China's influence is everywhere, Peter Brookes said, and he doesn't expect that to change.
Brookes linked high gas prices to the ever-expanding nation. China is the second-largest consumer of energy and produces more greenhouse gases than any other, he said.
And trade? The U.S. has a trade deficit with China amounting to $200 billion a year, Brookes said.
"It has been estimated that if Wal-Mart were a country, it would be China's seventh-largest trade partner," he said at a Leadership Program of the Rockies event Monday morning.
Brookes, a member of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, gave a talk called "China: Partner or Peril?" to a few dozen participants at Rex's American Grill & Bar. He also is an author, columnist and senior fellow at The Heritage Foundation.
"No country or issue, even terrorism, will shape our country for good or for bad more than China," he said.
In Brookes' view, plenty of issues deserve a close look: China's expanding military, burgeoning population, booming economy and dramatic effect on the environment, for example.
China has the fastest-growing peacetime military budget in the world, Brookes said. It has grown by double digits every year of the past decade, and the nation announced another 18 percent increase this year.
No one is sure what the motives are for that growth, he said. No nation is threatening China, but it's common knowledge that the Chinese want Taiwan, which has governed itself since 1949. If China tries to take it now, it's likely that the U.S. and China would "cross swords" in the Taiwan Strait, Brookes said.
However, the U.S. must step gingerly. He theorized that President Bush has been wary to alienate Russia or China because he doesn't want to push them together.
"The concern is about capability and intent," Brookes said of China's military. "It may take years to build capability. Intent can change overnight."
China's population also is a huge factor on the global stage, he said. The 1.3 billion people there use a great deal of resources.
"Some estimate that China will put as many as 300 million new cars on the road in the next decade," Brookes said. "That's the population of the United States."
He noted that one of the biggest pollutants in Beijing's air is cement dust, and Brookes pondered, as an aside, the effect of the dirty air on athletes at this summer's Olympic Games. China is building coal-fired power plants at a rate of two a week, he said.
But China's massive population could benefit the U.S., Brookes noted. As the economy grows, the Chinese could become big consumers of American goods.
There are plenty of opportunities for cooperation and collaboration, Brookes said. The United States should try to help shape China into an ally as it grows, he said.
"China could be a stabilizing force or a destabilizing force in the international system," Brookes said. "It's going to be that big."
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