1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

What Americans think of China's rise

April 30, 2010

For the Expo, China is opening its doors to around 200 countries, but just what do those countries really think of its host? Here is a look at how some Americans see China's rise.

Does the rising power of the Land of the Dragon pose a threat to the US?
Does the rising power of the Land of the Dragon pose a threat to the US?

China is the fastest growing nation in the world. Its stunning economic performance has left many in its shadows. While summing up how Americans feel about China's economic growth may be difficult, economist Thomas Rawski from the University of Pittsburgh believes there are two major aspects: "I think right now people are concerned about the economic aspect of China's rapid development. I think there's considerable admiration, people are impressed by what the Chinese have accomplished, especially in the economic sphere. And there's somewhat an undercurrent of worry about the consequences of Chinese expansion for the American economy, for employment in the United States and so on."

Where have all the jobs gone?

Rawski believes the latter concerns are misplaced, though it seems understandable that America would be ambiguous about China. The landscape of the United States is plastered with penny-saving mega stores offering the lowest possible prices for products that were once produced in the US. This is where the essence of capitalism blooms, fertilized by products made on the opposite side of the globe. Roy Kamphausen of the National Bureau of Asian Research says some think China is responsible for the loss of jobs in the United States.

"That American factory jobs are moving off shore is a really negative by-product of globalization. So companies are blamed, China is blamed for creating the kind of conditions that would welcome the kind of off-shoring of American jobs."

Walmart headquarters sign in Arkansas - also made in China?
Walmart headquarters sign in Arkansas - also made in China?Image: AP

Ken Dewoskin, director of China studies of the consultancy Deloitte, believes the sentiment is understandable on the surface; if Americans were to look at the labels of all the gifts under their Christmas trees, they would see most of them are indeed made in China. He says it is thus "easy to link that to the employment situation in the US and that is probably the biggest concern on the minds of Americans." But Dewoskin points out one thing that is sometimes over-looked by the general American public: "the fact that so much is imported from China has actually improved the lifestyle of many Americans because it has been anti-inflationary. It has made a lot of goods available at very good prices."

Chinese production, American brands

Dewoskin says there is one thing that is missing in the public debate about the increase of imports to the US from China, and that is: "a great deal of the content from the technology intellectual property standpoint, a lot of that technology actually belongs to American companies. And American companies actually make more money off of those products than Chinese companies do. So it's true that China is a very competitive manufacturer. But a lot of the benefits of that competitiveness don't go to Chinese companies, they go to global companies."

He says though China surpassed Germany last year in being export country number one, the difference is that China is not exporting big Chinese brands. He also points out that the fear among the American public today is similar to how the public felt about Japan in the 80s – the difference again being that Japanese exports included big Japanese brands, like Honda, Nissan and Sony.

Balanced media?

Economist Rawski argues this distrust of China might be partially caused by the American media, which he believes tends to elaborate more on China's shortcomings. He says, "there's a great deal of coverage of human rights problems in China but there's very little coverage of the enormous expansion of human rights that most Chinese citizens have enjoyed in the past decade." He names freedom of association, expression and religion – areas in which the government has shown more lenience in recent years.

The US also imports to China, a large market for fast food
The US also imports to China, a large market for fast foodImage: AP

There are other worries about China's rise - many in the US are worried that Chinese currency policy might be damaging US prospects. But while some Americans think the American system is superior, others also admire China's growth and see the country as a role model, for example when it comes to green technologies.

Kamphausen argues while the general public may have a more cut and dry opinion of China, "the American government has a very focused view. One could argue that this administration and the previous one have done a not so great job of public diplomacy with their own citizenry in explaining why our relationship with China is important for America's interest and America's own economy. The government doesn't have the same simplistic view that typical citizens might."

Whatever the view, China's position in the world will continue to strengthen and, as put by Kamphausen, it is just a matter of "adjustment".

Author: Sarah Berning
Editor: Grahame Lucas