A New Chapter in US-China Relations
Kapp, Robert A., The China Business Review
By the time you read this issue of The CBR, US Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown will have completed his first official visit to China, accompanied by a senior interagency delegation of US officials and a group of American CEOs in key fields of US-China business--automotives, finance, infrastructure, and telecommunications.
As Commerce Secretary, Brown is the ranking US representative to the Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade (JCCT), the bilateral consultative forum that emerged in the mid-1980s as a channel for discussion of commercial problems between the two countries. After a long hiatus following Tiananmen, the JCCT flickered back to life in December 1992 when then-Commerce Secretary Barbara Franklin traveled to Beijing.
This meeting was followed by a session in Washington this past April. At that session, working groups convened to discuss common ground and points of dispute in such sectors as information technologies, telecommunications, transportation, aviation and airport infrastructure, automotives, energy, services, and environmental technologies. The positive tone of the April meetings paved the way for Secretary Brown's August mission.
Partly a response to an invitation extended by China's Minister of Foreign Trade during their April talks, the Brown trip is also intended to convey at a very senior level the Clinton Administration's abiding commitment to US-China relations. Brown's visit serves to re-emphasize Washington's dedication to a balanced policy of "constructive engagement" with China rather than the single-issue approach espoused by some critics of the Administration's Most Favored Nation (MFN) decision (see The CBR, July-August 1994, p.6).
On the practical side, the visit will include a major signing ceremony to underscore US government support for American companies bidding on major Chinese projects. The Administration clearly seeks to reassert US commercial vitality in China after watching key European leaders ceremoniously ink huge deals for their businesspeople this spring, while the. United States debated whether to unplug trade relations with China altogether.
Also on Brown's itinerary will be a US-China Business Council-hosted seminar for US and Chinese representatives from industry, government, and the research sector, and a Council luncheon at which the Secretary will give the major policy address of his visit. The Council is pleased to be able to contribute to the Secretary's trip and also to be acknowledged by the Administration as the key representative of the US business community in China. In that role, the Council has conveyed to the Department of Commerce (DOC) a set of issues of concern to our 260 member companies (see box).
That Secretary Brown is working to develop closer links with his government's Chinese counterparts is a welcome development. With the MFN matter resolved, DOC and other agencies now have far more leeway to explore avenues of cooperation between our two countries. One example of this type of cooperation, the renewal of high-level legal seminars designed to acquaint China's authorities with the content and operation of US commercial laws and familiarize Americans with China's environment, is expected to be announced during the Secretary's visit.
THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING POSITIVE
With so many US businesses now firmly on the ground in China, a strong, government-to-government agenda in trade and commerce is a vital part of the bilateral relationship. For a variety of historical reasons, China remains a "hot button" in US politics; it can become a focal point of inflammatory domestic political debate in a way that few other countries can. …