On March 24, the U.S. Senate approved President Obama’s nomination of Gary Locke as secretary of commerce. Taking into account earlier nominations of Steven Chu as secretary of energy, Chris Lu as cabinet secretary, Christina Tchen as director of public liaisons, and Ivan K. Fong as general counsel for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Obama administration already has many ethnic Chinese holding high cabinet-level or presidential aide positions. In light of the growing importance of U.S.-China relations, having numerous ethnically Chinese officials at Obama’s side will inevitably give people more food for thought. How, exactly, will they influence the future of U.S.-China relations?
Obviously, whether it’s Gary Locke, Steven Chu, or any other ethnically Chinese political figure, they are, first and foremost, genuine Americans. Therefore, it goes without saying that from the American standpoint, protecting U.S. interests is the right and proper thing to do. Almost nobody would expect them to take advantage of their positions in public office to give China “special consideration.” But this doesn’t mean that they are no different from other people. What they all have in common is that they are more familiar with China – in other words, they are from the “China School.” The rise of the “China School” is a recent important political phenomenon in the U.S. Topics involving China are becoming increasingly popular, and people who understand China’s issues are in great demand. Voices advocating for U.S.-China cooperation are receiving more and more attention. One of the important strengths of these ethnically Chinese elite is that they use their personal advantage to be active in political and economic circles. We should say that the presence of ethnic Chinese in the cabinet is a sign of the overall rise of the “China School.”
Undoubtedly, the rise of the “China School” is of great significance for the future development of U.S.-China relations. The U.S. and China have interacted for thirty years. Therefore, their economies have become increasingly interdependent, communication between both sides has become increasingly systematic, and the foundation for the relationship between the two countries has already reached a certain level of stability. However, along with the continual rise in China’s strength, the structure of international politics and economics has subtly transformed. There has been a simultaneous increase in cooperation and competition between the two countries. This is a time of interaction, when opportunity and challenges can change any time. The direction of development in bilateral relations will depend more and more on how both sides take initiative to shape their future. The rise of the “China School” will provide a basis for comparatively proactive ideas and action to promote U.S.-China relations.
In terms of understanding, the rise of the “China School” will help the U.S. to understand China more objectively. As soon as the Obama administration took office, a great amount of importance was placed on U.S.-China relations, and the administration expressed its desire to work with China in these troubled times. This sensible and practical notion of the “China philosophy” influences mainstream public opinion, and under the economic crisis, the U.S. must consider short-term strategies that implore China to help the U.S. get out of trouble. From now on, if the “China School” can continually guide the U.S. people, media, and elite in understanding China more objectively and comprehensively, it can help lessen the misjudgments between the two countries, promote mutual trust, and strengthen bilateral relations.
In terms of actions, the rise of the “China School” can also help make cooperation the main theme in bilateral relations. Economy and trade, managed by Gary Locke, and energy, managed by Steven Chu, are sensitive core issues in U.S.-China relations. Although economy and trade are the current stabilizing weights in U.S.-China relations, their weight is dropping, and therefore, the number of conflicts is increasing. Although energy cooperation is a potential point of growth for bilateral relations, it has stopped at the planning stage and lacks specific proposals that can be implemented. If these issues are handled well, we can practically expect to achieve positive, comprehensive cooperation. If they are handled poorly, opportunities can degenerate into obstacles, and cooperation will give way to competition. If the “China School” can help both countries calmly explore new ways to sustain a cooperative relationship, it will be beneficial to promoting a stable relationship between the two countries.
In short, the participation of ethnic Chinese in the cabinet and the rise of the “China School” mean good news for long-term development in U.S.-China relations. However, there are always many variables, and there are always two sides to everything. Currently, it is hard to make any conclusions on how much of an effect the “China School” will have. Also, the “China School” does not necessarily mean “Pro-China.” The status of the “China School” in the U.S.’s policy-making toward China has risen. It can also make competition in different areas fiercer between the two countries, and we should know exactly how things stand.