Cheyenne native speaks on how US-China relations effect Wyoming

Central High School graduate Matt Ferchen spoke about relations between the United States and China, and how they impact Wyoming, on Nov. 1 at Laramie County Community College’s ANB Bank Leadership Center.  

Ferchen works at the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy where he leads a program on China’s relations with developing nations, specifically dealing with economic and political relations.  

Ferchen gave some background information on the history of U.S.-China relations and how have they have changed, especially in the last year.  Political, economic and international factors in China have caused a shift in the last year, with some U.S. government officials deeming China an emerging global rival.  Ferchen mentioned an Oct. 4 speech by Vice President Mike Pence in which Pence said that China is going in the wrong direction and the U.S. will take action accordingly.

Ferchen spoke about the newly fueled “trade war” with China that seems to be escalating.  In terms of the tariffs imposed by the U.S. on imported goods from China, Ferchen said there are three main factors.  The first is symbolic: U.S. government officials want to show China that “we mean business,” Ferchen said. The second is strategic: With China exporting many more goods to the U.S. than importing from the U.S., government officials would like to try to better balance exports and imports.  Finally, there is an element of punishment, or to provide some motivation “to maybe renegotiate some of this,” Ferchen said.

For other reasons, including rising concern about self-censorship in China, increased state involvement in business and economy in China, and a lack of cooperation regarding international issues such as the North Korea conflict, China has officially been deemed a strategic competitor, Ferchen said.  

Ferchen cautioned that for the U.S. to initiate political and economic push-back on China “we better have very good logic and reason behind this,” he said.  “As U.S. citizens, I think we should all be aware of this and the real repercussions, on the economic level, on the social level, on a moral level.”

While it might seem that what China does might have little impact on Wyoming due to a lack of common interests and so much distance between them, Ferchen highlighted some key areas in which China’s relations with the U.S. could affect Wyoming.

Changes in U.S. policy toward China could impact Wyoming in several ways.  “The leadership and governor of Wyoming, and business leaders in Wyoming, are looking for ways to increase the prosperity of their citizens,” Ferchen said.  “And China may be a partner in that.”

The energy sector could be impacted.  As China is a coal-rich nation and Wyoming is a coal-rich state, there has been collaboration between government officials and businesses in China and Wyoming “looking for ways to think of the future for coal,” Ferchen said.  There has been cooperation in seeking out ways to make coal more environmentally friendly which could be impacted by strained U.S.-China relations.

“China has increasingly been threatening or actually using cutting off tourism to punish countries with which it is having a dispute,” Ferchen said.  Such a move could damage Wyoming’s tourism industry. In China, wealth has grown steadily in recent years. Chinese tourists have money to spend, and up to a half a million tourists from China visit Yellowstone National Park every year, boosting the Wyoming economy, Ferchen said.  Millions of dollars of tourism revenue could be lost every year should China ban its citizens from visiting the U.S.

There has been discussion by U.S. government officials of cracking-down on allowing students from China.  Such action would alter the landscape of education in Wyoming and nationally as 30 percent of all foreign students in the U.S. are from China, totaling some 350,000 students, Ferchen said.  

All of these areas are “potentially threatened by this larger dispute that is brewing between the U.S. and China,” Ferchen said.

“We all need to pay very close attention to what’s happening with this emerging consensus with U.S.-China relations,” Ferchen said.  “Do we really want to have the relationship with China go in a direction where we find ourselves in the course of one, two, five years basically seeing China as a full enemy?”

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