U.S. China Policy

I want to begin by thanking the Chairman and the Committee on Foreign Relations for this opportunity to testify on one of the most critical questions of public policy facing the United States today. Indeed, if the U.S.-Soviet relationship did a great deal to define the last half of the twentieth century, it is quite possible that the relationship between the United States and China will more than any other define the first half of the next century.

What is at stake for the United States is extraordinary in its scale and diversity. Specific U.S. interests include deterring any use of force by China against Taiwan, discouraging Chinese provision of nuclear and missile technology to Iran and others, eliciting diplomatic cooperation vis-a-vis North Korea and within the UN Security Council more broadly, fostering democracy and market reform on the mainland, expanding the opportunity to trade with and invest in what could one day be the world’s largest market, preserving Hong Kong’s market system and its special political status, and encouraging a responsible environmental policy on the part of the country that is home to one out of every six people on the planet.

More generally, the United States has a clear interest in seeing the emergence of a China that is prepared to act with restraint, both beyond its borders and toward its own citizens. History suggests that the emergence of such a China is anything but automatic.

It is possible that the United States might find itself in the position of one day having to contain an expansionist, hostile China. If this happens, so be it. But containing China would surely be costly and dangerous, and vastly inferior to a China that was more responsible and a U.S.-China relationship that was more cooperative. This should be our goal.

It is against this background of U.S. interests and objectives that the proposed “China Policy Act of 1997” needs to be viewed and judged. With only a few exceptions, this legislation appears unlikely to promote what I have presented as U.S. interests and goals. I would even suggest that the proposed law would not even meet its own goals, the overriding one being “to encourage freedom and democracy in the People’s Republic of China and to deter the government of the People’s Republic of China from engaging in activities that are contrary to the national security interests of the United States.”

A detailed critique of the proposed law would require a prohibitive amount of time and space. Let me raise three basic points.

First, I question the proposed approach to human rights matters. Of course, China’s behavior in this realm leaves a great deal to be desired. But a narrow focus on human rights–or making human rights a top U.S. foreign policy priority–is simply a luxury that cannot be justified. There is too much else at stake, including but not limited to developments on the Korean Peninsula where 36,000 U.S. troops remain stationed, to introduce severe human rights-related sanctions that could and would affect the overall relationship.

Second, even if one were to disagree with me and argue that human rights concerns ought to dominate U.S. policy toward China, I would question whether a punitive approach as detailed in the proposed legislation makes sense. Liberalism in China is most likely to be the product of economic growth; this, after all, is the lesson of other countries of the Asia-Pacific region and elsewhere. A thriving middle class will do far more to promote civil society than economic penalties. A policy of economic sanctions will only retard the emergence of what it is we seek.

It is interesting that this hearing is taking place just days after China’s president spoke to the Communist Party Congress in Beijing and indicated his commitment to increasing private ownership of a large percentage of China’s state-owned industrial enterprises. This is to be welcomed, as it will over time bring about changes that will make it less difficult for China to enter the World Trade Organization and more likely that the Communist Party will see its power and control reduced. China is changing for the better; at a minimum we ought to do nothing to interfere. “First do no harm” makes sense for those who would prescribe for American foreign policy.

Third, I worry over the political signal this legislation sends. China is an emerging power. Moreover, there is a widespread sentiment throughout China that the United States stands in its way, that it is U.S. policy to somehow deny China its rightful place in the world. I do not believe this to be the case–we could not prevent China’s rise even if we so desired–but legislation such as this will work to reinforce the impression and therefore make it more not less likely that the Sino-American relationship becomes adversarial.

Consistent with the above, I would take exceptions to several of the proposed sanctions in the legislation. Those that would deny visas to Chinese government officials believed to be guilty of specified human rights violations are unlikely to further U.S. objectives. Meeting with Chinese officials is not some favor we bestow on them; visits are as much in our interest as theirs. Where we have differences, we should use the opportunity created by meetings to make our case. This relationship would benefit from greater interaction, and Chinese officials need more exposure to American and Western culture and thinking, not less.

Mandating that U.S. representatives to multilateral banks vote against all assistance to China is even more problematic. Beyond any constitutional question this provision would raise about congressional interference in the President’s ability to conduct foreign policy, the lack of any waiver and explicit linkage to Chinese behavior would deny the President any leverage. This simply becomes a punitive sanction, one more likely anger the Chinese than promote improved action on their part. By contrast, the targeted sanctions against particular Chinese companies involved in undesirable activities appear both more likely to have a meaningful impact and less likely to cause general offense. As a general rule, though, economic sanctions and export controls toward China or any other country ought to be multilateral in their application.

I also question the wisdom of proposing a U.S.-Taiwan initiative on Theater Missile Defense. I say this not because I oppose TMD for the area–to the contrary, I favor it wholeheartedly given the presence of U.S. forces throughout the region and existing North Korean and Chinese missile capabilities–but I worry that casting this initiative as a U.S.-Taiwan effort will only intensify Chinese opposition and make it more difficult for countries such as Japan and South Korea to work with us.

I do not want to leave the impression that there is nothing in this legislation that I endorse. In addition to many of its objectives, I applaud the call to increase resources devoted to cultural, educational and legislative exchanges as well as to the National Endowment for Democracy. I also agree with several of the sentiments expressed, in particular the call for maintaining a serious U.S. military presence in the region.

I thus close by where I began, by endorsing much of what this legislation purports to seek but questioning both its necessity and desirability. What is good about the bill can be preserved; Congress has other vehicles to express its sentiments and to expand exchanges and, if it so desires, radio broadcasting. But both the whole of the legislation and many of its parts would detract from what it is we desire, which is an open and responsible China that becomes more our partner than either our competitor or adversary.

Thank you again for this opportunity to testify.