Among the many recent headlines involving Chinese piracy and trade distortion, it would be easy to characterize China as a nemesis. The media, elite academia, and local politicians have continuously distorted China’s image as an us vs. them mentality. However, if one were to logically analyze the relationship between the United States and China, he would realize the potential benefits of a close partnership: capable of both stabilizing the Middle East and promoting the global economy through transparent regulations and open markets.
In the midst of a recent cybersecurity firm’s report of Chinese hacking, U.S-Chinese relations have been questioned by both politicians and the public. Even among university courses, it is not uncommon for many students to associate China with labels such as currency manipulator, trade thief, and cyber-hacker. While these characterizations have been introduced for a variety of reasons, they tend to obscure the obvious benefits of a U.S. — Chinese partnership.
As the U.S. finishes the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for an Asian-focused foreign policy, China’s substitute role in the Middle East will become more prominent than ever. Chinese dependence on Middle Eastern oil directly relies on the stability of the region. More than 50% of China’s imported oil comes from the Middle East, versus 20% of the United States. The U.S. transition out of the region puts a greater premium on the Chinese energy interest. Events such as the Arab Spring and civil or secular wars will pose major threats, without a strong U.S. presence, to the trade flows to China.
Another foreign policy motive for keeping strong ties with the Chinese is its intention of keeping Iran nuclear-free. An Iran possessing nuclear weapons would endanger the Persian Gulf and compromise the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Iran’s acquisition would further promote nuclear buildup, possibly leading to the Japanese acquisition of nuclear weapons. The relationship between China and the United States promotes regional stability and the prevention of nuclear buildup.
In terms of economic benefits, the Chinese relationship with the United States poses tremendous value. Last year, China surpassed the United States as the world’s largest trader measured in terms of the sum of export and import value: $3.87 trillion to $3.82 trillion. This is an amazing national feat considering the United States’ economy is double the size of the Chinese economy. However, political rhetoric has smeared this unprecedented landmark. In his 2011 article "Myths vs. Reality," GMU economics professor Walter Williams states that "We Americans are allowing ourselves to be suckered into believing that China is the source of our unemployment problems... " when in reality, "88.5 percent of U.S. consumer spending is on items made in the United States such as medical care, housing transportation," etc.
Another area of concern for many people is the balance of trade, or the comparison of imports and exports, which many claim to be the scoreboard of our economy. When we have a trade deficit, such as the present, we are supposedly "losing" jobs and our global share of the economy to countries like China. However, the fact that many lose sight of is our increasing value-added contributions to many sectors of the global economy. For example, the cost of an iPod ranges from $150-200, yet only $5 of value comes from China. Although many low-skilled and intermediate goods may be produced overseas at a higher volume, the United States still possess a premium on high-value specialization and innovation.
At the end of the day, friend or foe, the United States should take Sun Tzu’s quote to heart regarding Chinese relations: keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.
China’s rise as a superpower, and its potential relationship with the U.S. will highly influence the stability of the Middle East and the global economy within the foreseeable future. Thus, it is important that America get on the right side of history and seek to build a mutually beneficial relationship with the Chinese.