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Ron Tammen
Ron Tammen

Power Shift

Interpreting China's rise

In the 1960s, most national security experts worried about the Soviet Union. But Ron Tammen’s attention was focused east, to China’s potential as an economic challenger to the United States. Today China flexes its economic and political muscle, and Tammen, director of PSU’s Mark O. Hatfield School of Government, stands as an internationally known expert on engaging this emerging superpower.

Ron Tammen, director of PSU’s Mark O. Hatfield School of Government and an expert on the rise of China and India, knows what it’s like to be intellectually lonely. Early in his career, most national security experts worried about the Soviet Union. But Ron Tammen’s attention was focused east, to China’s potential as an economic challenger to the United States.

“For the first half of my intellectual life, nobody bought into this idea,” he says. National security experts were worried about the Soviet Union, not China.

Fast-forward 40 years, and it’s China flexing its economic and political muscles. Over the next decade, the world’s most populace nation is poised to become the world’s wealthiest, while Tammen has become widely recognized as a thought leader in how to “socialize” the East Asian powerhouse into the existing democratic international system.
It would be a mistake, he says, to vilify or lecture the massive country. Instead, the U.S. “can influence through trade,” says Tammen. “We do an enormous amount of business back and forth.” As the existing superpower, the U.S. bears a huge responsibility, as well as potentially devastating costs, for respectfully assimilating China’s leaders into the current structure.

At the same time, China’s international clout also rests on the country’s individual citizens. Will the Chinese Everyman look at cousins in Taiwan or the U.S. or parts of Europe and question why their own personal standard of living is so low?

“How those people think about this will determine whether we live in peace or war,” Tammen says. “It’s critical.” Unhappy people lead to a distressed national government. Add a hostile international stage and the ingredients are in place for aggressive reactions and global tumult, he says.

Tammen never regretted his early focus on China, and now India, as emerging powers. With four decades of expertise, Tammen regularly speaks locally and globally about the emergence of those nations. He uses these platforms as an opportunity to tout PSU’s Hatfield School, which has expanded into a highly respected and nationally ranked public policy program. The combination of his relentless advocacy for PSU and his intellectual contributions to political science make Tammen a global leader in this new world order.

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