‘Decoupling’ does not sell well among US businesspeople

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‘Decoupling’ does not sell well among US businesspeople

In the US, the advocates for decoupling from China can stay irrational much longer than businesses and consumers can stay vibrant. To bring rationality and economic common sense, US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen recently spoke out against decoupling. In the name of containing China, decoupling is mired in an ossified Cold War mentality and runs counter to the theory of international division of labor based on global value chains (Escaping Dependency and Trade War, in China Economist, January-February 2023).

By Michael Hui and Kacee Ting Wong

From the perspective of the US, Yellen is fully aware that the pain of decoupling is greater than the pain of tolerating the peaceful rise of China. Trying to avert a doomsday possibility of economic disaster, she asked for a constructive and fair economic relationship between the US and China. She asserted that decoupling from China would be disastrous. But her pro-economic interdependence stance should be read together with her qualifying comments on national security. Unable to strike a balance between these two perceived conflicting goals, she has tried to prioritize “national security concerns” over economic considerations. She defended Washington’s economic restrictions on China, saying that they were national security issues that were not designed to stifle the Chinese economy and its technological development.

The inescapable fact of the matter is that most American business executives don’t want to decouple from China. To cite an example, Intel exports billions of dollars’ worth of microchips to China, whose market accounts for about 50 percent of global semiconductor demand (The Strategic Challenges of Decoupling, in Harvard Business Review, May-June 2021). According to a recent flash report by the American Chamber of Commerce in China, 40 percent of its members had no plans to change their investments in China from 2023 to 2025, and 20 percent said they were planning to increase investments at different levels. More recently — last week, to be specific — Tesla founder Elon Musk told Chinese officials in Beijing during his first trip to China in three years that he opposes decoupling the world’s two biggest economies, hinting at a bigger Tesla production presence in China.

Keeping a safe distance from national security issues, many scholars and former top officials of the US just focus on the disadvantages of decoupling. These scholars include Kristalina Georgieva, David Dollar, Stephen Roach, Adam Posen and Stephen DeAngelis. Former US Treasury chiefs Henry Paulson and Larry Summers are two political heavyweights who are against decoupling. Some proponents of decoupling dismissed the opinion of Paulson because of his “close ties” with China.

It’s also interesting to note that two of the European Union’s hawkish leaders — Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, and Annalena Baerbock, the German foreign minister, now prefer to replace decoupling with “de-risking”, which means reducing EU’s dependence on China. For the sake of France’s economic interests, French President Emmanuel Macron has a negative but pragmatic attitude toward decoupling. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is also a critic of decoupling.

Georgieva deserves great credit for reminding us that policy interventions adopted in the name of national security have unintended consequences. It could result in a dangerous slippery slope toward runaway geo-economic fragmentation (Confronting Fragmentation Where It Matters Most: Trade, Debt and Climate Action, in IMF Blog).

David Dollar’s study also prompts deep reflection on the sustainability of a decoupling policy. He makes it clear that decoupling is unrealistic. It’s a losing strategy, and the notion that offshore manufacturing production can be brought back to the US through trade protectionism is naive (Forging an Alternative Economic Strategy for Dealing with China, in Ryan Hass, Ryan McElveen & Robert Williams (eds), The Future of US Policy Toward China, Nov 2020).

Posen, a scholar at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, also warns that a unilateral US withdrawal from commerce with China would be partially offset by other economies taking up the market share where the US no longer operated (America’s Zero-sum Economics Doesn’t Add Up, in Foreign Policy, March 24, 2023). It does not make sense for US allies to sacrifice their economic interests and blindly jump on the decoupling bandwagon. Macron does not regard France as a US vassal state.

In spite of the well-researched benefits of economic interdependence, decoupling is an ongoing empirical process and the confluence of a wide range of factors is likely to propel it further in the future (Decoupling in International Business: Evidence, Drivers, Impact and Implications for IB Research, in Journal of World Business, January 2023). Nevertheless, the demand for Chinese products remains strong in the US, including for laptops and computer monitors, phones, video-game consoles and toys. Besides, many Chinese companies have relocated their manufacturing bases to Southeast Asian countries.

To rebuild the foundation for normalizing mutually beneficial relations, both countries should defuse geopolitical tensions that have driven decoupling. Instead of exaggerating elusive “threats” from China, the US should strike a right balance between the need to maintain mutually beneficial ties and the need to safeguard national security shaped by flawed cold-war value systems. The US should respect China’s right to strengthen its technological power and reduce its technological dependence on developed countries. US-initiated technological decoupling is the mother of technological autonomy in China. In the global value chain led by multinational companies, developing countries are often trapped in low-value links with a subordinate position. With a determination to boost technological autonomy and equipped with a strong technological base, China is different from other developing countries.

