Engaging with China and the United States: An Increasingly Complex Challenge, Including for Public Administration Scholars and Practitioners

Published date01 March 2019
Date01 March 2019
Engaging with China and the United States: An Increasingly Complex Challenge, Including for Public Administration Scholars and Practitioners 277
Public Administration Review,
Vol. 79, Iss. 2, pp. 277–280. © 2018 by
The American Society for Public Administration.
DOI: 10.1111/puar.13013.
Engaging with China and the United States: An Increasingly
Complex Challenge, Including for Public Administration
Scholars and Practitioners
There are many challenges for those in the
United States engaging with China, and for
those in China engaging with the United
States. The challenges are arguably more difficult
and growing more complex, however, for those of us
outside the United States and China trying to engage
constructively with both.
Different Perspectives on China
There are many perspectives on China today and its
relationship with the rest of the world, several from
within China itself. The nationalistic perspective has
been growing under President Xi Jinping, expressed
within China as the need to emerge from the
“century of shame” to regain both self-respect and
an ancient standing internationally as the “Middle
Kingdom.” Another perspective within China, not
necessarily inconsistent with the first but expressed
less boisterously, is the vision of a moderately wealthy
country based on a market economy that successfully
competes internationally, abiding by international
rules and obligations.
There are also different perspectives on China within
the United States. There is a defense and security
perspective, increasingly uneasy about China’s growing
capability and influence and its evident willingness to
flex its muscles. There is a protectionist perspective
concerned about the impact of China’s manufacturing
competitiveness on jobs in the United States. There
is a human rights perspective concerned about
restrictions on freedom of speech and association
and about strengthening Chinese Communist
Party (CCP) control under Xi. There is also a more
economically liberal perspective that welcomes China’s
emergence and its increased productivity because of
the potential gains to both countries in terms of real
incomes and standards of living and, in time, personal
Then there are the perspectives of those in countries
most directly affected by China’s growing economic
power and associated international influence.
Those most clearly benefiting from trade with
China are keen to see China continue to prosper.
There are also those—and sometimes they are the
same people—who are uneasy about the associated
pressures to accommodate China’s increasingly
strongly expressed interests in international
economic, social, and security matters. And there
is the challenge to preserve good relations with
both China and the United States when there are
tensions between the two.
Australia’s Search for a Nuanced Approach
Australia presents an interesting case of a country
juggling relations with both giants. China is by far
our largest trading partner: we sell huge quantities
of mineral resources, and we buy large quantities of
manufactured goods; we also trade significantly in
services such as education and high-quality products
such as wine; overall, we enjoy a trade surplus with
China. The United States is our most important
defense and security partner, as it has been since
World War II.
China’s growing economic strength is of direct and
significant benefit to Australia, but, from a defense
perspective, this strength represents an increasingly
capable power that, should circumstances radically
change, could pose a major threat. Defense is like an
insurer of last resort. Defense strategies focus both on
capability and on intent: low capability allows a long
waiting time should intent shift adversely, but high
capability means a much shorter warning time and
hence the need to increase the insurance premium
and associated defense investment. This point is being
made by our defense analysts.
Australia has been searching for a nuanced approach,
not so much “balancing” the respective benefits
of partnering with China and partnering with the
United States as teasing out both multilateral and
bilateral relationships not only with China and the
United States but also with the many other nations
in our Indo-Pacific region (not least the more slowly
Andrew Podger
Australian National University
Andrew Podger is Honorary Professor
of Public Policy at the Australian National
E-mail: andrew@podger.com.au;
Stephen E. Condrey
andTonya Neaves,
Associate Editors

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