By Senator John McCain
The resurgence of Asia is one of the epochal events of our time. It is a renaissance that is not only transforming the face of this vast region, but throwing open new opportunities for billions of people on both sides of the Pacific—Americans and Asians alike—to build a safer, more prosperous and freer world.
Seizing these opportunities, however, will require strong American leadership and an unequivocal American commitment to Asia, whose fate is increasingly inseparable from our own. It requires internationalism rather than isolationism, and global trade rather than national protectionism. When our friends and allies in the Asia-Pacific region think of the future, they should expect more—not less—attention, investment and cooperation from the highest levels of the U.S. government.
A central challenge will be getting America’s relationship with China right. China’s double-digit growth rates have brought hundreds of millions out of poverty, energized the economies of its neighbors and produced manifold new economic opportunities. The [United States] shares common interests with China that can form the basis of a strong partnership on issues of global concern, including climate change, trade and proliferation. But some of China’s economic practices, combined with its rapid military modernization, lack of political freedom and close relations with regimes like Sudan and Burma, tend to undermine the very international system on which its rise depends. The next American president must build on the areas of overlapping interest to forge a more durable U.S.-China relationship.
It must be a priority of the next American president to expand America’s economic relationships in Asia. Unfortunately, in what has become an all-too-predictable pattern, some American politicians—including the Democratic candidate for president—are preying on the fears stoked by Asia’s dynamism; rather than encouraging American innovation and entrepreneurship, they instead propose throwing up protectionist walls that will leave us all worse off. The United States has never won respect or created jobs by retreating from free trade, and we cannot start doing so now.
We also must recognize, however, that while open trade with Asia is in America’s interest, globalization will not automatically benefit every American. That’s why we must remain committed to education, retraining and help for displaced workers, regardless of whether their job went away because of trade, technological innovation, or shifts in consumer spending patterns. For Americans who have lost a job, we need to expand opportunities for further education and training that can open new doors. We need to modernize our unemployment insurance system to reflect the reality of the [twenty-first] century economy: jobs that go away no longer come back when business rebounds. We need to help displaced workers make ends meet between jobs and move people quickly on to the next opportunity.
China has obligations as well. Its commitment to open markets must include enforcement of international trade rules, protecting intellectual property, lowering manufacturing tariffs and fulfillment of its commitment to move to a market-determined currency. The next administration should be clear about where China needs to make progress, hold it to its commitments through enforcement at the World Trade Organization and enforce U.S. trade and product safety laws. Doing so will help steer the process of China’s economic integration with the world to ensure that it is a fair, two-way street. And the [United States] should continually expand opportunities as China develops, moving into retail ventures, environmental protection, health, education, financial and other services.
Beyond our economic relationship, the [United States] shares other common interests with China that can form the basis of a strong partnership on issues of global concern. In addressing the problem of climate change, for instance, Chinese cooperation will be essential. If we are going to establish meaningful environmental protocols, they must include the two nations—China and India—that have the potential to pollute the air faster, and in greater annual volume, than any nation ever in history.
The United States should continue to negotiate in good faith with China and other nations to enact the standards and controls that are in the interest of every nation—whatever their stage of economic development. America can take the lead in offering these developing nations low-carbon technologies that we will all need. Given the environmental challenges so evident in China today, pressing on with uncontrolled carbon emissions is in no one's interest.
China’s growing power and influence endow it with the obligation to behave as a responsible stakeholder in global politics. China could bolster its claim that it is "peacefully rising" by being more transparent about its significant military buildup and by working with the world to isolate pariah states. In addition, how a nation treats its citizens is a legitimate subject of international concern in today’s world. China has signed numerous international agreements that make its domestic behavior more than just a matter of national sovereignty. To be a responsible stakeholder in the modern international system, a government must also be responsible at home, in protecting the rights of its people.
China and the United States are not destined to be adversaries. We have numerous overlapping interests and I hope to see our relationship evolve in a manner that benefits both countries and, in turn, the Asia-Pacific region and the world. Our ties must be rooted in a broader regional and international order that provides the indispensable bedrock for the shared prosperity and stability we all desire. America itself must be a stakeholder in that system, and we must take seriously our responsibilities to contribute to it. It is in this spirit that America’s relations with China, and with the countries that comprise the region surrounding it, should proceed.
John McCain is the senior U.S. Senator from Arizona and the 2008 Republican nominee for U.S. President.