National Security Network

The Progressive Approach: China

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Policy Paper 13 May 2008

China China

Prepare America to Deal with the China Challenge

China is a country on the rise – economically, politically, and militarily. Its dramatic economic emergence has a direct impact on the U.S., especially as our economies become increasingly interconnected. It is important to ensure that China becomes a responsible member and stakeholder in the international community, but we must also stand up to China when its actions conflict with our values and interests. China is not yet our friend, but it is not our enemy, either. How we manage this relationship will be of major importance to the future of the U.S.
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The impact of China’s rise upon Americans is growing all the time, and U.S.-China relations are complex and contradictory. Americans are rightly concerned with China’s growing economic competitiveness, burgeoning diplomatic influence, escalating military buildup, and troubling human rights record. Yet there is growing common ground and deepening interdependence with China on both economic and geo-strategic issues. We can neither ignore nor contain China, but we should neither fear nor dismiss China’s rise. Instead, the U.S. must work to ensure that China becomes a responsible member of, and stakeholder in, the international community.

Economic Issues: China’s remarkable economic growth has had a tremendous impact on the global and U.S. economies, and on the people of China. Economic interaction and engagement between the U.S. and China has exploded in the last decade, and has made our economies highly interdependent. China’s growing prosperity is good for the U.S. – it is becoming an increasingly important export market for U.S. goods – and has lifted millions of its citizens out of poverty, and led to new economic and social freedoms. Many American consumers benefit from inexpensive Chinese consumer products, but businesses and workers increasingly fear Chinese competition. The recent discovery that many children’s toys manufactured in China were coated in lead paint caused tremendous public outrage and led to demands for greater consumer protection. There is a real need to ensure that China follows international trade regulations, and that all products coming to the U.S. from China meet our quality and safety standards.

Effectively addressing the challenges posed by China’s economic growth requires that the U.S. get its own house in order. The Bush Administration’s tax cuts, growth in government spending, lax regulatory standards, faulty economic stewardship, and the war in Iraq, have resulted in massive deficits and economic instability, pushing the U.S. economy dangerously out of balance. The U.S. trade deficit with China now stands at $250 billion annually – an enormous sum. To effectively address the challenges posed by China and globalization, the U.S. must return to fiscal sanity, as well as pursue initiatives that make the U.S. economy the most competitive in the world.

Security and foreign policy challenges: Since President Nixon went to China, seven administrations have pursued a policy of engagement, seeking to ensure that China becomes a responsible stakeholder in the international community. In the past decade, as China’s economy has developed, so has its presence internationally. Its increased international involvement – particularly in Asia, Africa, and Latin America – is largely driven by economic interests, but it demonstrates that an effective U.S. policy toward China requires a strong and coherent foreign policy throughout the world.

An important aspect of China’s economic growth has been its corresponding efforts to modernize and develop its military. While China’s military modernization should be monitored closely by the U.S. and its allies, we should not proceed as if conflict with China is inevitable. China’s military modernization must be put in context. While it is expanding and modernizing its blue-water Navy and other outdated weapons systems, China remains at least decades away from challenging the U.S. militarily on a regional, let alone global, scale. The U.S. still spends more than five times as much on defense as China, and the disparity widens when the assets of our allies in NATO and the Pacific are included. Nevertheless, China’s military modernization means that any military confrontation would likely be very costly to the U.S.

The status of Taiwan remains a possible flashpoint for conflict with China, but the U.S. has a consistent bipartisan record of working to prevent hostilities across the strait from leading to war, and this must continue.

Human Rights: China’s poor human rights record has been one of the most contentious issues between the U.S. and China, as it should be – and it has come to the fore again with the Olympics this August in Beijing. The Chinese government continues to crack down on political dissidents, suppress public dissent, and restrict the freedom of the press. The protests in Tibet have exposed the fragility of a state that denies its citizens full rights and liberties. The oppressive and paranoid approach of the Chinese government toward the Tibetan people and other political dissidents will limit China’s ability to become a truly great power. Chances for a transition to democracy in the near-term appear very slim, and Chinese infringement on human rights will continue to present an obstacle to greater interaction between the U.S. and China.

Energy and Climate Change: China is choking on its own growth. Not curbed by any international agreements on carbon emissions, China’s economic growth has led to massive pollution and environmental problems. China is on course to overtake the U.S. in 2009 as the world’s largest carbon emitter. Growing pollution has brought with it increasing dissatisfaction and political activism among the Chinese people, and there are signs that the government is beginning to recognize the potential dangers not only of fossil fuel dependence, but of an increasingly dissatisfied public. This represents a major opportunity for the U.S. to engage China in the hopes of forging common and forward-looking approaches to energy and climate change.

