House Committee Seeks to End Decades of Bipartisan ‘Wishful Thinking’ on Engaging With China

( – The inaugural hearing of the new House committee on U.S.-China competition heard repeatedly the message that American politicians on both sides of the divide, as well as the business community and others, have for too long believed that opening up to Beijing would lead to reforms and democratization.

Witnesses and members told the “Select Committee on the Strategic Competition Between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party” that it was past time to acknowledge that mistaken approach, and work to counter the consequences.

“For too long, leaders across the private sector, in academia, industry, and finance as well as the public sector across multiple administrations and Congresses, clung to the assumption that China, having been welcomed into the international system, would play by the rules and, as China prospered, would liberalize its economy and its form of governance,” former National Security Advisor  Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster told the panel at Tuesday night’s hearing.

“Reality proved otherwise, but many leaders were slow to overcome wishful thinking and self-delusion concerning the intentions of the CCP,” he said.

“As a result, the United States and other nations across the free world underwrote the erosion of their competitive advantages, through the transfer of capital and technology to a strategic competitor determined to gain preponderant economic and military power.”


President Richard Nixon’s 1972 trip to the People’s Republic of China lay the groundwork for the establishment of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and the PRC in 1979.

In 2000 President Clinton championed and signed legislation granting China permanent normal trading relations, a designation that put an end to annual congressional reviews of its tariff privileges.

The move eased China’s entry into the World Trade Organization the following year. President George W. Bush said at the time its accession raised hopes that, in the long run, economic liberalization may help encourage the process of democratic reforms.

“We must learn from our mistakes,” the select committee chairman Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wisc.) said on opening the hearing.

“For much of the past half century, we tried to win the CCP over with honey, with engagement, believing that economic engagement in particular would lead to reforms in China. Both parties made the same bet. The only problem is, it didn’t work out.”

“We were wrong,” Gallagher said. “The CCP laughed at our naïveté while they took advantage of our good faith. But that era of wishful thinking is over. This select committee will not allow the CCP to lull us into complacency or maneuver us into submission.”

The committee’s ranking member, Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.), struck a similar note.

“Over the last three decades, both Democrats and Republicans underestimated the CCP and assumed that trade and investment would inevitably lead to democracy and greater security in the Indo-Pacific region – including in the PRC,” he said. “Instead, the opposite happened.”

“As China’s economy has grown more than tenfold since gaining access to U.S. and world markets,” Krishnamoorthi said, the CCP has tightened its authoritarian grip at home, pursued a massive military build-up, and “pursued economic and trade policies that flat-out undermine the U.S. economy.”

“The goal of the CCP has become clear: to displace U.S. and other competitors, especially in tomorrow’s strategic industries.”

‘Bending the knee to the CCP’

Matthew Pottinger, a former National Security Council official for Asia policy, told the hearing the CCP’s success in “presenting itself as constructive, cooperative, responsible, normal, was one of the great magic tricks of the modern era.”

For too long, he said in prepared remarks, too many in the U.S. “indulged the wishful view that if we open our markets wider to China, transfer more of our technology, invest greater sums of money, and train more Chinese technocrats, government scientists, and military officers, we might finally persuade China’s leaders to see the world how we do.”

“A policy of engagement, we told ourselves, would result sooner or later in the liberalization of China’s economy, society, and perhaps even its politics,” said Pottinger, who chairs the China program at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

“The economic policies of the CCP represent a clear and present danger to the American worker, our innovation base, and our national security,” Alliance for American Manufacturing President Scott Paul said in his statement to the hearing.

Referring to “51 years of wishful thinking by American leaders,” Paul also called out the U.S. private sector and other interests for often complying with the CCP’s demands for silence on abuses including genocide, forced labor, and exploitation of workers and the environment.

“Big tech, Hollywood, sports leagues, retail legends all say the right things in America, but are silent in China, bending the knee to the CCP,” he said.

“While CCP policies have been destructive, our own policies in some cases have made matters worse. Bringing China into the world trade system in 2000 seemed like a slam dunk, but instead became a spectacular failure of conventional wisdom and elite opinion.”

Commenting on the committee’s hearing, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said “relevant U.S. institutions and individuals” should discard their ideological bias and Cold War mentality, and “stop denigrating the Communist Party of China.”

See also:
Almost 50 Years After Nixon Went to China, Pompeo Characterizes Engagement as a Failure (Jul. 23, 2020)



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