I think of myself as a peace activist. I’m trying to avoid a war between the US and China. China is rising rapidly in terms of its economy and military power. The size of its economy may surpass the size of the US economy as early as 2030. The growth of its military power will probably take much longer to equal the might of the US. But by the year 2100 China may surpass the US as the world’s number one superpower. It’s hard to project that far out. But China is on the rise, and how they rise and how the US responds is one of the most critical strategic issues of the twenty first century. Starting now.
One superpower does not usually give up its number one ranking to another without a fight. But it can happen. In the last century, the British Empire gave up it number one ranking to the US without a fight with us. But both countries spoke the same language and shared a common culture. Not so with China and the US.
I think the US should respond with as much understanding as possible to China’s rise. There may be future scenarios between the two countries where war is impossible to avoid. And we should be ready. But there may also be future scenarios between the two countries where war could be avoided if only the US better understood China. I want to avoid a war of misunderstanding. To do that we need many more US citizen to learn Mandarin and to spend time in China.
We can teach more Mandarin in our schools and we can send many more students to study abroad in China. Right now it costs no more to send an Oregon high school student to study for a school year in China than it does to educate her/him in her/his home local school district. Proposals have been before both the Oregon legislature and the Portland Public Schools Board to shift some small amounts of funding to pay for high school students to study in China. None of the proposals have passed. None of the proposals have had the support of teachers. That is to say none of the proposals have had the support of either the Oregon Education Association or the Portland Association of Teachers. With OEA and PAT support, Oregon could be sending high school students to China. Right now, as I see it, neither organization is doing what it could for world peace.
I’ve a new placard that reads “Teacher Can’t Be Both for Peace and Against Study Abroad.” I spent a few minutes today (7/15/10) outside the Portland Association of Teachers' offices in Portland with my placards. I’ll return there. For now, organized teachers are the major political obstacle to study abroad programs which can increase the chances of peace with China.
In 2006, I, together with State Representative Dennis Richardson, submitted a proposal “Developing the China Connection Through Educational Programs” to the Oregon Business Plan. Its closing words are where we still are today (here, p. 11):
We as Oregonians can step forward, act boldly and with vision. Our children and their children will live in a very different world. We need to help them create their future. There are many contemporary crises (the Middle East, North Korea, terrorists, pandemics) but the central strategic and security issue of the 21st century will be the emergence of China as a world power and how the United States and China relate to each other. If these two great powers can get along, many other problems are solvable. If not, nuclear war and societal chaos are not impossible. If we fail to act as boldly as we can-- breaking a few educational, geo-political and funding mindsets—-future generations will stand in wonder at our failure. History sets hard standards and will not be kind to us or to our children if we fail. We in Oregon have an historic opportunity to act on the stage of world history. Few get such an opportunity. With vision, resolution and cooperation, let us seize this opportunity and meet the challenges of the twenty-first century.
Teachers have this opportunity. I urge them to seize it.