U.S.-China Caucus Calls for Greater Diplomatic Ties with Beijing

By Todd Bullock
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington - China should be the primary diplomatic relationship for the United States in the 21st century, says Congressman Mark Kirk, co-chair of the U.S.-China Working Group in the U.S. House of Representatives.

To prepare, the United States "must expand its diplomatic infrastructure in China as well as our teaching of Chinese language in U.S. schools," Kirk said February 8 at a forum organized by the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies.

Kirk, a Republican from Illinois and a member of the House Appropriations Committee, traveled to China January 8-17 with Representative Rick Larsen, a Democrat from Washington and a member of the House Armed Services Committee.

According to Kirk, one of the trip's goals was to build the "foundations for relationships between U.S. legislators and Chinese leaders."

Larsen, co-chair of the House U.S.-China Working Group, said the two "worked with the central leadership in Beijing every day, which is an intense level of activity for our congressional group."

The House U.S.-China Working Group is a 35-member bipartisan caucus that seeks to increase Congress's understanding of China and expand political, economic, military and cultural ties with Chinese leaders.


Kirk told the audience that during a meeting with Defense Minister Cao Gangchuan he urged greater military cooperation between U.S. and Chinese military forces, including a direct telephone link between the Pentagon and the Chinese Ministry of National Defense.

"This would facilitate more technical military-to-military discussions" between the United States and China," he said.

The issue of unrest within China's interior provinces along with the inequality of development between eastern and western China is a source of concern with China's leadership, according to Kirk.

"Increased foreign investment and trade can help China redress those key problems, leading to greater stability in the country," he said.  "This is where a cooperative relationship with the United States can address their policy agenda."


Briefing on a meeting with China's Minister of Commerce Bo Xilai, Larsen said "Minister Bo pledged to send an intellectual property rights ombudsman to the Chinese Embassy in Washington and commit significant amounts of money to purchase licensed software for the Chinese government."  (See Protecting Intellectual Property Rights.)

The congressmen also met with Chinese business leaders and connected them with other U.S. legislators to provide Congress with a Chinese business perspective of U.S.-China trade relations.

In addition to meeting with Chinese leaders in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong, the congressmen traveled to cities located in China's interior, such as Lanzhou and Xining.


During their January visit, the congressmen received the first-ever briefing from Chinese Ministry of Health officials for members of the U.S. Congress on China's response to avian influenza, or bird flu. (See Bird Flu (Avian Influenza).)

Additionally, the congressmen were the first foreign delegation allowed to visit the Jiu Quan Space Center in Inner Mongolia, the principal launching site for China's space rockets and satellites.

"The space center is a visible demonstration of China's commitment to manned space missions for the long-haul, and is another opportunity for dialogue and cooperation between the United States and China," Larsen said.

China completed its first manned space flight, Shenzhou V, in October 2003 followed by a successful second flight in October 2005. One of China's long-term goals in space is to build and deploy a large-scale space station.

"We could do some prior planning to stage rescue missions for downed astronauts," Larsen said.


Both congressmen cited the need for other members of Congress to visit China.

"Our best interest is in engagement with China, where we can work toward common goals and solve shared problems, " Larsen said.

Kirk also announced he is working with local officials to name 2009 the "Year of China" for the city of Chicago, complete with a series of cultural festivals. In this way, he said, Chicago residents will become much more aware of China and its relations with the United States.

"The 21st century will not be a happy one if China and the United States are against each other," Kirk said. "There is a significant opportunity for both countries to enjoy unparalleled prosperity if we cooperate."

For additional information on U.S. policies, see The United States and China.

More information on the House U.S.-China Working Group is available on Kirk's Web site.