by Hal Gray, Community Journalist
GREENSBORO – Financial analyst and Greensboro resident Eric Hanson (no relation to Eric Hanson, the loon expert) gave an illustrated talk November 17 at the Greensboro Free Library on China and future relations with the U.S.
The framework for his presentation was “Thucydides’ Trap” – the tendency towards war when a rising power threatens to displace an existing one. Is war likely between a rising China and an immovable United States?
Hanson explained that 2019 military spending by the U.S. was $732 billion and by China was $261 billion, with Russian spending at $65 billion, fourth behind India at $71 billion. By this measurement, the U.S. and China were the two leading powers by a significant margin. In 2001, China’s share of global exports of goods was 4.6%, whereas the figure for the U.S. was 11.3%. By 2020, their positions had reversed, and China’s share was at 14.7% while the U.S. was 8.1%. China is experiencing rising nationalism and patriotism and sees itself as an equal to the U.S.
China has achieved this status beginning with Deng Xiaoping (1978-1989) and his socialism with Chinese characteristics. He lifted 800 million Chinese out of poverty, but his rule also led to Tiananmen Square in 1989. Xi Jinping has shifted China to the right, with greater emphasis on state-owned enterprises and a reduction in focus on the private sector, leading to questions about the sustainability of the private sector.
Hanson described how the U.S. and China are entwined: China needs our food, energy, high tech, and our large domestic market; we need China’s cheap consumer goods, electronics, rare earth elements, lithium batteries, solar panels, and their large domestic market.
Of particular current interest is China’s regard for Taiwan as one of its provinces. Hanson noted there is universal mainland Chinese opposition to Taiwanese independence, and that there is no question in his mind there would be war if we declared Taiwan independent.
Vermont Public (former VPR) broadcast the show “Fresh Air” on November 17 with a New Yorker magazine writer who said access to Taiwan by amphibious forces is difficult for geographic reasons and, therefore, the most likely military action by mainland China would be a naval blockade.
Building on a point made during Hanson’s talk, an article on the Internet notes that the “Thucydides’ Trap” should not predict the future but serve to prevent a war. The Internet cites author Graham Allison, who notes that in three cases in the 20th century imaginative statecraft averted war.