AmCham China Statement on US-China Economic Relations

As the US election season moves forward, the showbiz of politics is likely to trigger the predictable bashing that will cast China as the global bad guy on various economic and strategic fronts.

As the relationship between the two countries has deepened, so the rhetoric has become increasingly shrill. The familiar playbook is to characterize China as a currency manipulator that keeps the renminbi artificially low, engages in unfair trade practices to win export advantage and steal American jobs, and is a breeding ground of counterfeits and pirated goods. 

While challenges remain, the truth of the matter is that China has allowed its currency to steadily appreciate in value over the past decade, has reduced trade distorting subsidies and granted greater market access to American goods and services, and has made important progress with respect to the protection of intellectual property rights. 

Exports to China – which have expanded in the past two decades by almost 300 percent – have strengthened America’s economy and created jobs for American workers across the country. As its middle class expands, China will continue to play a significant role as an export market for a wide selection of US goods and services.

In addition, Chinese foreign direct investment in the US topped nearly $46 billion in the past five years. Over 1,500 Chinese companies established operations in the US across all regions of the country. Chinese firms bring jobs and value the innovation and productivity of American workers, now employing over 80,000 of them, up from 15,000 just five years ago. Fears of job export to China post-acquisition have not materialized.  Local economies benefit.

Thankfully, campaign rhetoric is not official US government policy. US policy toward China the past four decades has been one of constructive engagement and global integration that has resulted in significant benefits to US businesses and consumers.

Isolating or penalizing China will not serve America’s interests, and only with engagement and commerce will the two largest economies of the world make progress to reach a consensus on the contentious issues such as national and regional security, human rights, Internet censorship, cybersecurity, terrorism, and market access and industrial policies. In the same survey, almost two-thirds of companies said the US-China relationship was extremely or very important to their business in China.

We need to recognize that talking tough is a lot easier than thinking tough and making tough decisions, which is what presidents actually have to do. And while successful candidates may be able to artfully neglect reckless comments made on the campaign trail, they stick in the minds of those at the sharp end of them.

Going forward, and as the United States and China become more economically integrated and interdependent, it’s important that the leadership of the world’s two largest economies work closely together to find common ground and resolve our differences. And that should be a key talking point for any of the presidential aspirants.

James Zimmerman is a lawyer in Beijing and the chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in China.