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China's new world order

Published: January 27, 2011
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Source: Washington Post - Robert J. Samuelson

By all appearances, Chinese President Hu Jintao's visit to Washington last week changed little in the lopsided American-Chinese relationship. What we have is a system that methodically transfers American jobs, technology and financial power to China in return for only modest Chinese support for important U.S. geopolitical goals: the suppression of Iran's and North Korea's nuclear weapons programs. American officials act as though there's not much they can do to change this.

It's true that the United States and China have huge common interests in peace and prosperity. Two-way trade (now about $500 billion annually) can provide low-cost consumer goods to Americans and foodstuffs and advanced manufactured products to the Chinese. But China's and America's goals differ radically. The United States wants to broaden the post-World War II international order based on mutually advantageous trade. By contrast, China pursues a new global order in which its needs come first - one in which it subsidizes exports, controls essential imports (oil, food, minerals) and compels the transfer of advanced technology.

Naturally, the United States opposes this sort of system, but that's where we're headed. Clashing goals have trumped shared interests.

Start with distorted trade. The New York Times recently reported that Evergreen, a maker of solar panels, is shutting its Massachusetts factory, moving production to a joint venture in China and laying off 800 U.S. workers. Despite $43 million in Massachusetts state aid, Evergreen's chief executive said that China's subsidies - mainly low-interest loans from state-controlled banks - were too great to pass up.

Thus subsidized, Chinese solar panel production rose fiftyfold from 2005 to 2010, reports GTM, a market analysis company. Cheap bank loans to solar companies total about $30 billion, but it's unclear whether they'll be repaid in full, notes GTM analyst Shyam Mehta. "It could be free money," he says. China's share of global production jumped from 9 to 48 percent. In 2010, about 95 percent of China's solar panels were exported.

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