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Society & Culture

China-US Relations—It Is Not A Game

Aug 17 , 2012

The Summer Olympic Games are over. The XXXth Olympiad is in the record books. The symbolism of the “games” should not be lost on anyone. Soft power was being flexed along with bulging muscles.

At the Beijing 2008 Olympics, on their home turf, China outpaced Team USA in the number of gold medals won. This was the same year the global economic meltdown began in America, greatly weakening our foundation.

It is only a game — yeah, right! Both sides are in it to win!

There is nationalistic pride and bragging rights tied up in medal counts surrounding these so-called games.With the 2012 London Olympics now behind us, America once again ended on top with more medals. Is this a harbinger for things to come? Do The Olympics Mirror Life?

Perhaps there is some symbolism swimming around the stats as China surpassed Germany and Japan to occupy the number two spot behind the U.S. as the world’s largest economy, and gaining fast.

Many global economists expect China to surpass the U.S. economy to gain the number one spot within a decade or less.

Being No. 1 is not new territory for China. They will be reclaiming its position as the world’s biggest economy — a role it held for 18 of the past 20 centuries.

It sometimes seems the U.S. is on a global economic seesaw, with China occupying the upper position. How do we maintain balance going forward?

Our government is in debt to the tune of nearly $15 trillion, with more than $1.2 trillion borrowed from China to keep our economy limping along. Who isn’t aware of China becoming America’s banker?

Too often the American response to China’s new competitive spirit is to whine, complain and blame China for our economic doldrums. This response is only more heated as the presidential campaign heats up.

It may be good politics to rhetorically beat up on China to score points with beleaguered American workers, but it does nothing to build jobs-producing relationships with the fastest-growing large economy on the planet. We need less political division and subtraction and more addition and multiplication when it comes to building economic, scientific, educational, technological and cultural bridges to one-fifth of all humanity.

As two of the world’s super powers China and the United States need to address more than their immediate economic issues; they need to seek ways to promote peace, strengthen fair and free global trade and expand educational, scientific, technology and people to people exchanges at every level.

America should have a policy of distrust and verify when it comes to dealing with China. It is also important that the U.S. acknowledge the legitimacy of China’s ambitions in their backyard while not abandoning old friends or alienating potential new ones in the vital South China Sea area.

My current work in China and my nearly quarter of a century of travel there convince me that rather than stirring fear, we need to be devising an aggressive plan to make China’s rise and globalization work for us. China can and must be part of the ingredients necessary to reinvent and revitalize America’s economy.

I have witnessed China making great strides since Deng Xiaoping opened the country to the world post-Mao. From the bland sameness of blue-collared Mao suits to ultra-fashionable luxury items, 400 million people have risen from abject poverty to the middle class, growing the land of the flying pigeon bicycles to the biggest auto market in the world. From donkey carts to bullet trains and from poverty stricken to world class cities – that’s China.

Build Bridges–Stop Digging Moats

In this 21st century, we can and should dislike some actions by their government, (as we do our own) even as we engage the Chinese people in educational and cultural exchanges, trade and investments.

To ignore or ostracize one-fifth of all humanity, the fastest growing large economy with a growing military from whom the U.S. has borrowed in excess of $1 trillion dollars to underwrite our debt, is not an option as sensible public policy.

As the 21st century continues to unfold, all major world issues will intersect at the corner of Beijing and Washington, DC and impact the people of the world.

As former Speaker of the U.S. House Tip O’Neill reminded us, “All politics are local.” This is true on both sides of the ocean. China, having suffered a century of humiliation due to its economic and military inferiority will rightfully demand that their interests not be ignored going forward.

China will continue to rise. It behooves us as a nation and as individuals to not simply swim against the tide or surely we will be swamped. We need to find a way to surf, riding this mighty global wave in ways that are mutually beneficial.

Americans Need To Step Up Our Game

America seems content to rest on our laurels and our past glories, thinking because we have been at the dance of greatness we have a guarantee to stay there. All the while we are slipping behind.

What is America’s aspirational goal? What is our training regime and who are our coaches to help us capture the gold?

How will we thrive in the hyper-competitive, disruptive, transformational, technology-driven, global knowledge economy where ideas and jobs can and do move around the world effortlessly?

The answer is we will not — if we disinvest in education, don’t develop our human potential or upgrade our nation’s infrastructure (technology, roads, bridges, bullet trains, air and seaports) not to mention investing in basic scientific research and find ways to both collaborate and compete on the global stage.

Talent is the 21st Century Gold.

Moving forward the nation that invests in its people, supporting education from the cradle to the grave, develops its country and invests in research and development will thrive, winning the gold while all others will fall behind.

Winning does not happen the day of the event.

As the Olympians demonstrated, those that prepared well, do the hard work and invest their energy wisely– prosper.

As individuals and as a nation, we need to go for the gold realizing that we share the stage with others.

Let’s not settle for second place. All the while, realizing that it is imperative for not only China and America, but all of humanity that our two great countries find ways to develop “win-win” strategies.

We need to understand that in the real world our future is inextricably linked with China.

Tom Watkins is Michigan’s former state superintendent of schools and has a lifelong interest in China. He is a US-China business and educational consultant and has been working for over a quarter of a century to build cultural, educational and economic bridges between the two countries.  

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