John Pomfret examines the remarkable history of the two-centuries-old relationship between the United States and China, from the Revolutionary War to the present day.
Anthony Blinken, “U.S.-China Relations: Strategic Challenges and Opportunities,” April 27, 2016
Mr. Chairman, thank you very much. Members of the Committee, thank you. It is very good to be back before this Committee and have the opportunity to discuss our relationship with China, which as you have outlined very well, Mr. Chairman, is complicated indeed.
I just got back this past weekend from what was my sixth visit to the Asia-Pacific in a little over a year. I have seen with each trip that the rebalance efforts we have been making to Asia have in fact advanced our interests and helped shape Asia’s upward trajectory by bolstering our alliances, building new partnerships with emerging countries, strengthening regional institutions and rule of law, advancing our economic ties, and engaging with China.
I am pleased to discuss this last pillar of our rebalance with you today. Secretary Kerry has called our relationship with China our “most consequential” relationship. And it is indeed crucial that we try to get it right.
The approach that we’ve taken to China seeks to do three things: broaden and deepen practical cooperation on issues of shared concern; it directly confronts and then tries to resolve or narrow our differences wherever we can; and where we can’t to manage those differences peaceably.
Over the past year, we believe we have seen real progress on important issues that do advance our interests.
The relationship that we have been working on with China paved the way for a landmark joint announcement on climate change that galvanized the international community to reach a global climate agreement in Paris last December and sign it in New York just last week.
We engaged China in the global response to Ebola with positive effect.
We grounded our work together to craft a deal that prevents Iran from developing a nuclear weapon far into the future.
We produced new confidence-building measures between our militaries, and we sparked growing collaboration to meet development challenges from Afghanistan to Sierra Leone.
From top to bottom, this Administration has worked to expand and deepen our diplomatic, military, economic, and people-to-people links with China.
Since the President took office, our exports to China have nearly doubled, and China is now the largest market for American-made goods outside of North America. It is also one of the top markets for U.S. agricultural exports and a large and growing market for U.S. services.
These efforts to deepen bilateral ties have been designed to turn a challenging rivalry into healthy competition and to try break out of a zero-sum thinking on both sides.
We have seen results of this approach in our collaboration on some of the most difficult issues, including most recently North Korea and the provocative, destabilizing, and internationally unlawful actions it continues to take to advance its proscribed missile and nuclear programs.
While we have taken significant steps to make it more difficult for North Korea to acquire technology and equipment for those programs or the resources to pay for them, the fact remains that their development continues. As a result, they get closer to the day when they have the capacity to strike at our allies, at our partners, and at the United States with a ballistic missile armed with a miniaturized nuclear warhead. That is simply unacceptable. This threat—combined with an inexperienced leader who acts rashly—makes it an urgent priority not only for us but increasingly for China.
While the United States and China share an interest in ensuring that North Korea does not retain a nuclear weapons capability, we have not always agreed on the best way to reach that objective.
But in the last few months we have worked together to draft and pass the toughest UN Security Council Resolution in a generation to try to compel the leadership of the DPRK to rethink its pursuit of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.
If fully and effectively implemented, UNSCR 2270 will significantly reduce the North Korean regime’s ability to procure, pay for, or produce weapons of mass destruction and will challenge the calculus of the leadership in North Korea. But I want to emphasize only if it is fully and effectively implemented.
As North Korea’s largest trading partner China has unique leverage. We welcomed President Xi’s commitment at the Nuclear Security Summit earlier this month to fully implement the Security Council Resolution. It is too early to draw firm conclusions about China’s enforcement, but there are some early trade restrictions that China has imposed that suggest China is committed to following through on implementation of the resolution that it look the lead on producing at the UN. But the jury remains out.
We have encouraged China to contribute more—to apply its significant capabilities as a rising economic and political power responsibly in order to help meet practical needs in the international community, from wildlife trafficking to public health.
We have also seen China step up in a meaningful way to the challenge of conflict in fragile countries. In Afghanistan, we joined together—the United States and China—with Afghanistan and Pakistan to form something called the Quadrilateral Coordination Group on the Afghan peace and reconciliation process.
And the 2015 UN Leaders’ Summit on Peacekeeping, President Xi announced a new Chinese peacekeeping rapid response standby force, training for peacekeepers from other countries, and $100 million for the African Union’s peacekeeping operations. China contributes more troops and police to peacekeeping missions than any other member of the Permanent-5 members of the Security Council and is their second largest funder.
Of course, even as we try to build cooperation with China, we are directly engaging our significant differences with a goal to resolving or narrowing them while preventing conflict. Significant areas of difference remain around China’s assertive and provocative behavior in the South China Sea, its conduct in cyberspace, its denial of internationally recognized human rights and fundamental freedoms to its own citizens.
We are, of course, not a claimant to the territorial and maritime disputes in the South China Sea, but we have a clear national interest in the way those claims are pursued—to include upholding freedom of navigation, respect for international law, and the peaceful resolution of disputes. And our alliance commitments remain iron-clad.
We oppose the use of force or the threat to use force to try to advance maritime or territorial claims, and we call on all parties in the South China Sea—not just China—to resolve disputes in a peaceful manner. These issues should be decided on the merits of China’s and other claimants’ legal claims and adherence to international law and standards, not the strength of their militaries or law enforcement ships or the size of their economies.
For years, we clashed with China over our opposition to cyber-enabled theft for commercial gain by state actors. We persisted in engaging China on that issue. In the lead up to President Xi’s visit last fall, China and the United States agreed to an unprecedented set of cyber commitments including an agreement that neither government will conduct or knowingly support cyber-enabled economic espionage for commercial gain. We are watching very closely to ensure this commitment is followed by action.
We remain concerned about recent moves by China that reduce space for free expression, including a raft of new domestic legislation that, if enacted as drafted, could shrink space for civil society and academia, inhibit U.S. business activities, and result in further rights abuses.
We are alarmed by the ongoing crackdown on lawyers, religious adherents, and civil society leaders and by growing attempts to restrict internationally recognized fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of expression. We are deeply troubled by China’s willingness to threaten journalists with expulsion or the non-renewal of their visas as a tool to influence their reporting.
The President, Secretary Kerry, and others regularly raise individual cases and systemic concerns with China. We will continue to reinforce the message that protecting human rights and the fundamental freedoms of association, peaceful assembly, religion, and expression, and respecting the rights of members of minorities, will make China more stable, more secure, and more prosperous.
Mr. Chairman, for seven decades now and as you have noted, the United States has invested in a system of international institutions, principles, and norms designed to protect the right of all nations to pursue their interests, irrespective of their size or strength. This international architecture has created a foundation of peace and stability that has unlocked a period of unprecedented economic growth, nowhere more so than in East Asia. It has not only benefited the United States. It has benefited China and all the countries in the region. It is our shared interests to see that these standards are strengthened, not undermined.
We have shown our readiness to welcome China as a global leader and responsible advocate for the international order. We want China as our partner in many endeavors and believe our nations and the world would undeniably be better for it. But in the end, only China can choose to assume that role and demonstrate the commitment to international law and standards necessary to achieve it.
Thank you very much, and I welcome your questions.
The USC U.S.-China Institute presents a talk by Lenora Chu, whose new book explores what takes place behind closed classroom doors in China's education system. Chu’s eye-opening investigation challenges assumptions and considers the true value and purpose of education.
The USC U.S.-China Institute, USC Pacific Asia Museum, and USC Shoah Foundation present a screening of the film Above the Drowning Sea, the story of the dramatic escape of European Jews from Nazi-controlled Europe to Shanghai on the eve of World War Two. Followed by a panel conversation.