China's Growing Global Influence Not a Threat, U.S. Official Says

By Jane Morse
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington - China’s growing influence on the world stage is "a natural consequence of its economic growth and development, and need not be seen as a threat to the United States," says Thomas Christensen, deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs.

In testimony delivered August 3 before the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, Christensen said the Bush administration is "working hard to ensure that China recognizes its own interest in supporting and strengthening the international system."

"I think China increasingly recognizes this interest and we are making progress in many areas of mutual concern," he added.

Christensen said that "areas of mutual interest have grown over the past 27 years" and predicted that they would continue to grow.

The central point of U.S. policy toward China today, Christensen said, combines "active engagement to maximize areas of common interest and cooperation" along with a recognition that the United States needs to maintain its strong regional capabilities "in case China does not eventually move down a path consistent with our interests."

He said the United States repeatedly has expressed its interest in the emergence of a China that is "peaceful and prosperous, and that actively participates in and contributes to international institutions."

"[W]e do not seek to contain China, but rather to help channel China’s growing influence in a positive direction," he added.

On the diplomatic front, Christensen said, the United States is working closely with China, engaging "on an extremely broad range of issues in which we believe China and the U.S. have common interests."

The United States and China work together actively in many international organizations such as the United Nations and the World Trade Organization, and in regional organizations such as the ASEAN Regional Forum and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, according to Christensen.

Bilaterally, the United States engages China on economic issues through such annual meetings as the Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade and the Joint Economic Commission.

U.S. administration officials also meet with their Chinese counterparts regularly to discuss nonproliferation issues, counterterrorism cooperation, law enforcement cooperation, global issues ranging from environment to health, and science and technology cooperation, he said.

Christensen acknowledged there are many areas in which the United States and China have very different views, but said that "we never miss any opportunity to let China know of our concerns."

These areas of U.S. concern include China’s need to strengthen respect for human rights and religious freedom, as well as introduce democracy to its system.  On these topics, Christensen said:  "We make clear to China that doing so is in China’s own interests.  A nation that is free and democratic, that respects and protects basic human rights, including the freedom to worship, is a nation that is more stable domestically and more respected internationally."

Christensen was optimistic about the development of China as a "responsible stakeholder."

"China has bet its future on globalization and its ability to succeed in the global system," he said.  "The Chinese people have reaped tremendous economic benefits over the past two decades from China’s opening and engagement with the global economy.  China can succeed only if the global system from which it derives benefit does as well.  This gives China an enormous stake in the success of the global system."

Christensen enumerated ways in which China has played significant roles, such as hosting the Six-Party Talks aimed at removing the threat of nuclear weapons from the Korean Peninsula; endorsing efforts to halt Iran's uranium enrichment programs; supporting reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan; supporting coalition efforts in Iraq; supporting international efforts at combating global disease and working to improve the supply security of energy resources.

"Our engagement with China," Christensen said, "takes place in many different forums, both bilateral and multilateral, and at many different levels.  But it always has the same objective:  seek to identify and maximize the areas in which we have common interests, build upon those interests to mutual benefit, and, in those areas in which we differ, encourage China to understand our concerns and change its behavior in ways that will advance not only our interests, but also its own."

The U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, created by the U.S. Congress in 2000, monitors U.S.-China economic relations and their national security implications.

For more on U.S. policy, see The United States and China.

The text of Christensen’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, is available on the State Department Web site.