Forum speaker says U.S. must get to know China better


China expert Thomas Fingar explained to the Morning Forum of Los Altos audience Oct. 15 why the United States must understand China’s challenges if it is to create a smart China policy.

In his presentation “Getting U.S. China Policy Right,” Fingar said he has been a China observer and analyst since the beginning of President Richard Nixon’s “pingpong” diplomacy in 1972. A fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University, Fingar’s career has been split between academic research

at Stanford and numerous positions in the government as an analyst of Asian affairs.

To underscore why the U.S. must get its relationship with China right, Fingar emphasized the existential crisis posed by climate change.

“The U.S. and China,” he said, “must be on the same side so other countries can see that we’re acting together.”

According to Fingar, the Trump adminstration is “getting everything wrong” because it finds it convenient to blame China for problems the U.S. has created.

“It’s easier to blame China for stealing our jobs,” he said, than it is to fault the corporate boards whose loyalty is to their shareholders, not their workers, and thus move jobs elsewhere to increase their profits.

The current narrative that “China is unstoppable” Fingar said, ignores the real challenges that China is now facing. Its miracle growth of the last 40 years has “plateaued,” he added, going from being one of the world’s most equal economies to one of the least equal. While many Chinese who have moved to the cities have joined the middle class, significant numbers, especially those in rural areas, remain in poverty and have no access to quality education.

Hard choices

China, Fingar said, is now facing “very hard choices,” and the demographic consequences of its one-child policy have created huge headaches. China will be the first country to “get old before it gets rich,” he noted, with its medical system having to address the ailments that its aging population will present, and decreasing numbers of young people to care for their aging relatives.

Even China’s increasing global reach is creating new challenges for the country. As one official in Beijing told Fingar, “We’re hoist on our own petard,” as China now has to protect the millions of Chinese workers and its investments in third-world countries, whose populations often resent the Chinese presence.

Fingar said that with all of these demands, China faces a “zero-sum” dilemma in its budget. China, like the U.S., suffers a debt that is three times its gross national product but must spend much more to meet all of its financial demands both at home and abroad.

Fingar acknowledged that China’s disregard for trade rules – for example, theft of intellectual property – has caused serious problems. The best way to change China’s resistance to following trade policy rules is to present a united front with U.S. allies. An estimated 25% of China’s exports goes to the U.S., but 80% goes to the U.S. and its allies.

In explaining why China’s exposure to Western democracies did not create a workforce that has demanded more freedoms, Fingar said that “what the Chinese fear most is the chaos and instability that might jeopardize the growth they have come to expect.” To most Chinese, he added, the party represents stability, and they would prefer to “stick with the devil they know.”

Morning Forum of Los Altos is a members-only lecture series that meets at Los Altos United Methodist Church, 655 Magdalena Ave. Subscriptions are open to new members. For membership details and more information, visit

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