The Lieberthal-Rogel Center for Chinese Studies at the University of Michigan hosted Susan Shirk, chair of the 21st Century China Center and research professor at the University of California, San Diego, for a discussion of the current tensions between the United States and China Tuesday at Weiser Hall. About 50 people attended the discussion of the overreach and overreactions of both Chinese and American foreign policy.

Shirk said in the last two decades the Chinese and American governments have had strained relations similar to the relationship between the United States and the U.S.S.R. 

“It’s very, very different,” Shirk said. “But it has a lot of the same intense, mutual suspicion and hostility that we had during the Cold War, as well as this ideological dimension and the clash of systems.” 

Shirk also discussed the reaction of both the Chinese and American governments to the tension between the two countries. 

“I do believe that the United States is overreacting to the perceived threat from China, and in the process, it’s harming itself,” Shirk said. “In particular, it’s the openness and vibrancy of our own economy and society, which are the ultimate sources of American strength and competitiveness.”

She said China’s overreaching has heightened fears of the “China threat” in America, sparking backlash that went beyond President Donald Trump’s administration.  

When asked whether it was the actions of the Trump administration or the actions of previous administrations that had more impact on the current relationship, Shirk said that the administrations of former Presidents Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and George Bush have caused current tensions between China and the United States. 

Shirk furthered her argument, saying she believes previous administrations had tried to stabilize tensions between the two countries and, at the same time, protect American interests.

Public Policy graduate student Mathew Rigdon told The Daily after the event he enjoyed listening to Shirk’s analysis of the geopolitical situation between the United States and China. 

“It was interesting to hear her take on both the Chinese and American overreactions, or types of opinions we can hold about each other’s countries that are not exactly accurate, especially from the American side,” Rigdon said. 

He said he felt Shirk was optimistic about Chinese expansive economic power in regard to their territorial interests. 

LSA freshman Justin Scott told The Daily he didn’t know much about the current relationship between the two countries prior to attending the lecture. 

“So personally, I didn’t come to the event with a very strong understanding of U.S-China relations, but now I’ve realized it’s more tense than I previously thought. It might end up getting worse,” Scott said.

Ultimately, Shirk urged people concerned with the tensions between the United States and China to take a level-headed approach to the situation. 

“Calm down and think rationally about how to compete with China in a way that builds upon the advantages of our system,” Shirk said.

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