A Way Ahead with China: Steering the Right Course for the Middle Kingdom
|March 31 2011|
China is now the world’s second largest economy and enjoys an increasingly wealthy and educated population of 1.3 billion. Its rising influence prompts varied reactions in America. Some are quick to encourage a strong embrace of China’s emergence on the world stage; others wish to cast it as the villain in a recreated Cold War dynamic.
The U.S. and Chinese governments only resumed diplomatic relations 30 years ago, and both countries have worked to further that relationship since, although not without strains and challenges. There are certainly issues on which the U.S. and China hold widely disparate views, but increasingly the two nations have made progress together on many fronts. Today, the changing and evolving U.S./China relationship demands a practical strategy. Both the U.S. and China can benefit from closer ties and increasing trust.
President Nixon stated in remarks during that visit: “We, of course, are under no illusions that 20 years of hostility between the People’s Republic of China and the United States of America are going to be swept away by one week of talks that we will have there. But…the American people are a great people. The Chinese people are a great people.
The fact that they are separated by a vast ocean and great differences in philosophy should not prevent them from finding common ground. As we look to the future, we must recognize that the Government of the People’s Republic of China and the Government of the United States have had great differences. We will have differences in the future. But what we must do is to find a way to see that we can have differences without being enemies in war. If we can make progress toward that goal on this trip, the world will be a much safer world and the chance particularly for all of those young children over there to grow up in a world of peace will be infinitely greater.”
Nixon’s conciliatory sentiment and his recognition of the significant differences and hurdles that the U.S. and China faced have been seen in the courses followed by both countries and their governments since that visit. Continued normalization—and a deepening and further intertwining of U.S./China relations—has been the goal of the seven presidential administrations and four decades that have ensued. The diplomatic relationship has been formalized and further solidified through negotiations, strategic communiqués, and additional symbolic actions. However, opportunities for cooperation and collaboration could extend further.
Independently, both the U.S. and China have undergone periods of massive change, progress and development to become the world’s first and second strongest economies, respectively. Despite the relatively robust state of these individual societies and their mutual diplomatic bonds, these decades have also been marked by periods of great stress. Beyond isolated and identifiable instances of diplomatic tension—such as the Taiwan Strait Crisis or the Hainan incident— there is a fundamental difference in world view and political philosophy that also underpins the diplomatic relationship, frequently serves as a point of contention, and possibly plants lingering seeds of distrust.
Experts and diplomats from both countries seem to think that the U.S./Chinese relationship is sustainable and the challenges navigable. Outlined below are the major recommendations proposed by Admiral Prueher and his roundtable participants for continuing to steer a good course with China.
These recommendations would serve to continue building U.S./China relations based on the following qualities:
They would ensure that the interests of both countries are met and their
2. We should take a fresh look at Taiwan. The United States takes a somewhat protectionist stance with Taiwan historically. However, Taiwan is now an economically successful democratic institution that is slowly tending towards greater alignment with the Mainland. Our involvement with Taiwan is a frequent point of contention with the Chinese, particularly in respect to arms sales, and one that should be re-examined. The complex relationship is political and should be re-examined outside of a military context.
3. The U.S. and China should conduct negotiations as equals. Both countries are major sovereign players on the world stage. Both should come to the table with an attitude of collaboration, instead of an adversarial one based around counter demands and ultimatums. A solution-based attitude of respect and deference—instead of acrimony—should be adopted in these discussions.
4. Create structured communications. China and the U.S.—both on a government and citizen level—should be able to interact with one another. Our U.S. schools should work to improve language skills in Mandarin to match Chinese efforts and foster greater cultural understanding and exchange. More structured diplomatic and quasi-official dialogues should be promoted.
5. Build habits of cooperation to promote understanding. China should not be viewed as a Communist “other” in the minds of the American people. A relationship built on that mischaracterization—and one that does not recognize the pragmatism and strength of China’s society as uniquely “Chinese”—will not build bridges of trust built on common interests. Instead, discussion with the Chinese must be viewed in light of common problems and opportunities to benefit not only U.S. and China, but also our neighbors.
6. Encourage greater economic Integration. As our countries become increasingly economically dependent, our national interests also begin to align more fully. We must be vigilant that increasing investments comport with the WTO standards to which we adhere. Although foreign direct investment (FDI) serves our economic interests by returning capital and operating revenues to the United States, that FDI must include a mutually updated system of trade.
The relationship with China is ever-changing and evolving, but the U.S. desire for diplomacy, collaboration and continued friendship is evident still in President Obama’s welcoming remarks to President Hu Jintao, on the occasion of his state visit to Washington earlier this year.
President Obama remarked: “We can learn from our people. Chinese and American students and educators, business people, tourists, researchers and scientists, including Chinese Americans who are here today—they work together and make progress together every single day. They know that even as our nations compete in some areas, we can cooperate in so many others, in a spirit of mutual respect, for our mutual benefit…. There are still great possibilities for cooperation between our countries. President Hu, members of the Chinese delegation, let us seize these possibilities together.” By steering the correct course, there are many possibilities—military, economic, cultural, diplomatic—that can be seized.
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