November 9, 2004

Kirk '81 Speaks on U.S., China

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Rep. Mark Kirk ’81(R-Ill.) said yesterday that the United States government does not grasp the implications of the rise of China despite a clear indication that the extremely populated country will have a major impact on the future of America both economically and diplomatically.

Kirk delivered these remarks in a lecture entitled “The Rise of China” that was sponsored by the Walter LaFeber and Joel Silbey Fund in American History at Cornell.

“I am not an expert on China, but I am becoming an expert on how the U.S. thinks about China,” Kirk told The Sun.

“It’s clear that we’re not spending enough on China. We don’t have enough consulates, don’t have enough foreign officers. But so much of our economic policy revolves around China,” he said.

“When I’m in Chicago I hear a lot about China. When I’m in Washington, I don’t. There’s a big disconnect,” he added.

Kirk cited China’s meteoric economic rise, explaining that China produces more steel than the U.S. and consumes twice as much grain, has replaced America as Japan’s number one trading partner, has doubled their economy every eight years, and will have a larger economy than the U.S. in seven years. He also said that though foreign investment in China didn’t exist until 1980, there are now over 10 billion foreign dollars being pumped into the Chinese economy. In addition, he mentioned that the Chinese have a burgeoning space program and will be hosting the 2008 Olympics.

“Growth rates in China and India show much of our future history will be written in Asia,” Kirk said.

He cautioned however, that while the nation has experienced so much growth in the past decade, over 200 million Chinese still live on less than $1 a day, and that major environmental challenges still loom.

He also expressed great concern that while the Chinese Communist Party, Politburo, has much information about American politicians because they recognize the importance of knowing who is forming U.S. policy, the U.S. government has no concept of who the emerging Chinese leaders are. Students who attended Kirk’s lecture found it to be both informative and alarming.

‘I thought it opened up a new perspective on America and its isolationism, especially in the fact that we are ignorant of a country that will be potentially much stronger than us in the future,” said Nessia Sloane ’08.

“I thought it raised a prospect often missed on campus and in the political spectrum,” agreed Josh Dormont ’05.

“Whether it is due to our cultural arrogance or primacy of conflict, I can’t say. But it certainly deserves more notice, as pointed out,” he added. Kirk’s current stay at Cornell marks his first since he graduated with honors in history 23 years ago.

A Republican representing Illinois’ 10th congressional district, Kirk was also selected last week to lead the Tuesday Group, a coalition of over forty moderate Republicans in the House of Representatives. He is both pro-choice and anti-gun. He was reelected for the third time last Tuesday.

Explaining what kind of pressures Republican Congressmembers face in the current administration, Kirk told The Sun that the overall concerns of a member are issues sensitive to their individual districts.

“Members of Congress overwhelmingly vote their district, not their party. If you tell me so-and-so is a Democrat from Alabama, I’ll tell you that person probably has a 100 percent NRA rating, even if they are a Democrat. And if you told me about this Republican from Connecticut, I will tell you they are endorsed by the League of Conservation Voters,” he said.

Kirk also reflected on his long-overdue homecoming. He said that he has not returned to campus until now because, “To come to Ithaca you have to aim here. It struck me how special Cornell is, I’d forgotten somewhat from being away,” he explained. “This school is an intense intellectual experience. For me, I learned how to study 16 hours a day here, and that ability to focus has paid off for me time and time again,” Kirk added.

The LaFeber-Silbey fund was established at Cornell in 1995 in honor of Prof. Walter LaFeber, the Andrew H. and James S. Tisch University Professor in History, and Joel H. Silbey, the President White Professor in History emeritus, by David F. Maisel ’68 and Martha Maisel. The program’s goal is to give students an opportunity to meet with and talk to distinguished visitors on campus.

Archived article by Erica Temel
Sun News Editor