What is certain is that economic and trade cooperation is the bedrock of the Sino-US relationship. Decoupling is easier said than done. In fact, trade between the US and China is on track to break records, a signal of resilient links amid the heated “national security” rhetoric in Washington and fears of decoupling (US-China Trade is Close to a Record, Defying Talk of Decoupling, in The Japan Times, Jan 17, 2023).

Michael Hui is director of International Trade Affairs, Chinese Dream Think Tank, and founder of Forever Watch Co. Ltd.

Kacee Ting Wong is a barrister, a part-time researcher of Shenzhen University Hong Kong and the Macao Basic Law Research Center, and chairman of Chinese Dream Think Tank.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily. 

This article is reproduced by Kwun Media with the consent of China Daily.

Chinese Dream Think Tank is a non-profit Hong Kong-based organization working with skilled volunteers, experts and professionals who are passionate about telling the China story well.

 

中國夢智庫|《中美經濟關係》

比起美國企業與消費者活力指數的升幅,主張與我國經濟脫鉤狂熱分子的態度更加高漲。為緩和國內緊張情緒,以理性態度處理經濟問題,美國財政部長珍妮特·耶倫(Janet Yellen)最近發言表示反對中美脫鉤。利用遏制我國的名義作為一個幌子,與我國經濟脫鉤將產生新冷戰思維,這將對全球價值鏈(Global Value Chain, GVC)造成打擊(註1)。

對美國來說,耶倫充分意識到在與我國經濟脫鉤和接受我國和平崛起的事實這兩者之間,前者是弊大於利。她強調我國與美國之間需要建立富建設性與公平的經濟關係,從而避免世界末日式經濟災難的發生。

她進一步表示,與我國經濟脫鉤將會是災難性的。話踓如此,大家應該謹慎意識到她的中美經濟共存觀點的基礎性考慮還是基於美國國家安全的思考。因為在這兩個相互衝突的目標之間很難取得平衡,所以她明確表示美國國家安全問題重於經濟方面的考量。她依舊為華盛頓對華經濟限制保架護航,稱這是國家安全問題,並非旨在扼殺我國經濟及高技術發展。

其實,美國面臨一個不可避免的事實。大多數美國企業高管不想與我國脫鉤。舉例說明,英特爾半導體公司向我國持續出口價值數以十億美元的晶片,而我國市場約佔全球半導體需求的50%(註2)。根據「美國商會」最近一份快報,40%會員在2023-2025年度沒有計劃改變對華投資,20%成員表示他(她)們計劃在不同級別項目中增加投資力度。

與我國經濟脫鉤相比,很多美國學者與前高級官員則有著一些截然不同的取態,他(她)們沒有一味地注焦國家安全事務,同時他(她)們明確指出脫鉤可產生的眾多經濟弊端。代表人物分別是Kristalina Georgieva,David Dollar,Stephen Roach,Adam Posen與Stephen DeAngelis。前美國財政部長亨利·保爾森(Henry Paulson)與拉裡·薩默斯(Larry Summers)是反對脫鉤派中的重要政治人物。而一些脫鉤支持者只因保爾森與我國的關係密切,所有不贊同他的觀點。

同樣值得關注的是歐盟兩位鷹派領導人。《歐盟委員會》主席烏爾蘇拉·馮德萊恩(Ursula von der Leyen)與《德國外交部》部長安娜萊娜·貝爾博克(Annalena Baerbock),她們現時的取態更傾向於化解經濟風險,摒棄與我國進行經濟脫鉤。化解風險意味著減少歐盟對我國在經濟上的依賴。再來,為維護法國的經濟利益,令人佩服的總統伊曼紐·馬克龍(Emmanuel Macron)保持重實效的態度不贊成與我國經濟脫鉤。德國總理奧拉夫·舒爾茨(Olaf Scholz)也反對脫鉤。

格奧爾基耶娃是現任國際貨幣基金組織總裁,她提醒大家,以國家安全名義採取的政策干預經濟發展,可能導致地緣經濟碎片化而事態失控的危險行徑,會產生意想不到的後果,咱們來為她點讚。根據熟悉中美貿易的經濟學家David Dollar,經濟脫鈎是不現實的。通過貿易保護主義將離岸生產製造業回歸美國的想法也是幼稚的,是一個終將失敗的戰略(註5)。

