China US Trade: Why Can’t We Be Friends, Someday?

China US relations

Got an email the other day from blogger Dave Porter, saying, “I know you tend not to like big picture stuff about China, but check out the last half of Berkeley economics professor Brad DeLong’s post on Free Trade Fair Trade, the last half of which says”:

Think of it this way: Consider a world that contains one country that is a true superpower. It is preeminent–economically, technologically, politically, culturally, and militarily. But it lies at the east edge of a vast ocean. And across the ocean is another country–a country with more resources in the long-run, a country that looks likely to in the end supplant the current superpower. What should the superpower’s long-run national security strategy be?

I think the answer is clear: if possible, the current superpower should embrace its possible successor. It should bind it as closely as possible with ties of blood, commerce, and culture–so that should the emerging superpower come to its full strength, it will to as great an extent possible share the world view of and regard itself as part of the same civilization as its predecessor: Romans to their Greeks.

In 1877, the rising superpower to the west across the ocean was the United States. The preeminent superpower was Britain. Today the preeminent superpower is the United States. The rising superpower to the west across the ocean is China. that was the rising superpower across the ocean to the west of the world’s industrial and military leader. Today it is China.

Throughout the twentieth century it has been greatly to Britain’s economic benefit that America has regarded it as a trading partner–a source of opportunities–rather than a politico-military-industrial competitor to be isolated and squashed. And in 1917 and again in 1941 it was to Britain’s immeasurable benefit–its veruy soul was on the line–that America regarded it as a friend and an ally rather than as a competitor and an enemy. A world run by those whom de Gaulle called les Anglo-Saxons is a much more comfortable world for Britain than the other possibility–the world in which Europe were run by Adolf Hitler’s Saxon-Saxons.

There is a good chance China is now on the same path to world preeminence that America walked 130 years ago. Come 2047 and again in 2071 and in the years after 2075, America is going to need China. There is nothing more dangerous for America’s future national security, nothing more destructive to America’s future prosperity, than for Chinese schoolchildren to be taught in 2047 and 2071 and in the years after 2075 that America tried to keep the Chinese as poor as possible for as long as possible.

I generally agree, but does this analysis call for trade with every nation, no matter how rogue? Where is the line? Who is to say China won’t go rogue?

13 responses to “China US Trade: Why Can’t We Be Friends, Someday?”

  1. Trade is only one important dimension of the US-China relationship. In the short term, trade issues are a problem. Nor should we have any illusions about China, but DeLong is suggesting that the US has a higher level, more grand strategic interest in finding as many ways as possible to understand, appreciate and find common interest with China so that when (if) China becomes the dominant superpower it also benefits us. The US should not get too shortsighted about any of these other short term issues. Bring them up for sure, try to work them out, but do not over emphasize them. We need to keep in mind at all times our overarching, long term strategic interest. And, as I argue incessantly to Oregon legislators, we need to invest much more in teaching our next generations Mandarin and sending them to China to study, to be seen, in DeLong words, as binding China “as closely as possible with ties of blood, commerce, and culture.”

  2. First of all I am not buying the “China the next superpower” thingy. Western hype. The Chinese themselves and a lot of you who have been to China know it is no joke that China is a third-world developing country which has some very daunting tasks.
    Dan, different people define “rogue” differently. Your “rogue” might not be rogue in my book. Vice versa.

  3. What it means is that the United States should not impose sanctions on China for no reason, it should not see China as an enemy unless it actually behaves like one, and it should not oppose China simply because it is expanding.
    On the other hand, the parallel which is drawn far more often is the one where a country new to world affairs and which has shown itself to be pugnacious and war-like in its policies arises in the middle of a continent. Where there was a devided people who were the pawns of the larger powers surrounding them there is now a unified and strong country, the industrial heartland of the continent in which it lies. The citizens of this country see themselves as surrounded by enemies and believe that the full unification of their race has not yet been acheived. Since their current unity was gained through armed struggle this is how they assume it will happen in the future. They also see that their state’s late appearance on the world stage has robbed it of its rightful place in the sun and they are anxious to correct this. Again, many of them assume that this will not be done without fighting.
    I am of course talking about Germany at the start of the last century. It is worth remembering that up to about twelve years before the first world war Britain was still trying to court Germany as an ally. It was Britain’s lack of clarity as to whether she would declare war on Germany if the Germans invaded Belgium which led the German leadership to presume that she would not. Perhaps the true lesson from history is that the United States must extend the hand of friendship whilst remaining clear as to the limits to which it is willing to accomodate China’s behaviour.

