Lectern

By Steve Kelman

Blog archive

A frank discussion of US-China relations

 Our master’s degree students working on the “Spring Exercise” in U.S.-China relations – see my last post from earlier this week – heard an absolutely fascinating lecture on Thursday from Chu Shulong of Qinghua University in Beijing, which is China’s equivalent of MIT. Chu flew over from China just to speak with our students, arriving at midnight Wednesday after a 15-hour air journey.

Chu, who has a Ph.D. from George Washington University in Washington, D.C., is deputy director for an international affairs institute at the university, former chief America-watcher for a government-affiliated think tank and a consultant on international affairs coverage for China’s state-owned TV network CCTV. Although he was not speaking as a government spokesman, he did not hide that he was speaking as someone very familiar with the views of China’s establishment.

I consider myself moderately knowledgeable about China and U.S.-China relations, but I learned a lot from the lecture. Early on, he frankly stated that the U.S.-China relationship was not essentially based on shared values: because, in his words, the U.S. believes in human rights and democracy, and Chinese leaders are Marxists (whatever that means in today’s context in China). The relationship is based on a desire to avoid war and on mutual economic interests. He believes the relationship therefore is basically unstable, subject to ups and downs.

The basic point of the rest of the lecture was that China is essentially inward-directed, much more so than the U.S., which has larger and more universal aspirations. Again speaking very frankly, he told the students that, while China would prefer that Iran and North Korea not obtain nuclear weapons, preventing them from doing so is way, way down on China’s list of priorities. China cannot be expected to have an interest in dealing with human rights violations in places such as Darfur because China’s government lacks a commitment to human rights itself – and also doesn’t want foreign interference in its affairs. Although these are important foreign policy issues for the U.S. in its dealings with China, he stated that China’s number one bilateral concern with the U.S. (he was thinking of straight foreign policy issues, not economic relations) was U.S. support for Taiwan, because that issue is close to China’s borders.

Earlier in the week, Professor Yasheng Huang of (the real) MIT gave the students a lecture on Chinese economic policy, arguing that Chinese policy emphasis on big cities had kept rural consumption way down and produced a dramatic decline in the proportion of the gross national product going to consumption. China’s consumption was pathologically low, Huang argued.

Chu stated it was now a government priority to increase the share of consumption in the economy. The reason he presented for this, however, was interesting – a dependence on exports to the U.S. left China too dependent on the U.S. China needs to reduce export dependence to increase its ability to defend its interests against the U.S. when those interests are in conflict.

Posted on Apr 23, 2010 at 7:26 PM


Reader Comments

Wed, Apr 28, 2010 Chun Li Beijing

Two or three days ago, most media in China paid attention to the training program of American officials at Tsinghua University in Beijing, saying USA also needs learn from China, in contrary to the previous situation that China sends some patches of officials to US, especially to Harvard, for learning American administration theory and practice. Perhaps, some media think the interesting points of the training program are that China is so successful that US also needs respect and study China, implying China’s rising. Whatever the news might mean, China-US relation has been tightened much more than before. I agree with Chu’s view that the key point between China and US may not be the value concerned with human right or democracy, but economic and military security. As far as China is concerned, Taiwan is always a key concern, which US may know clearly. Actually, nowadays, China is mostly passive in the bilateral interaction with US which makes good use of the Taiwan issue as an important weight.
Moreover, I think if Harvard students want to know more about China, they are expected to study the relations between central government and local government in China, which is much more different from US. China’s policy as well as the policy performance is highly affected by local governments’ distortion or speculation, such as taking domestic consumption as the main motives for economic development. After all, China is very big and much differentiated in different districts.

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