Bau­cus can bring China to Congress

China Daily (Canada) - - COMMENT -

Sen­a­torMax Bau­cus ofMon­tana was sworn in by US Vi­cePres­i­dent Joseph Bi­den on Feb 21 as the coun­try’s newambas­sador to China. The de­ci­sion to nom­i­nate Bau­cus, ac­cord­ing to many, was in­flu­enced by the US ad­min­is­tra­tion’s do­mes­tic po­lit­i­cal cal­cu­lus and the se­na­tor’s work on US-China trade mat­ters. But Bau­cus has an­other as­set that should not be over­looked: 35 years of ex­pe­ri­ence in US Congress. He is well po­si­tioned to help bridge the gap of un­der­stand­ing and trust be­tween Congress and China, which could lead to more ef­fec­tive US and Chi­nese pol­i­cy­mak­ing.

Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping and US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama have made it a pri­or­ity to deepen their per­sonal re­la­tion­ship and bet­ter un­der­stand each other’s for­eign and do­mes­tic pri­or­i­ties. But Chi­nese of­fi­cials still need a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of how the US govern­ment func­tions be­tween the ex­ec­u­tive and leg­isla­tive branches, and US Congress needs a more so­phis­ti­cated un­der­stand­ing of China and to pay greater at­ten­tion to the coun­try.

Mem­bers of the US­House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives are the clos­est pub­lic of­fi­cials to the Amer­i­can people and can be im­por­tant ed­u­ca­tors of their con­stituents on China and for­eign pol­icy is­sues. Yet close fa­mil­iar­ity with and con­sis­tent fo­cus on China has been lack­ing on Capi­tolHill pri­mar­ily be­cause US rep­re­sen­ta­tives are elected to look af­ter the in­ter­ests of their con­stituents, not nec­es­sar­ily for their for­eign pol­icy ex­per­tise. What’s more, in­ter­nal and do­mes­tic mat­ters have re­cently con­sumed the con­gres­sional agenda be­cause ofWash­ing­ton’s po­lit­i­cal grid­lock and high turnover in the House (newmem­bers do not usu­ally fo­cus on for­eign pol­icy).

The bi­par­ti­sanUS-Chi­naWork­ing Group, is meant to ad­dress this gap in ex­per­tise about and ded­i­cated in­ter­est in China. Formed in 2005 and led by Con­gress­men Rick Larsen and Charles Bous­tany, the group has been do­ing ex­cel­lent work in ed­u­cat­ing con­gres­sional mem­bers and staff about China. Yet hav­ing a well-re­spected for­mer con­gress­man like Bau­cus at the helm of the US-China re­la­tion­ship could, as for­mer US am­bas­sador to China JonHunts­man said re­cently, “rein­tro­duce mem­bers of Congress to the most im­por­tant re­la­tion­ship of the 21st century”.

True, the ma­jor­ity of en­gage­ment be­tweenWash­ing­ton and Bei­jing will con­tinue to come from the ex­ec­u­tive branch. But Bau­cus’s po­ten­tial to im­prove con­gres­sional savvy on China is im­por­tant be­cause Congress is set to play a key role in a num­ber of crit­i­cal is­sues in US-China ties. To craft ef­fec­tive leg­is­la­tion that ad­vances US in­ter­ests and pol­icy, Congress will need good, ac­cu­rate in­for­ma­tion on cur­rent de­vel­op­ments in China and a deeper un­der­stand­ing of how his­tory, ge­og­ra­phy and cul­ture form Chi­nese views and be­hav­ior.

Bau­cus, a six-term se­na­tor and chair­man of the pow­er­ful Fi­nance Com­mit­tee, is well equipped to ed­u­cate and in­form con­gres­sional mem­bers and staff about China. Us­ing his net­work on Capi­tolHill to bring aware­ness and at­ten­tion to press­ing China-re­lated mat­ters, Bau­cus can help fa­cil­i­tate smarter and more ef­fec­tive de­ci­sions re­gard­ing US pol­icy to­ward the ris­ing Asian power.

