Presidential Candidates Don’t Need to Hire China Specialists

About two weeks ago, Dr. Josh Dorfman published the following post on LinkedIn:

Dear presidential candidates: You cannot ignore China! Do you disagree with our current strategy? All of it? Are you sure? You need to be sure. Because I haven’t heard much about it from any of you. It’s sort of like you don’t understand how much the US-China relationship will shape the coming decades. Seriously. A lot. Please, please hire China advisers that value evidence over ideology. Yes, like me. And many much better than me, like Shaun Rein, Jessica Beinecke, Kaiser Kuo, Eric Olander 欧瑞克, Bill Bishop, Dan Harris, Samm Sacks, John Pabon, Benjamin Shobert, Paul S. Triolo, Damien Ma. And I’d be happy to recommend many others. You can’t afford to get China wrong. Seriously. Let us help you. Our proud nation will be forever grateful. Kindest regards, An honest-to-goodness American

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Dan Harris disagreed on China Law Blog.

After much thought, I believe Dr. Dorfman’s well-intentioned post about national strategy is misplaced.

Coming decades will be shaped by a clear sense of American values and commitments to the region, situating China within a broader Asia policy. I look forward to hearing candidate alternatives to America First, not who they’re hiring for China.To this end, presidents and presidential candidates would be wrong to prioritize recruiting China specialists.

The Obama administration should be credited for the US Pivot to Asia, which prioritized rebalancing Pentagon resources to Asia. Administration success in resource allocation obfuscated deficiencies in strategy. What was the goal of the pivot? Was China a competitor? Ask John Kerry, Ash Carter, and Susan Rice these questions and there would be three different answers.

The Trump administration has been clear: China is a competitor and we are entering an era of great power rivalry. Tools and resource allocation, however, has been lacking. East Asia policy is not confined to the Pentagon. Congress affirmed this in the recent NDAA (read this). Broader trade and diplomacy guidance (the State Department doesn’t have a permanent Assistant Secretary to East Asia) have been abandoned.

American presidents and presidential candidates should prioritize the administrative responsibility of determining American values and commitments to Asia at large, not China. Consider the ‘China problems’ of fair trade and military conflict in the South China Sea.

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American allies Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan are just as guilty as China for imbalanced and unfair trade. American approach to Chinese trade, based in national values, should mirror that of our allies.

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Presidents should not view Chinese militarization of the South China Sea as a China problem.

Presidents should gather allies and commit the nation’s resources to policy reflecting American values.