About 65 people gathered in Luce Hall yesterday to hear a panel discussion on the myriad of problems China faces as it attempts to prepare its economy for enduring success in the 21st century.

Alexander Millman ’06, president of the Yale College Chinese Partnership Program, mediated the discussion. The CPP sponsored the event in conjunction with the Council for East Asian Studies and the Yale Center for Globalization Studies.

“China’s economy has become one of the most important driving forces in the world economy,” Millman said. “In 2002, China — stood as the second largest economy in the world after the U.S.”

But the three featured panelists used their knowledge of legal reform, multinational corporations and trade to demonstrate the tenuousness of China’s economic infrastructure in spite of the annual 8 to 9 percent growth of its gross domestic product.

Panelist Pierre Landry, a political science professor and an affiliate of the Research Center for Contemporary China, focused on what he termed the “peculiar structure” of China’s foreign trade.

“[Most of] China’s imports come from Australia, Japan, Taiwan and Korea,” Landry said. “Its exports go to the U.S.”

Landry said this disparity results in a substantial trade surplus with the United States, which is problematic for China.

Jamie Horsely, associate director of The China Law Center and first secretary of the U.S. embassy in Beijing, elaborated on U.S.-China trade relations, describing them as “both a strength and a source of tension.”

“U.S. consumers benefit from having cheap Chinese goods available to them, while Chinese consumers cannot afford U.S. goods because they’re too expensive,” Horsely said.

She said China’s exposure to U.S. goods is limited by another factor: foreign businesses are largely incapable of accessing China’s historically coveted market.

“The Chinese impose technical barriers and quality standards on foreign goods to keep them out while protecting their own industry,” Horsely said. “Also, minimum capital requirements make it infeasible for companies to come in and set up businesses.”

Corporations such as Proctor and Gamble, as well as the film and auto industries, have lost billions of dollars to China for this reason, Horsely said.

In contrast to the other panelists, Professor of Management and Political Science Paul Bracken began his remarks on a more optimistic note.

“China is trying to manage the transformation to a modern economy that is technologically intensive,” Bracken said. “So far, China’s doing a good job.”

Bracken said China is undergoing a continual learning process, which he said should lead to a stronger economy over time.

“China is learning an extraordinary amount about [aspects of business such as] quality control and how to design a capital investment plant that doesn’t use much labor,” Bracken said.

Huan Gao, a graduate student in International Relations, who attended the talk, expressed her dissatisfaction that the panelists stressed China’s problems rather than providing solutions.

“But it was great to hear [the panelists’] perspectives, especially since none of them was from China,” Gao said.

Mei Guan GRD ’07 said she enjoyed the discussion.

“It was very good,” she said. “They discussed the topics in a broader way than I had thought they would, but all in all it was a very informative talk.”