Great Decisions Forum Illuminates China’s Global Impact

Two-day forum examines political, economic, and security issues

April 16, 2013 by John Finn

WOOSTER, Ohio — Understanding the size and scope of China’s political and economic impact is no small task, but an impressive panel of experts at last week’s Great Decision’s forum, titled “China’s Power and Influence: Promises and Challenges for the 21st Century,” helped to bring valuable insight to the discussion.

“China is one of the most important countries in the world in terms of power and sphere of influence,” said John Rudisill, associate professor of philosophy at Wooster and executive director of the Great Decisions program. “We wanted to provide an opportunity for residents of Wayne County (and northeast Ohio) to gain insight and a nuanced appreciation about that important part of the world from a group of individuals who have a unique understanding of what is happening there.”

The two-day event featured four 90-minute sessions that covered a range of issues, beginning with an opening address by James Fallows, national correspondent for The Atlantic, who addressed some of the dos and don’ts of doing business in China. The following day, Fallows moderated a panel discussion, titled “Doing Business in and with China” with Mary Wadsworth Darby, founder and managing director of Peridot Asia Advisors; Jim Laurie, veteran journalist and broadcaster with considerable expertise on Asia; and Simon Seong Chee Tay, professor of international law at the University of Singapore and chairman of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, who participated remotely from Singapore.

Friday’s second session provided an “Insiders Account of America’s Asian Strategy” with Jeffrey Bader, former Senior Director for East Asian Affairs on the National Security Council and a key figure in influencing U.S. policy toward China under President Obama.

“Making China a partisan issue is not a wise decision,” said Bader. “The Obama Administration wanted to demonstrate continuity of U.S. Policy toward Asia and China, and to increase U.S. presence in the region. We needed to form a positive, constructive, comprehensive relationship with China, and the Chinese liked the approach.”

Bader also pointed out U.S. policy toward other countries in the region has a lot to do with China. “If (China’s neighbors) see an alliance between the U.S. and China, they panic,” he said. “If they see a confrontation, they also panic. The goal is to have balance.”

Among the more pressing challenges in the relationship between the two countries, according to Bader, is the need to persuade China to adhere to international agreements. “We have a substantial trade difference with China,” he said. “We need to rebalance the global U.S. and Chinese economy.”

Other issues include market access and intellectual property theft, but the most important issue in the region is security. “North Korea and Iran, with their potential to produce nuclear weapons, are a major concern,” said Bader. “We cannot solve these problems on our own; we need the Chinese.” As for direct conflict with the Chinese, Bader warned that such a notion is “unthinkable.”

Overall, Bader gave Obama high marks for his efforts to improve the U.S. relationship with China. “He addressed relationships with countries in the region in an effort to establish a framework for relations with China,” he said. “Diplomatic progress has been made.”

The forum concluded with an address by Dr. Yang Jianli over lunch in Kittredge Hall. A former Tiananmen Square dissident and now president of Initiatives for China, Dr. Yang discussed “Democracy in China,” with a focus on the political, sociological, economical, and sentimental division within China since the 1989 protest in Tiananmen Square when the now-infamous massacre took place. He spoke about how the Chinese Communist Party uses corruption as a strategy to sustain itself, citing, for instance, how the highest bidder typically obtains political offices, how internal struggles within the government are incessant, and how the government uses buyoffs, bribes, and payoffs to local gangsters to maintain stability of the country.

Despite the challenges, Dr. Yang said that the concept of democracy prevails in the minds of the public, both within China and around the world. He added that the Chinese people are becoming more aggressive in defending their human rights, including the formation of a group of civil leaders to represent the general public and draw attention and support from the international community. “You understand the Chinese people by understanding yourself,” he said. “Nobody wants to be a slave.”

In reflecting on the 2013 Great Decisions forum, Rudisill expressed appreciation for everyone who had a role in making it a success. “Great Decisions is extremely proud to be part of the Wayne County Community,” he said. “We really appreciate the support from benefactors and those who attended the sessions.”

- Libby Fackler ’13 also contributed to this story