By Gang Lin

Craig Thomas, U.S. Senator and Chair, Subcommittee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs
Stanley Roth, Assistant Secretary of State, U.S. Department of State
Richard Solomon, President, United States Institute of Peace
Kun-shuan Chiu, Director, Graduate Institute of East Asian Studies, National Chengchi University, Taiwan
Cal Cohen, Vice President, Emergency Committee for American Trade
Bates Gill, Director, Center for Northeast Asian Policy Studies, Brookings Institution
Merle Goldman, Professor of History, Boston University
Mike Jendrzejczyk, Washington Director, Human Rights Watch - Asia
Dimon Liu, Committee for Policy Studies, Washington
James Mann, Foreign Affairs Columnist, Los Angeles Times Washington Bureau
Ron Montaperto, Senior Fellow, Institute for National Strategic Studies, National Defense University
Minxin Pei, Senior Associate, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
Xing Qu, Professor and Vice President, Foreign Affairs College, PRC
Robert Suettinger, Visiting Fellow, Foreign Policy Studies Program, Brookings Institution
Nancy Bernkopf Tucker, Professor of History, Georgetown University
Arthur Waldron, Director, Asian Studies, American Enterprise Institute
Xinbo Wu, Professor, Center for American Studies, Fudan University; PRC
Jiemian Yang, Director, Department of American Studies, Shanghai Institute for International Studies, PRC

Taiwan's May 20 presidential inauguration and the U.S. congressional vote on China's PNTR status have stimulated a heated debate in Washington over the current conduct and future direction of U.S.-China relations. How will democratic developments in Taiwan affect U.S.-China relations? Are trade and economic development the answers to China's political problems? Should the United States continue its policy of strategic ambiguity regarding its obligations to come to the defense of Taiwan, or does ambiguity encourage miscalculation? What will be the strategic framework within which Washington and Beijing can work together in the future?

At an all-day international conference hosted by the Asia Program, 18 influential policy makers, scholars and analysts offered both retrospective and prospective examinations of U.S.-China relations since the end of the Cold War. Coinciding with the anniversary of NATO's accidental bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in May 1999, this program highlighted the convergence and divergences of the political, economic and strategic interests of the two great countries.

The first panel looked at U.S.-China relations in the immediate aftermath of the 1989 Tiananmen tragedy and the end of the Cold War. Panelists in general agreed upon the long-term negative effects of the Tiananmen tragedy on U.S.-China relations during the 1990s. The end of the Cold War, Beijing's unwillingness to promote political reform and improve its human rights record, and the decline of liberalism and rise of nationalism in China have also contributed to weak domestic constituencies in both the United States and China for a friendly bilateral relationship.

The second panel focused on the interaction between China's human rights practice and American trade policy. Panelists debated whether China's human rights performance should be de-linked from its MFN/PNTR status. Some argued that by granting PNTR to a China with a poor human rights record, China would remain a half-open society; its vast market would not materialize without the rule of law. Others argued that U.S. human rights diplomacy toward China has become largely a hostage of American internal politics and damages the basis of a human rights dialogue between the two countries; China's economic openness would lead to human rights improvement, and visa versa.

The third panel explored the Taiwan issue as it has influenced U.S-PRC relations. Panelists agreed that Taiwan contributed to uncertainty, unpredictability and fragility in U.S.-China relations, but their proposals to resolve the problem varied widely. The panelist from the PRC argued that the "one China" principle serves to preserve the status quo in order to win time to solve the Taiwan issue in a mutually acceptable way. The panelist from Taiwan suggested that both sides should maintain open-minded and self-controlled policies, and put the issue of "one China" aside and try to resolve other practical problems first. Panelists from the United States debated whether Washington should continue its policy of strategic ambiguity or shift to strategic clarity in dealing with cross-strait affairs.

The fourth panel explored U.S.-China strategic interests in the 21st century. Panelists agreed the United States and China shared some strategic interests on the Korean peninsula and in South Asia; their strategic divergences were generated from conceptual differences on military deterrence, potential conflicts across the Taiwan Strait and in the South China Sea, and future U.S. security arrangements in a unified Korea. While the Chinese panelist defined the U.S.-China relationship as "competitive partnership," American panelists were less optimistic on U.S.-China strategic cooperation, due to ideological, historical and cultural differences between the two countries.

The conference was capped by speeches by Senator Craig Thomas and Assistant Secretary of State Stanley Roth. Thomas pointed out that while U.S-China relations had experienced ups and downs over the past twenty years, the overall movement was upwards. According to Thomas, the best way to effectuate political change in China is to draw it inextricably into the world community. Recognizing the centrality of the Taiwan issue in a stable U.S.-China relationship, Thomas endorsed U.S. strategic ambiguity in cross-strait relations.

Assistant Secretary Stanley Roth argued the United States has a clear and consistent China policy. The U.S. objective is to ensure a strong, stable, prosperous and open China through a strategy of integrating China into regional and global institutions. Defining "engagement" as working with China at every level and every available opportunity, Roth argued engagement has accomplished two important purposes -- to "de-demonize" the image of the United States in Chinese society and to demonstrate U.S. nuclear deterrence strength to the Chinese military. Roth concluded that Chinese membership in the World Trade Organization and China's economic prosperity would make that country less likely to threaten its neighbors and more likely to advance the power and the rights of its own citizens.