Tom Watkins served as the Michigan state superintendent of schools, 2001-05, and president and CEO of the economic counsel of Palm Beach County, FL., 1996-2001. He currently manages TDW and Associates, a global business and educational consulting firm. Watkins is a prolific author and public commentator on the U.S.-China relationship, and has been for nearly 4 decades since his interest was sparked by a 4th grade teacher. Some of his other publications can be found here.
Investment goes where it is welcome and stays where it is nurtured, and there’s little evidence that election year China bashing has created a single job.
Chinese companies are investing in America and around the globe. In 2021, China’s FDI (Foreign Direct Investment) hit $173.48 billion in U.S. dollars, up by 20.2 percent year on year, according to statistics released by the Ministry of Commerce. China’s FDI totaled $144.37 billion in 2020, up by 5.7 per cent. Smart leaders around the world—at the national, state, and local levels— are finding ways to attract these investments to their nations and locales to the benefit of their citizens and residents.
While certain investments from China deserve scrutiny, wanton China bashing is not a good strategy for encouraging investments that benefit the U.S. economy. Moreover, this type of behavior perpetuates racist stereotypes, deflects blame, and is a cheap way to play on the economic and xenophobic fears of voters in order to scare up votes. It creates fertile ground for racism and division, and discourages the ‘people-to-people’ ties that help keep U.S.-China relations stable. This election year is no different, as we are seeing the China fear card being played in races for governor, House and Senate, state houses, and even local races.
Making China the perpetual ‘boogeyman’ diverts American voters’ attention away from the actions and inactions of our own political leaders here at home. American elections need to be about adding and multiplying jobs, not about the division and subtraction of attacking China. We cannot afford to have political leaders who claim they will go anywhere and do anything for jobs and then bash China for political expediency.
In my state of Michigan, Governor Whitmer (D) has just inked a deal with a Chinese battery manufacturer that will create thousands of high paying jobs by helping to electrify the auto industry. Her efforts have been to seek out foreign direct investments for our great state and to export our goods and services around the globe, including to China. Currently, Michigan has nearly 200 Chinese-owned firms that contribute $3 billion in foreign direct investment. Her efforts have paid dividends to communities, families, and individuals across Michigan, and would not have happened if she had spent her time and energy scaring investors away from our state during her election campaign.
Importantly, these efforts have also been bipartisan. Former Michigan Governor, Rick Snyder (R) did more to build cultural, educational, and economic bridges with China and its 1.4 billion new consumers than all his predecessors combined. His work laid a strong foundation upon which to build a future. His focus on exporting Michigan goods and services around the globe while seeking foreign direct investment paid dividends for Michigan families.
America and our states need leaders to develop an aggressive plan that makes China’s rise and globalization work for us, not against us. During a trip to Detroit, former U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson made it clear that building economic bridges with China is wise. ‘A growing Chinese economy is not something to be scared of’, Paulson said. ‘It’s something to see potential in and Michigan and Detroit (and other communities across America) have a significant role to play’. Politicians that bash China need to be challenged about their actions, both past and present, to assure China’s continued rise does not come at our demise.
A nation, state, city, county, or township that does not have a strategy to carefully capitalize on China’s global rise is missing the boat. In the past, Michigan has had governors who never traveled to China to build the necessary relationships to attract Chinese investments and it showed when surrounding states with ‘China plans’ captured new factories that supported good high-wage union jobs as well as technology specialists, engineers, and other professional positions. Chinese investment creates jobs and a solid tax base across communities throughout America—it does so the same way Dutch, German, British, Japanese, Italian, Swedish and other nations do with their investments in America.
President Biden gets it right when he says his mission and the mission of his party is to return to the soul to America—this soul is about America being open-minded and open-armed, not about xenophobia and small-mindedness. Political leaders that spread lies for votes are doing a disservice to our nation. President Biden sent a message to members of both political parties when he said: “There is truth and there are lies. Lies told for power and for profit. And each of us has a duty and responsibility, as citizens, as Americans, and especially as leaders – leaders who have pledged to honor our Constitution and protect our nation — to defend the truth and to defeat the lies.”