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Darien discusses China's role on world stage

Published 2:20 pm, Thursday, June 9, 2011
  • John Rutledge was one of the panelists who discussed China's growing power during a forum at Town Hall in Darien. Photo: Ben Holbrook / Darien News
    John Rutledge was one of the panelists who discussed China's growing power during a forum at Town Hall in Darien. Photo: Ben Holbrook

 

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Its economy has been growing rapidly for the past 30 years; its borders contain one-sixth of the entire world's population; and it is predicted to become the next superpower. China is quickly becoming a major player on the world stage, and a group of panelists discussed the facts and myths surrounding the country and what the future could potentially bring.

The forum was hosted by the Common Ground Committee, which is dedicated to fostering vigorous debate without getting bogged down in rhetoric. The discussion about China addressed some of the larger issues, such as economic competition and cultural differences and how those differences impact relations with the country.

Before the panelists weighed in on China's growing power, Christian Science Monitor Beijing Bureau Chief Peter Ford briefly discussed how China is changing.

"China's economy has been growing by 10 percent or more for the past 30 years, but even with that growth their economy is still only half of the U.S.," Ford said. "A lot of that growth is due to the individual effort and the energy levels are very invigorating."

Even as the economy continues to grow, Ford pointed out the majority of the economy is still controlled by the state. Continuing to develop the economy is a major priority for China, and the people are willing to sacrifice some of their personal freedoms as long as their standard of living continues to improve, Ford said.

"As long as things continue to get better it will work, but problems will arise if the growth stops," he said.

China has acquired a reputation for producing cheap copies of popular products, and Ford said the country does have an issue with knock-offs.

"I can buy anything that's a knock-off," Ford said. "Education and innovation skills are still growing, but a lot of education has been based on memorization and not innovation. Cutting-edge training is not in China."

As China's economy continues to grow, economic competition with the country becomes a serious concern, especially for the United States.

Managing partner at Carnegie Towers Strategic Investment Advisory Henry Tang said China offers a partnership for the U.S. that could benefit both countries.

"We can join in partnership and many times China is looking for that," he said.

Tang said China was initially held back in its ability to grow its economy because it became destabilized in the 1840s and was unable to participate in the Industrial Revolution. However, since that time, China has invested a significant amount of money in outside investments, including the U.S.

"China may have as much as $1 trillion in outside investments. China can become a very good partner," Tang said.

Research Fellow at the U.S. Business & Industrial Council Educational Foundation Alan Tonelson said the problem with China's economy is that it is geared towards becoming self-sufficient.

"The structure of China's economy says no, no, no. It's not part of the business model to rely on foreign supplies for any longer than necessary," Tonelson said.

A pattern has emerged within the country which shows the items being purchased are those China can't make yet, Tonelson said.

John Rutledge, chairman of Rutledge Captial, John Rutledge said the history of China matters because during the cultural revolution in the '60s many of the country's universities and academies were closed.

"Many of the people currently in power grew up during those days," Rutledge said. "If you talk to a person over 50, then you often do it through a translator whereas talking to a person who is 20 or 30 they can speak English."

Rutledge also pointed out that many of the issues the U.S. is facing are due to outdated tax policies and unfriendly business practices.

"Many of our homegrown issues are retarding our growth," he said. "It's not so easy to define the Chinese business model."

The question of whether China's differences matter in world politics was posed to the panelists, with each one coming to similar conclusions.

"If you want to be successful, you need to understand other governments," Rutledge said. "If the choices are to engage or not to engage the other guys, then it is far less risky to engage."

Tonelson said the U.S. will need to be smart about how it engages China, because the country is intent on becoming entirely self-sufficient.

"Transparency means letting the foreigner know what you know, and that is not what China has in mind. We have to be smart, clever and a little devious," Tonelson said.

Tang suggested it would be in the best interest of the United States to encourage corporations to look internally at some of their Asian-Americans who can give a unique perspective about Chinese culture.

"We have a unique resource in this country we can call on. Corporate America should look internally at people who could help with a solution," Tang said.

The Common Ground Committee is comprised of a small group of individuals located in and around New York and Connecticut. The group was founded in 2010 and shortly after it hosted its first forum on the role of government in the nation's economy.