U.S. Relations with China, Both Partnernship and Rivalry

Today our committee held a fascinating hearing on U.S.-China policy featuring Under Secretary Robert Zoellick, the top expert on the topic at the State Department, who has recently done excellent and heartfelt work to help bring peace to the Darfur region of Sudan.

In order to get the conversation rolling, the hearing was titled, "A Resurgent China: Responsible Stakeholder or Robust Rival." To my mind, this presents a false dichotomy. Nearly three decades after we normalized relations, it is self-evident that China is both.

 

Beijing and Washington have a mature, evolving relationship with areas of both conflict and cooperation. But even if our inter-connectedness is assured decisions made in Beijing over the next few months will determine the tenor of our bilateral ties for years to come.

China’s handling of a new Security Council resolution on Iran could well indicate Beijing’s willingness to be a "responsible stakeholder." China must support a strong, tough resolution demanding that Iran verifiably eliminate its nuclear weapons program. If it is unwilling to tackle squarely the Ayatollahs’ nuclear aspirations, this decision will severely damage U.S.-China relations.

The North Korea nuclear issue will also determine whether President Hu receives an official state visit the next time he comes to Washington, or another downgraded official lunch. China has hosted the Six Party Talks and is willing to use some of its economic leverage to force Pyongyang to the table -- both of these are good signs.

On my two visits to North Korea last year, I stopped in Beijing for consultations with senior Chinese leaders. In many respects, the U.S. and China see the North Korea situation in a very similar light – we both seek a non-nuclear Korean Peninsula and are frustrated with the endless prevarications emanating from Pyongyang.

But good intentions and shared goals are not enough. Now that the Six Party Talks are stalled, this is Beijing’s moment to demonstrate that it is an international leader. The flow of non-humanitarian trade and assistance from China to North Korea must end until Pyongyang returns to the bargaining table, ready to give up its nuclear program in exchange for international recognition and assistance.

Cross-Strait relations will be another key factor in the U.S.-China relationship. The U.S., under both Democratic and Republican administrations, has done its part to promote peace by publicly and privately discouraging Taiwan from taking provocative steps towards independence. But the PRC has done little to promote stability.

And we will never have a fully normal relationship with China until there is measurable progress on human rights and religious freedom. Tibet is the perfect example of how Beijing could demonstrate its new role as a "responsible stakeholder." We are pleased that China has held five rounds of discussions with representatives of His Holiness The Dalai Lama regarding the future of Tibet. But the talks have not produced concrete progress, only more talks. Beijing should negotiate a deal that preserves Tibet’s unique cultural and religious heritage while maintaining China’s territorial integrity.

Religious freedom is a right due all Chinese, whether Tibetan, members of the Catholic Church or the Falun Gong spiritual movement.

It’s even more unconscionable that American companies would be willing participants in the systematic denial of human rights in China, but that is exactly the decision made by Google, Microsoft and Yahoo. The executives of these high-tech companies, by turning themselves into Internet censors and email police, have truly lost their moral compass.

Today’s hearing gave us all an opportunity to reflect on the U.S.-China relationship. It need not polarize the foreign policy establishment, for it is too complex to have only one dimension, as our witness today, Secretary Zoellick, so ably demonstrated.

Simply moving FEMA out of the Department of Homeland Security won’t solve its problems.

We’ve done our homework on this and with the input of local authorities and first-responders, it’s clear that putting preparedness back with response, as we do in our bill, will greatly enhance the federal government’s ability to respond to any crisis.