Chinese Checkers; Shine a Light on Sino-U.S. Relations

Article excerpt

Byline: Gary J. Andres, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Over the last four years much of this country's foreign-policy apparatus, members of Congress and the media have been fixated on Middle East challenges, and for obvious reasons. Encouraging the spread of democracy in that region and winning the fight against Islamic terrorists is this generation's "world war." It may determine if our very way of life endures - no small stake.

But singular focus on the Middle East detracts from another part of the globe that significantly affects U.S. interests - the People's Republic of China (PRC) - a nuclear power, with the world's third largest economy and a population of 1.3 billion people, more than four times that of the United States. Yet in the past few months, China has catapulted back to the congressional front burner. In addition to the Bush administration's high-level delegation meetings this week in Beijing, Congress is also shining a bright light on the Sino-American relationship this summer - call them the "Chinese Checkers," lawmakers doing their part to understand and oversee bilateral relations.

Some think these steps represent inappropriate congressional interference; others believe even tougher actions are required. Neither is exactly right; nor are they completely wrong. Congressional jawboning can have the same impact as bilateral trade agreements or Rose Garden signing ceremonies. Leveraging without a law can effect change and promote U.S. interests if done wisely.

Concerns in Congress about the PRC's relationship with the North Koreans on nuclear proliferation, as well as its own, human rights and economic activities are not new. More recently, however, two issues related to China's economic activities have been the focus of the congressional crucible - its currency policy and the proposed acquisition of the American oil company Unocal by the Chinese National Oil Corp. (CNOC).

No thermometer is necessary to gauge the heat produced by CNOC on the Hill. Right before Congress left for the July 4th break, the House overwhelmingly adopted a bipartisan resolution expressing concern about CNOC's bid. The House held its first hearing yesterday and also passed an amendment to the Treasury appropriations bill denying funds to the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), an executive-branch agency that reviews potential mergers for national-security concerns, by a lopsided vote of 333-92. …