John McCain’s China Policy
If John McCain, the presumptive American Republican Party presidential candidate wins in November 2008, his China policy appears to be one of seeking to maintain positive relations while attempting to convince China to become a responsible stakeholder in international affairs.
McCain’s voting record in the Senate indicates a relatively benign attitude toward China-US relations, but his recent campaign rhetoric indicates he might take a harsher line toward China. Then again, President Bush was harsh on China when he came into office, and that shifted sharply once he came to believe that although it might be popular to malign the country, the US might benefit by cooperating with the Asian state.
The often-quoted Yan Xuetong of “Qinghua University says Chinese-U.S. relations might be more stable under a McCain presidency than with either Democrat.”
I invite you to look below and come to your own conclusions about McCain’s statements on China.
CHINA DEMOCRATIZATION AND HUMAN RIGHTS
In (1999), McCain said that “we need not shrink from a strong advocacy of religious and political freedom [in China].” Shades of this statement were echoed McCain’s his April 2008 comments in regard to Beijing’s response to unrest in T*b*t; “If Chinese policies and practices do not change, I would not attend the opening ceremonies… It does no service to the Chinese government, and certainly no service to the people of China, for the United States and other democracies to pretend that the suppression of rights in China does not concern us. It does, will and must concern us.”
(All three Presidential candidates echoed similar statements regarding attendance of the opening ceremonies.)
McCain went on to urge China to engage in “a genuine dialogue” with T*b*ts spiritual leader. McCain said: “I have listened carefully to the D@l&i L&ma, and am convinced he is a man of peace who reflects the hopes and aspirations of T*b*t*ns.” He went on to say, “I urge the Chinese authorities to ensure peaceful protest is not met with violence, to release monks and others detained for peacefully expressing their views and to allow full outside access to T*b*t.”
DIPLOMACY AND ECONOMICS
He promotes economic engagement with China (1999), and voted for normalized trade relations with China in 2000. He appears to be a “free trade” Republican who believes that lowering barriers will increase democratization, make others wealthy and lead to peace. It appears McCain subscribes to the Thomas Friedman’s “Golden Arches Theory of Conflict Prevention” (Scroll down to see the definition).
However, in recent years, his statements in regards to China have turned more belligerent. In response to unsafe toy scandals in April 2008 McCain said “If I were president of the United States, the next toy that came into this country from China that endangered the lives of our children, it would be the last,”
McCain also implied that “the G-8 should be limited to democracies,” according to a Bloomberg article reposted on The China Post, which implies he would keep China, and Russia out of the world’s major economic decisions. The economic and political wisdom of keeping some of the most powerful economic powers away from the discussion table is a bit murky. Perhaps pressure-tactics might encourage a change in attitude by the countries- but that remains to be seen.
It appears McCain is willing to confront Beijing on issues such as their support for Myanmar (Burma) and China’s continued trade dealings with Sudan. As he said in May 2008, “”I would hope” Americans would sell stocks and other investments tied to Sudan, McCain told reporters… “because I think that government obviously is one that has done virtually nothing to prevent the genocide that is taking place in Darfur.”
His comments are a bit odd, coming as they did soon after China sent over 140 engineers and troops to Sudan, but it is a fact that China’s promotion of Sudan’s “national sovereignty” has resulted in it pushing for watered down UN votes sanctioning Sudan over its treatment of the minorities in the Darfur region.
CHINA AND TAIWAN
“Guarding against Chinese threats to our strategic interests in Asia is a sound rationale for helping reduce the growing threat to Taiwan from a mainland missile attack” (1999).
Considering McCain’s interest in East Asian security, it is likely he will support the continued de facto independence of Taiwan. He would unlikely, however, support de jure independence, seeing as he has previously spoken of a “One China” principle.
John McCain appears willing to challenge China on shoddy imports, and human rights. He also appears willing to seek to maintain American military interests in the region and may subscribe to a view that America’s long-term world-competitors are large states rather than small. This would encourage him to expand the size of the professional military, and perhaps purchase a larger amount of F-22s.
If McCain speaks most belligerently about China, it will be in regards to T*b*t, or Taiwan. While he has been noted for his compassion for the Sudanese people, beyond the stock sell-off he has had little to say directly on the subject.
Of course, American forces in East Asia are currently being drawn down as troops are moving gradually from South Korea to Guam. The drawdown of US troops could ameloriate Chinese fears of American encirclement.
McCain would try to keep the trade levers open between the countries, believing trade would be mutually beneficial. McCain’s past record is of promoting economic policies that satisfy China, and benefit America by creating a more efficient supply-chain. These policies do much toward peacefully co-existing with the Chinese State.
It appears that a McCain presidency, though potentially confrontational in regard to Chinese human rights and shoddy merchandise, would tend to reflect George Bush’s status quo of criticising China, while still increasing trade, and working toward dialogue. That is, if the OLD free trade McCain overcomes the populist G-8 and dialogue-limiting McCain that has appeared in the 2008 election cycle. If the new, more belligerent McCain crafts China policy, then pressure and stresses might develop in the Sino-US international relationship.
* The major source article for this analysis was the CFR’s analysis of Presidential Candidates’ China views.
* John McCain’s major foreign policy article in Foreign Affairs is “An Enduring Peace Built on Freedom.”