China's Rise Rings a Familiar Tone
John de Boer (Japan Fellow, Stanford University; Research Associate, GLOCOM)
The recent unsolicited bid launched by China's state owned oil company CNOOC to acquire California based Unocal has provoked a public airing of ideas on how the United States, the world's only superpower, should deal with a rising China. In conjunction with China's increased visibility in America, a clear consensus is emerging: China is a country that needs to be taken seriously. Two prominent examples of this point of are David Shambough's article appearing in the Washington Quarterly this past week and a United States Finance Committee hearing on US-China economic relations held on June 23. The perspective put forward on both occasions was that China is posing a significant challenge to the established international order.
In his article David Shambough, a professor of political science and international affairs at the George Washington University, spoke of a "new strategic triangle" composed of the United States, the European Union and China. In his words, these are the "three principal actors on the world stage today." The strategy outlined was one where the EU and the US, despite their sometimes diverging standpoints, had to cooperate to "socialize Beijing into international norms of behavior." In Shambough's estimation this policy contributed to China becoming a more responsible player on the global stage.
The US Senate Finance Committee hearing on US-China economic relations stressed that "right now US and China are the engines of global economic growth." On the minds of these representatives was concern over how the competitive challenge posed by China in agricultural, manufacturing and textile sectors would affect American workers. Emphasized was the need to push China to comply to international trade regulations that eliminated tariffs, subsidies and dealt with piracy issues.
Amidst all of this talk, China has been invited to attend the G8 summit in Scotland next month sparking fresh debate about whether it should become a permanent member. Although, China is unlikely to accept membership to the exclusive club due to its desire to avert additional economic and political responsibilities, the atmosphere in the United States is reminiscent of what transpired in reaction to Japan's rise in the 1980s. Shambough's article was an attempt to steer the discussion away from the paranoiac reaction that the US had toward Japan twenty years ago. Yet, this voice is being drowned out by the media, which continues to place emphasis on the emerging threat from China. Even the relatively balanced New York Times quoted William Belchere, the chief Asia economist for Macquarie Securities in Hong Kong as stating that, "it's going to be like the Arabs in the '70s and the Japanese in the '80s - we were worried they'd buy everything." He went on to differentiate China from the two other cases insisting that in the longer term China will be "a much bigger force." The increasing wealth and buying power of Chinese manufacturing companies are being positioned as a threat to America's national security, however, the media and other proponents of this interpretation would be wise to change their tone because the only outcome is one of confrontation and bashing.