This month, the People’s Republic of China is commemorating its 50th anniversary. So, China has recently been in the news and has been on the minds of policymakers and political academics alike (Orville Schell, America’s foremost China scholar, will in fact be here at Williams on October 11 to discuss China’s future)
In light of the PRC’s anniversary and the many China-related scandals that have plagued Washington, there has been much discussion as to how the United States should deal with China. Our relationship with China is complex and very difficult to analyze because there are so many different issues on which we must deal with on China, from Tibet to trade.
Those that believe America should not worry about China and just trade with them are just as wrong as the China-bashers on the right whose xenophobic belligerence is threatening and insulting. American policy toward China must be twofold: we must take into account China’s culture and internal political structure, while at the same time keeping them at bay. The balance between the two can be tricky, but it is the only solution that can be applied to the myriad of issues and points of contention our two nations have. The most important issues facing the Sino-American relationship are those of trade, human rights and military matters.
China has 1.2 billion people, the world’s largest market (and a virtually untapped one). Imagine the economic possibilities. The prospect of getting 1.2 billion people hooked on Marlboro Lights, surfing the net on iMac’s and drinking Frapuccinos makes American multinationals and officials drool. Americans can make much money in China, so out of its own self-interest, the United States needs to open up China’s economy to the world. By doing this, America can not only make billions of dollars, but also expose China, putting a big check on the dangers China could cause if it were wallowing in isolation, not under the world’s watchful eye and influence.
China, though, is a developing country and is in a desperate rush to modernize economically. It needs and wants American/Western know-how and capital to help fuel its dream of a more economically advanced society. Trade is important, but when necessary we can temporarily afford to yield to other issues, like human rights, ahead of trade prospects in China.
Unfortunately, China is guilty of egregious and unspeakable human rights violations against its own people, complicating Sino-American interactions. America must continue and intensify its pressure on China to change its ways. The United States cannot tolerate the mass executions, mass infanticide, religious persecution, anti-intellectual censorship and state-sponsored torture that occur daily throughout China – the United States has a moral obligation to act against Chinese human rights abuses. For example, in retaliation of the recent outlawing of the Falun-Gong religious group, the United States could’ve slapped a tariff and/or restricted Chinese commercial air travel to America until China reversed or altered extensively its policy.
At the same time Americans need to be sensitive and aware of Chinese cultural differences. After all, the Chinese could criticize us for not providing basic health care as a right to all of our people, because in China free, comprehensive health care is a right one has from birth. So, we must keep in mind our different cultural priorities.
One particular human rights issue that Americans must confront is Chinese occupation of Tibet. China has treated Tibet with shocking disrespect and horrific terror. Tibet is ethnically, culturally and religiously distinct from any other “part” of China, and it had been a staunchly independent and peaceful country for centuries. China’s rape of Tibet must end; the PRC massacred 1 million Tibetans and exiled the legitimate government of the Dalai Lama. The United States has a moral obligation to support Tibetan aspirations for a return to independence and freedom from the yoke of Chinese oppression.
Taiwan, which China has always claimed is a “renegade province,” is another issue the United States cannot ignore. If it is so important to China’s dictatorship that Taiwan come under their authority, then why hasn’t it already been taken back? The world’s most populous country could certainly seize a little island off its coast. China hasn’t done this, because it probably realizes that the West would react with violent opposition (at least, one would hope so).
Taiwan has been on its own for 50 years and has developed into a prosperous and peaceful nation-state, giving it a distinct identity from the rest of China. Taiwan has earned the right to have its independence recognized by the world. America is transgressing its values and traditions by not granting a capitalist democracy recognition of its independence simply because a communist dictatorship doesn’t want it to.
China’s military potential is another serious point of contention; many Americans, especially those on the far right, are afraid of China’s seemingly militaristic overtures. America should always keep a suspicious eye on China, as it would on any authoritarian nation. The United States also needs to make sure China obeys important international guidelines, such as the ban on nuclear testing.
Despite all this, China’s military, especially its nuclear program, is ancient by Western standards. Look at it from China’s perspective: the United States has 10,000 state-of-the-art nuclear warheads that can reach anywhere in the world, while China has ten. America is the only country that regularly sends people into space and can land probes on Jupiter. China, on the other hand, has difficulty getting a basic small satellite into space. The United States has stealth bombers; China’s air fleet is primarily based on ’70s technology. America has international legitimacy and political capital that allows it to involve itself in places like the Balkans; China has no such recognition. So, as China sees it, America is more the threat.
I’m not advocating America’s writing off China’s military. America should keep a close eye on it and make sure it doesn’t advance too much too quickly, but not constantly dwell on it.
Some may see some of these thoughts on US policy to China contradictory. One thing to remember, though, is China needs us more than we need them. Sure, they’ve got 1.2 billion potential Dawson’s Creek viewers, but America already is the richest country in the world, and can afford to compromise trade with them to attain important goals. We dramatically surpass China on all fronts except population. Consequently, we can afford to be tough when it is absolutely necessary.
We want to sell our goods and products to the Chinese, but we also want China to respect basic human rights and we want to keep them in check militarily. Thus, we have no choice but to make our policy toward China be a blend of containment and engagement; call it engaged containment.