Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

China a target during election season, scholars say

China, the third largest trading nation on the planet, is more likely to go through the rest of the U.S. election season as a target than a topic.

The sniping has already begun, China scholar Norman Ornstein warned in a recent nationwide Town Hall-style meeting broadcast in Denver and 37 other cities. And the potshots are likely to continue into November.

“They’re looking for an example,” Ornstein said of the candidates. “Japan has faded. China has become a convenient target.”

Media stories about tainted toothpaste made in China, lead in toys, currency manipulation and demonstrations over Tibet have positioned China as a perfect vehicle for candidates trying to show American voters how tough they are.

Americans are receptive to China-bashing, Ornstein says, because they’re “angry and unhappy.” About 81 percent of poll respondents say the country is “on the wrong track”, the highest in 35–40 years, he said. At the same time, consumer confidence is the lowest since the 1950s, gas prices are soaring, inflation is rising and President Bush’s approval rating is the lowest for an incumbent president in recorded history.

Ornstein, who is affiliated with the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, said Congressional attention could help Americans see China in “a more nuanced way,” though “China has to do more itself.” Stronger product safety rules and better regulation of exports would help, he said, as would a stronger indication that China is “sensitive to genocide in Darfur and repression in Burma.”

Ornstein’s webcast observations, originally aired April 17, helped kick off a deeper view of China’s place in the world at a dinner April 21. The dinner was sponsored by the Center for China-U.S. Cooperation/ East Asian Institute at DU and the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations.

The session was enhanced by remarks from a leading specialist on China’s economy, Nicholas Lardy, senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economy in Washington.

Lardy said the paradox of China is that while its economic expansion has been “unparalleled in modern history,” China is still a poor country, with a per capita Gross Domestic Product of only $2,500.

China is the world’s “assembler of goods,” which makes people believe it dominates manufacturing, Lardy said. But the opposite is true: “Twenty-four percent of all global manufactured goods are made in the U.S. and that hasn’t changed in 10 years. It’s a myth that we have lost our lead in manufacturing.”

The big difference in the nations, he said, is that the household savings rate of after-tax personal income in China is 25 percent and in the U.S. it’s 1 percent.

“Even if China didn’t exist, the U.S. would have a large trade deficit because we save too little,” Lardy said.

China needs to encourage consumption, and America needs to save more and consume less, he said.

“The solution to our deficit lies at home.”

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