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Tom Watkins
Tom Watkins

Should Americans fear China?

March 30, 2018 

President Trump has pushed China into the news, slapping $60 billion of Tariffs on their goods shipped to America and instigating what many business, economic and International leaders fear is a trade war; there will be many casualties and no winners. While this may be good political theater for his base, it is not going to do a thing to create jobs for folks that have seen their world turned upside down because of automation and globalization.

The White House—in an effort to calm the domestic and global markets—and prevent a continuing stock market free fall—is sending US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to negotiate with  Liu He, the new premier and President Xi Jinping’s top economic adviser.  He will address the gigantic China-US trade imbalance. The goal is to achieve a mutually acceptable solution that allows both sides to save face and claim victory.

Rather than deal with issues that will make us stronger, such as investing in worker training, education and a massive infrastructure investment program to fix our roads, bridges, sewers, airports and ports, our president seems intent on stoking xenophobia and economic fear to divert the American people’s attention.

Stoking fear has short term political benefit but will do little to address what ails our nation.  Yet, it is easier to blame someone else for our problems than to accept responsibility and take action to adjust to a changing word driven by technology, automaton, “AI’ (Artificial Intelligence) and globalization.

The Fear is Catching On

I had been on this radio show interviewed by a knowledgeable host several times going back over a decade. He refers to me as his “go to ‘expert’ on all things China.” So it was no surprise when I was asked to do a phone interview about the Chinese New Year: the “Year of the Dog.”  I was ready to explain the Year of the Dog and Chinese Culture which I have studied and admired my entire life.

As the interview began, I was glad I was not on live TV as the audience surely would have seen my jaw drop when he started out by repeating the remarks uttered before the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee by then-FBI Director Christopher Wray who opined that Chinese academics or “non-traditional collectors” — “professors, scientists, students” studying and working in the United States in “basically every discipline” — may be covertly gathering intelligence for the Chinese government. 


Our numerous previous radio interview encounters revolved around the bridge building, “win-win” relationships I have been focused on.  The advantages of partnering with China as evidenced by the jobs and investments that has produced.

I had not anticipated that I would be asked to answer, “Should we fear the Chinese?”  Specifically, the radio host asked, “I could not believe what I was hearing from the FBI Director when he said the whole of Chinese society is a threat to the U.S. and Americans must step up to defend ourselves— did that knock you off your feet?”

The tone and words of this interview had an edge and seemed based upon an underlying fear that China was on not only a mission to catch, but to surpass America as part of some sinister and hidden plot.  Should our government remain vigilant of all threats foreign and domestic?  Of course!  Should we remain equally vigilant not to paint all Chinese—including Chinese American citizens—as threats to America?  Absolutely!

America needs an aggressive plan that makes China’s rise and globalization work for us, not against us. We have such a plan here in Michigan.

As China Opens Up, Michigan Benefits


It is in our national interest to assure that China’s rise does not come at our—and the world’s—demise. 

Push Back

The, “Council of 100 Chair”  Frank Wu (https://committee100.org/), a non-partisan organization of illustrious Chinese Americans, is committed to promoting constructive dialogue and relationships between the peoples and leaders of the U.S. and China.  The full inclusion of Chinese Americans in the U.S. finds the FBI’s director’s comments to be, “disturbing and prejudicial.”  He articulately addresses his concerns in this CGTN (China Global Television Network), interview:


Simply because the United States has been number one on most scales for the past century-plus, there is no guarantee we get to stay there. This is a position that we must work hard and smart to maintain. There is no God given right for any nation to be number one.

Few in the U.S. remember that China held the title of the world’s largest economy during eighteen of the last twenty centuries. Clearly the Chinese are not content to remain the factory for the world. On multiple planes, the Chinese are striving and succeeding in reclaiming their status as a cultured, educated, innovative nation. Many expect China to recapture the world’s largest economy title within a decade.

Ugly Past

America has an ugly history to overcome when it relates to “fearing” Chinese or any one that looks Chinese. Think: Chinese Exclusionary Act, (US, Chinese Exclusion Act (1882)


Japanese Internment Camps during WW11, (https://www.archives.gov/education/lessons/japanese-relocation)

and never forget Vincent Chin (http://www.annarbor.com/news/opinion/remembering-vincent-china-decent-people-must-always-oppose-ugly-rhetoric-and-misplaced-blame/).

China bashing has become a national past time during U.S. elections.


