The SMU Tower Center Sun & Star Program held its first China Symposium March 15-16, “The China Challenge: International Relations of the Asia-Pacific.” Read Highland Capital Management Tower Scholar Tim Smith’s top five takeaways from the panels.
1. Trade is Changing
The Belt Road Initative (BRI), previously known as One Belt, One Road (OBOR) undertaken by President Xi Jinping to recreate the Silk Road of yesteryear is a symptom of the People’s Republic of China’s push for alternate means by which to engage in the global market. Investment in infrastructure projects like BRI across the Asian continent are funded in part by the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, (AIIB) with the expectation that the improved transport networks will tighten relations between China and neighboring states. China also leads the way in looking for trade agreements with partners in the Pacific as they negotiate the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). Key players like China, Japan, Canada, India, Australia and New Zealand are featured, but the United States is absent from the discussion of these free trade proposals.
2. Military Innovator
China is consistently improving the arsenal of weaponry and firepower that it has available for the People’s Liberation Army. Ballistic Nuclear Missile improvements, new sophisticated submarines, air defense measures, anti-satellite tech, advanced cyber-warfare capabilities: all are indicators of China’s commitment to keeping themselves combat-ready should conflicts regarding maritime interests in the South China Sea or Senkaku Islands emerge.
3. North Korea will remain a player
The United States has legitimate reason to view the North Korean Kim regime as a threat as their nuclear presence looms over our interactions, but there is very little likelihood that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea will topple anytime soon. China has compelling reasons to maintain the status quo in the region, as destabilization could lead to a refugee crisis, the spread of a tuberculosis epidemic that has wracked North Korea for months and/or the acquisition of nuclear material by rogue actors in the aftermath of regime change. Even so, China can be critical in controlling Kim Jong-un by threatening trade sanctions and otherwise imposing their will over their Korean partners so that the DPRK comes to the negotiating table with the United States, South Korea and Japan.
4. There are reasons to be pessimistic about China going forward…
China continually makes inroads into becoming the premier regional power in the Pacific and East Asia, whether it be economically, militarily or diplomatically. To the extent that Chinese goals clash with American interests in the eastern hemisphere, there could be cause for concern that a growing tension could emerge between the United States and China that further entrenches already souring attitudes when it comes to trade and international relations.
5….but we can (and should) be optimistic.
China is nowhere close to eclipsing the United States in terms of their military prowess and size. China appears to have goals for regional preeminence, but this does not extend toward global aspirations at this point in time; they would rather focus on ingratiating themselves in the Asia sphere and solidifying their position locally. While attitudes at this moment in time are frosty between our two nations, the relationship is not irreparable between the U.S. and the PRC. A continued dialogue between both powers will ensure that the Asian region and the world’s future is approached with levelheadedness and that our competing aims will not end up with conflict between two global entities.
Tim Smith is a junior at SMU majoring in history and political science, as well as earning the Tower Scholars Program selective minor in public policy and international affairs and minors in philosophy and international studies.