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Stay-At-Homes

In response to:

China is Far from the September 3, 1970 issue

To the Editors:

John Fairbank’s view (“China is Far,” NYR, September 3) of China’s role in the international world is very misleading. Fairbank argues that the Chinese revolution rejected the international world of trade and finance. This allegedly stems from China’s “stay-at-home tradition.” Actually the opposite is more nearly true.

For almost a decade now China has been engaged in a mammoth shipbuilding and ship buying drive. China is consistently among the largest, if not the largest, charterer of bulk-carrying tramp freighters. The first Chinese-built ocean-going freighter arrived in Indonesia in 1961, England in 1962, Africa in 1963, Japan in 1964, and Canada just recently.

In addition China’s leaders have committed themselves to making the Chinese currency a hard international currency. Chinese currency is so stable and its growing commerce such a good risk in the eyes of capitalist countries that for the first time these nations are signing trade agreements with China to be settled in Chinese currency.

To the extent that China has learned to survive, prosper, and develop in the international commercial world, it has become, contrary to Fairbanks, “like us.” It is succeeding here not be a thoughtless “stay-at-home tradition,” but by thoughtful investment, commercial and monetary practices whose goal of independence is meant to prove Fairbank wrong in his faith that “our expanding world of trade and contact monopolizes their future.”

Edward Friedman

Department of Political Science

University of Wisconsin

J.K Fairbank replies:

Misquotation always helps controversy. I wrote, “We may still feel that our expanding world of trade and contact monopolizes their future, but superior firepower will no longer prove it. Can we accept the novel thought that our present is not their future?” My “faith,” such as it is, is expressed in the last sentence; perhaps Mr. Friedman reads too rapidly.

I freely concede China’s progress in bulk-carrying tramp-freighter chartering. The fact remains that China’s per capita foreign trade is just about the lowest in the world. Though the People’s Republic contains almost a quarter of mankind, its activity abroad is still that of a second- or third-level country. This is not our doing. The Chinese simply have sense enough to stay home, fortunately.

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