Views on the Chinese President's Upcoming State Visit

by Charles W. Boustany
September 22, 2015

As part of the “Americans Speak” series in advance of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s upcoming state visit in Washington, D.C., Representative Charles W. Boustany Jr., co-chair of the U.S.-China Working Group, shares his thoughts on the possibilities for cooperation between the United States and China and how they might be realized.

While my colleagues and I excitedly await the arrival of the pope in Washington, I am equally eager for the official state visit of Chinese president Xi Jinping and the opportunity for the increased bilateral dialogue his presence in the United States will bring. This week’s visit is a monumental and rare occasion. While President Xi has visited the United States once before under less formal circumstances, this is only the fourth time in history the leader of China has made the trip here for an official state visit.

As the co-chair of the U.S.-China Working Group, a bipartisan collective of members of Congress who take an active interest in the U.S.-Sino relationship, I know firsthand the importance of building a strong and lasting connection between the United States and China, which requires engagement on many levels, including continued interest and commitment from Congress. Congress plays a large role both in supporting policy that facilitates our ability to engage with China and in helping the American public understand the importance of our relationship with China.

The possibilities for cooperation between the United States and China are vast—ranging from military relations to cultural exchanges and expanded trade opportunities. Our economies are the first- and second-largest in the world, making the U.S.-China relationship increasingly important and crucial in defining 21st century foreign policy. While the United States and China are already robust trading partners, there remain significant opportunities for growth.

I would like to see the United States and China work together to help U.S. businesses sell more American products to Chinese consumers. This would not only give the Chinese more access to goods but create jobs here at home. My home state of Louisiana has seven designated foreign trade zones dispersed throughout the state. These free trade zones provide foreign companies (including Chinese) with customs-free options for the import, manufacture, or reshipment of goods from areas near U.S. port facilities. Nationwide the free trade zones have already had a positive impact on the U.S. economy, receiving $798 billion in goods in 2014 and supporting approximately 420,000 U.S. jobs.

Given China’s latest efforts to cut down on coal usage, it is widely expected that liquefied natural gas (LNG) will become a source of alternative energy for this enormous energy consumer. This could be a huge opportunity for the United States. Many energy analysts see U.S. LNG exports—specifically those coming from six facilities (two of which are in my home district) that are expected to begin shipping LNG by the end of the decade—as the largest driver shifting the United States from a gas importer to a gas exporter by June 2016. China’s energy development plan would make the country the second-largest importer of LNG in the world within the next decade, which would put its suppliers in a stable position in a market flooded by future project proposals. The United States is in position to provide China with much of the natural gas it requires.

The path ahead between our two nations is by no means smooth, as we have different views on issues such as cybersecruity, intellectual property protections, and the current territorial disputes in the South China Sea. That said, I believe we will only succeed in building stronger U.S.-China relations if citizens of both countries respect and engage one another.

Specifically, I would like to see the bilateral investment treaty (BIT) between the United States and China finalized and believe that it should include a small “negative list” allowing U.S. companies to compete in more of China’s economic sectors. A successful BIT will undoubtedly open more opportunities for U.S. firms to participate in the Chinese market.

Additionally, an increase in U.S. investment in China must go hand in hand with stronger protections and transparency for our domestic firms to operate. I hope during President Xi’s visit further U.S.-Sino discussions are conducted, encouraging China to enhance its cybersecurity domain and intellectual property protections for U.S. businesses already investing or looking to invest in China. Enhanced intellectual property rights and cybersecurity in China will reduce U.S. companies’ fear of theft and ease their trepidation about investing.

Finally, I hope to see our two nations find a reasonable solution to China’s ongoing land reclamation in the South China Sea. It is critical for the United States to continue to emphasize to the Chinese government the importance of freedom of the seas consistent with international law. Any disputes therein must be addressed peacefully, free of intimidation, threats, or the use of force.

I believe that President Xi’s visit this week will offer him and his delegation an opportunity to build a more thoughtful approach to the broad spectrum of issues that define our two countries’ relationship and our futures together. I look forward not only to his trip but to the prospects that this bilateral dialogue will bring.