The US-China Security Review Commission's bold statement that trade and national security issues relating to China are inseparable is closer to the mark than most American businesses may realize.
Business, Economics, and Security
The best thing to do with the recently published Report of the United States-China Security Review Commission (USCC) is probably to read the executive summary and move on.
In its unrelievedly grim view of China's modernization and the threats it poses to American economic and military security, the report offers few, if any, surprises. The exception was a dignified dissent by a lone commissioner, a former Commerce Department export control boss, who faulted the document for its one-sidedness and disingenuousness.
In fact, while the report can be criticized for its relentless, jackhammer-like concentration on the military and economic threats it believes China may pose to the United States-and for ignoring the impressive array of easily accessible information and expert opinion that did not conform to the widely publicized preconceptions of many commissioners-the remarkable thing about the document is how relatively bloodless most of its suggestions turned out to be. Various recommendations of the "guilty until proven innocent" variety will be highly unpalatable to those doing business in, or with, China and should not become US law or policy. The implicit premises of others (e.g., that Chinese students and scholars in the United States must be regarded as special security risks) are questionable or objectionable. But all in all, the report's recommendations are strangely bland, and a few-like the proposal for stronger federal support of Chinese-language study or for US support of rule of law programs in China-- will cause no heartburn at all.
In and of itself, this document, and the accompanying gigantic compendium of contracted papers by researchers of predictably strong affinity to the outlooks of their commission patrons, will not prove to mark the moment when the United States and China finally head off to enlist in the new Cold War. As one colleague with a long, uniformed military background put it, "For the amount of time, money, and effort put into the USCC, this first report appears to be destined to be a minor footnote in the scheme of US-China relations."
But before this report is filed away, it is worth pointing out a few matters that US business should not lightly dismiss.
1 The report's bold opening statement that trade and national security issues relating to China are inseparable is closer to the mark than most American businesses may realize. It is already clear, in business sectors beyond the defense sector, that the complex security relationship between the United States and China cannot be pigeonholed or wished away by companies that "just want to do business."
2 The US-China security realm, already the home of a large and growing army of analysts, garners, and congressional staffers on the US side and similar legions in China, is multidimensional. It grapples with technological change. It is beset by critical inadequacies of information that nurture unfettered speculation that sometimes feeds on itself.
3 The politically pregnant implication that because US economic engagement with China is beneficial to China it is bad for US security (leave aside that it is also good for the United States) is not going to go away, either. Those who take China's economic advancement as dangerous per se to the United States perceive thriving two-way business as a clear and present danger. They do not concern themselves any more today with the broader implications of its disruption than they did in the old days when they opposed Most Favored Nation or Permanent Normal Trade Relations on similar grounds.
4 Most of the research and analysis in this burgeoning field is unconcerned with US-- China commercial and …