Jim Sasser has spent more than a quarter-century in public life, as a Senator from Tennessee, Ambassador of the United States to the People’s Republic of China, educator, and as one of the leading commentators on Sino-US relations and the inner workings of the U.S. Senate.
During his time in Beijing from 1996-1999, he played a pivotal role in strengthening Sino-U.S. relations, developing close working relationships with President Jiang Zemin and Premier Zhu Rongji and the next generation of Chinese leaders. Sasser traveled with Jiang and Zhu on their historic State Visits to the United States in 1997 and 1999 and hosted President Clinton when he visited China in 1998. It was during these visits that President Clinton and Chinese President Jiang Zemin agreed to work toward a “strategic partnership,” laying the foundations for future US-China cooperation including the ongoing Strategic and Economic Dialogue. Summing up Sasser’s tenure in China, Henry Kissinger said, “I have never known an ambassador who has done a better or more passionate job on Sino-US relations than Ambassador Sasser.”
During his Beijing posting, Sasser worked tirelessly to improve market access and opportunities for U.S. companies. In Sasser, American investors found “a man able to understand intuitively what drives policy in Washington as well as in Beijing, able to communicate effectively between the senior leaders in both capitols,” according to the Beijing American Chamber of Commerce.
In addition to being respected at home, Sasser’s Chinese hosts also developed great affinity for the former senator. “(Ambassador Sasser) has played a prominent role in forging a dramatic improvement in the U.S.-Chinese relationship. He is held in very high esteem by the host government (China) and thus has ready access to its top leadership. This was demonstrated rather dramatically when he was invited to have dinner at the home of the president (Jiang Zemin) before he departed for the summit in the United States. This was an unprecedented event for an ambassador in Beijing.” noted the U.S. State Department.
Prior to his appointment as ambassador by President Clinton, Sasser served as a United States Senator from Tennessee from 1977-1995. During his three terms in Washington, Sasser became a leader on budgetary matters and fiscal issues, chairing the Senate Budget Committee from 1989-1995. As Chairman, Sasser pushed through fiscal reform measures which erased the federal deficit for the first time in a generation.
After leaving the Senate and before assuming his duties in Beijing, Sasser, was a Fellow at the Institute of Politics, Kennedy School of Harvard University (1995). He was named the J.B. and Maurice C. Shapiro Visiting Professor at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs during the 2000 school year. In announcing the appointment, GW President Joel Trachtenberg said, “Ambassador Sasser brings with him a wealth of real world experience, knowledge of government affairs, and international diplomacy.”
Sasser currently provides strategic advice to leading US and China companies serving as a senior advisor to the FedEx Corporation and a senior counselor to APCO Worldwide. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, vice-chairman of the Committee on US-China Relations, vice-chairman of the US-China Foundation, and a member of the Yale University International Advisory Board of the Culture and Civilization of China. He also serves on the Advisory Board of the Honors Burch Field Research Seminar in Domestic and International Affairs at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
From 1961 until he won his Senate seat in 1976, Sasser was a partner in the Nashville law firm of Goodpasture, Carpenter, Woods, and Sasser. He is a 1958 graduate of Vanderbilt University, 1961 graduate of Vanderbilt Law School, and was honored as the law school’s distinguished alumnus in 1998. Sasser served in the Marine Corps.
Sasser has provided commentary to the BBC, Bloomberg, and PBS, among others and appeared on CBS, ABC, FOX, and CNN.