Local academic voices concerns about US-China power battle

The head of Birmingham University’s International Politics department said China and America would remain locked in mutual dependence as the relationship assumes ever-increasing importance in the world.

Mark Beeson, hosted by ‘China in Focus’, focused on whether the two powers are “trading places” in a changing world economy.

Professor Beeson was confident the “balance of financial terror”, as expressed by the director of the White House’s National Economic Council, would keep the countries in check.

He was also confident the Obama administration would avoid any severe conflict, and would continue to foster close ties with an “essentially capitalist economy”.

China, through its considerable stash of dollars, holds much influence over the greenback’s value. This is a significant bargaining chip at a time when the dollar is at its weakest in “sixty or seventy years”. And in reinvesting heavily in US Treasury securities, China is effectively America’s biggest lender.

As the US budget moves deep into the red, this is another weapon that the Chinese can wield at their pleasure.

But Professor Beeson said it remains true that “when America catches a cold, the rest of the world sneezes”. China, which generates much of its income through exports to America, cannot rely solely on its internal consumers for economic prosperity.

Recent developments show that China’s economy “might be unable to soak up employment in all parts of the country”.

However, even before an economic jump “unparalleled in human history”, he said the ‘Middle Kingdom’ was at the “centre of everything approaching global civilization.”

China had only recently been eclipsed by the Western world, he said, but it is quite likely that it will overtake the USA by the middle of this century.

China’s increasing popularity is closely linked to America’s declining popularity over the past eight years, he argued, though things may change under the Obama administration.

The emerging giant has been strengthened by its lucrative trade relations with its East Asian neighbour, as America’s influence declines in the region.

However, China’s elite, “capitalists who are still using the old rhetoric”, are especially vulnerable to an economic slowdown.

Their only “source of legitimacy is keeping the economic system going,” he said.

How they manage the slowdown will be critical. If things go worse than expected, Professor Beeson said, there would appear “a question mark about continuing political and social stability”.

The talk was the most prominent lecture organised thus far by ‘China in Focus’, an academic society primarily concerned with politics, economics, law and order, religion and education.

Initially set up to provide a platform of debate between Chinese students, who held strict government views, and students from liberal democracies who tend to dismiss China because of its non-democratic politics, the society aims to “treat China as an academic topic and critically analyse its achievements and shortcomings, whether as a nation-state, government, culture or people.”


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