US-China Relations: How China became the dominant party

By He Qinglian on June 25, 2015
Source article in Chinese: 中美关系,谁更能战斗在“伙伴”心脏里 

The seventh round of U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue started when the relationship between the two countries is at the tipping point. Statements from both sides underscored the respective characteristics of their foreign policy: U.S. policy toward China is unstable, whereas China's US policy shows considerable signs of consistency and continuity.

US & China's foreign policy shaped by respective political institutions

As Washington grows increasingly uncomfortable with Beijing, three opinions on how the US policy toward China might be adjusted have emerged.

The military and the hawks in the foreign policy circle suggest that, aside from maintaining an absolute military advantage over China, economic tools that were used to contain the Soviet Union during the Cold War could be put to use. For instance, they suggested tightening restriction on technology export and initiating trade arrangements that exclude China.

The second viewpoint, the exact opposite of the first, is that Washington should try find the new norm of its relationship with Beijing.

And the third, a continuation of U.S. policy toward China since the Bill Clinton administration, is the idea that the two sides should foster mutual trust through cooperation projects, an approach that could help make America's China policy consistent.

However, all three suggestions have their oppositions; and Barack Obama, in the remainder of his last term, has no time to make adjustment on this matter. No one can tell which of the three opinions would become the mainstream idea today as the next President of the U.S. has yet to be decided by voters.
In comparison, China’s policy toward the U.S. is relatively consistent, and hasn’t gone through any major changes since Reform and Opening Up under Deng Xiaoping.

The directions of China’s U.S. policy are as follows: in terms of economy, the U.S. is an important economic cooperative partner; in terms of politics and ideology, though, America and the universal values are seen as enemies, propaganda inside China still clings on to the rhetoric during the Mao era that portrays the United States as plotting to bring about China’s demise, albeit a more subtle version is used. And when it comes to foreign policy, the United States is listed as the most predominant target with which China seeks to work together in a friendly manner.

Self-contradictory as these views are, the Communist Party is able to execute them all. Every year, the U.S. routinely criticizes China for its human rights violations, and the Foreign Ministry of China routinely issues statements in response. Both sides see these actions as mere rituals and no one takes them seriously.

At times when Beijing considers the United States to have threatened the “core interests” of China, it would address it by openly issuing tough foreign policy statements and secretly try to work around it using flexible means.

This difference is determined by the political institutions in the two countries.

The United States, being a democratic country where bipartisanship is in practice and with each of its Presidents, serving two consecutive terms at most, harboring his or her own considerations regarding China, is bound to change its China policy from time to time.

For example, former President George W. Bush didn’t like Communist China and yet had to cooperate with the country in the counter-terrorism drive after September 11. Barack Obama, on the other hand, didn’t share his predecessor’s disliking of China and, after he won the election, asked the EastWest Institute in New York to help formulate U.S. policy toward China. The Institute invited the Center of China-U.S. Relations Studies at the China Institute of International Studies to help draft it by listing out China’s expectations.

Such a move was unprecedented in the history of the United States, and it was like the U.S. asking China to specify how America should get on with China to make it feel pleased. And China did come up with what it wanted from the U.S.: a partnership in economy, counter-terrorism, non-proliferation, green and trans-Pacific matters; it also wanted the U.S. to relinquish its value-based diplomacy and honor Beijing’s “core interest”: the Communist Party’s position as the governing party in the Party-state of China.

It was until after a series of uncomfortable incidents in U.S.-China relations took place that Obama adjusted his approach to some degrees.

Beijing enters the U.S. making use of America’s openness

Without doubts, China and the United States have been working to strengthen their ties ever since China initiated the Reform and Opening Up policy. However, China sets in place far more restrictions than America does in their exchanges.

In the 1990s, international exchanges were classified into four categories. First, there are exchanges between governments; second, exchanges between NGOs and private organizations; third, cultural exchanges between academic or education institutes and the like; and fourth, individual exchanges.

