The End of Reform and Opening? Charlene Barshefsky Assesses the Current State of China’s Economic Policy

Check out the 21st Century China Center podcast episode featuring Ambassador Barshefsky and Professor Gordon Hanson discussing US-China trade policy.

On March 8th, the 21st Century China Center hosted Ambassador Charlene Barshefsky as the speaker for the 2017 Robert F. Ellsworth Memorial Lecture. During her time as U.S. Trade Representative, Ambassador Barshefsky worked closely with former Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji to negotiate China's entry into the World Trade Organization. Currently, Ambassador Barshefsky is a member of the Task Force on U.S.-China Policy organized by the 21st Century China Center and Asia Society. Given the charged rhetoric surrounding U.S.-China trade relations sparked by the 2016 U.S. Presidential election, the talk came as a clear and timely assessment of the myriad challenges and opportunities that exist within the U.S-China bilateral relationship.

In her remarks, Ambassador Barshefsky emphasized that China's modern history of unprecedented economic growth fueled by reform and opening policies has largely stalled under Xi Jinping, a phenomenon that is creating its own set of global tensions and frustrations.  More specifically, China has pivoted to tactics that are meant to leapfrog  the West, including enormous subsidies to domestic firms, cyberespionage, idiosyncratic application of law, and discriminatory policies toward foreign companies. In broad terms, Xi Jinping's vision of a China Dream  has meant that foreign firms feel far less welcome in China's current business climate.

In order to address these negative developments, Ambassador Barshefsky outlined policy recommendations that run counter to both recent actions taken by the Xi administration as well as President Trump's populist campaign platform. On the Chinese side, Ambassador Barshefsky argues that China should begin to align its actions with its words with regard to economic policy, enacting meaningful economic reforms that promote the further opening of its economy. This course would lead to a more reciprocal bilateral relationship  with the U.S., which is a shared goal of the Trump Administration. On the U.S. side, the Trump Administration would be wise to emphasize trade enforcement under existing WTO rules, and also attempt to reengage the Xi Administration for new agreements that could have systemic reach in China.

You can view Ambassador Barshefsky’s lecture here:

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Alex Webb

is a graduate student at GPS studying international politics with a focus on China and Southeast Asia. His research interests include regional inequality in China, Chinese investment in Southeast Asia, and cross-strait relations.

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