Comment on "Chinese Influence and American Interests"
Photo Credit: Council on Foreign Relations
By Donald K. Emmerson

Comment on "Chinese Influence and American Interests"

Dec. 24, 2018  |   Blog   |  13 comments

Chinese Influence and American Interests: Promoting Constructive Vigilance is an important and timely report.  It deserves translation into Chinese and wide circulation inside the PRC.  It should be made available on-line for free downloading by people in China from all walks of life, including scholars, teachers, authors, entrepreneurs, and officials from Beijing down to the lowest levels of administration throughout the country. Relations between the US and China are far too important to the citizenries of our two countries to restrict access to the report to a miniscule proportion of China’s population—the elite English-reading few who enjoy privileged (uncensored) exposure to critical facts and comments regarding the Chinese government’s behavior abroad.

I willingly attended a meeting of the Working Group on Chinese Influence Activities in the United States.  My academic specialty is Southeast Asia, including its relations with China, so I chose not contribute text to the report.  Understandably, not every sentence in its the 199 pages exactly matches what I might have preferred to read or decided to write.  (Relevant is my “Singapore and Goliath?” in the April 2018 Journal of Democracy.) But I supported the Working Group’s work and I agree with its outcome.

Included in the report is a dissenting opinion by Susan Shirk.  I respect her view.  But I am less concerned than she that the report risks “putting all ethnic Chinese under a cloud of suspicion.”  The word “constructive” in the report’s subtitle explicitly conveys the Working Group’s desire neither to stereotype nor denigrate people of Chinese descent.  At the meeting I attended, this wish was repeatedly expressed.  I endorse and appreciate the editors’ caution that, alongside our critique, we “must be mindful to do no harm,” and that the report should not be misused to disparage ethnically Chinese people, who have indeed, as the editors state, made “enormous” contributions to American progress. I would merely enlarge that gratitude to include the economic, political, and cultural benefits attributable to ethnic Chinese individuals, historically and now, throughout the world—my own specialty, Southeast Asia, notably included.