Lest we forget in 1950, the “Grand Dragon” of the Red scare, U.S. Senator Joe McCarthy (http://www.ushistory.org/us/53a.asp) began blaming failures in American foreign policy—and America itself—on Communist infiltration of the U.S. government.  A witch hunt began that still haunts America. The fears he stoked came to define–and erode–the American culture and tear the country apart. Some argue President Trump’s rhetoric today is reminiscent of these ugly times. 


Are the Chinese intent on overtaking the United States? The easy answer is, of course they are.  Just as we should be working militarily, scientifically, educationally and morally to assure we remain number one and in a position of strength. Our strength comes from investing in the American people.

However, just to be clear, we cannot and will not bend China to our will.


Foreign Affairs Magazine in an article: How American Foreign Policy Got China Wrong captures the gist of the radio host’s exasperation, saying, “The United States has always had an outsize sense of its ability to determine China’s course. Again and again, its ambitions have come up short.” The authors give example after example where Chinese realities upset American expectations.


This same article goes on to show how time and time again how American-China experts have gotten China wrong. In 1967, Nixon wrote in a magazine, “The world cannot be safe until China changes. Thus our aim, to the extent that we can influence events, should be to induce change.” The article continues, “Ever since, the assumption that the deepening commercial, diplomatic and cultural ties would transform China’s internal development and external behavior has been a bedrock of U.S. strategy. 

The underlying belief has mistakenly been that our power and Hegemony could readily mold China to the United States’ liking.” The article comes to the realization, “Neither carrots nor sticks have swayed China as experts predicted.

 “Papa Xi”

China’s President, Xi Jinping is a hardline leader with ambitions to remain in power (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-43188739) and a clear goal to curb the edge foreigners have gained in China and catapult home grown Chinese companies to the top. This would allow the Chinese people to stand tall in the eyes of those at home and others around the globe. Xi’s call to arms for the Chinese people to revitalize the Chinese Dream or the, “great revival of the Chinese nation” is not empty rhetoric. 

Today, President Xi Jinping is presiding over a nation with fuqiang or “wealth and power,” after decades of following the failures of Mao’s revolution and Deng Xiapong’s warning to, “keep a cool head and maintain a low profile. Never take the lead – but aim to do something big.”  

This should come as no surprise.  What world leader does not aspire for its people and nation to soar?  In their book, Wealth and Power: China’s Long March To The Twenty First Century,


old China hands, Orville Schell and John Dulury brilliantly walk us through, “how a nation, after a long and painful period of dynastic decline, intellectual upheaval, foreign occupation, civil war, and revolution, manage to burst forth onto the world stage with such an impressive run of hyper-development and wealth creation, culminating in the extraordinary dynamism of China today.”

Let us not forget the many contributions Chinese and Chinese-Americans have made to America scientifically, economically and socially.  Recently, Aaron Chen, 16, a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas School in Parkland, Florida during the recent school massacre was holding a door open for classmates to escape the shooting rampage, dressed in his grey ROTC uniform.


Clearly the Chinese are striving to recapture their wealth and power. And why shouldn’t they?

The New York Times points out that President Xi Jinping of China played his boldest political card yet, maneuvering to change the Chinese Constitution to remain in power so that he can exert control of the country’s complex system long enough to achieve the dream of great-power status, asserting economic and political influence across the globe. He wants to deliver on the “China Dream.”


America Needs to Fight Back by Investing in its People

America, sadly, is falling behind.  Blaming China is not the elixir to fix what ails us. We need to rebuild our infrastructure, invest in new technologies and our own people if we want to remain at the top of the gold mountain.


The fast paced march of new technologies is causing Americans concern while Chinese citizens are embracing the future.


the Chinese are much more optimistic about the technology – sixty-five percent believe AI will create more job opportunities over the next five to ten years. https://syncedreview.com/2018/02/16/chinas-lunar-new-years-gala-wowed-watchers-with-ai-innovations/

Creating fear is not a sustainable or beneficial strategy for America to pursue. 

We can’t control what China does. We can, however, get serious about investing in America to make us stronger.  Stoking fear and initiating a trade war is hardly a strategy that will make the US stronger or put out people back to work. 

Americans should worry about our place in the world.  We also must remain vigilant so as not to chase a cure when there is no epidemic.

Tom Watkins has had a lifelong interest in China sparked by a great fourth grade teacher. He has worked for nearly four decades to build economic, educational and cultural ties between the US and China. He serves on the Michigan-China Innovation Center Advisory Board, is an adviser to the Detroit Chinese Business Association and serves on the National Tai Initiative board of directors. 


