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Dongbai Ye, counselor for science and technology at the Consulate General of the People's Republic of China in New York, detailed his country's plans for furthering growth and transforming its economy from a manufacturing powerhouse to a leading center of innovation. John Mearsheimer, a security expert and University of Chicago professor, hopes desperately that those efforts don't succeed.
Basing his prediction on the way the United States behaved in its rise to domination of the Western Hemisphere, Mearsheimer said China's continued economic development, coupled with the territorial supremacy it has already begun asserting in the East, would likely lead to conflict with the U.S.
The differing outlooks of Ye and Mearsheimer, the two main speakers at the China Institute's first China Conference, highlights the breadth of perspective and inquiry on display at the conference in early April on the Bucknell campus. | View the full list of conference speakers.
"Most conferences you go to are divided by disciplines; this is really an interdisciplinary conference," said Professor Zhiqun Zhu, director of the China Institute and the John D. MacArthur chair of East Asian politics. "We have historians sharing the same panel with political scientists. We have economists and experts in science and technology. We have business leaders. It's an inspiring exchange of ideas, information and different views."
Hosted by the institute to celebrate its inaugural year, the conference took as its focus innovation in China, a facet Zhu said is often overlooked in contemporary discussions of Chinese economic development.
"China is considered a manufacturing power, the world's factory, but little is known about China's innovation," Zhu said. "A lot of people are not sure whether China is innovative enough or if it can challenge the United States in science and technology. We want to expand our knowledge and learn something else about China — not just its economic growth or its pollution, but also the innovative aspect of its development."
Panelists at the conference considered that aspect from all angles. Historians chronicled the history of innovation in the nation that brought the world the magnetic compass, gunpowder and the printed word. Engineers and business executives conjectured how its technological development might mature in the future. And political scientists and economists debated how China today is seeking innovative solutions not only to economic challenges, but political and social worries as well.
None of these issues is an island — modern China remains rooted in its past and its actions today will echo into the future. Nor does the impact of China's development end at its borders, conference speakers pointed out. Bucknell Professor Amanda Wooden, environmental studies, detailed environmental protests of Chinese gold mines in neighboring Kyrgyzstan, Mearshiemer contemplated its evolving relationship with the U.S., and executives from General Electric and IBM outlined how companies must adapt to the Chinese market.
China's innovation, the conference made clear, is a question for us all to ponder.