Oldie but Goodie


I hereby declare the opening of the campaign to revive the phrase “constructive, strategic partnership” as the central goal for US-China relations.

Knowledgeable readers will recognize this phrase from the joint statement issued by (then) Presidents Clinton and Jiang Zemin on the occasion of Jiang’s visit to Washington in October, 1997.  The statement read in part (one site with the full text is:http://www.shaps.hawaii.edu/fp/us/us-china-jc4.html):

“[The two Presidents] agree that while China and the United States have areas of both agreement and disagreement, they have a significant common interest and a firm common will to seize opportunities and meet challenges cooperatively, with candor and a determination to achieve concrete progress. China and the United States have major differences on the question of human rights. At the same time, they also have great potential for cooperation in maintaining global and regional peace and stability; promoting world economic growth; preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; advancing Asia-Pacific regional cooperation; combating narcotics trafficking, international organized crime and terrorism; strengthening bilateral exchanges and cooperation in economic development, trade, law environmental protection, energy, science and technology, and education and culture; as well as engaging in military exchanges.

The two Presidents are determined to build toward a constructive strategic partnership between China and the United States through increasing cooperation to meet international challenges and promote peace and development in the world. To achieve this goal, they agree to approach China-U.S. relations from a long-term perspective on the basis of the principles of the three China-U.S. joint communiques.” (emphasis added)

To summarize:  we have differences, but there are lots of important issues where we should work together; we will “build toward a constructive strategic partnership” to help address these global problems.  Pretty radical stuff, huh?

At the time, this statement was attacked by many pundits* for reasons that were never clear to me.  (Ok, I admit it, it was obvious that a lot of the criticism was simply a function of folks looking to bash the Clinton Administration and had nothing to do with China policy really.)

Among those who seemed to have serious concerns I recall several themes:

Those with weak reading skills:  Given all the differences we have, how can you say the US and China are in a “strategic partnership”?  Particularly silly, since the statement said the Presidents were stating the goal of “building toward” such a partnership.

Some national security experts interpreted “strategic” in its security or military sense.  They then posed the question:  How can you be suggesting a military partnership with China?  We can’t trust them and what will this do to our relations with our treaty ally Japan and others in the region?  To me, even at the time this was old think.  Today it is definitely old, old think.  The original statement made clear this was not a “strategic” relationship in a military sense.  And today it is even clearer that the “strategic” issues we face are things like the economic crisis, environment/climate change challenges, and the possibility of global pandemics.  And on each we need to work with China to prevent disasters.

Finally, some observers who were focused on human rights and related issues posed the question:  How can we have a “strategic partnership” with a country with which we have such different “values”?  There is I think an interesting debate to be had here.  Could we have had a “strategic partnership” to combat climate change with Hitler’s Germany?  In other words, at what point does the nature of another government become so odious that we don’t want to entertain cooperation even on critical global issues?  While this could be an interesting debate in theory, to me the issue is very clear:  China is not Hitler’s Germany.  Though the Chinese government has shortcomings in the human rights area from my perspective, they have also been doing a huge amount of good for huge numbers of their citizens.  I do not believe that China even comes close to approaching the level of a country with which we should have concerns about deep cooperation on globally critical issues.

So, please repeat after me, three times:

We want to build toward a constructive strategic partnership with China;

We want to build toward a constructive strategic partnership with China;

We want to build toward a constructive strategic partnership with China.


*I do not use the word “pundit” in a derogatory way.  In fact, my new career goal is to become a pundit.  The hours seem good.  However, I’d welcome thoughts from any readers on how to monetize my punditry.

Explore posts in the same categories: China, Human Rights

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