Reported by Mary-Lea Cox

At a State Department Open Forum on October 6, Center director Lee Hamilton outlined a comprehensive strategy for managing the difficult U.S.-China relationship. Noting that the past year had been an especially tough one for U.S.-China relations, Hamilton called upon the leaders of the two countries to find ways to cooperate in pursuit of shared interests. At the same time, he observed, the United States must not hesitate to stand up for its own interests and values.

Hamilton insisted that the debate over containing versus engaging China "is now largely behind us." The pro-engagement forces have won, and the debate has shifted to considering how to engage with China while continuing to protect American interests.

Hamilton pointed out that engagement has already benefited the Chinese in opening up their society to new ideas and opportunities, while American business has profited by exporting goods to China worth billions of dollars. Hamilton said that he expects engagement to lead to Chinese entrance into the World Trade Organization, which would give the U.S. additional levers to pry open the Chinese market, he added.

Hamilton cautioned, however, that in its attempt to do more business with China, the U.S. not abandon its concern over human rights, an area where the PRC "continues to fall far short." Still, he felt encouraged that China is "light years ahead" of where it was twenty-five years ago, citing the evidence of China's growing middle class, greater personal freedom for Chinese citizens, proliferation of voluntary organizations, free elections in Chinese villages, and the right of Chinese citizens to take the government to court for wrongful exercise of administrative power.

According to Hamilton, the lesson of the past quarter-century in China -- as in other former authoritarian countries that have evolved into democracies, such as South Korea and Taiwan -- "is that the best way to promote human rights is for the United States to stay engaged." He urged the President and other top officials to redouble their efforts to explain why good Chinese-American relations are in the U.S. interest, and to strengthen public and congressional support for American engagement with China.