Panelists discuss rise of China

The fall kickoff event for the sixth annual China-U.S. Symposium was held yesterday in the Terrace Room of Paige Hall. Panelists and audience members discussed the rise of China as an international power.

Although the symposium has previously been hosted in the spring, this year two events will be held — one in the spring and one in the fall — in order to provide students with more opportunities to connect with involved faculty members, according to Symposium Co-Director Lizzy Robinson.

“It’s a good opportunity for people to have a conversation with professors,” Robinson, a junior, said. “As much as the spring event is great, there is less dialogue.”

All four speakers at the event, titled “The Rise of China,” presented challenges they saw in China’s continuing growth.

Assistant Professor of Political Science Michael Beckley spoke first, addressing two often-overlooked factors in China’s growth — the nation’s geography and demography.

Beckley commented on China’s challenging geopolitical environment and unequal population distribution, where the small, oldest generation is followed by a huge baby-boomer generation, which is again followed by a small one-child generation.

“This doesn’t mean that China can’t continue to grow its economy, to prosper and to expand, but it does suggest that it is going to be much more difficult to continue to grow the economy as fast as it has been over the next 30 years compared to how it was over the last 30 years,” he said.

Assistant Professor of Chinese Foreign Relations at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy Sulmaan Khan next presented what he believed to be evidence for a collapsing China. Currently, the country faces issues involving water, farmland, demographics, weak government, food prices and generational changes.

“As much as China’s rise has been a theme of concern for U.S. policy, I think some of our energy should be devoted to figuring out what might a collapsing China look like, how can that collapse be prevented, and if the worst does indeed happen, what America is going to do about it,” Khan said.

Xueping Zhong, director of the Chinese program at Tufts, started by playing a short clip from a documentary titled, “Filming a Land in Flux,” which depicts the changing landscape of China from the perspective of a moving train. The only panelist who did not specialize in political science, she instead described the cultural aspects of China, such as the internal debates that exist within the country.

“I think that China rising … may not be on the minds of the Chinese, as much as I think [it may be on] the people outside’s, but that doesn’t mean that their thinking is less important,” Zhong said. “In fact, if one wants to understand if there is such a thing as China rising, it is better to understand what is being debated within China.”

Finally, Associate Professor of Government at Wesleyan University Mary Alice Haddad described China’s extreme environmental issues, which she believes present the most imminent and intense strains in the country.

“China’s environmental crisis is a global environmental crisis, not just a national one,” she said. “The sulfur dioxide in our air comes more from Chinese coal plants than it does from our own. It doesn’t just matter to the Chinese people, but it matters a lot to the Chinese people. In China, it is causing a health crisis, an economic crisis, a social crisis and a political crisis, and the Chinese government knows this.”

Haddad ended on a positive note, describing successful environmental campaigns within China that target the private and public sectors, and have resulted in relatively dramatic pro-environmental changes.

After the panel, 30 minutes were reserved for a lively question and answer session in which the speakers elaborated on their varying perspectives.

The spring event for the China-U.S. Symposium will be held in April of next year for those interested in discussing U.S. and China relations further.

Although throughout the panel, the focus was on the issues China faces in continuing to rise as an international power, Haddad joked that it was the U.S. government, and not China’s, that recently shut down due to internal disputes.

“In many ways the Chinese government is operating a lot better than our own government,” Haddad said. “China has bigger problems, but in some ways they are more functional than we are.”