Opinion: Whining about China is no plan

Tom Watkins
In this  June 29, 2019, file photo, U.S. President Donald Trump, left, shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping during a meeting on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Osaka, western Japan. Trump decried on Twitter, Tuesday, what he called China’s “massive” intervention to suppress the yuan, portraying the U.S. as the beneficiary of his tariffs on Chinese imports and suggesting – despite recent evidence to the contrary – that prices aren’t rising.

Lately, there have been many Paul Reveres sounding the alarm over China's rise to prosperity. 

While this is a worthy endeavor, simply whining and complaining about China’s rise is neither a strategy nor a plan. 

It should come as no surprise that China wants to rise. As a country, China was the world’s largest economy in 17 out of the past 21 centuries. The anomaly is just the past couple of centuries that they have been surpassed by other western countries economically. Since opening to the world four decades ago, China has been like an economic rocket on steroids. 

We ought to worry less about China’s rise, and focus instead on assuring that it does not come at the cost of America’s demise.

To be clear, there are legitimate issues that our governments need to address with each other — from intellectual property theft to unfair trade practices. Having a defense strategy to combat and address these issue is wise, but fighting for a draw is not in America’s interest.

As an old Junior Golden Glove boxing champ, I did not whine about my competition. Complaining that my opponent was cheating or not playing fair never helped me prevail in the ring. Instead, I out-trained and out-worked them. When I had a plan, I worked it — investing time, energy, and intellect to win.

Just so, complaining and whining about China is not a winning strategy. Simply vilifying China, making them our election-year boogieman is not a strategy or a plan.

What is missing is an offensive strategy. Not to hold China back, but to propel Michigan and America forward. 

A wise start is by investing in things that make us strong: Education, workforce development, research and development, infrastructure improvements and technology -- especially big data and AI. 

China has been making steady and sustained investment in their infrastructure with new and improved roads, bridges, rail, air and seaports along with technology including Artificial Intelligence and big data, education and workforce training. 

But Michigan and America have been dis-investing in what will make us strong.

China's biggest triumph has been to move a greater number of Chinese people out of abject poverty than the total number of people in America.

We need American leaders who can talk with us, call on us to be architects of our collective future — not the victims of it.

When I hear the typical whining about China I ask: “So what?” What is our solution? What will we do that assures we remain competitive in the face of global economic challenges? What are we doing that will allow us to retain our top perch? 

What exactly are we are doing that helps the U.S. prevail amid hyper-competition, disruption, massive technological change and the reality of the knowledge economy? Increasingly, ideas and jobs can and do move around the world effortlessly.

These are the questions that keep me up at night. 

In the 21st century, we cannot afford to ignore one-fifth of all humanity, home to the fastest-growing large economy in the world. The current Number Two economically, China appears to be working and investing harder than ever to put themselves atop the world economically.

The U.S./China relationship is by far the most important bilateral relationship in the world. In the future, all major world issues will intersect at the corner of Washington, D.C. and Beijing.

Therefore, our relationship with China must continue to be one of mutual respect. Our relationship cannot survive when viewed through the lens of a game of see-saw – with one nation down while the other is up. 

I don’t wish for China to fail any more than I want their rise to come at America’s or humanity’s demise.

Today, due to our current national leadership, the relationship between our two countries is strained. Our leaders need to recast the narrative that finds a productive path forward to assure mutual respect and benefit to our countries and the world.

One thing is certain — neither the U.S. or China is going to disappear anytime soon. And as the 21st century unfolds, China — once known as the Middle Kingdom — will continue casting its giant shadow across the globe. What happens in China does not stay in China. It washes up on all shores.

Tom Watkins is a China/U.S. business and educational consultant. He served as Michigan’s state superintendent of schools and president and CEO of the Economic Council of Palm Beach County, Florida.