China is emerging as a great power. We could not halt that evolution if we wanted to. But we can and should try to shape the kind of power China will become. We can try to ensure that China is integrated into the world community, rather than isolated from it.
At the heart of this debate, indeed every foreign policy debate, is one central question; what is the U.S. national interest?
Our overriding interest is to have sound relations with China.
China is, after all, the world's most populous country--it has grown by 400 million people since Richard Nixon visited in 1972--and possesses one of the world's largest economies.
With the world's largest standing army, China's actions have a direct bearing on peace and stability throughout East and Southeast Asia.
As a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, China is not only a key country in Asia, but has a significant impact on U.S. interests around the world.
U.S. efforts to halt the spread of weapons of mass destruction in Iran, North Korea and elsewhere can succeed only if China cooperates with us and the rest of the international community...
Our two countries, despite our differences, share many interests: a stable, peaceful, and prosperous East Asia; a global economy characterized by predictability, reduced trade barriers, and widely-accepted rules; stopping the spread of weapons of mass destruction; and avoiding a regional arms race or even a new cold war...
Many Americans are angered by China's human rights practices; its proliferation of nuclear and chemical weapons technology and components; its sales of missiles ; its bullying of Taiwan and oppression of Tibet; its trade practices, which have led to a huge bilateral trade imbalance; and reports of illegal campaign contributions to U.S. candidates.
Citing these concerns, politicians and pundits have identified China as America's next adversary. They have concluded that China will never play by the rules, and it is useless to try to integrate it into global political, security, and economic regimes.
But is China a threat? I believe there is no basis for believing that China will pose a serious threat to the U.S. any time soon. China is simply not in our league.
In 1995, China's GDP stood at $698 billion. Ours was ten times that size. The disparity in GDP per capita is even more striking: $620 for each Chinese, $27,000 for each American.
The military imbalance is as stark: China has fewer than a dozen intercontinental ballistic missiles ; we have 755; China has roughly 300 strategic nuclear warheads; we have more than 11,000; China has no aircraft carriers; we have 12; China has approximately 50 top-of-the-line warplanes; we have more than 3,400; China lacks the ability to project military power much beyond its borders.
This overwhelming American military edge is likely to persist: present U.S. defense spending outstrips Chinese spending by a factor of 8 1/2 to one. In short, a Chinese threat to U.S. security interests just doesn't stand up to scrutiny.
Instead of viewing China as a threat, we should seek it as an opportunity. China is an emerging superpower. The correct policy approach is to engage China, not isolate it.
Engagement is not endorsement. It is not alliance. It is certainly not appeasement. It means actively engaging China to resolve our differences. It means standing up for U.S. interests when consultations and negotiations are not fruitful, even when this creates tensions in the relationship. This is what the Clinton Administration did: when it sent two aircraft carrier groups into the Taiwan Strait last year; when it threatened to impose sanctions because of Chinese violations of intellectual property rights; and when it imposed sanctions on Chinese companies of their violation of U.S. non-proliferation laws.
I support a policy of engagement, not as an end in itself, but as a tool to promote U.S. interests, including our human rights concerns. It has produced tangible benefits for the United States. Because of engagement: China has helped to reduce tensions on the Korean peninsula, perhaps the most dangerous place in the world today; China has moved in our direction on non-proliferation. It has committed itself to international nonproliferation rules by signing the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and the Chemical Weapons Convention; China worked constructively with us in the United Nations Security Council in the Gulf War, and on many peacekeeping efforts since then; China cooperates with us on terrorism, the environment, public health, alien smuggling, and on illegal narcotics--all matters with a direct impact on our well-being.
Engagement has not solved all problems. But it offers a better prospect for achieving U.S. policy objectives than isolation or containment.
Are human rights advanced if, as a consequence of a deteriorating U.S.-China relationship, China: sells more missiles to Pakistan? steps up its nuclear cooperation with Iran? encourages North Korea to threaten the peace of the Korean peninsula? or bullies Taiwan?...
If America abandoned the policy of engagement, regional tensions would rise. Our allies in the region would lose confidence in our judgment and our ability to play a constructive role in East Asia. Unsure of our allies, we would have to increase our defense expenditures in the region, The region could embark upon a destabilizing arms race, and make a new cold war more likely...