Comprehensive Engagement: Clinton's New China Policy
Brecher, Richard, The China Business Review
Washington has now begun to sweeten its hand in dealing with China. After months of inter-agency review, a new US government policy toward China emerged in late September (see The CBR, November-December 1993, p.4). In contrast to the previous US position, which relied on the threat of withdrawal of China's Most Favored Nation (MFN) status to accomplish US goals with regard to China, Clinton's new strategy promises a more balanced approach.
Balanced or not, the new policy still must deal with two fundamental problems. First, the President's May 1993 Executive Order, which conditioned US extension of MFN this year on Beijing's progress in meeting human rights concerns, looms over all bilateral issues, constraining negotiators from pursuing more narrow objectives. Second, the Administration's policy of talking tough on these specific issues, such as market access, intellectual property protection, and textiles, may be undermined by the carrots being offered to lessen the sting of the MFN club. Conversely, there is also the chance that the "tough talk" might spill over into broader political concerns.
WHY THE CHANGE?
Certainly, a change in policy was warranted. Clinton's revamped tactic reflects a realization within the US government that the previous policy of sticks and more sticks had failed. The constant exchange of trade threats and counterthreats so strained the overall Sino-US relationship that the likelihood of China's meeting US expectations on human rights and other issues had grown dim. Since the violent crackdown on protesters in Tiananmen Square in June 1989, Sino-US relations had, in fact, been caught in a downward spiral. President Clinton's May 28 Executive Order effectively risked pushing China into a corner by threatening to suspend normal trading relations if China failed to respond to Washington's unilateral demands.
Washington, for its part, has consistently overestimated the leverage it holds with the MFN threat. In this high-stakes game of MFN chicken, each side risks underestimating the other's resolve to stand by its position. If, in fact, either side calls the other's bluff, the end result would be self-defeating for the economic and political agendas of both sides.
Clinton's new policy of "comprehensive engagement" toward China was formed to lessen the risk of miscalculation by developing a more even-handed approach for conducting relations. While US concerns over China's human rights practices remain an important component of the overall package, the new approach pays closer attention than before to American commercial and strategic interests in China.
NUTS AND BOLTS
The new China policy incorporates a change in both tactics and tone. The primary components of the new approach can be easily catalogued, although more difficult to gauge is how senior and working-level officials in both governments will carry the new program forward in the coming months. Key points of the Clinton plan include:
* Reaffirming US acceptance of the one-China policy
* Reassuring China that the United States recognizes it is an important regional and global player and that the two countries share common interests and concerns
* Resuming high-level contacts with Chinese officials, including direct military-to-military discussions
* Liberalizing technology controls for US exports to China
* Expanding financial support for US exports to China, including US Export-Import Bank financing of US participation in major projects in China
While extending these gestures of friendship, the new Clinton policy still underscores the President's resolve to withdraw China's MFN trading rights in July 1994 if he cannot certify that overall substantial progress has been made in meeting the conditions outlined in his May 1993 Executive Order.
THE FIRST STEPS
To date, the US government has begun to move ahead with many of its …
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Publication information: Article title: Comprehensive Engagement: Clinton's New China Policy. Contributors: Brecher, Richard - Author. Magazine title: The China Business Review. Volume: 21. Issue: 1 Publication date: January/February 1994. Page number: 6+. © U.S.-China Business Council Mar/Apr 2009. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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