Retired diplomat explains the complexities of the American/Chinese relationship

Julie Snyder discusses the big picture. Photo by Paul Stebner

At this winter’s global economic summit in Davos, Switzerland, attention fell on the increasingly frayed economic relationship between the United States and China, as Beijing rapidly extends its influence in markets around the world while Washington speaks of trade barriers. Blue Ridge Community College’s Lifelong Learning Center’s Great Decisions series will explore the implications for American consumers this month with Julie Snyder, a retired 30-year U.S. diplomat specializing in international trade relations. Bold Life spoke with Snyder about what the future might hold.

What are the positives and negatives of China’s rise on the world economic stage, and of Washington’s apparent turn toward protectionism?
The U.S.-China relationship is critically important, not only for both countries but for the rest of the world. The United States and other major trading countries clearly don’t have full market access in China. But in considering any protectionist measures, I think it’s crucial to avoid a possible trade war with China. No one wins in a trade war. We learned that lesson in the 1930s. Within the past year, there have been some quite stunning “big picture” developments happening in relatively quick succession that may seem to indicate each country’s current direction. On January 17, 2017, President Xi Jinping gave a speech in favor of protecting free trade and the liberal world trade order. Then, on January 23, President Trump announced the U.S. withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade and investment agreement that the U.S. had negotiated with Asia-Pacific partners. The TPP would have provided a counterweight to Chinese influence in the Asia-Pacific region.

While shifting trade alliances might seem abstract to our daily lives, what are some of the real-life impacts you see for Americans?
We are “joined at the hip” economically with China. It’s a complex and closely intertwined bilateral economic relationship involving major business investments and many jobs in retail, logistics, transportation and manufacturing. Many U.S. companies have Chinese components in their global supply chains that are used in finished products made in the U.S. And American consumers benefit from lower prices and greater choice.

What do you see as the most important indicator of China’s global influence?
A new cornerstone of growing influence in Asia is the “One Belt, One Road” initiative spanning parts of the Asian continent, Southeast Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Central Europe. It offers the possibility of vast infrastructure projects and investment supported by $3 trillion of foreign currency reserves and Chinese state-owned enterprises. The initiative shows that the Chinese leadership is interested in economic development and trade in an area that represents more than half of the world. The U.S. as well as other key trading countries should follow very closely China’s progress with “One Belt, One Road” and plan strategically. Although the financial firepower to sustain investments is uncertain, it’s important not to underestimate the Initiative’s potential.

China and America: The New Geopolitical Equation, hosted by Julie Snyder as part of the Blue Ridge Center for Lifelong Learning’s “Great Decisions” Lecture Series, happens Wednesday, March 14, 10-11:30am, at Blue Ridge Community College’s Bo Thomas Auditorium. $10. For more information, visit or call 828-694-1740.

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