Did the State of the Union Address Include a Declaration of a Trade War against China?

Edited by Robin Silberman

At 10 AM on January 28th, Beijing time, American president Obama made his first state of the union address since his taking office. Zheng Hao, who has read it and given his own interpretation on the part of the talks relating to China, holds the view that Obama has realized China’s increasing strength, and he realized that in many aspects China has already surpassed the United States. The president was reminding Americans of the pressure of competition that the U.S. faces from China; Obama even declared a war of competition against China: I need to catch up with you, I will never ever let you be the first.

On January 28th, Phoenix TV’s International News program featured “Zheng Hao: Obama’s Positive Mention of China Reflects His Deep Thinking;” the following are the actual words recorded for (this TV interview).

Ren Ren: America cannot be the second, when Obama said this, he cited China as one example; he mentioned China several times; and this makes us feel that he will not let China be ahead of the U.S. and that this remark is employed to motivate Americans. Then what is the significance behind his mentioning of China?

Zheng Hao: First, I think he mentioned China twice, and he referred to China as an positive example. Unlike his predecessors, he did not accuse China. There are two reasons for this: Number one is that indeed, in recent years, China has witnessed rapid development and its economic strength is increasing; this has in some ways changed the status quo of the two countries. In terms of comprehensive economic strength and comprehensive balance, China has moved to a higher level; and America is no longer the only powerful nation in the world, as it was in the past. Although we cannot be too proud and say that we are strong enough to compete with America, at any rate, the fast development of China and the accomplishments accumulated in the last 30 years since its opening and reform, has largely changed the positions and the status quo in terms of economic and comprehensive strength.

In this case, Obama has also admitted China’s achievements. He especially cited one example, which is China’s high-speed railroad. China’s high-speed railroad from Wuhan to Guangzhou has been in operation since the end of last year. Of course many more fast-speed railroads will be built and put into use in China in several years. Therefore, in terms of fast railways, China is walking ahead of America. If you go to America, you will see very old rail transport systems. So in this area, Obama does not want to lag behind and he want to compete and catch up — this is the first side of the issue.

The second time he mentioned China in his State of the Union address was also in a positive manner. With this I believe he also wants to remind American people and politicians that China’s strength is not to be ignored and that China is playing a very important role on the international stage, not merely in the area of economics, or in high-speed rail, or just in new energy. Furthermore, I think by putting China in a position of a rising power, Obama wants to ask a question of common Americans as well as people in politics, the question is: What we should do as we see that China is already getting strong? Therefore, in this sense, his two-time mention and reference to China is positive; and it is to call the attention of Americans.

In this case, how should we Chinese view this?

First, he mentioned China in a positive way in his speech, this of course makes us very happy. Secondly I think, in such a time, China should consider how we can further develop our economy, and how we can continue to improve our overall national strength. In America, Obama’s talk of China is an actual announcement of competition against China: I will catch up with you, I can’t let you be the boss of the world. I can in no way accept America’s secondary position. So, I think his implied message is a declaration of war of competition against China: I will be catching up.

I think that this will do us good, because it will at least let us feel some pressure. Indeed, we ca not afford to feel so proud, we have little to feel so proud of. Although we are a country of big trade, we are not a country of strong trade. In terms of comprehensive national power, there is a huge gap between us. I think in 30 or 50 years we cannot catch up with the U.S. Under such circumstances, on the one hand, we need to cooperate with the U.S. in areas of trade, economy, energy and other sectors, in the meantime, we need to put into our top agenda the development of our own economy and the strengthening of our comprehensive state power. This will benefit not only our economy but also that of the whole world.

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