Is China a threat or an opportunity? Depends which Americans you ask

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In this 2011 photo, then-U.S. Vice President Joe Biden walks with then-Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping in southwestern China. Both are now presidents of their countries at a time when U.S.-China relations have been growing increasingly tense.

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National Security
Long promised and often delayed, the ‘pivot to Asia’ takes shape under Biden

To jumpstart the economy and create jobs, he looked beyond Alabama. A few years ago, Thomasville, beat out dozens of other cities to woo an investment by China’s Golden Dragon Precise Copper Tube Group. The company, based nearly 8,000 miles away, in Henan province, makes metal tubes that go in air conditioners and other machines.

In 2014, Golden Dragon built a $120 million plant in nearby Wilcox County.

«There was, even at the time, some stigma associated with recruitment and inviting a Chinese industry to come to your community,» Day said.

But that didn’t bother him. Day went out of his way to make Golden Dragon feel welcome.

«We said, look, let’s make them honorary citizens of Alabama. So we had these real nice proclamations done by the state senate,» he said.

The company executives from China loved it, he said. He acknowledged that there have been cultural differences. But Day says Golden Dragon has made good on its promises. And the company has continued to invest in the community, and created hundreds of jobs.

«I’m definitely somebody who tries to bring people together, who tries to look for ways to do business rather than try not to,» said Day. «I do think that we would be — the whole world will be — a better place if we sit and talk to each other more and do business with each other, break bread with each other.»

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Women outside an Apple store as it prepared for its grand opening in Beijing in July 2020. Despite increased U.S.-China tensions, including trade friction, the world’s two largest economies still have one of the world’s largest trading relationships.

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A U.S. F/A-18E Super Hornet lands on the flight deck of the USS Ronald Reagan in the South China Sea in July 2020. U.S. officials now routinely describe China as the leading national security threat as relations have worsened in recent years.

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Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Samantha Jetzer/AP

A U.S. F/A-18E Super Hornet lands on the flight deck of the USS Ronald Reagan in the South China Sea in July 2020. U.S. officials now routinely describe China as the leading national security threat as relations have worsened in recent years.

Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Samantha Jetzer/AP

Agriculture trade remains a big business

Meanwhile, some businesses that are not involved in high-tech or the military say they should be allowed to keep trading widely with China.

«I think a great part of the Midwest would be very happy to get back to the way things were, said Kenneth Quinn, a former U.S. ambassador who’s now working with the Missouri-based United States Heartland China Association.

The group tries to build bridges between middle America and China, promoting cooperation in agriculture, education and culture.

«OK, there are issues in human rights, there are issues of [China’s] military presence in the South China Sea,» Quinn acknowledged. «But let’s treat those separately in a different channel.»

The U.S. Heartland China Association represents 20 states from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico, all of them big farm states. The group recently held a four-part roundtable on agriculture — think corn, soybeans and port — a bright spot in trade between the China and the U.S.

«We bring people together to demonstrate that there’s a lot of interest in doing this and that agriculture is kind of a safer place in which to take these steps,» Quinn said.

Biden’s plans come into focus

So far, Biden has largely kept in place the hardline policies of former President Donald Trump. The Biden administration has maintained trade sanctions, continued U.S. military muscle flexing in the Pacific, and is critical of Beijing’s human rights abuses.

In her first major speech about relations with China, Trade Representative Katherine Tai said this week that the U.S. seeks to reduce trade tensions, but is only willing to lift tariffs on a selective, case-by-case basis for now.

«Our objective is not to inflame trade tensions with China, but above all else, we must defend, to the hilt, our economic interests,» she said.

Elizabeth Larus, who teaches Chinese studies at the University of Mary Washington in Virginia, says any economic «de-coupling» between the U.S. and China will be very difficult.

«You can’t just say you’re going to pick up your factory and move all your resources and have a consistent, reliable energy source and the shipping port to get your stuff out at a decent price, and the logistics. China has nailed that down,» said Larus, the author of Politics and Society in Contemporary China.

China’s President Xi Jingping uses this as leverage, she noted.

«One of the goals of this Xi Jinping regime is to to make the world really reliant on China for its supply chain, but not to have China reliant on the rest of the world,» she added. «So that makes it difficult for the businesses.»

Is there a way out of this downward spiral?

«I do not see a de-escalation any time soon,» she said.

Larus and other China analysts say ongoing friction on the trade front is a certainty, though the world’s two largest economies have no real choice other than to keep dealing with each other.

And on national security questions, like military power or political clout in the Pacific, the trend lines point toward a rivalry that’s only growing more competitive.

  • us-china relations
  • China trade
  • U.S. military

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