“In my view, our highest priority with China should be Iran.” – Congressman Howard L. Berman

Washington, DC – Congressman Howard L. Berman, Ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, delivered the following opening statement at today’s committee briefing entitled “Assessing China’s Behavior and its Impact on U.S. Interests”:

Chinese President Hu Jintao is in Washington this week for a state visit, and, as we speak, he and President Obama are meeting at the White House. After an often tense year in U.S.-China relations, the two leaders will try to set the contours of the relationship for the immediate future.

The U.S.-China relationship – one of the most interconnected and complex in global affairs – has major implications for the future of Asia and the entire world. The challenge for the Obama Administration is to manage that relationship in a way that strengthens our cooperation with Beijing in areas where we have shared interests, while at the same time addressing the serious concerns we have regarding a number of China’s policies.

China is neither an ally nor an enemy. It is both a competitor and a partner, in foreign affairs, security, and economics.

A key goal of our China policy must be to prioritize our myriad global interests, identify those issues where we are most likely to positively change China’s position, and then find and use our leverage with the Chinese to achieve those changes and accomplish our wider foreign policy objectives.

In my view, our highest priority with China should be Iran. Gaining China’s acceptance last year for tougher United Nations sanctions on Iran was a significant diplomatic achievement for the Obama Administration, but there is ample evidence that Chinese entities continue to invest in Iran’s energy sector. This helps Tehran avoid the full impact of sanctions and facilitates Iran’s continued development of a nuclear weapons capability, which threatens the U.S., our allies in the Middle East, and China, which is dependent on stable sources of oil from the Middle East. We must intensify our efforts to ensure China’s full participation in the multilateral sanctions regime against Iran.

The U.S. and China must also strengthen our collaboration to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula. As North Korea’s economic lifeline, Beijing holds considerable leverage over Pyongyang. Yet it has been too slow to make it clear to the North Korean leadership that security and respect can be attained only by giving up its nuclear weapons and refraining from other aggressive behavior.

The promotion of human rights and political freedom is a central goal of American foreign policy. These universal values must remain a central focus in our relationship with China, whose record in this area remains deplorable. Moreover, these values are in China’s self-interest: both its international image and its economic growth are dependent on developing a society based on the rule of law.

In the sphere of economics and trade, one area of particular concern is China’s theft of intellectual property and its “indigenous innovation” policy. In addition to compliance with the recent WTO decision, China must do more to stop the piracy and counterfeiting that occurs openly on street corners and over the Internet, and step up its enforcement efforts.

The crossroads we currently face in U.S.-China relations present less of a choice for the United States and more of a choice for China. The Obama Administration has articulated a pragmatic policy towards China, and in several key areas, the Administration has had some modest success. There is no clear indication, however, that China has made a fundamental decision to alter its strategic goals of leveraging the international community to promote its own policies of economic growth with heightened political control and military modernization with regional and extra-regional power projection, while at the same time insulating China as much as possible from outside influences. As much as the rest of the world looks to China to play a constructive role, it is not clear China wants to play a positive influence beyond its borders.

I look forward to hearing the testimony of our witnesses.