January 20, 2009 2:00 am

China and US can cross-fertilise

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From Prof Sungjoon Cho.

Sir, Zbigniew Brzezinski’s insightful policy prescription on US-China relations (“The Group of Two that could change the world”, January 14) was well timed, in tune with Hillary Clinton’s Senate confirmation hearing as secretary of state the same day. His suggestion was also reminiscent of that of a former secretary of state, James Baker, which appeared in the FT almost a decade ago (“China: engage, not contain”, April 7 1999). Mr Baker observed that “the best way to find an enemy is to look for one”. Any future US foreign policy should be based on a firm perception that China is a collaborator, not an opponent.

Unfortunately, however, as the Obama administration is about to take office, some worrying signs have come out of Congress. For example, Representative Sander Levin, who chairs the subcommittee on trade within the House ways and means committee, has called for belligerent stances over China’s alleged currency manipulation, including an option to sue China at the World Trade Organisation. While bashing China is not new and may be politically alluring at a time of economic hardship, “domestic political football” (as coined by Mr Baker) should not spiral out of control into the international field.

Not only is the claim that the depreciated renminbi is a main reason for the US trade deficit dubious, but simply bringing this combustible issue to the WTO is likely to exacerbate the dispute. In such circumstances, it would be difficult for US-China relations to be harmonious. Let us remember that the US remains the world’s largest exporter of manufactured goods and that nearly half of US imports are parts and components for final products, many of which are imported from China.

One of the rare positive legacies of the Bush administration is the “US-China strategic economic dialogue”, which has been quite successful in defusing many potential trade disputes. Mrs Clinton should seek to continue this good practice. The US can still exercise its “soft power” and thus induce China to adopt a more responsible policy direction. In this way the US and China can work together to revive the spirit of multilateralism, reaching out to global challenges such as climate change. At the end of his comment, Mr Brzezinski warns against the “clash of civilisations”. Yet genuine civilisations do not clash; instead they fertilise each other.

Sungjoon Cho,
Associate Professor of Law,
Chicago-Kent College of Law,
Illinois Institute of Technology,
Chicago, IL, US

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