Amb. Frank Lavin discusses current affairs in China

July 10, 2014  |  PAST EVENTS

On July 8, 2014, Amb. Frank Lavin visited The Institute of World Politics to discuss one of the most imperative questions in international relations of the 21st Century: Where is China going?

Amb. Lavin commenced the discussion by stating his thesis for the rise of China and its implications for the United States: “China’s rapid emergence as a major economic and political force is the most significant development of our era.”  Furthermore, an important structural element to this development is that China is perhaps the only major country in the world that is still in the process of defining itself.  China is still exploring policy and its domestic role, thereby adding ambiguity to the implications of its rise. 

Amb. Lavin outlined the discussion into three major topics: China’s economy and domestic politics, China’s foreign policy, and implications for the U.S.

China is the fastest growing economy in the world, growing by an entire France every four to five years, and makes up twelve percent of total global GDP.  However, massive economic growth brings subsequent challenges. The various macro-economic challenges include high debt levels, a need for banking system reforms, investment distortions, overreliance on exports, and lack of competition and transparency.

Despite these economic challenges, Amb. Lavin believes that China will be able to keep its economic growth on track due to many positive trends in Chinese economic reform.  It is very clear that there is a broad recognition in Beijing that keeping a status quo administration is not acceptable and that maintaining economic growth is vital.  Amb. Lavin noted that China can manage its social political issues in the near term. China has recently had a high growth of political liberalization, and the fact that it retains a highly effective security apparatus points towards stability.

Amb. Lavin stated that: “For much of Chinese history, foreign policy simply meant border/state management. This is no surprise, given that is it is a continental power; there are no international affairs beyond its immediate borders.”  China does not have a lengthy history of participation in the international system; therefore we are entering a new era in which China not only is a participant, but has the ability to shape outcomes as a leading power in that system.  Amb. Lavin stated that he remains optimistic, “and that the good news is that China does not subscribe to a global or a predatory ideology.  The core challenge and area for concern is foreign policy management.  Regarding border/state issues, China seems to follow policies in the region that work against its own interests in cultivating better relations with its neighbors.

Lastly, Amb. Lavin stated that he thinks the U.S. has an important contribution to make to this situation and that both states will greatly benefit if the U.S. improves influence in the region and its connectivity with China.  Secondly, it is important for the U.S. to engage China in the various areas of high convergence, most of which are in the economic and financial sector.  The U.S. also needs to engage with other countries in the region, including working on trade liberalization and security ties with those countries.  Such efforts will reassure those countries that the U.S. welcomes a prosperous China as much as it supports stability in the region. 

Amb. Lavin concluded that if in the next thirty years China has the same economic growth, and if the U.S. provides the same support and stability of the region as it has in the past thirty years, the leaders of China and the U.S. will see the a successful era in which both countries will greatly benefit. 

Amb. Frank Lavin is the CEO and founder of Export Now, a company that runs e-commerce stores online for foreign companies in China.  Amb. Lavin served as U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Singapore 2001-2005, during which time he negotiated the U.S.-Singapore Free Trade Agreement.  His extensive experience in International Trade, Government and the private sector in Asia contributed to the multifaceted analysis he shared at IWP. 

Stephanie Kirk
Research Assistant and Intern