RAND Hosts China Theme Day

On March 18, 2000, the citizens of Taiwan ended over 50 years of Nationalist Party rule by electing Chen Shui-bian, a former defender of pro-independence activists, as President. President Chen has avoided explicitly endorsing Beijing's conception of Taiwan as part of "One China", and Beijing recently warned that a Taiwanese move towards independence could lead to war. Meanwhile, the U.S. Congress is on the verge of approving permanent normal trade relations with China.

In light of these recent events and their profound implications for the U.S. government's China policy, RAND's International Security and Defense Program and the Center for Asia Pacific Policy hosted an invitational "China Theme Day" on May 9, 2000 at the RAND Washington office.

RAND's China Theme Day gave crucial policymakers and strategists from the Department of Defense an opportunity to discuss key policy questions with analysts from RAND and other research institutions in an informal and off-the-record environment.

This well-attended event featured four informative panels:

Panel One: U.S. Strategic Alternatives Towards China

The day began with a panel on "U.S. Strategic Alternatives Towards China". Panel participant and Director of RAND Project Air Force's Strategy and Doctrine Program Zalmay Khalilzad advocated "congagement", while RAND researcher Jonathan Pollack presented different approaches ranging from inclusion to inhibition.

Congagement is a newly coined term for a strategy that transcends both containment and engagement and embraces neither entirely. Such a strategy would involve continuing to enhance military, economic and political relations with China. At the same time, it would require taking precautionary military steps to deter China from becoming hostile and prepare for a possible military challenge. RAND researcher Ashley Tellis served as Respondant on the panel.

Panel Two: TMD and Arms Sales to Taiwan

Admiral Michael McDevitt from the Center for Naval Analysis and Elaine Bunn, a Pentagon Fellow at RAND, discussed Taiwan's efforts to obtain a theater missile defense (TMD) system and other advanced weapons systems from the United States. So far, the United States has rebuffed Taiwan's efforts to obtain TMD, but the island's potential acquisition of such a system remains a thorny issue in cross-strait relations. RAND researcher James Mulvenon was the Respondant.

Panel Three: Cross-Straits Balance and China's Use of Force

RAND researchers David Shlapak and Michael Swaine expounded upon the issues involved in responding to China's potential use of force against Taiwan. Swaine described the cross-straits tension as still primarily a political issue, not a military one. Respondant Mark Stokes from the Office of the Secretary of Defense provided more detail on the nature of China's military threat.

Panel Four: China in the Information Age

James Mulvenon, who recently presented a briefing to the Pentagon on this subject (see NDRI Briefs Pentagon), participated in the panel with Xing Fan, a Research Fellow at the Center for Strategic International Studies' International Communications Program. Fan spoke about the business aspects of China's information infrastructure.

Mulvenon gave an overview of China's military applications of information technology, including its ability to intercept U.S. information and its battlefield control capabilities. Jonathan Pollack served as the Respondant.

Nicholas R. Lardy, a specialist on the Chinese economy at the Brookings Institution, provided the luncheon address on "U.S.-China Economic Relations". A bill to normalize trade relations with China that was recently passed by the U.S. House of Representatives sparked protests by activists wary of China's human rights record and labor unions concerned the potential loss of American jobs to Chinese workers.

Many business and corporate interests, on the other hand, have supported the bill.  Supporters have claimed that normalizing U.S.-Chinese trade relations would open the Chinese market to American products and eventually lead to more political openness in China. The Senate is expected to vote on the bill the first week of June, 2000.