Center for American Progress

RELEASE: CAP Issues Framework for Progressive, Pragmatic Approach to U.S.-China Policy
Press Release

RELEASE: CAP Issues Framework for Progressive, Pragmatic Approach to U.S.-China Policy

Washington, D.C. — Today, the Center for American Progress is publishing a report that outlines a principled, progressive, and pragmatic approach to U.S.-China policy.

The U.S. relationship with China will be one of this generation’s defining foreign policy challenges. The chapters in this report offer a framework for elected officials and policymakers to consider and act on these overarching challenges, while offering specific recommendations in eight broad areas: trade, technology, climate change, military competition, Taiwan, human rights, China’s role in the world, and a cooperation agenda.

On issue after issue—from artificial intelligence (AI) to social media and from Taiwan to Ukraine—sharp differences in values and interests create friction between Washington and Beijing. These frictions will play out in how we trade; how our technological ecosystems interact; and how we manage military competition.

At the same time, U.S.-China relations cannot and should not be based solely on competition. On a range of critical issues—from climate change to illegal narcotics—cooperation will have tangible benefits for Americans and, often, for people in China and the rest of the world.

But smart U.S. policy toward China also needs to be based on principles that align with the interests of people and the values of the United States’ democratic system of government. The report asserts, for example, that the United States should be forthright in speaking when China violates basic human rights and should not emulate the fear and coercion that are the hallmarks of autocrats.

The report chapters include the following recommendations:

  • Trade: Decades of U.S. trade diplomacy aimed to right the impacts of China’s unfair trade practices have done little to correct the commercial imbalances, which contributed to deindustrialization in the United States and a hollowing of the American middle class. We must make transformational investments in the U.S. industrial base and workers, focusing on sectors where we want to establish or maintain global leadership. Experience shows that China will not play fair or change its ways, so modernized enforcement tools will play a key role in a long-term, strategic competition.
  • Technology: Technology will be at the heart of U.S.-China competition, as semiconductors, AI, and other technologies reshape our economies and our militaries. The U.S. government needs to make transformational domestic investments in key technologies and our tech workforce. In addition, the United States needs tools and other resources to protect our existing advantages in critical technologies. The United States needs new general technology regulations and must work with foreign partners to set rules for the digital economy in line with democratic values.
  • Taiwan: Washington can manage Taiwan Strait tensions, even as China’s actions raise risks and concern. This can be done through military deterrence, direct engagement with Beijing, and continued diplomatic efforts to pull third countries into the conversation.
  • Military competition: China is the only competitor to the United States with the intent and—increasingly—the capacity to reshape the global order. The United States faces the challenge of a rising China from a position of strength, even as China’s military grows. We can meet the military challenge without increasing the defense budget by capitalizing on existing strengths, spending smarter, and rethinking procurement. We must reinforce our alliances and manage risks by maintaining dialogue with China’s military, including on emerging issues such as cyber and AI.
  • Human rights: China’s human rights situation has deteriorated markedly under Xi Jinping, even as China touts its “model” of autocratic governance abroad. We should shine light on China’s human rights abuses—as our values require us to do—while recognizing our influence on how Beijing treats its citizens may be limited. We need to push back firmly against the increasing incidence of transnational repression by Chinese officials, particularly when it happens in the United States. If the United States does not lead on human rights internationally, we cede the field to Beijing’s profoundly different—and illiberal—vision.
  • China’s role in the world: As China’s economic power has grown, so has its ambition to shape the global order to its liking. The United States needs to provide, and invest in, an alternative vision and help our allies and partners resist Chinese bad behavior. The United States is right to be concerned about China’s vision for the world and should push back against a Chinese model that makes people less free, drives up debt in the developing world, and undermines American interests.
  • Climate change: The world will not avoid catastrophic climate change if China and the United States—the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitters and technology leaders—do not lead by accelerating climate action. This requires cooperation, even as we compete. The United States, with its international political heft, technical expertise, and climate history with China needs to employ all levers to press China for stronger action. Policymakers also need to weigh climate, economic, and security benefits and risks of allowing Chinese products in the U.S. clean energy transition.
  • Cooperation: As the two most consequential countries in the world—and with certain shared interests—the United States should be confident in cooperating with China, especially when it advances U.S. interests, even as we compete in many areas. We cannot allow U.S.-China relations to be defined solely by competition.

Read the chapters:A Progressive, Principled, and Pragmatic Approach Toward China Policy” by Dave Rank, Alan Yu, and Michael Clark

For more information or to speak with an expert, please contact Sam Hananel at [email protected].

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