Inside the classrooms at USC Annenberg, students are the ones typically tasked with answering the hard hitting questions. "Five Minutes with..." turns the table on faculty and staff to ask them the hard questions.
Clayton Dube has been the director of the USC U.S.-China Institute since it was established in 2006. Since then, he has worked to provide and publish relevant and important information explaining the dynamic relationship between America and China. However, under the new Republican presidential leadership of President Donald Trump, Dube must undertake the challenge of analyzing this complex international relationship and understanding how Republican trade policies will affect the future between the two countries.
Dube shared a few thoughts with us about the work of the U.S.-China Institute and what he sees will happened for Chinese-American relations in the future.
When and how did you become interested in U.S. China relations?
I sort of came of age just as China was opening, so I was introduced while it was caught between its Maoist past and economic future. I didn’t have a big background on the country but I was interested and went as a backpack traveler to China in 1982. I had just graduated from college after earning an undergraduate degree in teaching and I had never been abroad before; my plan was to be away for a month then come back and go to work. I wound up in China and found it just fascinating, and ended up spending three years there. I learned so much during that period and, because it was a time of great transition, the Chinese were learning too. In many respects, that was the period when China was at its most open. It was not so open before and it’s not so open in some respects today, so it was a good time. When I came back to the United States. I found that very few people had an understanding of how China was changing and didn't know what this meant for our country. For more than 30 years now, I've been focused on how China and America are changing and how the two countries interact. The level of interaction is much greater than before.
What responsibilities come with being director of the USC U.S. China Institute?
Our job is to conduct research and carry out teaching for students and teachers. Every year, we train about 200 teachers in Chinese-American relations. We have public programs, make documentaries, and publish the U.S.-China Today magazine with the purpose of giving policy makers, journalists, businesspeople, and general public the best of the U.S.-China relationship. Our documentary, “Assignment China”, is a 12 part series focused on work of American journalists in China from the 1940s to modern day. In this series, we have countless interviews with journalists, some who are as old as 90. We even got to interview the people who were responsible for stories that got the New York Times and Bloomberg blocked in China. Our purpose is to focus on the U.S.-China relationship in all its dimensions and ring the information in a compelling and timely way. We do not work for any political party to push any sort of agenda—we solely focus on providing our audience the unbiased facts.
How do you think U.S. China relations will change under the Trump administration?
It’s impossible to say at present. The rhetoric from President Trump, and from some others, has been very strident and, in some instances, suggests that their information is out of date. For example, last week, the President was complaining about Chinese currency manipulation but wasn’t aware that the Chinese government is trying to prop up the currency so that that exports don’t become cheaper. It seems that our work is never done. Our goal at the Institute is to inform public discussion so that when we discuss Chinese policy we talk about what is, not what might be or what was. What is. We believe in providing reliable information on the state and reality and problems and potential for increased cooperation.
Trump is still very much in campaign mode and so, in some ways, he’s describing a problem so that the solution he wants fits the problem. Unfortunately, if you don’t understand the problem it is unlikely that you’re going to be able to resolve it or come up with an appropriate solution. One of the things that’s been proposed is a directive to the commerce to stop counting the value of American imported products and Chinese products imported to the United States, manipulating reality to bolster their agenda.
What are your predictions for U.S.-China relations within the next 10 years?
I assume that the relationship will continue to be complex and that we won’t be able to avoid each other. We are, by virtue of being the two largest economies, the first and third largest country in terms of population, and the biggest polluters, compelled to work together or these problems will only get worse. We’ve had trade conflicts in the past and there’s a decent chance there will be trade conflicts in the future. Under the Obama administration, we placed a high tariff on tires and steel imported from China and filed many complaints to the World Trade Organization about Chinese practices, so we have had conflict before and my expectation is we will continue to have conflict over access to the Chinese market and Chinese trade practices. That has been something that has occurred and seems likely to continue. At present, the two governments are trying to work out a bilateral investment treaty. This agreement would open the door to increased economic involvement in both countries. Currently, the Chinese want to be able to invest in the United States and America is saying, before we can let that happen as freely as you want, we need access to your markets. Several Chinese markets have been closed to Americans.
How could Trump’s trade policies during the campaign affect these efforts?
American isolationism is vital. Americans need to embrace the world—we don’t have a choice. In the recent past, China created the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, an international financial institution meant to aide trade between different countries. However, America opted to not join the bank while other Western countries have. China is creating new trade federations and investment banks where America is left out. Since the United States has withdrawn from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, some countries, such as Peru and Chile, are now asking to be part of the Chinese led organization. Our leadership is missing. Most people in the world are not American citizens and businesses need to understand that there are big markets abroad.
The General Electric Company currently has 70 percent of their business outside of the United States. Additionally, fast food companies from America dominate the Chinese market. If you want to access this international market, you have to be there; you need to be hiring people who are culturally knowledgeable, have flexibility, and experience to work across cultural lines. If you do these things, you can be successful. We have seen that. Although American manufacturing has a lot of problems, California still sells a lot to China. Specialty products, some part of info tech, electric machines, and high tech valves for precision manufacturing, are produced in Californian plants and exported to China. There’s a wide variety.
Other American companies, such as Boeing, depend on the Chinese market. It just makes good sense. China has a billion more people than the United States. Video game companies, Hollywood, and Apple see opportunities there. At the same time, it seems that economic nationalism is increasing in China, and we have to push back against that. We need to make China as open as possible for American products. American products and education are hugely attractive to the Chinese and we need to find ways to develop those markets. Therefore, when Chinese government regulations block us, we have to complain and take actions. We must push for reciprocity.
How would you respond to critics of trade partnerships with China, particularly American manufacturers who have lost their jobs to outsourcing?
It’s true. There are factories that have been closed in America that have moved to foreign nations, particularly first to Mexico and then China. However, we need to understand this process in order to fix the problem. We need to work to expand markets for American products and help workers who are displaced get the training that is necessary for them to move into these new industries. It’s a hard process and it often would require moving, and while leaving wherever you are is hard, it may be necessary. For example, it may be best for someone who once worked in Pennsylvania to move to North Carolina, where new types of jobs are emerging.
Closing America’s borders makes little sense. We have the largest economy in the world because we are an exporting powerhouse. Under President Obama, the Department of Commerce increased the number of commercial officers in China and elsewhere, consequentially increasing the number of American exports. So, what we need to do is help those companies who want to develop these markets get there. At the same time, we can’t be insensitive to the suffering of individuals; we have to understand that it takes fewer people to manufacture a car today than it once did in the past. Technology has now replaced jobs that used to require the workmanship of a lot of people. Nonetheless, we cannot deny technological change. If we do that, then we are walling ourselves off like North Korea and our products will not be competitive in the world market.
We need to have the best and we can only have the best if we compete and work for it. This competition needs to be fair, so that's why when China subsidizes steel production and sells it at a cost lower than production, we need to stand up and say no. The Obama administration did that, and from what we see at the moment, the early Trump administration is continuing this policy. When competition is unfair we need to stand up and complain about that.