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U.S. Domestic Politics and the China Policy Rollercoaster

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Abstract

Relations between the United States and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) have been on a roller-coaster ever since the end of the cold war nearly two decades ago. Periods of tension have alternated with moments when the two nations have managed to maintain some stability in their relations, prompting scholars to write of “the lovesme-loves-me-not swings” in ties between the two.1 The sanctions that Washington imposed on China in 1989 after Tiananmen Square were followed by efforts by the George H. W. Bush administration to patch up the relationship. Bill Clinton then came into office, promising that it would not be “business as usual” with the “butchers of Beijing.” Clinton made a highly publicized effort to link economic ties to improvements in China’s human rights record, thereby placing new strains on the relationship without noticeably contributing to better Chinese behavior. Soon enough, he had to reverse course, and by the time Clinton left the White House, an uneasy stability had returned to U.S.-China ties.

Keywords

Bush Administration Military Spending Domestic Politics China Policy Defense Budget 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Thomas Donnelly and Melissa Wisner, “A Global Partnership Between the U.S. and India,” August-September 2005, American Enterprise Institute, http://www.aei.org/include/pub_print.asp?pubID=23139.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    http://en-1.ce.cn/National/Politics/200411/14/t20041114_2276574.shtml. For an earlier expression of the same sentiment, see Colin L. Powell, “A Strategy of Partnerships,” Foreign Affairs 83, no. 1 (January–February 2004): 32. In their contribution in this volume (Chapter 7), Bonnie S. Glaser and Liang Wang show that Powell was using this formulation as early as September 2003.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. In their contribution in this volume (Chapter 7), Bonnie S. Glaser and Liang Wang show that Powell was using this formulation as early as September 2003.Google Scholar
  4. 3.
    “The Trade Two-step,” The Economist, April 7, 2007, 27. This number rose substantially as the year progressed.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    This claim, by the Heritage Foundation’s John Tkacik, appeared in William Matthews, “U.S. Leaders Underscore Rising China Threat,” Defense News (June 27, 2005): 10.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Jay Solomon, “FBI Sees Big Threat From Chinese Spies; Businesses Wonder,” Wall Street Journal, August 10, 2005, p. A1.Google Scholar
  7. 6.
    For similar articles, see Mark Magnier, “Defection Spotlights Chinese Way of Spying,” Los Angeles Times, July 15, 2005, p. A3;Google Scholar
  8. 6.
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    and Bill Gertz, “China Taps into U.S. Spy Operations,” Washington Times, December 21, 2007, p. A1. The Los Angeles Times article noted that the claim about 3,000 Chinese front companies was unsubstantiated.Google Scholar
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    Joel Brinkley, “Rice Warns China to Make Major Economic Changes,” New York Times, August 19, 2005, p. A10.Google Scholar
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    Matthew Vita, “On Hill, Clinton Turns To Calif. Free-Trader,” Washington Post, April 5, 2000, p. A17.Google Scholar
  12. 14.
    Helpful starting points on how U.S. policy toward China is fashioned include Jean A. Garrison, Making China Policy: From Nixon to G. W Bush (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 2005), an historical overview that does not emphasize the structural and institutional factors highlighted in this essay;Google Scholar
  13. 14.
    and Robert L. Suettinger, Beyond Tiananmen: The Politics of U.S.-China Relations, 1989–2000 (Washington, DC: Brookings, 2003), by a former U.S. government official directly involved in shaping Washington’s China policy during the presidencies of George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton.Google Scholar
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  16. 19.
    See, for instance, Edward Cody, “U.S. Warns China on Piracy, Market Access,” Washington Post, November 15, 2006, p. D8. For an informed and less alarmist analysis of what Democratic control of Congress might mean for Washington’s China policy, see Robert Sutter, “The Democratic-Led 110th Congress: Implications for Asia,” Asia Policy, no. 3 (January 2007): 125–50. Sutter quite correctly argued that the Democratic Congress would be unable to force a major shift in U.S. policy toward China. This, however, did not preclude new strains in U.S.-China relations as a result of the Democrats’ electoral victories in November 2006.Google Scholar
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    For an informed and less alarmist analysis of what Democratic control of Congress might mean for Washington’s China policy, see Robert Sutter, “The Democratic-Led 110th Congress: Implications for Asia,” Asia Policy, no. 3 (January 2007): 125–50. Sutter quite correctly argued that the Democratic Congress would be unable to force a major shift in U.S. policy toward China. This, however, did not preclude new strains in U.S.-China relations as a result of the Democrats’ electoral victories in November 2006.Google Scholar
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    For details, see Martin Kady II, “Vote Switching Stalls Military Sales Bill,” CQ Weekly, July 18, 2005, 1979.Google Scholar
  19. 21.
    The Chinese claim that their 2007 defense budget totaled $45 billion, a figure that almost certainly understates actual military spending. The U.S. Department of Defense asserts that total Chinese defense expenditures were two to three times this amount. Other estimates tend to fall somewhere between these two extremes. By way of contrast, the U.S. military budget will be in the range of $623 billion for fiscal year 2008. RAND analysts project that twenty years from now, China’s defense spending will still be less than half of today’s U.S. defense budget. For recent discussion of this issue, see Office of the Secretary of Defense, “Military Power of the People’s Republic of China, 2007,” Annual Report to Congress, May 23, 2007, available at http://www.defenselink.mil/pubs/pdfs/070523-China-Military-Power-final.pdf; Edward Cody, “China Boosts Military Spending,” Washington Post, March 5, 2007, p. A12;Google Scholar
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  24. 22.
    For discussion of this remark (which almost certainly did not represent official Chinese policy), and more generally, for a look at the Taiwan issue as a potential trigger for U.S.-China conflict, see Richard C. Bush and Michael E. O’Hanlon, A War Like No Other: The Truth about China’s Challenge to America (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2007), esp. 156.Google Scholar
  25. 23.
    For American reaction to Zhu’s comments, see Joel Brinkley, “U.S. Rebukes Chinese General for His Threat of Nuclear Arms Use,” New York Times, July 16, 2005, p. A8. For Moseley’s testimony, see the Reuters report, “US Struggles on China-War Planning, Top Officer States,” June 29, 2005, at http://english.epochtimes.com/news/5–6-29/29933.html.Google Scholar
  26. 27.
    See, for instance, Ted Galen Carpenter, America’s Coming War with China: A Collision Course over Taiwan (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006).Google Scholar

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© Suisheng Zhao 2008

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