US - China Relations
Apr 06, 2021 11:45 AM
David Firestein, CEO, George H. W. Bush Foundation
US - China Relations

David J. Firestein is the inaugural president and CEO of the George H. W. Bush Foundation for U.S.-China Relations (Bush China Foundation) and a founding and current member of the Foundation’s Board of Directors.  Prior to joining the Bush China Foundation, he was the founding executive director of The University of Texas at Austin’s (UT) China Public Policy Center and a clinical professor at UT’s Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs. He also served as SVP and Perot Fellow at the EastWest Institute (EWI), where he led the Institute’s track 2 diplomacy work in the areas of U.S.-China relations, East Asian security and U.S.-Russia relations.  He remains one of the longest-serving senior executives in EWI history.

A decorated career U.S. diplomat from 1992–2010, Firestein specialized primarily in U.S.-China relations. Among the honors he garnered were the Secretary of State’s Award for Public Outreach (2006) and the Linguist of the Year Award (1997). He served as an elected member of the Board of Governors of the American Foreign Service Association, the union and professional association of the United States Foreign Service. He also served as the elected president of the large community associations of the U.S. embassies in Beijing and Moscow.

Firestein is the author or co-author of three books on China, including two China-published Chinese-language best-sellers, as well as a large number of China-focused monographs, policy reports and articles. As a writer, he broke new ground in a number of ways: in the mid-1990s, he became the first foreign citizen to have a regular column in a People’s Republic of China newspaper and the first foreign diplomat to publish an original book in the country, among other milestones. He is a prolific public speaker and frequent commentator in the U.S. and Chinese media. The Voice of America’s Mandarin Service wrote in 2016 that Firestein is “one of the world’s best non-native speakers of Mandarin Chinese”; early in his career, he interpreted for dozens of top-level U.S. and Chinese leaders and officials. 

Since he left the State Department, Firestein produced path-breaking Capitol Hill testimony, thought leadership and scholarship on a wide range of topics, including U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, U.S.-China trade, the role of national exceptionalism as a driver of major international conflict, the value of government, U.S. public diplomacy in the wake of 9/11, and the use of contemporary country music as presidential campaign communication. Numerous incumbent and former U.S secretaries of state and national security advisors from both sides of the partisan aisle – along with multiple other incumbent and former U.S. Cabinet members, members of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, U.S. combatant commanders and other prominent U.S. figures – have lauded Firestein’s contributions and achievements in the area of U.S.-China relations. In recent years, he has been invited to brief significant swaths of the U.S. investment community, including via the 20-20 Investment Association and the Pacific Pension & Investment Institute which together represent well over $30 trillion under management, on China and U.S.-China relations.

Firestein currently serves on the boards of directors or advisors of over a dozen foreign affairs-focused, business-focused, China-focused, and Texas-focused U.S. non-profit organizations. And he is a member of the founding, and current, board of directors of the U.S. Heartland–China Association, where he serves as the inaugural chairman of the policy committee.

A native and current resident of Austin, Firestein holds a bachelor’s from Georgetown University and two master’s degrees from UT, as well as various advanced training certifications from the National Foreign Affairs Training Center of the U.S. Department of State.