Welcome to Washington DC, President Xi

by Mark Kirk
September 23, 2015

This is the fourth contribution to the “Americans Speak” series on Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to the United States. In advance of President Xi’s upcoming state visit to Washington, D.C., Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) shares his thoughts on the importance of “real dialogue” with China and the bipartisan efforts of the U.S.-China Working Group, which he cofounded with Representative Rick Larsen (D-WA) in 2005.

This is a momentous week in Washington. Our nation’s capital not only has welcomed the Holy Father, Pope Francis, but also is poised to host China’s president Xi Jinping for a historic state visit. Over the past month, I have heard more than a few of my Republican colleagues and some of the candidates for president opine that President Xi’s visit should be canceled or somehow downgraded. As someone who has followed U.S.-China relations for nearly 25 years, I respectfully disagree. Though politically tempting, merely sticking China in the eye by canceling or downgrading a presidential visit would actually do little to elicit policy changes in Beijing and might actually create more dangerous tension. There are many serious economic and security challenges in the U.S.-China relationship that require not thoughtless bluster but rather sincere and meaningful dialogue.

As a proud defender of America’s national defense and a passionate advocate of human rights, I believe there is much in China’s recent actions that warrants pause. The Chinese people must be allowed to read and write about their county’s problems openly. Free markets and economies are based on transparency and access to information. Failure to create this environment causes fragility and slower growth. However, we should resist the temptation to score some points at the expense of stronger U.S.-China relations. Instead, we should build on this important bilateral relationship, one of the most critical of the 21st century. Part of successfully negotiating with another country is understanding the vantage point from which it is approaching the situation. We will never gain fruitful cooperation with China on issues like cybersecurity and maritime disputes in the South China Sea or win respect for our justifiable human rights concerns by ignoring or insulting our guests.

Over the past fifteen years in the House and now in the U.S. Senate, I have seen how real dialogue with China produces results, such as setting up a military-to-military hotline to defuse situations at critical times. Earlier this year, the House U.S.-China Working Group—which I cofounded with my good friend, Democratic Representative Rick Larsen of Washington State—celebrated its ten-year anniversary. I am proud of our bipartisan work and the significant successes we’ve achieved together with our Chinese counterparts. I feel strongly that this example highlights what is sorely missing in today’s highly partisan debate environment; to make progress on any issue requires a real conversation, a forum for open and frank discussion between U.S. and Chinese leaders. This dialogue, without pretext or hyperbole, is the best tool for the United States to use its leverage and moral suasion as the world’s largest economy and a defender of universal human rights.

China’s growing middle class is already larger than the United States’ entire population. U.S. exports to China increased over 250% in the past decade (reaching $120 billion in 2013) and support nearly 800,000 American jobs. China has an incredibly strong interest in American products and ideas. We must position U.S. businesses and exporters to take advantage of this historic opportunity and explain how the free market, open politics, and transparency make all this innovation possible. It’s a terrific story of which we should be rightly proud. The potential gains and problem spots in the U.S.-China relationship require thoughtful exchanges at the highest levels of our governments. Our nations grow more interdependent every day, and I firmly believe it is the U.S. government’s role to continue to stress meaningful ways to grow and strengthen the immense benefits of this relationship. As China advances and assumes a larger role on the world stage, we will need to work with Chinese leaders to ensure the continued maturation of their country’s civil order and marketplace.