Americans wary of China’s economic juggernaut

By Andrew Stern

CHICAGO (BestGrowthStock) – As the United States, engine of the global economy for a century, struggles out of recession, Americans are looking with some resentment at China but accept that tough competition with the Asian giant is here to stay.

Opinion polls show most Americans see China as a challenge but not an enemy as the country of 1.3 billion people looms as an economic rival, spreads its tentacles into far-flung markets and taps natural resources around the world.

The mood among Americans is wary as more than a dozen members of President Barack Obama’s administration go to Beijing next week for a session of the Strategic and Economic Dialogue begun last year between the two major powers.

The talks will touch on issues ranging from the gaping U.S. trade deficit to financial reforms and the contentious pegging of the yuan currency.

They could have a long-term impact for Americans worried about disappearing jobs and an increasingly hard slog to make a living, many of whom are preparing to vent their frustrations in critical congressional elections in November.

The majority of Americans “see China as a potential threat, and a growing number see it as more powerful economically, but at the same time … the majority view is China is a problem but not an adversary,” said pollster Michael Dimock.

“It’s not like China is seen in an inherently negative light by the American public,” said Dimock who works with the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press.

China is viewed favorably by 50 percent of Americans against 38 percent who view it unfavorably. Unlike in past recessions, protectionist sentiment is muted, Dimock said.

But for Americans under pressure from the worst downturn in over six decades, the nuances of trade barriers and currency manipulation are secondary to the feeling that China’s economy (Read more about the fastest growing economy.) is growing at the expense of America’s.

“I’m not angry, but at the same time it is very frustrating to find that so many of these jobs have gone overseas … to countries like China and southeastern Asian countries and Mexico where they pay them a couple of dollars a day,” said Barry Wentzel, 55 and unemployed, at a Phoenix job center.

CHINESE WAGES

Wages paid Chinese workers have climbed, but China’s 113 million manufacturing workers in 2006 earned an average of 81 cents an hour, 3 percent of their 14 million U.S. counterparts’ pay, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported.

Detroit-area auto parts worker Bob Teno, 48, who recently got another job after being laid off, goes out of his way to avoid the “made in China” label.

“We’ve lost so many jobs along the way because people buy cheaper stuff from China. I’d rather pay a little more to buy something made in the U.S. It’s good for jobs,” Teno said.

The U.S. trade deficit with China — $227 billion in 2009 — is certain to be discussed in Beijing talks next Monday and Tuesday.

Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, who will join Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the U.S. team, has suggested it was in China’s interest to allow more flexibility in its currency.

The stubborn trade deficit with China has been a sore point for several U.S. administrations, and movement by China could be of political benefit ahead of the November elections.

Liberal-leaning U.S. think tanks said even before the recession began in 2007, one in four U.S. families was at high risk of slipping out of the middle class.

For Lynn Wiley, the fall was sudden and severe. The 47-year-old security guard became homeless last year after he lost his job and his girlfriend. He insists his son not make the same mistakes and demanded he stay in college and earn a degree.

“A high school diploma won’t do it,” Wiley said as he waited for a free lunch at a Washington homeless shelter. “That was the entry level 20, 30 years ago. Four years of college is a must. We’re competing with China now.”

PROTECTIONISM

“I don’t think we need protectionism but we have to draw the line somewhere,” said Carlo Vennettilli, 57, who has worked in the declining Detroit auto industry for 22 years. “Nobody in government is watching out for us anymore.”

He worried an America without factories would be unprepared for war, while not suggesting China would be the foe.

One in 10 Americans view China as the greatest “danger” to the United States, ranking it behind Iran, al Qaeda and other threats, Dimock said. Prior to the 2001 terror attacks, China ranked first as a threat according to one-third of Americans.

Asked whether China was to blame for America’s economic struggles, Milwaukee student Aron Moberg, 33, faulted U.S. businesses and government and suggested Americans get over it.

“Between their population, the size of their country, and their centralized authoritarian government, they are going to be a juggernaut that we can’t afford to not pay attention to,” said Moberg, who is studying architecture and Chinese.

“I think further off-shoring of manufacturing jobs has run its course,” countered John Torinus, head of an auto parts company in West Bend, Wisconsin. “Most of what is going to move has already moved … some stuff is even coming back.”

George Fleming, an employment counselor in Phoenix, said China’s growth was undeniable, and he wondered whether it can be persuaded to be a “good global citizen” on such issues as intellectual property rights and the environment.

“How do we get them to take a global level of responsibility without hindering their growth?” he said. “We’re dealing with a player who I think is likely to say, ‘let’s talk in 30 years.'”

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(Additional reporting by Bernie Woodall in Detroit, Emily Kaiser in Washington, Tim Gaynor in Phoenix, and John Rondy in Milwaukee; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and David Storey)

Americans wary of China’s economic juggernaut