Professors Talk Trade with China at MPOST Debate

Paul Poast and Robert Gulotty debated the merits and risks of China’s membership in the WTO.

By Hesham Albaharna, Contributor

Paul Poast and Robert Gulotty, both assistant political science professors, debated the trade benefits and security threats of allowing China into the World Trade Organization (WTO).

The event, hosted on Monday by the Maroon Project on Security and Threats (MPOST), was the organization’s second Professors Debate of the school year. The positions were assigned to the professors arbitrarily.

In a Facebook post on Tuesday, MPOST announced that Gulotty, who spoke in favor of allowing China into the WTO, had won the debate.

Gulotty opened the debate by establishing the benefits of international trade to American consumers. He argued Chinese membership would lead to cheaper goods and allow Americans to invest a greater proportion of their incomes in areas such as education. The consequent increase in living standards, Gulotty asserted, would contribute to enhancing American security.  Gulotty further claimed that trade “creates a sense of interdependence between both nations that would disincentivize China from acting hostile towards the United States.”

Speaking in opposition, Poast centered his argument on the claim that trade with China is a threat to American unipolarity—a distribution of power in which one country exercises most of the cultural, economic, and military influence.  China “has been using its economic growth to strengthen its military presence, which undermines America’s ability to maintain security in the region,” he explained.

In response to Gulotty’s claim that economic interdependence would discourage Chinese aggression, Poast cited Britain’s inability to respond to German hostility towards Belgium in the build-up to World War I. This was because Britain was heavily economically dependent on Germany, he said. Poast contextualized this example in terms of the reasonable possibility for a Chinese invasion of Taiwan, and whether the United States could respond effectively if they had strong trade relations with China.

In the Q&A session after the debate, Poast also made the case that China has more at stake than the United States regarding military influence in southeast Asia. Therefore, while Beijing views trade with the United States as important, they prioritize military alliances. He pointed to China’s insistence that unprovoked American aggression towards North Korea would cross a red line.

During the cross-examination portion of the debate, Gulotty questioned the likelihood of gunboat diplomacy—foreign policy supported by the use or threat of military force—being used in the modern world. Poast responded that the United States has employed these tactics as recently as the Iraq War.

In his rebuttal speech, Gulotty countered Poast’s claim that trade with China under the status quo would lead to a decline in America’s unipolarity. “This decline is inevitable,” he said. “Stopping trade with China will only hasten this decline, and given this inevitability the best course of action would be to maintain a trading relationship."

Gulotty also questioned whether the United States’ unconstrained hegemony was necessarily a good thing for American security.

Finally, Gulotty brushed off Poast’s claim that economic growth would lead to China invading its neighbors. “We’re not in the eighteenth century anymore,” he said.

Poast closed the debate by distinguishing between the case for human flourishing, which he believed Gulotty proposed in his discussion of trade’s benefits to American consumers, and the preservation of national security. Poast argued that continued trade with China both undermines the United States’ ability to secure itself and creates a more assertive China that would use its newfound influence to coerce its neighbors in territorial disputes.

Gulotty ended by quoting an African proverb referenced in the film Black Panther: “Wise men build bridges, while the foolish build walls.”