China/US Relations: The Most Important Bi-lateral  Relationship in the World Today

Jan 5, 2019 by

By Tom Watkins –

40th Anniversary of China Opening Up to the World: Shenzhen, China.

2019-China kicks off a new year with many sensitive anniversaries with a major speech this past Wednesday by President Xi Jinping on Taiwan, China’s most sensitive issue.

There is no question that the lives of average Chinese have improved remarkably since China “opened up.”  From the drab sameness of Mao-era gray suits to today’s designer lifestyle, seeing China then and now is as if a movie had begun in in black and white and suddenly switched to Technicolor with Dolby surround sound; the change is that dramatic. China’s achievements are not only remarkable, but universally acknowledged.

The Chinese—both its government and people—are investing in education, infrastructure, and technology.  Each is fully embracing the future. Both understand that knowledge, innovation, and creativity are the drivers of 21st century currency that will propel them forward not only as individuals, but as a nation, so they invest heavily in education as a poverty-alleviation tool.

Is China’s Rise at America’s Demise?

China has soared. Consider this:

  • 700 million people have moved from abject poverty to a Chinese middle class.
  • China has become the world’s fastest growing large economy.
  • Chinese students significantly outperform U.S. students on international tests.
  • China is the world’s largest auto producer.
  • China has become a banker to the U.S., owning more than 20 percent of our total foreign reserves or more than 3 trillion dollars
  • China’s economy has been the world’s largest during 18 of the past 20 centuries and they are working hard to regain their stature as a global power.
Take a Broad View of the World

Clearly Michigan has benefited from China’s coming out party. According to the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, in 2016 Michigan ranked number two in the nation for the number of investment projects from China. Michigan also ranks number three in the nation for the number of jobs created by Chinese investment. It was fourth in the nation in total Chinese capital investment. Between January 2010 and July 2017, Michigan received $1.1 billion in new business investment from China, creating 5,475 jobs for Michigan residents – an ROI (return on investment) that has created numerous benefits for the people of the Great Lakes State.

Former Governor Snyder has done more to cement the bond between China and Michigan than all his predecessors combined. Incoming Governor Whitmer understands that building bridges is a far smarter strategy than erecting walls. Her focus will be to continue to seek foreign direct investment that helps create jobs and wealth in Michigan and export our goods and services around the globe.

While it seemed easy to mine cynical votes by making China the bogeyman during past elections, the fact is that we have lost more jobs to automation and productivity than we have “shipped to China.”

Turning Point

President Trump deserves credit for raising real and legitimate issues about unfair trade deals and the enforced transfer of American technology as a price for doing business in China.  It could be argued that his strategy of alienating our allies and simultaneously starting a trade war with China may not have been the best tactic. Yet, China has recently made good on its promise to cut tariffs on U.S. autos and make major purchases (1.5 million tons) of U.S. soybeans since President Donald Trump and Chinese Premier Xi Jinping struck a truce in the trade war earlier this month.

With the Trump administration’s message of “America first,” China-U.S. relations have reached a historic, pivotal turning point. There is fear we could part ways, engage in a cold war or, worse still, an actual war.  None of these outcomes are acceptable.

Our economies are as intertwined as a bowl of spaghetti. All major issues in the world today intersect at the corner of Washington, DC and Beijing. How these global issues are resolved will impact the people of China, America and, indeed, all of humanity. Our leaders must sit down and–with mutual respect–negotiate to reach a face-saving agreement for both sides. That lifts all boats. Any other outcome is unthinkable.

As the 21st century unfolds, China and the United States must devote effort to not falling into the “Thucydides Trap”: Where one great power threatening to displace another starts a war. Smart leaders today must assure the world that we don’t perpetuate this inevitability.

At the national level, citizens must rely on our respective leaders to guide this fragile and important relationship. At the subnational level we must continue to build cultural, scientific, educational, and business ties: Win-win ties that enable peace and prosperity to prevail.P

Acting Chicago- China Consul General, Jerry Liu and author, Tom Watkins

The problems between the U.S. and China are huge.  President Trump’s “unique diplomatic skills,” the tensions in North Korea, and China’s continued rise and investment in other nations have all strained the sensitive balance between our two countries; A strain due to the lack of mutual trust. China and the United States have built a strong working relationship over the past 40 years, across multiple leaders on both sides of the Pacific. We may have been even more successful than the world ever anticipated when we began ping-pong diplomacy more than 40 years ago.

The U.S./China relationship need not be a geopolitical game of see-saw (i.e. one nation down when the other is up).  Rather, America needs a national strategy to invest in infrastructure, technology/AI (artificial intelligence), education and workforce development.

Whining about China’s Rise Will Not Prevent Our Demise

Let’s find ways to rise together. May the next 40 years be even better than the first 40.

Tom Watkins

Tom Watkins has an eclectic career in both the public and private sectors. He served the citizens of Michigan as state superintendent of schools and director of the department of mental health. He has held leadership positions in higher education, business and behavioral health. Watkins has a interest and passion in all things China and has written hundreds of article on the value of this most important bilateral relationship in the world today.

Source: China/US Relations: The Most Important Bi-lateral  Relationship in the World Today | Dome Magazine

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