China and the West: Friends, Foes or Frenemies?

(David Schlesinger on China: “A Journey Towards Ambiguity“)

By Nelson Graves

Does China’s rise as an economic and military power mean an inevitable clash with the United States?

Can China help defuse the nuclear threat from North Korea? And does Beijing want to help?

Those are among the questions that students in News-Decoder’s global community put to China expert David Schlesinger ahead of an online seminar on China and the West set for September 27.

Students from Chadwick International school in South Korea and the ISF Academy in Hong Kong will participate in News-Decoder’s first webinar of 2017-18: “China and the West: Friends, Foes, Frenemies or Friends with Benefits?”

Subsequent sessions this year will focus on the Israeli-Palestinian question, climate change and immigration, with students from Friends Seminary, Greens Farms Academy, Indiana University, King’s Academy and King’s College London front and center.

The publisher of France’s biggest circulation printed newspaper, Ouest France, is collaborating with News-Decoder on the session devoted to climate change.

“China now is unquestionably a regional power.”

Schlesinger, founder of the media and China independent consultants Tripod Advisors and former Reuters editor-in-chief, tackled the students’ questions on China in an online forum, reserved for students and faculty from News-Decoder’s 14 member institutions.

“Is there an actual problem between the U.S. and China except for China’s fast economic growth hurting America’s ego of being #1?” a student from ISF Academy asked.

Schlesinger replied that the rise of U.S. President Donald Trump and Brexit showed that national pride and ego cannot be underestimated, and he cited Chinese President Xi Jinping’s “China Dream.”

But Schlesinger said the projection of power is also important. “The U.S. has been used to seeing the whole world as its region, think Vietnam war, Korean war, think bases in Japan and in Korea,” he said. “China now is unquestionably a regional power…. But for China, economic power is as good as military. China’s investments in Africa are huge.”

Another ISF Academy student addressed this same point, saying there is more than national ego on the line.

“China’s growing strength through economic growth also tips the political power balance in the world,” this student said.

“Diplomacy is built through shared interests, and China’s growing strength means it can afford to build greater and stronger coalitions that elevate all countries involved. As such, there is a heavy rebalance of power starting with Asia and Africa, where China has a long history of investment and trade.”

Trade ties don’t guarantee a smooth ride.

Building on this student’s observations, Schlesinger said it could be argued that China and the United States need each other desperately now.

“Just take the iPhone: designed in California, where the lion’s share of the profits go; built in China (by a Taiwanese company), giving wages to thousands of people (and now thousands of robots as well); sold globally including by the thousands in China…. So the links are deep and complicated.”

But Schlesinger cautioned that inter-dependence between China and the United States, just as a love affair or marriage, does not guarantee there will be no bumps in the relationship.

“Having children, joint ownership of a house and car, shared and intertwined bank accounts and a jointly signed for loan doesn’t rule out a divorce,” Schlesinger observed. “So, too, having intertwined and symbiotic economic and trade ties doesn’t necessarily provide a clear marker to how the relationship will thrive or crumble.

A student from Chadwick International shifted the discussion to North Korea, noting that China is a critical player in addressing Pyongyang’s nuclear arsenal and rising tensions between North Korea and the United States.

“To what extent is China willing to cooperate and denuclearize North Korea and to what extent can China actually solve the problem?” the student asked.

One of a string of questions to be addressed in Wednesday’s webinar, the first in this year’s program of online discussions, organized by News-Decoder, on major international issues.

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