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Sound Off: China Today

Spring 2019

What are the most important factors in the rise of China’s global influence, and what are the implications for the United States and its standing in the world?

Phil Levy, adjunct professor of strategy and member of former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s policy planning staff

China has skyrocketed to become the second-largest economy in the world. What led to this? First, they had a demographic boom. That’s important because it’s now subsiding. Second, there was a decision made in the 1980s that China should open up to the world. It had previously been hermetically sealed. And finally, the other thing that made a difference for China was the development of a global supply chain. They were able to, essentially, take bite-sized pieces of global production.

My own take is that China’s growth offered a number of direct economic benefits that played into U.S. well-being.

Where China has actually challenged the U.S. is when it comes to setting rules for the global system at places like the World Trade Organization. China has also raised real security concerns. We are less than confident about what China’s ultimate political ambitions are. 

Photo by C. Jason Brown/Insight Images

Jiaxing Huang, professor of materials science and engineering

In the area of scientific research and education, China’s growth has been breathtaking. In the Chinese culture, people have always been convinced about the need to invest in education. China massively invests in its universities, leading to new knowledge that is broadly disseminated. So it is smart for U.S. universities to collaborate with our Chinese counterparts. 

This brings several new advantages in line with our mission: We can leverage such collaboration to maximize the impact of our own research, to do something bigger and quicker for all humankind. For our students, they can have more chances to discover and define new research problems through such engagement, because China itself is now a big testing ground for new ideas.

Photo by Tony Rinaldo

Bill Hurst, associate professor of political science

The first assumption, that China’s model is viable and sustainable is problematic, because if we look at how China developed its economy after the 1990s — monetary reform, currency liberalization and the rise of foreign direct investment — this model broke in 2008 or 2009. It’s never recovered. It’s not going to recover. 

Politically, we have a situation in which President Xi Jinping has methodically eliminated all possible opponents. He’s centralized real authority and decision-making power in his own hands. And he’s also eliminated any formal check on his time in power. The minute he stumbles, you have serious political instability at the elite level.

From the U.S. point of view, we have either a very dangerous world of challengers, in which preserving hegemony has to be the No. 1 agenda, or an emerging multipolarity, in which the U.S. needs to accept that its position is in decline to the point of being one player among a number of players. The danger for the world is not so much in China rising to become one of those players as it is in the U.S. not wanting to come to grips with the reality of multipolarity.

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