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American Citizens Want Friendly Relations with China

Nov 01, 2019
  • Tom Watkins

    President and CEO of the Economic Council of Palm Beach County, FL

Much of the American’s public attention is focused on bread and butter issues, such as how their pro and college football team is doing and whether President Trump deserves to be impeached. Yet, there is a major geopolitical tectonic shift going on bound to impact us all that few are paying attention to - the US-China relationship.   

The US-China relationship is the most important bilateral relationship in the world today; going forward, all major global issues will intersect at the corner of Beijing and Washington, D.C. How our respective leaders address these problems between our nations will impact the people of China, America, and all of humanity. 

The China transformation we have witnessed from a poor backward society into one of the world’s most powerful economies and a country of rising military might is amazing and universally acknowledged. 

As the 21st century rolls on, one thing is certain: China, the Middle Kingdom, will cast its giant shadow over the world. What happens in China will not stay in China. It will wash up on shores across the globe. 

Playing See-Saw 

The Trump Administration has turned America’s 40 plus years of engagement with China on its head. The Trump Tariff Trade War to-date has caused friction between our two counties without producing a transformative agreement that advances the interests of American consumers, farmers, and manufacturers. In fact, Americans are paying a stiff price for Trump’s China trade war.   

The Trump Tariff Trade War appears tactically flawed, alienating our allies and independently reacting to individual events rather than springing from a thought-out strategic direction. America seems to be playing checkers while China is playing the ancient game of Go. 

Responding to China’s unfair trading practices with unilateral tariffs seems reactionary, yet it is this response that seems to drive the US’ China policy today. We need greater depth in the integration of our interests and our values, solutions that will be sustainable over the long haul rather than those that will result in a perceived momentary win, beating China with our tit-for-tat trade war. Finding sensible, mutually respectful, win-win solutions to the trade dispute between our two countries is good for the people of China, America, and the global economy. 

If the ultimate end of the Trump Tariff Trade War is merely transactional rather than transformative, then American farmers, manufactures, and consumers will have paid a huge price. 

Both sides must proceed with the understanding that no agreement can stand the test of time unless both sides are invested in its success. This dispute cannot proceed like a playground game of see-saw, where one nation has to be down in order for the other to be up. The classic precondition for a successful negotiation is that victory for both sides must be our ultimate goal. 

While battles are taking place at the highest levels of our respective governments, the American people want us to find a way to get along. 

According to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, the American people still want our government to pursue a policy of friendly cooperation and engagement with China, rather than work to limit the growth of China’s power. 

Key Poll Findings:

  • Two-thirds of Americans (68%) say the United States should pursue a policy of friendly cooperation and engagement with China rather than working to limit the growth of China’s power (31%).
  • Four in ten Americans (42%) say the development of China as a world power is a critical threat to the United States.
  • Americans see China as the second most influential country in the world, behind only the United States.
  • A majority of Americans (58%) see the United States as a stronger military power than China, and a plurality (38%) say America is more economically powerful.
  • Republicans are more likely to see the rise of China as a critical threat (54%), to support the use of US troops in a conflict between China and Japan over disputed islands (48%), and to prefer containing the growth of China’s power (40%). 

Win-Win Solution 

America needs to not only assert our own interests but also understand China’s interests; otherwise, we will be perceived as a pogo stick, jumping up and down but not getting anywhere. To be clear, we are past a time in which America can simply demand that China accept unequal treaties. China may bend momentarily, but they will eventually, not unlike a river, seek its own level and take its own path. 

It would be naive to think that we are not in an era of great power competition with China. Going forward, we must be able to simultaneously collaborate and compete with China. Given the level of integration between our two countries, we are not going to prevent China’s rise without doing corresponding damage to ourselves. 

We must attempt to reconcile what is considered just and beneficial to the American and Chinese people together with what is considered possible with a strong and rising China. It is imperative that our respective leaders find a way through the problems that are driving a wedge between us. We know from history that no agreement can stand the test of time unless both sides are invested in its success. 

It is imperative that America does not succumb to moral laryngitis, standing strong for our ideals and beliefs while finding ways to acknowledge and accommodate China’s ride. China’s rise need not come at our demise.  

America must respond to the Chinese rise, but doing so will require hard choices to start investing in the American people, including building up our education opportunities and infrastructure. It is vital to build an understanding of the China challenge so there is a consensus and political will, not to hold China back, but to propel Michigan and America forward. 

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