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Obama Needs To Rebuild Relationship with China

New America Media, Commentary, George Koo Posted: Dec 03, 2008

Editor's note: From the economy to diplomacy, the Obama Administration can benefit from having China as an ally, notes NAM contributing writer Dr. George Koo. Koo is a retired business consultant and a board member of New America Media.

The Obama Administration will no doubt confront many daunting and pressing challenges but by immediately rebuilding the bi-lateral relations with China based on mutual respect and shared interests, the new administration could find China not only a willing ally but a crucial one.

Unlike the U.S., China never took on the mantle of the superpower and policeman of the world. China's able to maintain civil, if not downright cordial, diplomatic relations with nations -- Russia, Iran, Pakistan and North Korea to name just a few -- with whom the U.S. has been unfriendly.

China is in the position to cajole international cooperation more readily than America. With China's help, America may be able to lessen world tension without huge expenditures for shuttle diplomacy and military intervention.

The Pentagon and the military industrial complex love to position China as the next evil empire in order to justify annual defense budgets north of $500 billion. Very little of the annual budget goes to combat terrorist but most is for advanced weaponry, allegedly to respond to a rising China.

However, China is neither the belligerent state nor has the military might to compete with the U.S. By seeing the real China, hundreds of billions could be saved by not spending it on advance military systems. Ironically, we would have to borrow from China to spend money we don't have.

Chinese companies are potentially interested in increasing investment in America. More could come to the U.S. to license, form alliances and joint ventures or take over shuttered plants.

Haier is one China's major appliance makers and the first to build a plant in the U.S. Other Chinese investments followed Haier's investment in South Carolina to the benefit of the local economy. People in South Carolina know the story but most of the people in the U.S., do not.

Chinese companies could invest in America and create jobs in America, but the new administration and Congress need to send out a new message that dollars in Chinese hands are as welcome as anyone.

There are a number of policy changes that the new administration should undertake in order to signal to Beijing that Washington is no longer home to hostile, knee jerk attitudes towards China.

Guidelines on permissible investment need to be transparent and clearly delineated so that Chinese companies know where they stand beforehand. A case-by-case debate in Congress with gratuitous bombs of rancor thrown in, can no longer be an accepted procedure.

The U.S. export control policy towards China needs to be revamped and the hostile bias removed so that China can be accorded the same respect as any customer. The outdated notion that goods sold for civilian use could also find military use and therefore must be restricted when exporting to China, is insulting.

The U.S. export licensing process has been costly to administer, costly for American manufacturers to comply with and costly for Chinese buyers to follow. The policy has not made America more secure but has impeded export sales and made buying from us less attractive than buying from Western Europe and Japan. China is too important as an American high-tech goods export market for the U.S., to continue a policy that undermines our competitiveness.

In fact, our broad, ambiguous export control policy has been used to justify racial profiling by law enforcement agencies. The FBI has used suspected violations of export licensing procedure as cause to harass Chinese Americans. All too often it was merely an abuse of FBI authority.

The FBI has always espoused the idea that China uses the so-called "grains of sand" practice of espionage. Simply stated, the FBI believes that every ethnic Chinese in America is a potential spy for China. This theory serves to explain their failure in counter-intelligence and justify their random arrests of Chinese Americans.

The Obama administration should conduct an anti-ethnic cleansing of the leadership of FBI and get rid of the bigots and the racially biased culture that has resided there since J. Edgar Hoover. Racial profiling under grains of sand or any other pretense is still a show of ignorance and in the case of the FBI, incompetence.

The State Department should be instructed to simplify the visa granting process to business travelers from China rather than treating China as another pariah state. Making visas easier to obtain would encourage more commercial exchange and facilitate inbound investment.

As Europe and other tourist destinations have discovered, China is rapidly becoming the largest source of international tourists. France and Germany, among others, have found the Chinese tourists to be bigger spenders than Japanese or American. With an enlightened visa policy, we too can be beneficiaries of their tourist shopping.

By treating China as a peer, the Obama Administration would not only recognize the reality of China's position in the new world order but would gain an ally that could reduce America's military expenditures, provide diplomatic cover in certain parts of the world essential to world stability and help rescue America's foundering economy.

Related stories

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From Mao to Yao Ming

Erasing Taiwan, My Birth Country

*Another version of this commentary appeared in the San Jose Mercury News

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