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February 16, 2021
The Biden administration will face profound challenges in reshaping the U.S.-China relationship for the good of both nations. While our two countries inevitably will compete in some areas, it will be essential for us to cooperate in others. Direct partnerships between American states and Chinese provinces offer one possible path toward reviving cooperation in several vital areas: higher education and trade are two that form the lifeblood of many state economies and would greatly benefit from enhanced, smart engagement. Without it, students and markets both have the option to go elsewhere.
The downturn in U.S.-China relations has sent ripples throughout the nation, including in our universities. Chinese students comprise the largest group of international students in the United States. Losing them diminishes American students’ opportunities for cultural exposure and for the enriching experiences in and out of the classroom that help bridge differences and promote better understanding. Students from China, especially in the STEM fields, are foundational to our teaching and research, and many departments are suffering from the loss of their teaching assistants and the valuable input of their Chinese colleagues.
There are also financial implications: Chinese students contributed $14.9 billion to the U.S. economy, including ancillary costs such as housing and services sectors. The loss of Chinese students — who generally pay full tuition — severely affects the budgets of state-run and less well-endowed higher education institutions, including their ability to offer in-state tuition to American students.
The trade war has cost U.S. consumers approximately $50 billion in tariffs from groceries to smartphones, yet no manufacturing jobs were regained in return. Moreover, American farmers, fishermen, and ranchers, as well as small business owners and manufacturers, are suffering from the loss of their China markets, which they spent decades developing. In fact, it is other countries that are benefiting from the U.S.-China trade war. From Washington apples to Maine lobsters, many in the agricultural sector now feel they have unwillingly ceded the China market to other countries and worry about ever getting it back.
Former Missouri Gov. Bob Holden is president of the non-profit US Heartland China Association and a member of the Board of Advisors at the George H. W. Bush Foundation for U.S.-China Relations. The views expressed in this publication are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the George H. W. Bush Foundation for U.S.-China Relations.