In the 1970s and ’80s, when the rise of japanese industry led to huge layoffs in United States businesses — from automobile assembly to semiconductor manufacturing — a strong anti-Japanese response contained dark warnings of an incipient Japanese takeover and featured members of Congress taking sledgehammers to Japanese cars on TV.
The United States–Japan trade war was ultimately addressed not with emotional rhetoric but with trade agreements that encouraged Japan to buy more of our technology products and to build more automobile factories in the United States.
Today, there’s even greater concern about a rising China. We are not only losing jobs to Chinese factories, but the Chinese government is also hacking into United States government and corporate computers to steal personal information and trade secrets. China’s decision to build military facilities on disputed islands in the South China Sea has some experts even warning of a possible war.
We need to cool down. When a dominant power like the United States faces an emerging power, there’s bound to be conflict. When the emerging power takes an approach to economic development that challenges our own norms, it’s likely to raise hackles. If China refuses to respect the intellectual property of American companies, prominent futurist Mark Anderson argues, then it makes sense to create trade agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which excludes China and, thereby, creates an incentive for China to change its ways (page 46).
But the more conflict there is in our bilateral ties with China, the more important it is for our two countries to strengthen the foundation of our relationship with closer people-to-people ties. That’s particularly true for Washington, which is heavily dependent on China. Last year, Washington exported $90.6 billion in aircraft, agricultural goods and medical electronics to China, up 40 percent since 2011. That amount doesn’t even include the billions of dollars we earn in software, IT services and tourism. China, the state’s largest trade partner, now accounts for 23 percent of all Washington trade revenue, more than the next three largest trade partners combined.
Fortunately, we have a strong relationship on which to build. When China began opening itself to trade in the late 1970s, Seattle was the port of call for the first cargo ship from China to the United Sates. Every Chinese president since Deng Xiaoping has visited Seattle, which is home to the oldest China Relations Council. In Gary Locke, we had the first Chinese-American governor of an American state and the first Chinese-American ambassador to China.
Now, with the establishment of the Global Innovation Exchange, a joint venture between the University of Washington and China’s elite Tsinghua University, we have the first physical presence of a Chinese university in the United States (page 12). Cultural ties are also improving. Next summer, the Seattle Symphony will tour China.
Those close ties are bringing a wave of real estate and other business investment as well as much-needed technology talent. The more relationships we develop at a personal level, the more robust our bilateral relationship will be.
“All these channels help maintain connections,” says Sam Kaplan, president of the Trade Development Alliance of Greater Seattle. “The more ties you have, the more likely you are to have a peaceful outcome.”