Peoria and US-China Relations


Blog post by Barb Katz

Accomplished and timely!
 PAWAC does it again.
On Monday September 16, 2019, PAWAC brought in a fantastic speaker, Mr. Stephen Orlins. He is (and has been for the last 15 years) the president of the National Committee on United States-China Relations, and before this he held numerous important positions in communications and banking firms, served in the Office of Legal Advisor of the US Department of State, and was part of the team to establish diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China 40 years ago.

He started his talk by pointing out that we, the US, should be celebrating the fact that we have had good relations with China for the past 40 years and that no US soldiers are dying on East Asian battlefields. Unfortunately there are no celebrations. Instead, we are embroiled in a much more strained relationship that is seemingly unnecessary.

Mr. Orlins believes that it is certainly within the power of the US and China to fix our current problems: all it takes is “political will,” the type that Jimmy Carter and Deng Xiaoping had 40 years ago. He is both “deeply pessimistic in the short term, and optimistic in the long term” about the relations between our two countries: pessimistic now because of our current “ill-conceived trade policy” that is hurting our farmers with loss of trade now and potentially in the future. Mr. Orlins notes with some irony that the policies that our government is demanding of China will actually help them in the long run if they implement them (i.e. stopping their subsidies, ending their state monopolies and protectionism, even ending intellectual property theft—all will make their products better in the long run).

Furthermore, Mr. Orlins believes that the US is focusing too many resources on China as a strategic rival and threat, that those dollars would be better spent investing in our own education and infrastructure. He believes that we have forgotten that China helped to stabilize the world economy in 2008, and that if we work with them as partners we can work on threats that we have in common, like countering pandemics and the effects of climate change. Mr. Orlins ended with the optimistic hope that the movie The Martian, with Matt Damon, exemplified, with the Chinese helping to save Damon’s character after he gets stuck on Mars. “We need this spirit in real life. The US and China will need to work together” to combat the major problems affecting us all.

?Finally, while answering very good audience questions, especially those posed by students, Mr. Orlins noted that the US should use its partners—acting multilaterally—to get things done. Imposing the tariffs unilaterally only sent China to our allies’ markets, thus hurting our economy. Also, while yes, Chinese policy towards the Uyghurs is horrible, Mr. Orlins wanted us to all understand that life itself for most Chinese is so much better than it was in any earlier period. Forty years ago, Chinese citizens were told by the government where they would work, everyone needed internal visas to travel the country, and judges were untrained military officers. Ordinary Chinese citizens now have the freedom to choose occupations, travel in, around and out of China, and actual trained judges sit on the benches of Chinese courts. Yes, we should strive to hold China to “universal values of human rights”; but we should also see the bigger picture of China’s incredible growth as a modern country.