Both presidential candidates are trying to outdo each other on who is tougher against China. President Obama claims Mitt Romney outsourced American jobs to Chinese factories, while Mr. Romney argues that Mr. Obama hasn’t done enough on China’s cheating trade practices. Both miss the point: China and the United States need to work together to obtain stability and peace in the world. In short, the U.S. and China are married and must get along — divorce is not an option.
The reality is that China holds an important place in our nation’s economic future. If it stumbles, the United States won’t gain — we’ll stumble, too. China has an impressive manufacturing sector. It is focused on increasing innovation, and it is forming partnerships to gain access to cutting-edge technology. China’s relevance to the U.S. economy is so important that my 4-year-old son has Mandarin teachers so he can be part of whatever future relationship we may have with China.
It’s not just geopolitics that binds our two nations. Today, China is the second-biggest trading partner of the United States after Canada and is on its way to becoming our largest. American exports to China have grown fivefold in the past decade. Not only are we trading physical goods, but our relationship with China extends to exchanging students as well. In 2011, the U.S. Embassy in China issued more than 160,000 student visas for Chinese students to study at American schools. Because of this, more Americans and Chinese are doing business together and engaging in study and tourism programs.
Even America’s upcoming presidential election mirrors China’s current process of choosing new leadership — with a notable exception. While Americans grow tired of constant news on the political race, the Chinese are largely shut off from information of any political activity. Next month, China will hold its Communist Party Congress for its once-a-decade change in political power with a new set of leaders. Those leaders will be the first of the new generation of Chinese, and they may have very different views than their predecessors on China’s appropriate place in the world.
China’s economy ranks second only to the economy of the United States, and incomes are increasing for many of its people. While these are great statistics, China’s growth has slowed this year as competition has increased. Other problems for new leaders will be growing unrest among Chinese citizens over China’s vast inequalities. Many Chinese citizens have turned to the Internet as a means around government control of information. New leaders will face challenges in the face of this domestic unrest.
Both the United States and China are trying to find their way around the new world order. While Chinese diplomats have less experience than Americans in dealing with rapidly changing situations, they are gaining influence through their huge investments in countries in Africa and elsewhere in the world.
With its increasing influence upon the world, China has become a major international superpower. If China craves the respect accorded to a superpower, however, this respect must be earned, not simply demanded. China could potentially earn it by respecting copyrights and trademarks, by not price-gouging on rare-earth minerals and by using influence over client states such as North Korea for positive results.
Last month, China and the United States sued each other over different trade issues. While the countries are at odds, realistically, they have to recognize that they are two of the world’s remaining superpowers and are joined at the hip in an obligation to ensure some stability and peace in the world. To prevent escalation into a full trade war, we need smart and flexible leadership to ensure we benefit from the growth and strength of the Chinese.
Gary Shapiro is president of the Consumer Electronics Association and author of “The Comeback: How Innovation Will Restore the American Dream” (Beaufort Books, 2011).