then spent 23 years serving in Washington D.C., including the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research, as director of the Office of Analysis for East Asia and the Pacific and chief of the China Division.

“I love speaking with students, I relish it,” he said. “I wanted to get back and share what I knew because there are students who need to understand who might be going into public service.”

Fingar received his doctorate in political science from Stanford University in 1977 where he was named both the Payne Distinguished Lecturer and the inaugural Oksenberg-Rohlen Distinguished Fellow in the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies.

For more information on Fingar and the Freeman Spogli Institute visit

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