Tom Watkins is a regular contributor to the prestigious CHINAUSFocus.com an open-platform website where Chinese and American thought leaders can openly express their views on the myriad issues that face the two nations, thus promoting communication and understanding between the peoples of China and the United States. He can be emailed at: tdwatkins88@gmail.com, or followed on twitter at:@tdwatkins88


March 29, 2018 · Filed under Tom Watkins

10 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Joe Nathan // Mar 30, 2018 at 4:11 pm

    Agree with Tom that Trump’s strategy is unwise and counterproductive. He already is being regarded by conservative as well as liberal historians as one of the nation’s worst presidents.

  • 2 K.P. Pelleran // Mar 30, 2018 at 4:47 pm

    Insightful article. I don’t fear the Chinese. I fear our President will do something to get us into global war and/or another economic meltdown.

  • 3 Ken Beedle // Mar 30, 2018 at 6:39 pm

    Fear them? Yes but, better yet, respect them. In the past the U.S. stumbled over its ego. Xi and the communist party have made heads turn reminiscent of how the Soviet Union tried with a major “but”. The Chinese are subtle as to an iron boot. They have moved into the vacuums of PAST U.S. foreign policy failures. With their wealth they have created strength through sirens broadcasting their charm. Beware the Red Dragon still holds true.

  • 4 Jay Greene // Mar 31, 2018 at 6:59 am

    As a journalist myself, I am shocked the radio host bushwhacked you with that bait and switch interview. I set up interviews all the time and brief my sources as to what the topic is beforehand. Sometimes I give same questions. If something changes, I let them know ahead of time. For the rest, Ijust don’t have the expertise to comment fully. But I have concerns about some things going on in China. First, I disagree with the tariff plan. I do believe the U.S. needs to respond somehow to the negative changes I read about China.
    Is it true that for American businesses to work with the Chinese they have to turn over some of their technologies?
    Is it true that there is an increase in civil rights abuses and arrests in China?
    Is it true that China is doing more to close down the internet for its people and businesses. Amazon can’t do business there and Facebook, etc?
    The China president is there for life or there is not limit to his terms?
    I understand China and Michigan are working on opening up markets. But these developments in China cannot be ignored and seem to represent anti-democratic sentiments, not openness. Finally, of course the U.S. should do more to improve our own infrastructure, civil rights, social justice and tax fairness.

  • 5 Bill Wild // Mar 31, 2018 at 8:17 am

    Very informative article Tom. Thank you for your leadership in this arena.

    I agree that China’s rise can not come at America’s demise.

    After visiting and studying Innovation Districts in several large cities in China last summer, I’ve seen firsthand how the Chinese are embracing future technologies and creating new economies and wealth with it.

    Our country could certainly take a lesson from the Chinese on investing in infrastructure and regional transportation.

  • 6 roger m. // Apr 1, 2018 at 9:11 am

    Agree that China is not to be feared and there are so many bigger issues we should be focusing on.. Thank you for writing this.

  • 7 William Riley // Apr 1, 2018 at 4:51 pm

    Politics of Fear is very dangerous thing not just internationally, but nationally as well. It brings out the true ugliness and hate of humanity. However, the world must be Leary of Christmas an as well as Russia. Both seek to dominate bate with the destructive nature of suppression of individual rights. The US has it issues but there is no comparison of what a free society looks like when looks by at China and Russia. We have the ability for change in our government leadership even though we (Mueller) are dealing with this Russian investigation. I feel confident Mueller will expose all those involved.

    If with that Politics of Fear is unexceptionable. Yet we must always recognize the dangers of nations that do not share our values of freedom. China, Russia and thier allies are not our friends and they seek to undermine our democratic values. Do not be fooled,

  • 8 William Riley // Apr 1, 2018 at 4:57 pm

    Sorry All, in line 3, I meant China instead of Christmas.

  • 9 christopher lin // Apr 2, 2018 at 6:48 pm

    Very insightful Tom, I think we need to learn more about China so that we can work together for mutual benefit… Cooperation instead of Conflict. At Mandy and Pandy we are teaching American kids Chinese language and culture to foster long-term friendships between the world’s two largest super-powers.

  • 10 Daniel S Hoppe // Apr 9, 2018 at 12:24 pm

    Lets be equal partners in trade with China, which is the second largest economy in the world. Equal trade means fair trade!

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