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In light of national debate over the United States’ relationship with China, the Penn Club of New York hosted foreign dignitaries and business leaders in a panel discussion on June 13.

The panel, “From Confrontation to Coopetition: 40 Years of U.S.-China Relations,” served as both a look to the past and a forecast of the future.

Penn Club coordinator and 2010 College graduate Madeleine Kronovet said the event took a year and a half to plan. The planners originally sought 1987 College graduate and former U.S. ambassador to China Jon Huntsman Jr., but he was busy campaigning for the Republican presidential nomination.

Instead, the Club — which is located on W. 44th Street in midtown Manhattan — secured five other Sino-American relations experts to give their anecdotes and analyses for 85 attendees. Steve Orlins, president of the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations — which co-hosted the Chinese national Ping-Pong team’s 1972 American tour — moderated the panel.

Winston Lord, a former ambassador to China, said former president Nixon’s meeting with Mao Zedong “proved we were not paralyzed diplomatically because of Vietnam” and “showed the U.S. was able to act boldly on the world stage.”

Nicholas Platt, former ambassador to Zambia, the Philippines and Pakistan, noted “it was the American people’s first look at China,” he said, crediting the “one-week media blitz” with creating a consensus on normalizing U.S.-China relations.

Stephen Roach, chair of Morgan Stanley Asia, said “the dream [in 1972] was that the Chinese would buy U.S. products.” However, he noted that history has borne out a trade imbalance in the opposite direction, with the United States importing more of China’s goods.

As the panelists turned to China’s future, Roach warned that the United States should work toward the goals of 1972.

“Our politicians, God bless ‘em, haven’t got a clue,” Roach said. He suggested that as China shifts to a consumer-driven economy, U.S. companies should compete and win market share.

Jeffrey Schafer, former senior official for Citigroup and the U.S. Treasury, likened Sino-American relations to “a basketball game played on a playground without a referee.” No outside power is strong enough to make the rules, “but we need to keep playing the game,” he said.

For 2000 Wharton graduate Joseph Yiu, Roach’s argument against policymaker fixation with Chinese currency was new. His father, Raymond Yiu, said the panelists had simply broached the “tip of the iceberg” regarding America’s future with China.

Other attendees of the event were struck by the current anxiety in the U.S. over China’s rise. Alexander Sweet, a 2011 Vanderbilt University graduate, pointed to the rising tensions of 40 years as “Americans have watched China take their place as one of the world’s great powers.”

This article has been updated to include the Penn Club’s location in New York.

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