“Why do American Presidents not like Chinese?” This profound question came from the mouth of a 12 year old girl, Hannah Liu, in the Hunan province during a visit last summer. From public statements by Obama and Romney to dozens of political ads released during the 2010, 2011, and 2012 election cycles, China is receiving the message of U.S. public opinion loud and clear. To date, all grievances voiced in the ads have been economically driven: condemning those that send or have the appearance of sending jobs overseas or raising fear over China owning significant portions of U.S. debt. However, with recent economic and job migration underway in Beijing and globally, economic wage advantage may be shifting to other Southeast Asian countries, but not without diplomatic and socio-political cost on Sino-American relations.
Professor Shambaugh of George Washington University considers growing nationalistic pressures within China to be among the fiercest problems facing the American political agenda in Beijing. While Professor Jessica Weiss of Yale contends that Beijing controls this certain type of nationalism during times of political protest to manage international diplomacy, negative sentiment towards the United States from China are growing.
Chinese based newspapers China Daily, China Today, and Xin Jing Bao (Beijing News), among others, chastise, almost daily, America’s global sphere of influence and its alleged encroachment on Chinese sovereignty. Recent examples include Defense Secretary Leon Panetta speaking from the deck of the USS Richard E. Byrd in Hanoi, Vietnam. Immediate response came from Beijing that the U.S. had no role in Vietnam, especially militarily. President Obama’s plan to set up a new military training facility in Darwin, Australia was met with similar criticism by the Hu administration in Beijing. On the other side of the Pacific, China has expanded its capital investments to strategic areas in Africa and the Caribbean with its most pertinent to U.S. interests being an economic summit meeting with Cuban President Raul Castro. And raising diplomatic tensions in 2010, a Chinese national fishing boat caused response from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton when it became entangled with Japanese Coast Guard vessels launching a diplomatic struggle over water passages between China and Japan. It would appear as though the two largest economies and military powers are circling one another in an elaborate game of Weiqi.
However, this type of tension, I believe, will ease as jobs begin to return to the U.S. from China as the recent examples of General Electric jobs, as well as jobs moving to Southeast Asian countries. As production costs rise in China moving towards high-tech production and more of a service-oriented economy, many jobs are moving to lower wage neighbors Malaysia and Thailand. This economic migration will begin an improving relationship between the U.S. and China. Domestically, both sides of the political aisle hope to look “tough on China” for the upcoming election, however, the reality is that the interdependence of trade and capital between the U.S. and China is not only beneficial but also essential to the world economy.
American politicians vilify those that take jobs away from Americans due to lower production costs overseas in order to echo public frustration with modern globalization and economics. The savvy politician knows that voicing a “Made in America” tagline over a “Made in China” plays better with the American public despite growing knowledge that our service industry economy does not allot itself to keep wages low enough to be internationally competitive. Once India, Thailand, or Malaysia begin to produce a larger portion of our products (which they already do) and this becomes common knowledge among consumers, a portion large enough that it is politically expedient to criticize, the anti-China mantra voiced in political ads will switch to China.
In regards to the military, as Thomas Friedman voices, countries that trade together are less likely to go to war together. A better trading relationship with China, secured through open communications, diminished Chinese super-nationalism, and high production costs in China, will create a more effective basis for Sino-American relations with new PRC President Xi Jinping. While we can expect a wide variety of anti-Chinese ads leading up to the November election, look to see a positive tone fall over Sino-American relations as the trade atmosphere changes and American leaders can act voice a different, more positive domestic sentiment towards China.