'A Booming China Spells Trouble for America'

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In the past 30 years, China has changed from a state-controlled economy to an economic colossus, and the effects of its boom are being felt in the world's biggest economy — the United States.

China's prosperity has benefited the United States: The country is the fastest-growing market for U.S. exports, and China's imports provide about $1,000 in increased purchasing power for the average American family.

Yet, as China's economy is growing, so is its trade deficit with the United States: a record $232 billion in 2006. China is gobbling up natural resources — and belching pollutants into the air and water — and its hunger for raw materials has drawn it closer to countries at odds with the U.S., like Iran. Its military buildup culminated recently with the destruction of an orbiting satellite; high-tech satellite communications are a key component of the U.S. military.

So, does China's economic boom spell trouble for the United States? That question was posed recently to a panel of experts in an Oxford-style debate, part of the Intelligence Squared U.S. series. The debates are modeled on a program begun in London in 2002: Three experts argue in favor of the proposition and three argue against.

In the latest debate, held on May 16, the formal proposition was Beware the Dragon: A Booming China Spells Trouble for America. The debate was held at the Asia Society and Museum in New York City and was moderated by James Harding, the business and city editor of The Times of London, who previously worked for the Financial Times and opened its Shanghai bureau.

In a vote before the debate, 41 percent of the audience supported the proposition and 37 percent opposed it, while 21 percent said they were undecided. After the debate, the audience voted 35 percent in support, 58.6 percent against and 6.1 percent undecided.

Highlights from the debate:

FOR THE MOTION

Bill Gertz
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Bill Gertz, defense and national security reporter for the Washington Times and Fox News analyst, says: "The most serious trouble for America from China is China's military buildup. On January 11th of this year, China conducted an unprecedented anti-satellite missile test. They fired a missile that traveled through space and hit a low Earth orbit satellite, a Chinese weather satellite, destroying it and creating 16,000 pieces of debris, which pose a threat to other satellites. ... What the Chinese ASAT test showed was that China ... is going after niche weapons. ... Officials in Washington estimate that within the next six years, China will have the capability of destroying all U.S. low Earth orbit satellites — basically, this could be the modern-day equivalent of a space Pearl Harbor against the United States if there were a conflict over Taiwan."

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John Mearsheimer
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John J. Mearsheimer, the R. Wendell Harrison Distinguished Service professor of political science and co-director of the international security policy program at University of Chicago, says: "We have a Monroe Doctrine here in the United States. ... We basically tell the European and Asian great powers that they have to stay out of our hemisphere; we don't want them here. Don't you think the Chinese are going to feel the same way in Asia when they're powerful enough to think about dominating Asia? Furthermore, they're going to dominate, develop significant power-projection capability just like we have. ... The United States will not tolerate a situation where China tries to dominate Asia. ... The present situation is better for the United States and more stable than a world in which China is as powerful or almost as powerful as the United States."

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Michael Pillsbury
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Michael Pillsbury, adviser to the Pentagon on Asian affairs and long-term defense planning, says: "Across the board, we have a lack of progress in Chinese nationalistic attitudes toward America. If you pull out an average Chinese Youth Daily article today and look up what it says about the United States, it's not very friendly. We have 15 major programs now in foreign aid. ... Every department of the U.S. government has what, in my view, amounts to an aid program, a program of engagement with China. Very seldom mentioned in the Chinese press. ... We don't say these things in our press, but it hasn't stopped the worst in 1999, I might point out, when the front page of the Communist Party daily, People's Daily, carried a long article called 'The Seven Ways America is Worse Than Nazi Germany.' "

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AGAINST THE MOTION

James McGregor
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James McGregor, former chief executive of Dow Jones in China, says: "We've learned that China's a very formidable country tonight and we better be scared of them, because why? Well, China has grown very fast and it's moving very fast, but what has happened during this period? China has been shoving all kinds of problems under the carpet. The carpet's getting lumpy, and the country will trip on these problems, and it's going to be very busy for the next few decades fixing this. Environment: China is trash. Sixteen of the 20 worst air-polluted cities in the world are in China. ... Health care: ... Two-thirds of people don't have health care. ... The have-and-have-not issue is growing and growing. ... This is this colossus that's going to take on the United States."

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Daniel Rosen
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Daniel H. Rosen, the principal of China Strategic Advisory, says: "Though 800 million Chinese are still poor by our standards, they're striving toward prosperity and not toward extremism. Those people, those toiling Chinese, are the boom that we're here to pass judgment on this evening. While their toil brings competitive challenges for us, we would be gravely mistaken to try to turn back the clock to the failed state China was before this boom began. Prosperity is not an alternative to political change in China. In fact, it's been the handmaiden of it. The totalitarian government ruling $200-per-capita China in 1978 bears practically no resemblance to the Chinese government managing a $2,000-per-capita economy today. Likewise, the Chinese government that runs $10,000-per-capita China tomorrow will be vastly different than the one we deal with today."

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J. Stapleton Roy
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J. Stapleton Roy, three-time ambassador serving Singapore, the People's Republic of China and Indonesia, says: "A China that is floundering with a sense of grievance against the world and disaffected with the international system would be a greater danger than a booming China that can feed and clothe its people, educate them domestically and abroad, buy vast amounts of U.S. goods and services, and benefit from the international system. That's a far preferable outcome. Can we handle China's troublesome aspects? Of course we can. ... The one requirement for handling any trouble that China causes is that we manage our domestic and international affairs so that we don't squander the enormous advantages that we have. ... A booming China offers enormous opportunities for the United States, and holds out the prospect of positive change in the future."

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The Intelligence Squared U.S. series is produced in New York City by The Rosenkranz Foundation and for broadcast by WNYC.

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