Campaign 2000: The Candidates Speak Out on China

What do the 2000 Presidential Elections mean for U.S.-China relations? Despite the heated debate in Congressional circles over permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) and the Taiwan Security Enhancement Act, China Policy has not surfaced as a major issue in the presidential campaign. As usual, the election race has kept a focus on domestic issues. Taking a closer look, however, it is easy to see that the Democratic and Republican candidates have differing views of the future of U.S.-China relations. Consequently, the upcoming elections could have a noticeable impact on U.S. policy in East Asia. Here is what the candidates have to say with regard to China:

Vice President Al Gore, the Democratic Party candidate for president, has followed the Clinton Administration’s views on relations with China. He has been an advocate of allowing China to enter the World Trade Organization (WTO) and stated in March that he would "be aggressive and forward leaning in urging Congress to pass the China/WTO legislation." Like President Clinton, Gore has made engagement and trade with China a higher priority than social issues such as the use of child labor and the disregard for religious freedom in China which have been condemned by various international organizations and labor unions in the U.S. However, Gore has vowed to include labor, human rights, and environmental provisions in future trade agreements with China. With regards to defending Taiwan, Gore emphasized the importance of using words which would not "embolden the hotheads or hard-liners on either side of the Taiwan Straits." He has further suggested that there are some types of missile defense systems that should not be built in order to safeguard the tenuous relationship between the U.S., Taiwan and China.

Republican Party candidate George W. Bush has made it clear that if elected president, his stance towards China would differ from his predecessor’s policies. Like Clinton and Gore, Bush supports China’s entry into the WTO, saying that it will help American farmers and saying that "Trade will open a window to the free world for the people of China." Bush, however, is still wary of China, and he views China as a "strategic competitor," rejecting President Clinton’s earlier statement that China is a "strategic partner" of the U.S. Bush would be likely to lend greater support to Taiwan as well, which would further strain the relationship between the U.S. and China. He supports Taiwan’s entry into the WTO at the same time China becomes a member. While rejecting the idea of committing U.S. troops to defend Taiwan, Bush has also said that if China attacks Taiwan, the U.S. will help Taiwan to defend itself. This differs from the policy of "strategic ambiguity" of previous administrations that have said that the U.S. cannot be certain how it will react to an attack on Taiwan. Bush’s support of Taiwan, as well as his advocacy of the use of theater missile defenses in East Asia, could make Sino-U.S. relations more strained if he is elected president in November.

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