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Since the opening to China under President Richard Nixon, the American-Chinese relationship underwent incremental improvements. America’s approach to China was one of friendship and engagement instead of previous containment and mutual distrust. The Chinese embraced our change of policy, because according to Henry Kissinger, China sought a “quasi-alliance” in order to serve as a “counterweight” to the Soviet Union. This was meant to serve the Chinese through the building of a “parallelism” through cooperation on important strategic goals. Without the acceptance of the US rapprochement, the communist party would be unable to satisfy their desire to modernize China and create a sustainable regional order that would serve their national interests. This was during an era when China was in a position of weakness because it was limited on a systemic level by the adherence to Communism and had a greater aim of playing the US and Soviet Union against each other. However, since the era of Deng Xiaoping, China has continued to rise and gain greater influence in the community of nations on an economic and geopolitical level.
Up until only recently, the strategic vision of the United States has started to drift toward distrust and restriction of China’s intention to secure its national interests. A continual move toward this kind relationship will result in a cold war rivalry that will endanger international cooperation for the stability of the world order. Thus the parameters for American and Chinese resolution, in this tense period of geopolitics, should come in three ways. First, the United States must openly embrace China’s rise and both nations in turn must reform their economic systems and tactics; second, an understanding must be created between the domestic audiences of both countries and their governments to prevent nationalistic fervor from destroying bilateralism; and finally, the United States must build a high reciprocal level of social capital with China and serve as a neutral mediator in the realm of geopolitics, while at the same time, China must take steps to reform its approach to international relations with the purpose of foreign policy remediation.
If the United States wants to continue a peaceful economic relationship with China, then it must embrace the reality of Chinese ascendance and adapt to them in the form of internal policy remediation, and outward cooperation. Policy remediation must come in the form of structural reform to key policy areas that affect America’s long-term economic prowess. This includes its educational system, infrastructure, R&D, immigration, and creating a favorable regulatory environment for businesses to thrive. For example, when comparing our investment in R&D to previous eras, the American Institute for Physics reported “R&D has fallen from 11.7 percent in 1965 to a low of 3.6 percent in 2015.” This kind of neglect is troublesome for America’s posterity, because according to a Meta analysis of 61 studies by Durham University, R&D has an overall positive productivity effect and return on investment. The lack of investment in America’s institutions of innovation will cripple its ability to engage with China in the future, because as China grows stronger the United States will not be in an equal position to lead on the world stage. This means if America is to engage with a rising superpower it must be prepared to have all the resources we can muster for cooperation.
Simultaneously, though, outward cooperation must accompany policy remediation for the United States to provide the geopolitical parameters for multilateral initiatives. A common focus of domestically oriented politicians is the suspicion toward free trade, currency manipulation, and multilateral initiatives of the Chinese government. When it comes to free trade the attitudes of common United States citizens are not encouraging. According to an article by the Washington Post, most pessimists on the Transatlantic Pacific Partnership make the argument that it could deregulate intellectual property, environmental, and financial laws in the United States. They also point to the fact that the agreement has been shut off from public and congressional oversight and that previous trade agreements like NAFTA have been bad for the US economy overall. These concerns are warranted because of the influence of corporate interests on the design of free trade agreements. Elaine Bernard of Harvard Law School explained recently that NAFTA grants extensive protectionist privileges to corporations on intellectual property. She also notes that the interests of the environment, food safety, and financial regulation are not properly represented in the agreement.
These realities must be addressed in order to make free trade a possible measure to extend cooperation with China because if we were to include China into the TPP then America could improve our integration for long term relations. Confirming this idea, Joseph Stiglitz of Columbia University rightly points out that future trade agreements must be transparent and accessible by the public without corporate influence permeating the deals. The current status quo with America’s trade deals only makes free trade less likely to succeed in Congress. According to Newsweek, Congress rejected the TPP due to rising dissent from House Democrats on the deal. Their reasons were because of lack of transparency and potential economic harms from the deal. But the problem for the deal wasn’t because the house democrats rejected the deal. President Obama and Republicans let the optimism over the deal cloud their judgment on its feasibility. Therefore if the pivot to Asia is to be a success, then President Obama and the proponents of free trade in Congress must redesign their trade agreements to be more transparent and sell them to the American people.