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January 16, 2017

Responding To: Tangible Cooperation in 2017

2017 a Year of Doom? Not So Fast

Caleb Huffman

With the birth of 2017, China and the United States have entered a new political atmosphere filled with apprehension. However, this apprehension spurs from speculation over a new American administration. It does not have to remain. Moving forward, the two countries need to continue working together. I give two basic recommendations that both countries should find satisfactory. First, both China and the United States should recognize the influence of state sovereignty and the consequences of utilizing hegemonic authority to intervene in state affairs, as parallel to their own internal government structures. Second, both countries should support China’s economic ascension.

China and the United States are both geographically vast and populous nations resulting in the need for regional autonomy. Whether in a capitalist or communist system, there are smaller, more local governments with a certain level of sovereignty that operate in conjunction, even in competition, with a higher, more powerful central government. A truly centralized government will not work. China’s government structure is in Beijing, with relatively autonomous municipal governments tasked with local development, resulting in a Chinese style of market-preserving federalism. Similarly, the United States operates on a dual-government Federalist system, with a state and central (Federal) government simultaneously, creating a balance of power.

Politically, the central governments of both countries work within this tension. Beijing’s popularity among the populace has been managed well, with blame for scandals and inefficiencies falling on local governments and Beijing acting as the fair referee, all while local government officials’ approval ratings suffer, reinforcing Beijing’s central authority. In the United States, the federal government maintains supremacy over states, yet movements seek increased states’ rights, a debate as old as the U.S. constitution. State politicians tend to fair better in popularity ratings than Federal, and the local politician is almost always viewed more favorably than the entity the politician resides in. As such, the federal government must act carefully to maintain its legitimacy.

The central governments in both the United States and China need to justify their existence and power over local government, choosing wisely when to use limited political capital to intervene in local affairs.

As a global hegemonic power, the United States interferes in autonomous territories, it contends, for global causes. Yet, every intervention is a violation of the intervened state’s sovereignty, resulting in a toll on the political capital of the United States. China is a regional hegemon and will soon be, if it is not already, a global power. As China’s influence grows, so will its opportunities to influence global affairs. Both countries need to build upon their own strategies for managing their internal central versus local government tensions in diplomatic negotiations.

Next, both countries should publicly acknowledge a mutual benefit from China’s economic growth. As China has accelerated in economic growth, its citizenry has benefited tremendously. In the last ten years, the average Chinese citizen’s income has doubled, child mortality rate decreased by 20 percent, and access to improved sanitation increased ten percentage points. As a regional player, China can stand on its own with local powers – making its personal security more substantiated.

Indeed, China’s rise is to the United States’ benefit as well, creating trillions of dollars of growth through trade for the U.S. economy, assisting the United States as a counterbalance to the U.S.S.R during the Cold War, and acting as a regional check on the rise of Japan (an often-forgotten subject left in the 1980s).

Far more persuasive to my argument, are the potential alternatives. If China doesn’t rise, what are its options? Stagnation or decline.

A stagnant China would be a damper on the global economy and a threat to the economic health of the United States.  A Beijing government nervous to satisfy its constituents, which is difficult to do when explosive growth ends, especially if a wide swath of Chinese citizens remains in poverty, may end up acting irrationally, falling into strides of nationalism dangerous for a harmonious global order. Progress has been made in China, but it is still a developing country. It needs to develop further for its own people’s benefit. This will improve the political atmosphere, and benefit the United States.

Even worse would be the decline of China, which, if severe and sudden, could derail the global economy and cause a refugee crisis unlike the world has ever seen. Just imagine: 1.3 billion people thrown into poverty or under the rule of a hobbled government. Syria will feel like the good ol’ days.

As such, it is critical for the United States and China to recognize each other’s mutual appreciation of China’s rise – and the dangers of it not continuing. The question should not be, is China’s rise beneficial? It should be, how can we assure China will continue its rise?

The predictions for 2017 are events that have not yet come to pass. China and the United States can, and must, lead the world in mutual engagement, starting with acknowledging state sovereignty and the benefits of China’s growth.

Caleb Huffman is pursuing an undergraduate double major in political science and communication at the University of Washington.

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