One is­sue that has moved to the fore is cy­ber­se­cu­rity, es­pe­cially in the aftermath of a Fe­bru­ary 2013 re­port from US cy­ber­se­cu­rity com­pa­nyMan­di­ant. US­House mem­bers in­tro­duced nine bills fo­cused on cy­ber­se­cu­rity in 2013. This year, Congress is ex­pected to de­bate newleg­is­la­tion that seeks to make crit­i­cal up­dates to US cy­ber­se­cu­rity laws, in­clud­ing changes that be­gin in­for­ma­tion shar­ing about cy­ber threats and bet­ter pro­tect na­tional se­cu­rity, commercial in­fra­struc­ture and con­sumers.

In de­bates in Bei­jing, Bau­cus can play an im­por­tant role in draw­ing a clear distinc­tion be­tween tra­di­tional forms of es­pi­onage, which seek to un­cover po­lit­i­cal and mil­i­tary se­crets, and trade and commercial cy­ber­at­tacks that threaten US se­cu­rity and eco­nomic pros­per­ity.

Congress will also de­cide this year whether to grant Obama trade pro­mo­tion author­ity— lever­age to ne­go­ti­ate trade agree­ments with the un­der­stand­ing that fi­nal agree­ments will not be amended and their im­ple­men­ta­tion ex­pe­dited. With­out this author­ity, pas­sage of the Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship will be se­ri­ously jeop­ar­dized. The TPP has been the crit­i­cal trade and eco­nomic com­po­nent of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s re­bal­ance to Asia.

Nev­er­the­less, Congress will vig­or­ously de­bate the pas­sage of trade pro­mo­tion author­ity, and Bau­cus has a key part to play. He should high­light the im­por­tance of the TPP and other China-re­lated se­cu­rity is­sues to mem­bers on Capi­tol Hill while de­ci­pher­ing the in­ten­tions and do­mes­tic con­sid­er­a­tions be­hind these leg­isla­tive de­vel­op­ments to Chi­nese in­ter­locu­tors.

An­other area in which Bau­cus can con­trib­ute to en­hanced un­der­stand­ing and con­struc­tive co­op­er­a­tion be­tween China and Capi­tolHill is on out­erspace-re­lated is­sues. A 2011US ap­pro­pri­a­tions law­pre­vents theUS space agency, NASA, from fund­ing ac­tiv­i­ties that are con­ducted “bi­lat­er­ally in any way with China or any Chi­nese-owned com­pany” or that pro­vide for the “host­ing of of­fi­cial Chi­nese vis­i­tors at fa­cil­i­ties be­long­ing to or uti­lized byNASA”. This has pre­vented mu­tu­ally ben­e­fi­cial co­op­er­a­tion in space re­search and ex­plo­ration but not stopped China from achiev­ing a no­table mile­stone in space ex­plo­ration— be­com­ing the third coun­try to com­plete a soft land­ing on the moon’s sur­face.

As am­bas­sador, Bau­cus can draw at­ten­tion to op­por­tu­ni­ties for co­op­er­a­tion on global is­sues on whichWash­ing­ton and Bei­jing have con­verg­ing in­ter­ests, such as space ex­plo­ration. In the past, con­gres­sional fo­cus on China has been in­fre­quent thanks to a short­age of in­ter­est in and knowl­edge about the coun­try. But the US can no longer af­ford this po­si­tion be­cause China, prompted by its rise, has adopted a more proac­tive ap­proach to re­gional and in­ter­na­tional diplo­macy, and glob­al­iza­tion is deep­en­ing US-China in­ter­con­nect­ed­ness and in­ter­de­pen­dence.

Few­global is­sues can be solved in the com­ing decades with­out US-China co­op­er­a­tion. En­hanc­ingWash­ing­ton’s and Bei­jing’s col­lab­o­ra­tive ef­forts as part of a new­type of ma­jor coun­try re­la­tion­ship will re­quire stronger un­der­stand­ing, en­gage­ment and in­ter­ac­tion be­tween Capi­tolHill and China. It is thus im­por­tant that Congress mem­bers take a strong in­ter­est in for­eign pol­icy is­sues, es­pe­cially those re­lated to China, and for Bei­jing to bet­ter un­der­stand the role and in­ter­ests of Congress.

Should Bau­cus use his ex­pe­ri­ence on Capi­tolHill to fa­cil­i­tate more con­struc­tive in­ter­ac­tion be­tween China and Congress, he could very well leave a last­ing legacy on US-China ties. The au­thor is di­rec­tor of Carnegie– Ts­inghua Cen­ter for Global Pol­icy. This piece is orig­i­nally pub­lished by Carnegie-Ts­inghua Cen­ter for Global Pol­icy.


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