Rabble-rousing threatens U.S.-China relationship

Political campaigns bring out the worst in the otherwise mild-mannered policymaker.I experienced the pull of the polls many times when I was a public servant representing New Hampshire, and I can clearly see the influence of the campaign season and a weak economy in the House of Representatives’ recent vote to “punish” China for what it sees as an undervalued currency.I am a vocal advocate of vigorous and healthy debates about international trade and foreign policy, but the rabble-rousing that creeps into congressional deliberations on U.S.-China relations is unhealthy for our country, for the international system we have championed and led since World War II, and for the people of the United States and China.First, we have to accept the fact that China is not a small developing country that we can pursue, without consequence, a unilateral policy toward. Every country today is affected by China and has an opinion and a stake in our China policy.They can choose to follow us or to strike out on a different course. To aggressively challenge China on its currency value, with a potential World Trade Organization case in the future, is folly if we have not carefully thought out the consequences of our actions. And we haven’t.As far as I have seen, the debate assumes “currency reform = more American jobs.” In a world of two countries, that formula might make sense. But if we enact legislation against China, it could escalate through the imposition of tariffs, like the recent 100 percent tariff on American poultry. If we bring a World Trade Organization case and lose, our case for currency reform is permanently weakened.That is not to say our policy toward China should be one of passivity. But what we need are more serious and open discussions about these issues, not congressional hearings setting the “American worker” versus the “Chinese government” in order to create false dichotomies and tragically simplify important issues.We forget, for example, how much China is serving as a driver of the global economy. Many U.S. states, in fact, are enjoying booming trade with China. In total, 47 states have registered triple-digit export growth to China since 2000, and 19 states now export more than $1 billion to China each year.New Hampshire’s exports to China dipped during the recession, dropping from a record high of $329 million in 2008, but we have sent $150 million in goods and services to China through June of this year.Consider this: From 2000-08, New Hampshire’s exports to China increased nearly 1,000 percent. The state exports more only to our regional neighbors, Canada and Mexico.Here are the questions I want to see discussed and hopefully answered:• What would a trade war do to our current trade relationships?• What would a trade war do to our military ties or our cultural ties with China?• What are the reasons that China does not want to revalue its currency right now?• What are their concerns about domestic stability and job creation that led them to embrace exports?The truth of the matter here is that, yes, China is a serious competitor to the United States. But this is not a zero-sum game; an open and growing China can create tremendous new opportunities for American business.Bill Zeliff of Jackson is a former congressman for New Hampshire’s 1st Congressional District.

Categories: Opinion