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Watch a 3 with IOP video interview with Jon Huntsman on the importance of U.S. - China relations

A recent John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum on the rising importance of China featured a discussion between former U.S. Ambassador to China and former presidential candidate Governor Jon Huntsman, former Prime Minister of Australia Kevin Rudd and Spring 2013 Institute of Politics Fellow and former Washington Post journalist Keith Richburg. The resounding theme was the need on the part of the United States to better understand and improve the relationship between China and the U.S. According to Huntsman, "We are married, and divorce is not an option." Out of the Forum came at least 3 ways the United States can work on this relationship:

1. Alter the way China is portrayed in the United States

According to Huntsman, the American people view China through a prism of fear. "When you have a challenging relationship like we do with the U.S. and China, that would suggest that during a presidential campaign it's a perfect opening to have a conversation on how to handle it going forward."

"In other words, talking about what you're going to do WITH China as opposed to what you're going to do TO China. I've found that in a political context, it's always easier to say what you're going to do TO China. That always results in instant applause. So, time has been lost because we didn't have much of a conversation at all during this last presidential election cylce." 

Huntsman says that many in China study the U.S. political system. There are Chinese experts who learn the ins and outs of the U.S. culture, the language and how the United States government operates. Huntsman says it's difficult to find a counterpart in the United States.

2. Make China an economic priority

As labor costs in China continue to increase, researchers predict China moving into a more consumer driven economy. There is an opportunity for the United States to capitlize on this change. It's predicted that the Chinese economy will overtake the United States as the world's largest economy sometime whithin the next ten years.

"I think there is an outreach opportunity that China will have with much of the world because they will be consuming more," said Huntsman. "And that means that countries like the United States, which are good manufacturers, have a chance to expand. I think we have a chance to get back on our feet from a manufacturing standpoint and to take advantage of what will be a growth opporutnity based on exports in the China market. And that will likely have some impact on our long term bilateral relationship."

3. Global Warming

Institute of Politics student Sieste Goffard asked the panelists about China and the U.S. working together on climate change. "China and the U.S. are the two largest emitters of carbon dioxide, and it's clear that any feasible, workable and serious attempt to tackle climate change requires buy-in from both the U.S. and China. Do you think it's possible for the U.S. and China to work together on some sort of agreement?" 

According to former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, China is close to a deal on a carbon tax or carbon trade system domestically. If this happens, the U.S. and India will be the "odd people out."

"I think this would bring enormous international pressure to bear on the United States," said Rudd. "So, the U.S. really needs to get it's act together on this question. You pump out a lot of stuff. You are the second largest polluter in the world and frankly the impact is being felt on your continent as well."

Watch the full forum on the JFK Jr. Forum website and "Like" the Institute of Politics on Facebook and follow the IOP on Twitter for future forum highlights.


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