The Debate

New Report Could Offer Clues to Hillary Clinton’s China Policy

Recent Features

The Debate

New Report Could Offer Clues to Hillary Clinton’s China Policy

A new report on US-China relations could provide insight into what Hillary Clinton’s China policy would be as president.

A new report jointly issued by a prominent U.S. and Hong Kong think tank could offer clues into what U.S. China policy might look like if Hillary Clinton is elected president in 2016.

The report—entitled U.S.-China Relations: Toward a New Model of Major Power Relationship—was jointly published the Center for American Progress, a highly influential Democratic think tank in Washington, D.C., and the China-U.S. Exchange Foundation, a Hong-Kong-based organization established by Tung Chee Hwa, the first Chief Executive of Hong Kong following its return to Chinese control., to promote closer U.S-China relations.

The report came about as a result of a Track II dialogue of prominent former officials, business leaders, and academics from the U.S. and China. The objective of the report and its accompanying working papers is to describe how the U.S. and China can establish a “new type of major power relations.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping first called for a “new type of major power relations” in the spring of 2012, months before taking the helm of the Chinese Communist Party. Although the exact meaning of the phrase, like most of those emanating from the senior Chinese leadership, hasn’t always been clear, U.S. officials have embraced the goal enthusiastically.

The new report recommends steps that could be taken to help create a new type of major power relationship. The main recommendations of the report detail ways the U.S. and China can cooperate at the international, regional and bilateral levels.

At the international level, the report calls for China and the U.S. to work together “to strengthen the international architecture of institutions and rules,” as well as establish international rules and institutions in some areas where there aren’t many, such as cybersecurity. Regionally, the report recommends that Beijing and Washington create regional mechanisms for development assistance, establish trilateral dialogues with other important Asian powers, and ultimately seek to combine their separate trade efforts to create a region-wide, high-standards free trade agreement.

The much more expansive list of bilateral areas of cooperation focuses heavily on efforts to create greater support for strong U.S.-China ties within each respective country. Thus, the report calls on senior leaders from both countries to better explain the benefits of the bilateral relationship to their domestic audiences, as well as expanding the number of “communities of interest” that have a direct stake in close U.S.-China ties.

Toward that end the report states: “We propose to U.S. and Chinese policy makers and concerned leaders that the two countries work intensively on issues where mutual interests can be readily identified and cooperation can be practically substantiated. That will help demonstrate to the American and Chinese general public that building a new model of major power relations can bring immediate and direct benefits.”

The report is most notable because of the prominence of the members of the U.S. and Chinese delegations that jointly produced the report (albeit the report features a disclaimer that not every individual necessarily agrees with every proposal).

The co-chairs of the delegations were the aforementioned Tung Chee Hwa and John Podesta, a former chief of staff to President Bill Clinton and more recently a political aide in the Obama White House. The Chinese delegates are almost entirely academics, however, many of them—such as Wang Jisi and Yang Jiemian—are especially influential ones.

Notably, many members of the U.S. delegation formerly worked for or otherwise have close ties to the Clinton family, raising the possibility that the report might hold clues as to how Hillary Clinton might manage U.S. China policy should she be elected president in 2016.

The Center for American Progress (CAP) itself was created by John Podesta in 2003 to serve as a Democratic counterweight to the many prominent conservative U.S. think tanks. Although many of its analysts have gone on to serve in the Obama administration in various capacities, the think tank, much like Podesta, who served as CAP’s president and CEO for many years, is often closely associated with the Clinton political sphere.

For example, Podesta’s successor at CAP is Neera Tanden. Although Tanden served in the Department of Health and Human Services during the Obama administration, she has extremely close ties to the Clinton camp, particularly to Hillary Clinton. Tanden first served as a senior policy aide to Hillary Clinton when the latter was first lady. She then served as deputy campaign manager on Clinton’s first Senate campaign in 2000, and was the legislative director in Clinton’s Senate office. When Clinton ran for president in 2008, Tanden served as policy director on the campaign and oversaw Clinton’s debate preparation, according to her bio on the CAP website.

As far as actual delegates to the report go, besides Podesta, Sandy Berger was national security advisor during Bill Clinton’s second term in office and deputy national security advisor during the first term. He is currently the chair of the Albright Stonebridge Group, a consulting firm staffed by many Clinton alums, and previously served as a foreign policy adviser to the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign.

Another member of the U.S. delegation was Rudy deLeon, a senior vice president at CAP. During the Clinton administration deLeon served in a variety of roles in the Pentagon, including as deputy secretary of defense, the Pentagon’s number two; undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness; and as undersecretary of the Air Force. Bill Clinton nominated him for each of these positions. deLeon would later serve as a key advisor to the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign.

Leslie Dach, a former vice president of Wal-Mart, has been described as “a former Democratic Party political operative with wide-ranging communications duties during the Clinton administration.” Last year he also gave a speech at the Clinton School of Public Service.

Robert S. Tyrer, co-president of the Cohen Group, served as the chief of staff to Defense Secretary William Cohen during the Clinton administration. However, he came to this role primarily because of his personal connection to Cohen himself, having long served as then-Senator Cohen’s chief of staff for a number of years.

Nina Hachigian, a Senior Fellow at CAP, served on the National Security Council staff in the Clinton White House, as did David Sandalow, a professor at Columbia who served in the Obama administration as well. Sandalow also served in the State Department during the Clinton administration and later was the Energy & Climate Change Working Group Chair at the Clinton Global Initiative. Dorothy Dwoskin served as a top U.S. trade official under Bill Clinton, although she also served under numerous Republican administrations including George W. Bush. As a top official at Microsoft, Dwoskin did have some access to the State Department when Clinton was secretary.

Not all of the U.S. delegation has ties to the Clinton camp however. Andrew Stern, a former labor union leader and prominent Washington insider, has been close to President Obama and highly critical of Bill Clinton’s presidency. More interestingly, Julianne Smith, a vice president at Beacon Global Strategies and Senior Fellow at the Center for a New American Security, was until recently the deputy national security advisor to Vice President Joe Biden, a potential competitor to Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination.

Still, the majority of the U.S. delegates to the report seem to have far closer ties to the Clintons than to the current administration in Washington, and many could ultimately serve in a Hillary Clinton administration. If so, the report suggests that a Hillary Clinton administration could pursue a more conciliatory policy toward China, more akin to Bill Clinton’s second-term China policy than the policy pursued by President Obama starting in 2010.

This would contrast with Hillary Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state, when many in Beijing felt she was overly critical of China on issues like the South China Sea. Regardless of the substance of her policies, Clinton’s time at the State Department suggests that China and Asia more generally would be top priorities of her foreign policy as president.