UConn alumnus lecture on international relations with China
Published: Tuesday, October 1, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, October 1, 2013 23:10
Just over 40 years ago when Paul Speltz, a ’72 UConn alumnus, started working in both public and private Asian business and finance, he would have thought it unthinkable that today Chinese men and women would be permitted to travel and study here in the U.S., never mind this very campus.
The days of a communistic, autocratic, China are long gone, and as Speltz said, “whether you like it or not, we’re linked at the hip in terms of our economy.” In light of this, Speltz identifies himself as one of those individuals who are working behind the scenes towards “UConn Globalization.” With strong support from President Susan Herbst and other faculty members, there is an initiative to make UConn a top public university that is global in reach and accepted as a true multinational institution.
China has become almost unrecognizable since the historic 1972 visit by former President Nixon. With a young population that is increasingly growing both self and globally aware, the new China is quite independent minded. Realistically, it is impossible to control the release of all information or the connections citizens make through social media as China realistically has in the past.
However, this is not a necessarily bad thing, and the new, dynamic Chinese leadership uses this open mindset to their political advantage. There has been a “tea-kettle” approach towards social stability; allowing for the occasional “letting off of steam” carefully through legal, or illegal, not-blocked demonstrations, and then returning to day-to-day business as usual.
Relations with this China are not as strong as they have been in the past, but Speltz considers them, “overall still ok.” Speltz supports this evaluation by citing this new leadership, in addition to the fact that the Taiwan issue has cooled off significantly.
The main reason, he claims quite frankly, is that people in Washington, D.C. are not paying too much attention to China and the rest of the Pacific. There have been no new issues that have incited confrontational diplomatic action, mainly because both sides understand that they are strictly economic allies, not global allies, and have no intention to change this in the future. The U.S. and China have come through many periods of misunderstandings, and now both countries have a better sense of what we agree on, disagree on, and are less likely to try to change the other’s opinion. There is a strong perception of the U.S. as not a very friendly place, or interested in much beyond their financial investments. The Obama Administration stayed on the sidelines during the recent dynamic change in leadership of China, and many there consider the president a lame duck. If the president were to take a social stance on China, it would cause an unnecessary diplomatic nightmare; the Chinese government would use it to incite nationalistic feelings, portraying the U.S. as it’s traditional meddling self.
Yet the Chinese don’t have much motivation to take initiative with the U.S. either. There is no rush to implement changes in foreign policy or alter the diplomatic status-quo, considering that the country is extremely prosperous and the new leadership has nine more years in power if they decide to do so.
Thus the extent of U.S. and China relations of late has been for economic reasons of business of trade. The Chinese economic problem is the opposite of ours: with an exponential rate of economic growth they want to slow it down, not stimulate it. Unlike Americans who in the past have entrenched themselves into a cycle of debt and trends of consumerism, the Chinese have become a country of savers. Due to historic cycles of bankruptcy and inflation, they have, as Speltz coined it, “been hiding under the mattress” in terms of their economy and it is now paying off. The main debate remains to be the trade balance, or lack thereof, between the U.S. and China. The question on the table is how long the U.S. can realistically sustain such a deficit, and how to level it out in the meantime.
When U.S. representatives and decision makers consult Speltz, they often ask, “What is really happening in China, and what are they going to do next?” It’s a loaded question, but it is reassuring to know that many senators are taking the initiative to travel more to learn about global influences firsthand.
While they may not agree with that they are seeing, it undoubtedly gives them much more insight. Speltz believes, “an increase in bilateral discussions is healthy even if it doesn’t lead to agreements or pacts being signed.” The future of the U.S. and China relations will depend heavily upon economic policy, but also a more global-friendly open mindset.