On February 25, the U.S.-China Policy Foundation hosted a panel discussion and luncheon marking the twentieth anniversary of the normalization of U.S.-China ties—"U.S.-China Relations Since 1979: Retrospect and Prospects."
Stanley Roth, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, and Alexander Haig, Jr. a former Secretary of State, were the keynote speakers at the luncheon.
During his speech, Roth outlined areas of U.S.-China strategic cooperation and gave his own thoughts on the future of the relationship. He said the caliber of China and America’s strategic cooperation has improved substantially. This cooperation has been demonstrated in South Asia, where both nations have sought to roll back escalating tensions on the Indian subcontinent, and in North Korea. China worked closely with the United States to bring Pyongyang to the negotiating table and Beijing and Washington have become "partners in the promotion of peace and stability in the Korean peninsula." Roth said as the United States and China move towards a constructive strategic partnership, the challenge is to broaden the areas in which both nations can find common cause and to set up a mechanism for moving from shared interests to joint action.
He added that while discussion of areas for strategic cooperation has lately been focused on South Asia and the Korean Peninsula "in reality our shared interests far transcend these two flash points." He noted a "convergence of U.S. and Chinese interests" in the Persian Gulf, where Beijing’s privileged relationships with Gulf States might not be enough to guarantee China’s future energy needs. He admitted that even as the United States and China find new ways to move forward with strategic cooperation, they will need to make progress in resolving difficult problems such as human rights and trade. He said the Clinton Administration was deeply concerned about the recent arrests and prosecution of prominent democracy advocates. Roth added that the resumption of political reform in Beijing was a necessary precondition for successful modernization.
According to Roth, establishing a more balanced trading relationship is a key issue in bilateral relations. He asserted that for a politically and economically sustainable trading relationship to be developed, China would have to amend its restrictive trade practices and provide U.S. firms increased access to its market. He commented, "The most prudent way to make this happen is to get China into the WTO on a sound, commercially viable basis."
Shortly following Roth’s remarks, General Haig outlined the history of U.S.-China relations and offered some comments on the future of the relationship. He pointed out that United States-China relations have fluctuated over the past twenty-seven years, but he warned that "This year in some respects threats to good relations have become especially ominous as the political witching season commences and legislative objectivity in our capital threatens to fall victim to petty domestic politics."
Haig, who coordinated preparations for President Richard Nixon’s landmark visit to China in 1972, balanced a call for Beijing’s restraint towards Taiwan with a plea that the United States not overstate the so-called China threat. He called an idea to include Taiwan in an Asian missile defense shield "a mistake," but warned that China must restrain its "military enthusiasm" on the Taiwan issue for risk of further alienating Congress.
Haig maintained that militarily China is not a great threat to the United States. He pointed out that U.S. military expenditures dwarf those of China and cited a 1996 Department of Defense study which showed that the U.S. and China’s military gap continues to grow. In addition, "Notwithstanding reports and soon-to-be released reports, China is committed to non-proliferation and acceding to non-proliferation and chemical weapons conventions and has expressed its willingness to abide by the missile control regime."
Haig asserted that China has not been given enough credit for its efforts to secure regional peace through the Four-Party talks on the Korean peninsula and as a dialogue partner with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Beijing also assisted its Asian neighbors "at some cost" by not devaluing its yuan currency when the region was hit by economic turmoil.
The morning panel speakers were former foreign service officers William Gleysteen, Donald Anderson, and John Holdridge. Yu Enguang, a visitor from the China International and Cultural Exchange Center and member of the National People’s Congress, gave a paper.
Gleysteen noted the difficulties American policymakers have had in determining good China policy and discussed how the U.S. might steer a steadier course in U.S.-China relations—one appropriate to the twenty-first century and its huge interests in China.
Gleysteen said that U.S. policy towards China often reflects American domestic politics and the media portrays issues in misleading black and white terms. He also noted that topics such as human rights are highly subjective and rhetorically questioned where our priorities lie. He asked whether the setting up of an opposition party in China is a human rights priority and suggested that other issues such as reform of the legal system may be of greater importance to the lives of millions of Chinese.
He also discussed the issue of Taiwan. While Deng Xiaoping once said that China "can be patient" in regard to the issue of Taiwan, Gleysteen noted that this comment assumed that Taiwan would not change. However, in the past three decades much has changed. Tumultuous democratic politics in Taiwan are particularly worrisome to China. Gleysteen pointed out poor U.S. action on this sensitive issue, such as that taken during the 1996 visit of Taiwan President Li Teng-hui to the United States, could intensify the problem. He said that patience and proper handling of the situation are key to resolving it.
Anderson concentrated on the economic side of the U.S.-China relationship, discussing such topics as state-owned enterprise (SOE) reform and banking reform, both critical to the future of China and the future development of U.S.-China relations. He noted that there have been small but significant amounts of labor unrest due to SOE reform. The Chinese leadership is watching carefully since the SOE sector is the most important source of jobs, Anderson said.
Anderson also noted that, in the more than 20 years of economic reform under Deng, there has been a great increase in average income level and literacy. At the same time, trade between the United States and China has also increased rapidly.
Holdridge commented that we must bear in mind that peace in the Pacific depends on a working U.S.-China relationship, and the U.S. must take a realistic approach to that relationship.
Yu said that in the post-Cold War world, the two nations still share a wide range of common interests. He remarked that the U.S.-China relationship was one of the most important bilateral relationships of the twenty-first century and urged that it be improved. He said that the issues must be not be considered from the point of view of the national interest of one country, but of both, "from angles of equality and mutual benefit."