Policy Recommendations

It’s time for a new strategy: One that sets priorities, matches tools to ends, and takes a comprehensive approach. One that restores our credibility, serves our interests, and respects our values.

An effective China policy begins at home.
Many of the challenges posted by China are in fact the consequences of living in an era of increasing globalization. To effectively address these challenges, and to develop an effective policy toward China, we must get our own house in order. This entails investing in the American public, ensuring that our education system meets the highest standards, that our workers have affordable health care, and that our economy encourages innovation.

It’s time for a responsible and fair trade agenda that ensures a level playing field, and that enforces trade laws. We should strictly enforce the law against unfair Chinese trade practices, and insist that China crack down on copyright infringement and violations of international property rights. We must also demand that China end its lax approach to regulating manufacturers, and work harder to shut down factories that produce defective products.

It’s time for a U. S. government that protects American consumers. Our first line of defense against unsafe products should be our government, not China’s. The U.S. must dramatically improve its ability to monitor the safety of its imports. The Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Food and Drug Administration, as well as other regulatory agencies, must be strengthened to better protect the American people.

It’s time to partner with China on energy and climate change. Now is the time for the U.S. to invest heavily, and engage China, in our clean energy industry. Helping China meet its energy needs through green and clean energy technology is essential to stopping global warming – and is also an opportunity for our innovative industries to enter a fast-growing market.

It’s time to stand firm for human rights and democracy. We need a policy that promotes our ideals and our interests, instead of one that sees human rights as a distraction. The U.S. must do considerably more to engage the Chinese people and to support the development of civil society within China, such as by supporting the training of lawyers. And we must remember that China is watching our own conduct on torture and prisoner abuse.

It’s time to develop a comprehensive and coherent strategy for engaging Asia.
We can pursue our interests with China more successfully if we pursue them jointly with our allies in Europe, Asia, and Latin America. Within Asia, we should revitalize our partnerships with major nations, including Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Australia, and Thailand, as well as in regional Pacific organizations, such as ASEAN.

It’s time to build stronger ties with China’s military, to ease tensions and improve understanding. We need the military strength to deter China or defeat it in case of war, but we should also seek to defuse tensions through confidence and security building measures, and other efforts toward transparency. Our own military leaders – in particular Admiral Fallon, when he headed the Pacific Command – have sought to increase military ties.

It’s time to partner with China on common international problems.
We work together now on important issues like North Korea, and we could do so more on proliferation of deadly weapons, international humanitarian assistance, global health, poverty alleviation, failed or failing states, and energy security and climate change.

We must ensure that a military conflict across the Taiwan Strait never arises.
The U.S. should maintain good relations with both China and Taiwan and maintain our “One China” policy, which makes absolutely clear that we expect China and Taiwan to resolve their differences peacefully, that any solution must be acceptable to the people on both sides of the Strait and arrived at without coercion, and that we will live up to our commitments.

Americans, in government and out, need to know more about China.
As we have done with great-powers like the Soviet Union, we should invest in training our people in Chinese language, culture, history and current events – from elementary school to post-graduate fellowships. We urgently need expanded China expertise in the State Department, the military and Congress.

The Conservative Record

The Bush Administration’s policies have thrown our economy out of whack, creating massive fiscal imbalances that endanger America. The Administration has failed to keep our fiscal house in order. Rising trade deficits and growing debt caused by the Administration’s fiscal irresponsibility have left America’s economy dangerously exposed.

The Bush Administration has gutted the regulatory agencies that protect American consumers.
It’s hard to tell China to improve product safety when our Consumer Products Safety Commission has half the staff it had 20 years ago, and just 15 inspectors for all consumer products imported into the U.S. The Bush Administration has relied heavily upon corporations to police themselves – and this approach has failed.

The Bush Administration has failed to defend our economic interests or make any substantial progress in our relationship with China.
China’s currency and trade imbalance, its human rights record, its support for dictators in Zimbabwe and Sudan – on all these all key issues, the Bush Administration has little or nothing to show after seven years in office.

Fear-mongering over China’s military buildup has done more harm than good.
Adopting a hostile posture, or building up our military forces as if war with China were imminent or inevitable, is in many ways a self-fulfilling prophecy. If the U.S. adopts a hostile approach, China will respond in kind and build up its own forces more rapidly. This could lead to an arms race that will result in escalating tension, a new Cold War, or even military conflict. We can be clear-eyed about the challenge, and sensible about how to manage it.

The Bush Administration has failed to match China’s engagement with the developing world.
China has reached out to poorer countries, offering trade and aid to unpleasant regimes, improving its image, while America’s image has suffered, undermining our influence.