Clinton in China. Signs Of Change Are Everywhere

Monday, February 23, 2009 0:47
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One of the most interesting classes for me at Thunderbird was IPE (International Political Economy), and one of the subject that I was most interested in was how the role of the state to develop a foreign policy was changing as a result of globalization and the power of firms in a domestic market to influence policy towards other markets.

The basic idea being that it is easier to drive a hard line when either nothing is at stake (i.e. no American firms in Myanmar), or that the country is only a source of something needed (like oil). The minute that Wal-Mart, Coke, and McDonald’s enter the market though.. things get a little more complicated… outsource significant portions of key industries and its gets more complicated.. those firms begin seeing bigger markets in China than inthe US, really complicated… and should that country (China) be the only one willing and able to buy the treasuries you need to fix your economy.

Well, it is clear that the US is just not in the same position it was 15 years ago when China was negotiating its entry to the WTO.

It is a point that Calvin Chin made in my interview with him last week, and it is a point that others are making in the media. That unlike in the past where the US would hammer away at social inequities in China, and the US was hammering on the RMB, now Clinton is having to play nice and play down those issues in order to get the support of Beijing.

For me, I think this is a bit of a cop out in the sense that while it is of course easier to discuss issues separately, however the fact is that all of the interactions between these issues still exists. That while Clinton is here on bended knee looking for money and talking up the promises of “green technologies” (enter field trip to GE plant), she should also continue to work on the other issues… not as separate issues, but as core to the conversations surrounding sustainability.

For example:
Key to the environmental issues that Bejing and DC share is the current economic structure that have intertwined these two countries, and the fact that while China’s development is increasing the pressures on the environment, many US firms have done little more than move their environmental footprints to China. That an opportunity exists, not in developing solar panels and batteries together, but in developing an environmental dialogue and standards between the to countries that reduces the opportunities for companies to use local + standards.

Add to that the need to invest in cleaner logistics infrastructures (cargo ships, rail technologies, etc) and promote cleaner supply chain management in general (pallet sharing programs, packaging & material standards, etc) that will produce and move the goods China sells to the US in a more economically and environmentally sustainable manner.

It seems odd to me that in the last 9 months we have shown just how unsustainable the relationship and economic conditions were, that the conversations continue along the same topics. that through these talks, “sustainability” is clearly seen as an environmental issue rather than a social and economic issue, when the citizens of both coutnries are clearly viewing this holistically in those terms.

In the end, I believe that Secretary Clinton has it right that:

“It would not be in China’s interest if we were unable to get our economy moving,” Clinton said. “So by continuing to support American Treasury instruments, the Chinese are recognizing our interconnection.

We are truly going to rise or fall together. We are in the same boat.

But that she also had it right in 1995 when she said:

“human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights.”

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