June 29, 2019 / 8:47 PM / 18 days ago

Experts think Trump policy on China counterproductive: draft letter

BEIJING/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Scores of Asia specialists, including former U.S. diplomats and military officers, want President Donald Trump to rethink policies that “treat China as an enemy,” warning the approach could hurt U.S. interests and the global economy, according to a draft open letter reviewed by Reuters on Saturday.

U.S. President Donald Trump meets with China's President Xi Jinping at the start of their bilateral meeting at the G20 leaders summit in Osaka, Japan, June 29, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

The draft letter comes as tensions rise between the world’s two largest economies over a raft of issues. They include a trade war in which the sides have slapped tariffs on billions of dollars on each others’ imports, U.S. charges of massive Chinese espionage, and a Chinese military modernization program that threatens the U.S. edge in the Western Pacific.

The United States and China, meeting on Saturday on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Japan, agreed to restart talks on ending the trade battle.

“Although we are very deeply troubled by Beijing’s recent behavior, we also believe that many U.S. actions are contributing to the downward spiral in relations,” said the draft of the open letter to Trump and Congress signed by some 80 experts.

“U.S. efforts to treat China as an enemy and decouple it from the global economy will damage America’s international role and reputation and undermine the economic interests of all nations,” it said. “The U.S. fear that Beijing will replace the U.S. as the global leader is exaggerated.”

Trump’s 2018 U.S. National Security Strategy calls China a strategic competitor that seeks to replace the United States as the pre-eminent global power.

It was not clear when a final version of the letter would be released. A cover note accompanying the draft said more signatures were being solicited, and the final version would be submitted to a major newspaper.

The draft of the open letter lists “Seven Propositions” that the signatories said represented their collective views “on China, the problems of the U.S. approach to China, and the basic elements of a more effective U.S. policy.”

The Chinese government’s increase in domestic repression and control over private companies, “its failure to live up to its trade commitments, greater efforts to control foreign opinion and more aggressive foreign policy” are “serious challenges for the rest of the world,” the draft said.

The current U.S. response, however, is counterproductive because by treating China as an existential national security threat, it weakens the influence of moderates in Beijing who know that “a cooperative approach with the West serves China’s interests,” the draft said.

The United States also could isolate itself because allies would be unwilling to treat China as “an economic and political enemy,” it said.

The experts called for a new policy under which the United States cooperated with allies to deter Chinese military aggression through “defensive-oriented” postures.

The United States also should work with allies and partners “to create a more open and prosperous world in which China is offered the opportunity to participate,” the draft said.

Signatories included Susan Thornton, a former top diplomat for East Asian affairs, and J. Stapleton Roy, a former U.S. ambassador to Beijing.

Reporting by Jonathan Landay; editing by Jonathan Oatis

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