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The Case for Trade With China

Friday, 11 May 2001 12:00 AM

An American businessman experienced in commercial relations with China calls trade essential to maintaining a dialogue of cooperation across all fronts with the United States.

Douglas C. Henck, based in Hong Kong and representing a Fortune 500 company in Asia, told NewsMax.com that his conviction is shared by most U.S. enterprises doing business in the Orient.

A frequent spokesman for American business interests in Asia, including testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Henck has resided in Hong Kong with his family for the past 15 years.

As 1997 chairman of the highly influential American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, he was actively involved in the discussions between the business community and the Chinese, Hong Kong and U.S. governments during the transfer of Hong Kong from the United Kingdom's control.

Henck also served two terms as chairman of the Asia Pacific Council of American Chambers of Commerce, 1993-1995, during which he led three delegations of American businessmen to Washington, D.C., to discuss trade and policy issues with members of Congress and administration officials.

Henck also hosted dozens of similar meetings in Asia, including individual meetings with the president, secretaries of state, commerce and treasury, the president and premier of China, the prime minister of Malaysia and Hong Kong government officials.

Here is the text of his recent interview with NewsMax.com, in which his comments are his own and do not represent the views of his employer or of the current leadership of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong:

It goes without saying that China is an enormously important country, and that the United States and China have many critical issues to discuss. The two countries do not and will not always agree.

But maintaining dialogue at all levels from top to bottom is almost always going to accomplish more in terms of moving ahead on these issues than becoming disengaged and not talking.

Some members of Congress came out that year and encouraged IOC member countries not to vote for Beijing.

Westerners in Asia sense that these statements backfired with the IOC voters. Members of the IOC do not like being told what to do by others, particularly the United States. Many of us thought that these statements turned the tide to Beijing.

Then, just a week or so before the crucial vote, an official in Beijing suggested publicly that China might boycott the Olympics if Beijing were not chosen. The IOC members almost certainly liked that threat even less than being told how to vote and, in the final tally, Sydney won by just two votes.

Had even one vote switched, the result would have been a tie, and Juan Antonio Samaranch of Spain, as chairman of the IOC, could have chosen China, as it was believed he would do.

Directly answering your question, if the United States opposes China's hosting the Olympics, the attempt to influence the IOC vote so openly could well be counterproductive and have the opposite effect.

Ironically, there is some thought that the IOC members might well favor Paris. If that is indeed the case, and if the United States prefers anywhere-but-Beijing, then the best strategy is to say nothing.

Openly opposing Beijing's bid would not only increase Beijing's chance of winning, but if Paris should still win the United States would have irritated China unnecessarily and inaccurately conveyed to the Chinese public that Beijing's loss was a result of American efforts.

Trade relations would not necessarily suffer right away, but eventually could be affected. And the ability of the U.S. business community to be a constructive, positive influence within China would be diminished.

There are no forces – other than war, I suppose – that can change a culture more than education and economic development. While some recent headlines are indeed very disturbing, looked at over a longer period of time, the past 20 years in China have seen a level of change virtually unprecedented in history. The day-to-day lives of hundreds of millions of Chinese are far more open, with far more freedom, than has been the case at any other point in the current population's lifetime.

The twin forces of education and economic progress have brought about these changes. Open trade with the West is a strong force enhancing that progress, as are increased access to international information through telecommunications and the Internet, as well as increased international travel by Chinese citizens.

The U.S. and Chinese governments should continue to discuss all of their issues with each other, including legitimate concerns about sovereignty and human rights. But the dialogue and progress will be much more effective if there are elements of the U.S.-Sino relationship that are constructive, such as trade.

And should the United States proceed with a defensive shield against possible Chinese nuclear-missile strikes against American cities?

Would either of those have a negative effect on increased U.S. trade with China?

Having said that, I have personally been very impressed by the deep understanding of the region on the part of the U.S. military leaders I have had the pleasure to meet. Many have been involved with very constructive engagement programs, such as those related to health or education of people in the region.

Or would it give China even more reason to fear it is in danger of being exploited economically by the United States, and thus become even more hostile toward the United States?

Besides, the effect of unilateral trade sanctions by the United States would hardly be enough to change China's budget process dramatically, except possibly in ways counter to U.S. interests.

We should also keep in mind that, as in the United States and any other country, there are differences of opinion among the leadership ranks within China.

We should be encouraging those in China who wish to see a constructive relationship with America, particularly in light of the political succession process going on that will see President Jiang step down in late 2002.

Americans generally can and should be a very positive influence in the right types of business practices in China.

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An Americanbusinessman experienced in commercial relations with China calls trade essential to maintaining a dialogue of cooperation across all fronts with the United States. Douglas C. Henck, based in Hong Kong and representing a Fortune 500 company in Asia, told...
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Friday, 11 May 2001 12:00 AM
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