However, what democratic countries didn’t realize was that, while the second through the fourth types of exchanges would more likely be on equal footing among countries of the same institution, such exchanges could easily be manipulated when they are between authoritarian and democratic countries.

In the case of China, NGOs from other countries have to accept many restrictions if they are to open offices in China whereas China can freely set up any organizations in other countries, because that’s a right enshrined in law.

Similarly, foreign media outlets have to accept many restrictions if they want to do report in China, while Chinese media outlets can do wherever they want to in other countries. Below is more examples of inequality in exchanges between China and America.

To begin with, the U.S. is more open to Chinese media outlets than China to those from America. Seeing Chinese media outlets, Chinese schools and Chinese communities as three key tools in overseas united front maneuvers, the Chinese government has directly or indirectly funded numerous Chinese schools and communities; brought the vast majority of Chinese media outlets into the system of Great External Propaganda. In addition, news reports from Xinhua and the People’s Daily can freely transmit 24/7 in the U.S.

By comparison, foreign media outlets enjoy much less freedom in China than their Chinese counterparts in their own countries. Foreign journalists have to endure all kinds of restrictions and hostile treatments when they report in China, as documented in the FCCC's China Annual Working Conditions Report. In recent years, the Report used words such as "deteriorates" and "worsened" when it described the interference, harassment and physical violence foreign correspondents experienced when they conducted reports in China.

Second, China's attitude toward American private organizations inside China differs significantly from America's attitude toward the Chinese ones in the U.S. Scarcely any organizations from the U.S. (and the E.U.) are allowed to operate in China, except for a handful like the U.S.-China Chamber of Commerce (USCCC).Yet mainland Chinese can set up communities all across the United States, student associations formed by students from China appear in many universities in America, and in China Towns in major U.S. cities are countless Chinese societies through which Chinese embassies freely organize all kinds of political activities.

What American NGOs are subjected to in China is a story completely different from their Chinese counterparts in the U.S. Seen by the Chinese authorities as tools that the U.S. uses to initiate a color revolution in China, American NGOs face huge pressure in China. This year, the Chinese authorities even announced to set up Party Branch Offices in foreign NGOs in China.

The inequality in political lobbying

According to the law in the P.R.C., no other countries are allowed to lobby in China. Yet in the U.S., lobby is a legal political activity. In the north of Washington, D.C. lies a K Street that is “known as a center for numerous think tanks, lobbyists, and advocacy groups”. Every day, numerous activities that influence politics and diplomatic affairs around the world take place there.

Those individuals who can get close to members of Congress and have free access to the Capitol are deemed as ideal lobbyists. And consultancies opened by former members of Congress or officials are the best help foreign governments or companies can get if they want to lobby in the U.S. and maximize their own interests.

According to statistics from the Center for Public Integrity, between 1998 and 2004, more than four million of lobbying expenses were originated from China. Beginning in 2004, China lobby expanded in scale; Chinese embassy in the U.S. created a lobby working group that consisted of 26 persons. And from 2005, Chinese embassy formed a long-term partnership with two law firms (Hogan & Hartson, Jones Day) that helped lobby the U.S. government, Congress and think tanks. And what Jones Day did was to keep the Chinese government posted on issues about Taiwan, Tibet, religious freedom, finance, trade and exchange rates, and help make contact with Congress and the executive branch on China's behalf. There were once as many as eight firms working with the Chinese government.

In order to curb the excess of such lobbying, the House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations approved in 2012 an amendment (related report in Chinese) that prohibits covered Executive Branch officials from lobbying for certain countries within the first ten years they leave office. Those certain countries are which the State Department identifies as countries where there are serious human rights infringement and religious persecutions and need special attention. These certain countries include China, which happened to be the country that gained the most through lobbying.

To sum up, I want to point out that there are two important components in the U.S.-China relations: mutual economic dependence and civilian exchanges. Judging from the results, China has made good use of multinational corporations and exchanges on civilian level in America to influence U.S. policy toward China; and the U.S. was much less successful by comparison and couldn’t find a way to influence China. That’s how China becomes he dominant party in the U.S.-China relations.