Frank Church Institute speakers: U.S. and China need to find balance

The two countries must look for ways to avoid confrontation, scholars and officials say at the Church Institute conference.

rbarker@idahostatesman.comOctober 29, 2010 

Boise State Bronco fans, better than most Americans, should see the special challenges an emerging China faces on the world stage, Chinese diplomat Ruan Zongze said Thursday in Boise.

“It puts you in a good position to understand what it’s like to be No. 2,” said the minister-counselor of policy for the People’s Republic of China’s embassy in Washington D.C.

But Zongze said China doesn’t want to see the United States knocked out of its No. 1 spot, like Boise State fans hope Oregon is soon. Instead, the country hopes to see a “win-win” relationship that leads to prosperity and stability for both nations.

“China is not like the Soviet Union,” Ruan said during a day-long discussion of China-U.S. relations convened by the Frank Church Institute at Boise State University.

China scholar David Shambaugh of George Washington University agreed that’s a bad comparison — and a dangerous one, if U.S. leaders insist on making it.

Still, Shambaugh said, China’s rapid growth from a poor nation to the second-largest economy and military in just 30 years has led to an “ultra-nationalism,” “xenophobia” and “hubris.”

“It’s not a good thing for China,” Shambaugh said. “It’s not a good thing for the United States and its friends.”

But both Shambaugh and David Shear, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, warned Americans not to overreact and turn the nation of 1.3 billion people into adversaries.

“We need a balance of power between all,” said Shear, “not containment, not encirclement.”

Frictions between China and the U.S. have increased in the past few years over many issues: China’s low currency value, which increases its trade imbalance with the U.S., policies toward Tibet and Taiwan, and human rights.

But the two nations have cooperated in sanction against Iran to limit its nuclear development and economic issues, Shear said.

Ruan said China has no interest in destroying the world’s current economic structure that it had used successfully in its own development. But it hopes changes are made that reflect the needs of emerging economies, which it still includes itself among since it has more than 200 million people living in poverty.

Ultimately, people in both nations will have to change their own behavior to improve the economic balances as much as any policy, Shear said.

“Americans spend too much and save too little,” Shear said. “Chinese spend too little and save too much.”

China’s priorities right now are the same as the United States, Ruan said: jobs. It must create 20 million new jobs annually to keep up with its growth and prevent instability.

“If we do not find jobs for these people they will do something else,” he said.

China’s gross national product per capita is just 10 percent of the United States’, Ruan said, and that shows how different our challenges are. China also has polluted its air and water and destroyed large areas in the course of its rapid growth.

It now has made cleaning up the environment a top priority, along with developing alternative energy sources and technology, Ruan said. But Shear suggested China must work closer with the United States as the first and second largest sources of greenhouse gases, to address climate change.

“The whole world looks to China and the U.S. to manage this problem,” he said.

Climate change is just one of the issues that shows how the U.S. relationship with China has changed from simply a regional to a global relationship, Shambaugh said.

Both nations will have to rethink long-held ideas about how they address each other but they must actively work against those who would demonize the other — as many political ads have across the country this election, Shambaugh said.

China itself faces enormous domestic pressure to reject western calls of concern over its military modernization and human rights, he said. The U.S. “should push back against this,” Shambaugh said, but not in a paternalistic nor condescending way.

“We need to be more sophisticated,” he said. “We need a focused national debate to talk through the dimensions of the China-U.S. relationship.”

China cannot make the rest of the world like China, nor can the U.S. anymore, Ruan said. But it is in both nations’ interest to find a path that good for both nations.

“I hope someday you will beat Oregon,” Ruan said. “That doesn’t mean China needs to beat the U.S.

Rocky Barker: 377-6484

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