《彼得森國際經濟研究所》著名學者亞當·波森(Adam Posen)也警告大家,如美國單方面退出世界與我國的國際貿易群,過往以美國為主的世界經濟體系將會被其他經濟圈佔據,美國不再能夠運作主體市場份額,美國將會被自己邊緣化(註6)。美國盟友們以犧牲自己經濟利益為代價,盲目加入脫鉤潮流只能會自食惡果。馬克龍說得好,法國不是美國的藩屬國。

有其他學者也認為,儘管經濟互存理論的好處已得到不斷的驗證,但脫鉤是一個持續的經驗累積過程,各種因素將匯合在一起,可能會在未來進一步演變成全面脫鉤狀態(註7)。美國民眾們注意,美國對我國生產的眾多產品需求率仍然強勁,產品有:筆記電腦、電腦顯示器、手機、視頻遊戲機與玩具。此外,我國許多住美公司已將製造基地遷往東南亞各國。

為重建互利關係正常化基礎,中美兩國應共同努力穩定地緣政治緊張局勢,化解導致脫鉤的個個不良因素。美國不應以難以捉摸言詞與行徑誇大中國威脅論。或許美國更應該作的是著墨於維護兩國互利關係,需要在「兩國互利基礎元素」與缺乏支撐點冷戰價值體系中的「國家安全」之間取得適當平衡。美方應尊重我國在加強技術實力道路上所作出的努力、減少對發達國家技術依賴的權利。美國應正確意識到,她發動的與華技術脫鉤是咱們科技技術自主研發決心的原動力。

在跨國公司領導的全球價值鏈(GVC)中,發展中國家們往往處於低價值聯繫中的從屬地位(註8)。我國與其他發展中國家不一樣!咱們有堅定提高技術自主性的決心,咱們擁有強大的技術基礎。

可以肯定,經貿合作是中美關係的主旋律。如本專欄早前所述,與我國經濟脫鉤說的輕松做起來難。事實上,中美之間的貿易平穩上升,有望打破記錄。

華盛頓的上空瀰漫着一層厚重的保護國家安全言論陰霾和與我國經濟脫鉤顧慮思潮中,這是一個中美關係「彈性聯接」(Signal of Resilient Links)的信號(註9)。

美國大兵們,請伸出手來,咱們共同合作,攜手「說好世界故事」。

事實與資料來源已核查

註 1: Chen Ziye & Li Bin 「Escaping Dependency and Trade War」in China Economist Vol. 18 (No.1) January-February 2023 at pp 36-43

註 2: Stewart Black & Allen Morrison「The Strategic Challenges of Decoupling」in Harvard Business Review, May-June 2021, available at https://hbr.org/2021/05/the-strategic-challenges-of-decoupling

註 3: AmCham 「China Flash Survey on China Business Climate Sentiment Updates」at p 4, available at: https://www.amchamchina.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/04/AmCham-China-April-2023-Flash-Survey-on-Business-Sentiment_FINAL.pdf

註 4: Kristalina Grorgieva「Confronting Fragmentation Where It Matters Most: Trade, Debt and Climate Action」in IMF Blog 16.01.2023 available at: https://www.imf.org/en/Blogs/Articles/2023/01/16/Confronting-fragmentation-where-it-matters-most-trade-debt-and-climate-action

註 5:David Dollar「Forging an Alternative Economic Strategy for Dealing with China,in Ryan Hass, Ryan McElveen & Robert Williams (eds)「The Future of US Policy Toward China」Nov. 2020, available at: https://www.brookings.edu/multi-chapter-report/the-future-of-us-policy-toward-china/amp/

And

https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/Future-U.S.-policy-toward-China-v8.pdf

註 6: Adam Posen「America’s Zero-sum Economics Doesn’t Add Up」in Foreign Policy, 24.03.2023, available at: https://foreignpolicy.com/2023/03/24/economy-trade-united-states-china-industry-manufacturing-supply-chains-biden/

註 7: Michael Witt, et.al,「Decoupling in International Business: Evidence, Drivers, Impact and Implications for IB Research」in Journal of World Business, Vol.58, issue 1, January 2023), available at: a https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1090951622000906

註 8: 同上, 註1

註 9: Daniel Flatley「US-China Trade is Close to a Record, Defying Talk of Decoupling」in The Japan Times 17.01.2023 available at: https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2023/01/17/business/economy-business/us-china-ties-belie-decoupling-talk/

文:許書堤(《中國夢智庫》國際貿易事務總監、恒時鐘錶有限公司創辦人)

文:丁煌(深圳大學基本法研究中心兼職研究員、經民聯港島支部主席,《中國夢智庫》主席)

《中國夢智庫》是一間扎根特區的非牟利團體;與心存熱誠的資深義工、專家與職業專業人士們合作,攜手「說好中國故事」。

*作者文章觀點,不代表《觀新聞》立場