  4. This is how the former commander of the US pacific command, Admiral Fallon, described his approach to dealing with China in an interview with Esquire magazine:
    ” . . But Fallon stood down the China hawks, because as much as military leaders have to plan for war, Fallon seems to understand better than most the role they also have to play in everything else beyond war. And like a good cop, Fallon doesn’t want to fire his gun unless he absolutely has to. “I wouldn’t have done what I did if I didn’t think it was the right thing to do, which I still do. China is our most important relationship for the future, given the realities of people, economics, and location. We’ve got to work hard and make sure we do our best to get it right.”
    For Fallon, that meant an emphasis on opening new lines of communication and reducing the capacity for misunderstanding during times of crisis. But beyond that, it meant telling the Chinese, “If you want to be treated as a big boy and a major player, you’ve got to act like it.”
    If you want recognition of your power, then you have to accept the responsibility that comes with such power. That’s the essential message Fallon delivered to the Chinese, and if that meant he was out of line with the Pentagon’s take on rising China, then so be it.”

  5. O’Fallon overstepped his bounds, trying to play diplomat when he is first a war fighter. We have the State Dept. to play nice with China and allow the wholesale give away of sensitive technologies.
    O’Fallon also openly expressed a willingness to help China develop an aircraft carrier program, that is why he was transferred from the Pacific Command to the Central Asian Command.
    China has always seen itself as superior to other countries, thus creating a permanent state of conflict. China is the enemy of the rest of humanity and must be deconstructed.

  6. I don’t care what anyone says. China is the psychological global leader. It may also have a quicker life cycle than any other to date but that’s a demographic issue down the road.
    More importantly global interdependence is clear. I still see too many currencies in the world for my liking. If the EU can do it why not elsewhere.

  7. What does DeLong mean by “embrace” China? How exactly does he feel Britain “embraced” the US? He seems to be saying that the US should give China trade advantages to help overcome China’s poverty, but I don’t see a parallel with the history of Anglo-American relations, and I am skeptical of the benefits he implies and the moral necessity of doing so.
    First of all, the US and Britain are close because of similarities that the US and China do not have- Britain is in many ways Greece to the American Rome, in the America’s language, political system, economic system, religion and culture owe an enormous debt to Britain- not to mention that millions of Americans trace their ancestry there. This connection seems a far better explanation for America’s friendship with Britain, especially when you consider that this shared ancestry makes it more likely that the US and Britain will share political goals (eg, promoting democracy, spreading capitalism). This is all the more true when DeLong doesn’t even bother to offer an example of how Britain “cozied up” to the US. The only links the US has with China are trade since the ’80’s, a short-lived shared animosity toward the USSR, and 100 years of vague, inconsistent and often patronizing goodwill from the 1840s to 1949. Lacking both depth and breadth, it’s hard to imagine on the basis of these links how the Sino-American relations could be seriously compared to Anglo-American relations.
    As for ensuring that Chinese students are taught that the US helped China, I think it would take an awful lot of sucking up to ensure this happening. The US did not treat China fairly before 1949, but anyone at all familiar with America’s relations with China could not say that the US actively sought to keep China down and harbored no goodwill for the Chinese people- especially compared to European countries, including the CCP’s onetime rival, the USSR. And yet, the CCP made exactly that claim, and promoted it through its grip on education and the media. Despite a somewhat loosened grip, it continues to do this today.
    This is most evident when one visits Taiwan or HK. Both places have plenty of critics of the US, and feel a shared history with pre-1949 China (aside from Taiwan’s DPP). And yet HKers and Taiwanese do not obsess over the evilness of the US, as many mainlanders make a point of doing when they meet an American. My point is that American goodwill is no guarantee that Chinese children will be no longer taught about the evils of the US.

  8. @NHYRC – ” . . . has always seen itself as superior to other countries”
    Most countries do, the United States especially – how many times have I seen American authors appeal to some special virtue of freedom or rugged individualism which supposedly only America possesses? Chinese people often describe their civilisation as the world’s oldest, most wise, most cultured or some other such claim – and with only marginally more proof than those who tout ‘city on the hill’ style American exceptionalism.
    As for Fallon, I doubt they shifted him to America’s most important command because they were afraid that he was damaging American interests. Yes, most nations employ a diplomatic service to maintain their relations with other countries – but this does not mean that professionals in all fields cannot build links with their Chinese counterparts based on minimum standards of behaviour. So long as we are clear on what the bounds on the behaviour that we expect of anyone who seeks to join the world system then there is no reason why we shouldn’t. Bending the rules and making exceptions for China is what must be avoided. Fallon saw that China’s rise cannot be prevented and therefore must be dealt with – which was Porter’s point also. It is a great pity that the perhaps unguarded comments he made in the Esquire interview have forced his resignation.

  9. I agree with JB and FOARP’s points. On one hand, America should do everything we can to ensure consistant trade and relations with China, simply because doing so ensures American interests (for now, cheap chinese products and eager bond buyers, in the long run, 1.3 billion customers for American goods that will eventually be affordable for them).
    However, to say America should do what it can to make sure chinese children of future generations are taught about how America is a friend?? It simply won’t happen. America could send every person in china a check for $1000, and I guarantee that would have no effect on the propogandized education.

