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Managing the China Challenge

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In recent years, China has begun projecting its newfound power in ways that threaten to undermine America’s democratic processes, values, and institutions. In light of growing evidence of China’s interference in essential sectors of America’s government and society, three broad principles can be used to protect our institutions: transparency, integrity, and reciprocity. We must not only focus on protecting our democratic traditions, institutions, and nation, but also on creating a fairer and more reciprocal relationship between the United States and China.

Discussion Questions

  1. How can the US create better business practices with China?
  2. How can we improve overall US-China relations?
  3. What can universities and think tanks do, specifically, to protect American values?

Additional Resources 

  • Read the report “Chinese Influence & American Interests: Promoting Constructive Vigilance.” Available here
  • Read “China Gets Its Message to Americans But Doesn’t Want to Reciprocate,” by Larry Diamond and Orville Schell in the Wall Street Journal, available here.
  • Watch “China’s Influence & American Interests: Promoting Constructive Vigilance” here.
  • Listen to “Jaw-Jaw: How Chinese Sharp Power Takes Aim at American Democracy” by Larry Diamond and Brad Carson. Available here.
View Transcript

After decades of peaceful economic development, the leadership of the People’s Republic of China has begun projecting its newfound power in ways that threaten to undermine our democratic processes, values, and institutions. As a result, America must reevaluate its relationship with China and find ways to counter its attempts to challenge our ideals of a free and open society.

Few people appreciate the extent to which the Chinese leadership has been engaged in “covert, coercive, and corrupting” efforts to gain cultural and informational influence, and to undermine our democratic institutions, such as our media, universities, and think tanks.

China’s government seeks to promote views sympathetic to the Chinese Communist Party and its policies, to suppress alternative views, and to co-opt key American players to support China’s foreign policy goals and economic interests. 

In light of growing evidence of China’s interference in important sectors of America’s government and society, we recommend three broad principles to protect the integrity of our institutions.

The first is transparency. The best protection against foreign actors manipulating our society is shining a light on nefarious activity.

American NGOs can investigate and monitor illicit actions by China, and Congress and executive branch agencies should publicize and penalize inappropriate Chinese influence activities.   The news media should be vigilant in resisting and exposing foreign influence. In addition, universities should ensure openness in dealing with foreign governments and donors.  

The second principle is integrity. Foreign funding of think tanks and universities must not come with strings attached. Universities and think tanks should establish common principles to guide exchanges with their Chinese counterparts.

Rigorous efforts should be made to inform the Chinese American community about potentially inappropriate activities by the Chinese government. At the same time, utmost efforts should be taken to protect the rights of Chinese Americans, as well as the rights of Chinese citizens living or studying in America, so that we do not risk a new era of McCarthy-like stigmatization. 

The third principle is reciprocity. There is a very real asymmetry of scholarly research access, public diplomacy, NGO activity, and technology transfer between China and the U.S. In addition China has misappropriated our intellectual property in a one-way flow of high technology.   

The only practical recourse is selective retaliation.  Not as an end itself, but as a means of compelling greater reciprocity from China. 

Our goals must be to protect our democratic traditions, institutions, and nation, while creating a fairer and more reciprocal relationship between the United States and China.

Persuading China to adhere to international norms of fairness and reciprocity may be exceedingly difficult and even create some risks, but it is the only path to a healthier, more durable relationship between our two countries.