While the Clinton administration has been assailed by stories of little-known businessmen trying to influence U.S. policy on behalf of China, China continues to benefit from an all-star network of prominent Americans who present its case to the public and lawmakers.
They include former Secretaries of State Henry A. Kissinger, Alexander M. Haig Jr., George P. Shultz, Cyrus R. Vance and Lawrence K. Eagleburger Jr., former national security adviser Brent Scowcroft, and executives from dozens of America’s largest corporations. Most are not paid by the Chinese government, but depend on access to Chinese officials to win lucrative contracts for themselves or their clients.
Some call these powerful figures “the new China lobby.” Academics who study Asia say they have helped soften anti-China rhetoric in Congress, just as the China lobby five decades ago helped anti-Communist forces. And the chorus urging warm relations with Beijing has had a dramatic effect on businesses’ attitudes toward China.
The biggest concrete victory so far has been President Clinton’s decision to reverse his stand and designate China as a most favored nation for trade privileges while cutting the link between U.S. trade policy and human rights - positions advocated strongly by Kissinger and other former officials. China also is getting a boost from calls for allowing it to join the World Trade Organization.
“I think there is clearly a lobby - not as organized as the old China lobby, probably - which has a strong interlocking set of business and political interests,” said William C. Kirby, chairman of the history department and the East Asian studies program at Harvard. “I think it is very, very complicated, and certainly in the case of a former secretary of state it’s not only complicated but inappropriate.”
Ross H. Munro, co-author of “The Coming Conflict with China,” describes the new China lobby as a group of corporate chiefs and former top government officials who make China’s case before the American Congress and public.
“The American people tend to believe that a former secretary of state is above the fray and has no special interests,” Munro said. “I don’t doubt the sincerity of the new China lobby. What bothers me is that many of these former senior officials do have very concrete interests that the public rarely knows about.”
But where some see a shadowy attempt to shape policy, others see above-board business. Nick Lardy, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, said the term is misleading because Kissinger and the other former officials are not lobbyists.
“I think they’re all motivated by a desire to serve U.S. foreign policy interests. I don’t think they’re apologists for China at all,” he said.
Although the controversies over China’s influence involve Clinton and the Democratic Party, many high-profile friends of China tend to be Republicans.
The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service found that about 40 members of Congress visited China in December and January - and some of those visits were paid for by nonprofit groups that receive funds from the Chinese government. Members of Congress cannot accept trips paid for by lobbyists or foreign governments, but may travel if a nonprofit group pays.
Last week, Roll Call, a Capitol Hill newspaper, looked into an 11-day trip to Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong that shows how China is learning to reach Congress. The guests were Reps. Spencer Bachus of Alabama, Henry Bonilla of Texas, and their wives, along with Ken Calvert of California and former Texas congressman Beau Boulter, who is working as an international trade consultant. All are Republicans.
The trip was the first for members of Congress to have been sponsored by the National Committee on United States-China Relations, a non-profit group in New York, which put the cost at $42,000. But Roll Call said that part of the expense was paid by the Chinese People’s Institute for Foreign Affairs, an organization funded by China’s Foreign Affairs Ministry.
Kissinger is probably the most prominent friend of China. For years, he has written syndicated columns, given speeches and appeared on television to argue for expanding trade with China. In November 1989, following his first trip to China since an antidemocracy crackdown in Tiananmen Square, Kissinger had dinner with President Bush at the White House.
Kissinger is inevitably identified as the secretary of state instrumental in opening diplomatic relations with China during the Nixon administration, and as a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. But he is also the head of Kissinger Associates in New York, which represents companies trying to do business in China. According to Munro’s book, Kissinger’s clients include the Chase Manhattan Bank, American Express, Coca-Cola, Atlantic Richfield and American Grain.
Last week, as Washington was embroiled in a debate over influence-peddling by China, Kissinger gave a speech in the Philippines exhorting the United States to let China expand its role in Asia.
“Declaring China an enemy today before they have actually done any expansion, and before they have a direct chance, would have major consequences in which, in my view, we would have no allies,” he said. “We should do our best to have cooperative and realistic relations with China … to give them a real stake in the international system.”
Lobbyists for foreign governments are required to file papers with the U.S. government disclosing their clients and their fees. But those who represent American clients looking for contacts in other countries do not.
China has long had its own set of informal rules. Anyone doing business there needs guan-xi, or access. And Chinese officials have the power to reward outsiders with access - and for that matter, visas to enter in the first place.
“People like Kissinger can do this without leaving a paper trail,” said Bill Hogan, the director of investigative projects at the nonprofit Center for Public Integrity in Washington. “For every lobbyist you see who is registered somewhere, here are all kinds of other people who could be working for a corporation or a country and you’d never know about it.”
China’s critics - including those who monitor its weapons trade, its human rights policies, and its threats to Taiwan - are worried by what they see as Beijing’s growing influence in Washington.
“Henry Kissinger, Al Haig, Brent Scowcroft and these people have a vested interest in good relations with China,” said Parris Chang, an opposition legislator in Taiwan. “You could say they they have intellectual convictions about this, but they also receive hefty financial benefits from helping China.”