  10. “Fallon saw that China’s rise cannot be prevented and therefore must be dealt with”
    It cannot be prevented but his error was to make China more powerful without any regard for its known strategic objectives vis a vie Asia and the Pacific Ocean. Offering to help China build a carrier fleet is worse than anything we did for the IJA or the Nazis.

  11. @FOARP:
    That “hefty” quid pro quo usually comes in the form of more promised potential commercial access for US corporations. For State, Wall St., boardrooms, the US-China biz council and panda lickers throughout academe, promised potential is more than enough to seal the deal.
    http://www.strategypage.com/militaryforums/69-30553.aspx
    Subject: Senior Chinese officer: You take Hawaii east. We?ll take Hawaii west.
    Zhang Fei 3/13/2008 7:25:44 AM
    Truly amusing…
    (Quote)
    The top U.S. general in the Pacific told Congress yesterday that he?s working to strengthen the U.S.-Sino relationship, but he emphasized the need to keep a close eye on China as it strives to expand its influence in the region.
    Navy Adm. Timothy J. Keating told the Senate Armed Services Committee he sees headway in breaking down longstanding divisions between the two countries, but remains troubled by China?s lack of transparency about its military programs.
    The Defense Department released its 2008 China Military Power Report earlier this month, noting that China spent more than three times its announced defense budget last year and is developing new capabilities that could have global implications.
    When he asked the Chinese directly during his visit in January why they are increasing their military capability, Keating said, he was assured that they seek only self-protection. But when the admiral pressed for more specific information about area-denial weapons, anti-satellite tests and other military technological advances, the Chinese were far more closed-mouthed.
    And Keating said they?re consistently mum when he asks about China?s military spending. The China Military Power Report estimates that China spent as much as $139 billion, more than three times its announced defense budget, last year to modernize its military forces.
    ?The transparency that they profess is insufficient, from our view,? Keating told the Senate panel. ?Being able to see what they have doesn?t tell us what they intend to do with that equipment.?
    Keating said there?s still a great deal for both countries to learn so they can better understand each other?s intentions.
    He called his most recent trip to China a big step forward in improving dialogue. ?We want a mature, constructive, cooperative relationship. We are making progress, but as I said, we have a long way to go,? he said. ?The breakdown of decades-old mistrust and custom is going to take a lot more effort.?
    While much remains unclear about China, Keating said, it?s evident the Chinese want a bigger role on the world stage and are expanding their military capabilities to secure it.
    China appears to be developing more maritime capability, weapons that make it harder for other military forces to operate near Chinese borders, and is demonstrating a capability to exercise some control in space, Keating reported.
    ?It is overall, I believe, a desire to improve their position strategically in the world,? he said. ?They view themselves as a rising military power, and it is something that, in our view, merits close observation.?
    Keating described what he thinks, but isn?t sure, was a tongue-in-cheek comment a senior Chinese officer made during the admiral?s first visit there as PACOM commander. With a straight face, Chinese officer said, ?As we develop our aircraft carriers,? — a remark Keating said he found interesting in itself — ?why don?t we reach an agreement, you and I??
    Then came the Chinese proposal: ?You take Hawaii east. We?ll take Hawaii west. We?ll share information, and we?ll save you all the trouble of deploying your naval forces west of Hawaii.?
    Keating called the statement telling. ?Even if in jest, it indicates some consideration of the strategic vision that the People?s Liberation Army, navy and air force might have,? he said. ?While not necessarily hegemonic, they clearly want to expand their areas of influence.
    ?And those strategic goals of theirs, ? while not necessarily counter to ours, ? (are) at least of concern to us,? he said.
    That?s among the reasons the United States continues to stress its forward engagement, the readiness of its forces within the region, and its multilateral engagement with other Pacific nations, Keating said. Collectively, these efforts help to offset the Chinese presence in the area and the pressure it applies internationally through economic aid and investment — so-called ?checkbook diplomacy.?
    ?So we?re watching very carefully,? Keating said. ?We are actively engaged in activities that we think serve as an effective foil to this increased Chinese presence and pressure.?
    Meanwhile, Keating said, he continues pressing to improve dialogue between the U.S. and China. He told the senators he plans to send his senior noncommissioned officer advisor, Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Jim Roy, to China to talk with the People?s Liberation Army about the role of the NCO corps in the U.S. military. ?We hope that opens the door a little bit more to the kind of dialogue we?re looking to not just initiate, but sustain and enhance with the People?s Republic of China,? he said.
    (Unquote)

  12. The Americans and British were related and accepted each other. The Chinese are an ethnocentric culture who have always felt westerners were beneath them and still will never accept them into their country. They fought wars to keep westerners out of their country. China’s policy has always been to take what they can from the west and give as little as possible back. Any long term ties to china will be very one sided. “Zai Lao Wei” ( screw the foreigner) has been the policy of China for years. And I say this as someone who lived in China and have mostly Chinese/ Canadian friends where I live now.

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