U.S.-China Relations: Media Gets it Wrong

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by: Peter Fuhrman

Is China’s reaction to last week’s announced US arms sale to Taiwan really all that more strident than in the past? Should America be worried? To read a New York Times article published last week, citing the usual ragbag of US-based “China experts”, you might conclude so.

I don’t buy it. China is not set, contrary to such reports, firmly on a course to antagonize America. It is, however, a great power with legitimate national interests to assert and protect. Sometimes those will clash with America’s national interests. But the bilateral relationship also has a root system of common goals and shared admiration.

I also don’t buy the line by American “China experts” about rising Chinese “triumphalism” , due to the continued strength of Chinese economy. China’s economy has been outgrowing the US by eight to ten percentage points just about every year for the last 30 years.

The same was true in 2009. The only difference was that China grew by 8%, while the US economy shrunk by over 5%. This was a similar net result as in the past, but one that highlighted a dramatic lessening of China’s economic dependence on the US.

Do Chinese officials realize they now can maintain high economic growth without single-mindedly focusing on exports to US, but instead by looking to the domestic market instead? Yes. But, as you’ve also read, from Premier Wen Jiabao on down, there are frequent public declarations on all the many problems and inefficiencies in China’s economy.

Yes, China is getting stronger every year, in every respect. But is the tone now on arms sales to Taiwan really all that different? I don’t see it, and I wonder how many others here see it. It may just be the usual conventional US wisdom on China (a cousin of the “China expert” analysis) is that Chinese economic growth is a fraud, only resulting from cooked GDP numbers.

China is mainly busy being China, just as America, most of the time, is also mainly busy being America. Both are continental powers with huge populations and vast domestic markets. Both also have a long history of being more inward- than outward-looking, quite patriotic, and even occasionally xenophobic.

They often view the world with a similar sense of aloof distrust. There will always be points of friction between the US and China. But time is gradually wearing down those points of friction, not sharpening them, as much of the US press would have us believe.

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