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China-US Relations--A Generational View

Energy security is another important area for strategic and economic cooperation. As China’s economy grows and develops a dependence on imported oil from the Middle East, Beijing has become increasingly concerned about the security of sea lanes. It long been a basic tenet of US policy interest to protect international trade and keep lines of communication open. We share China’s interest in having diversified sources of energy supply, hence in the development of alternative sources. US companies will one day build a pipeline through Xinjiang to Shanghai. Environment is also a key area that will keep us working together in the future. We are both responsible for degradation of the global environment, and for finding solutions that lead to sustainable growth. There is plenty in the present to keep us working for the future.

What will our relationship look like a generation from now? My personal guess, seeing how closely we have become bound during the generation past, is that our relationship will be closer and more complicated than ever. Our economies will be more intertwined, as the foreign direct investment of today expands. Many of the thousands of Chinese who have been studying in the United States will have returned and will put to use the contacts and knowledge they have gained. This does not necessarily mean that they will love the US. They will, however, understand better the needs and techniques that make a modern civil society go, and the forces that move a modern economy and financial system. And they will have to. By the year 2030, if current demographic projections hold true, China will be an increasingly elderly nation, with a much larger percentage of persons over the age of 65 supported by a much smaller, young workforce. The pension system large enough to take care of this tidal wave of elders can only be based on direct participation in the global financial system and the development of sophisticated investment and insurance instruments at home. China and the United States are likely to become the largest investor in each other’s economy.

Trends in China favor the growth of a society and an economy that is more open, transparent, accountable, and governed by the rule of law. This has to happen if the society is to remain stable and the economy is to grow. And it will. Both the people and the leadership want it to happen. The lawyers, judges, and accountants are being trained. It will take a generation. But as it does, the US and China will grow more closely together. There will be more to argue about and more things to do together.

The next generation will also, I believe, see a solution to the Taiwan issue. Economic ties between the mainland and Taiwan are growing faster than ever. The process will accelerate as both economies join the WTO. Economic integration will ultimately change the context for political discourse. The US will make a more knowledgeable partner over time. The events of September 11 have woken the US public, as never before, to the importance of knowing more about the world around us, to the value of multilateral diplomacy, and awareness of the differences in culture and history that set us apart. The process of globalization is inexorable. It will be the responsibility of the next generation to knit China and the US so tightly together that partnership in peace is the only alternative. We are almost there now.

Thank you.