America needs a China strategy

More debate on China, this time from Tom Manning, a senior partner with Bain, a global consulting firm, and a long-time resident of Hong Kong.

He is worth quoting at length here:

In all these matters, the U.S. tendency has been to flip-flop between treating China as friend and foe. Our actions defy coherent categorization. Do we treat China as a full partner? Rarely. Do we treat China as a competitor? Sometimes. Are we confident about how to act? Almost never. Not much of a policy. The U.S. has been lucky that more crises, economic or political, have not materialized while it has been occupied with Iraq.

Recently, Washington demonstrated resolve by avoiding pressures to erect trade barriers against China. But the lack of a long-term strategy virtually guarantees that some future decision will fall the other way.

The U.S. needs to figure out how its relationship with China can develop greater stability, trust and partnership. No future administration will succeed without a well-conceived game plan.

It’s time to transcend the paranoia of the past and establish a forward-looking view of how China can contribute to the global economy and political landscape.

China’s rise in global stature will occur with or without a supportive America. So it behooves the United States to be involved in whatever manner possible.

The next administration should take three steps to fill this policy void:

The United States should develop a bold, long-term vision for the U.S.-China relationship. It should articulate goals of cooperation and partnership and move decisively away from the stale policies of isolation, containment and mere engagement. The United States should revise its foreign policy in Asia to incorporate China’s leadership role. Already feeling that influence, Asian nations are reshaping their economic and foreign policies to address the reality of a regional superpower. The United States must do the same. China’s assistance in addressing the North Korea issue provides validation for this policy update. Future regional economic difficulties or terror attacks could raise the need even more.

The United States should clarify recent policy with regard to pre-emptive action, which undermines the development of collaboration with other nations and lowers respect for America.

This policy revision does not mean abdicating the U.S. right to protection, defense or security. By regaining respect as a nation that places the common good above its own interests, however, we can earn much-needed trust from the Chinese, render our intentions less suspect and make our impact more meaningful. The United States and China can have a far better impact on the world by working together rather than apart.

Hmm. This leaves me somewhat perturbed. How should US policy proceed for the incoming Presidency?

2 thoughts on “America needs a China strategy”

  1. That depends on if Bush wins again of course. I think he will – and while the China situation arguably requires more attention, I’m afraid that it simply won’t get the attention it needs therefore creating an even larger problem for the next President.
    If Bush loses however, I’m not so sure there will be a focus there either. Who knows what Kerry will do. My guess is that he’ll end up sending more troops to Iraq to quell the situation once and for all (if that’s even possible) and won’t turn his attention elsewhere until two to three years into his term.
    It certainly feels like a losing situation – either Kerry will be in reactive mode because of Bush, or Bush will simply continue on down his path of arrogance.

  2. Gavin, thanks for the interesting post. China is one of the countries on the UN Security Council that is blocking action on Sudan. China has huge oil interests in Sudan – there are no Chinese oil companies, the Chinese government itself owns the interests.

    The other countries on the Council blocking action are Russia, Pakistan and Algeria. India has just done some huge deals with Sudan where its laying two new oil pipelines. Russia has just delivered (several months early at the request of Khartoum) the final part of an order for 12 MiG fighter jets.

    I’ve kept an eye out for these countries to see what, if anything, they’ve contributed towards humanitarian aid for Sudan but found nothing. Surely it would be a good to get these countries on an equal footing with the rest of the West on human rights and environmental issues. That way, it would cover a whole variety of issues ranging from terrorism to war to exploiting world resources and combatting pollution. And, as far as China goes, do something about Tibet.

    I’d be interested in reading more of your thoughts on the countries and issues I have mentioned. And what is France’s problem – does the French government reflect the views of the people? They come across as extremely selfish, unfriendly and unhelpful to everyone else except themselves. Doy they know this?

    Apologies to any French readers here for going off on this vent – but I can’t find anything on what ordinary every day French people are saying about the Sudan crisis – or the oil companies that are exploiting Sudan’s resources while humans are being slaughtered all around – so I only have the French government to go by and what they are saying. The French have troops in the surrounding regions. And Mirages in the air (what are they still doing there?)

    PS My feelings are that Bush and Blair will win another term in office. Bush has been working closely with Sudan for quite some time now to help with making the Peace Accords a reality. So he knows what happens when China gets its way on blocking something – that the US wants to do – on the UN Security Council: what can be done about it if relations aren’t that strong? Like I said, good post – thanks.

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