Dr. Michael Beckley—Expert on U.S.-China Relations—Delivers 20th Jarvis Lecture

In 2004, we began what has become one of Roxbury Latin’s proudest traditions, the F. Washington Jarvis International Fund Lecture. Named for the man who for thirty years served as Roxbury Latin’s tenth Headmaster, the annual Lecture has given us occasion to hear from distinguished public servants and thinkers on foreign affairs, including former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates; homeland security advisor to President Obama Lisa Monaco; former Director of the CIA John Brennan; and, last year, David Diaz, who provided a stellar example of a career committed to national security, foreign policy, and public service. On October 12, we welcomed to Rousmaniere Hall our twentieth such distinguished speaker, Dr. Michael Beckley.

Dr. Beckley is an expert on the power dynamics between two of the world’s largest economic players—the United States and China. He currently serves as an Associate Professor of Political Science at Tufts University, a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and Director of the Asia Program at the Foreign Policy Research Institute. His research on great power competition has earned him multiple awards and has inspired appearances in numerous media from The Atlantic to The New York Times, from NPR to the Wall Street Journal. Dr. Beckley has previously served as an International Security Fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government; he also worked for the U.S. Department of Defense, the RAND Corporation, and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He continues to advise offices within the U.S. Intelligence Community and U.S. Department of Defense.

Dr. Beckley spoke to the RL community about the realities of economic decline in China after more than 40 years of stunning growth, and the inevitable consequence of that trajectory, which is at best, by his estimation, a cold war. Dr. Beckley explained the history of China’s rise to a global economic power, as well as the factors that will undoubtedly lead to its decline in the coming years. He walked students and faculty from the early 1970s through to present day, during which time China benefited from a perfect storm of good fortune: a favorable demographic ratio of working-aged citizens to elderly folks; political progress after the death of Mao Zedong; a wealth of natural resources; and a rising trend of hyper-globalization that expanded trade dramatically.

Now, however, China’s natural resources are—quite literally, in the case of groundwater—running dry, and its population is dwindling. (In fact, sales of adult diapers in China are about to surpass those of infant diapers.) The country is in the midst of a productivity plunge and a surge in national debt, is suffering the economic aftershock of “zero COVID” lockdowns, and is more politically isolated than ever. Dr. Beckley explained that, in his estimation, this portends a large-scale global conflict. Historically, he explained, countries in similar positions—that is, those with significant means from an economic boom and the motivation of an impending fall—have lashed out in considerable ways. As he described, we need only look at Germany in the buildup to World War I, Imperial Japan in WWII, or the Soviet Union before the Korean War to “predict the future” of Chinese conflict. Dr. Beckley worries specifically about Taiwan and the many countries that lay claim to parts of the South China Sea.

Dr. Beckley’s insightful and comprehensive—if sobering—presentation was an important reminder that amidst so much global turmoil, world leaders cannot take their eyes off East Asia. Dr. Beckley is an inspiring example of an expert in his field who uses his intellectual passion to work toward a better, more peaceful world. After Hall, Dr. Beckley spent the morning with two sections of Mr. Kelly’s European History class, continuing the conversation and digging more deeply into the topic and its relevance to other global events today.

Roxbury Latin offers its thanks—as always—to Jack and Margarita Hennessy for funding the annual opportunity for our boys to hear from such distinguished thinkers on world affairs over the years. Mr. Hennessy is a member of the Class of 1954 and a former member of Roxbury Latin’s Board of Trustees. Both he and Mrs. Hennessy have throughout their lives represented an unusual engagement with other nations and cultures. Throughout their lives, too, they have generously provided the philanthropic wherewithal in order that others might come to know and appreciate various corners of our increasingly interconnected world.