Poverty reduction among China’s greatest successes, Graham Allison says

Source:Global Times Published: 2019/4/29 16:16:22

Graham Allison Photo: Courtesy of Graham Allison

Illustration: Luo Xuan/GT


Editor's Note:

There have been several rounds of China-US trade talks since a trade truce was declared late last year by the leaders of the two countries at the G20 meeting in Argentina, and there are signs of progress toward a trade deal between the world's two largest economies. With that in mind, how should one understand China-US relations? In a recent interview with the Global Times (GT) by email, Graham Allison (Allison), Douglas Dillon Professor of Government at Harvard University, known for coining the catchphrase "Thucydides Trap" - the dangerous dynamic that occurs when a rising power threatens to displace a ruling power - shared his thoughts on China-US ties.

GT: The US has announced the postponement of the March 1 deadline to increase tariffs on Chinese products. Does this mean the odds of a great deal have risen dramatically?

Allison: New York Yankees legendary catcher Yogi Berra cautioned against making predictions - "especially about the future." Nonetheless, if placing my bet today, I make the odds that China allows the US to claim a "great deal" as more likely than not.

The Chinese have studied the US side's successful negotiation of the new North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, last year. They see the differences between the old NAFTA and the new agreement as plus or minus 10 to 15 percent. If all it takes to transform what US President Donald Trump called the "worst trade deal ever made" into a "great deal" is to allow Trump to make it so, then China will be happy to play along.

GT: The strong US economy Trump has had on his side since 2017 seems to have lost steam recently, as indicated by the jobs shock in February. Will this, in addition to Trump's hypersensitivity to the US stock market, which has fared much worse than the Chinese mainland stock market since February, lead to a big change in the Trump administration's China policy?

Allison: On the larger geopolitical chessboard, the tariff conflict is relatively small potatoes. The terms on which it is settled, or postponed, will not significantly affect the trajectory of the Thucydidean rivalry between a rising China and a ruling US. Even if China were to concede on every item on the Trump team's wish list, China's economy will likely continue growing at more than twice the rate of the US. The consequences of an agreement (or postponement) for US markets and the president's political prospects are another matter.

GT: What do you think the chances are of a "technology cold war" freezing over China and the US? Will the world be divided into two technology spheres of influence, and how could China and the US prevent this technology cold war?

Allison: I argue in my book Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides's Trap? that when there is a fundamental shift in the underlying balance of power, alarm bells should sound: extreme danger ahead. As more Americans view China as a threat to US security, that lens colors every dimension of the relationship - including scientific cooperation. When the Department of Energy banned its scientists from participating in China's talent-recruitment programs, what did the Deputy Energy Secretary say? "This action's being taken to protect US national security interests and scientific integrity. You're either going to work for us or work for them."

GT: This year marks the 70th anniversary of the People's Republic of China. How successful do you think the 70-year-old PRC was overall and in what ways do you reckon the nation is successful?

Allison: Poverty reduction is among China's greatest successes. In 1978, nine in every 10 people in China - with a population of 1 billion then - were scrambling for a living below the "extreme poverty line" at just under $2 per day as set by the World Bank. Today, that's been flipped on its head. As a consequence, almost all of the more than 1.4 billion people in China have doubled their calorie intake, a far cry from what they would have experienced for most of their life - staying hungry. 

It could be argued that 40 years of stellar growth have resulted in a greater increase in human well-being for more individuals than seen in the previous 4,000 plus years of China's history.

Newspaper headline: Poverty reduction among China’s greatest successes

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