Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Baucus can bring China to Congress

By Paul Haenle (China Daily) Updated: 2014-02-28 07:23

Senator Max Baucus of Montana was sworn in by US Vice-President Joseph Biden on Feb 21 as the country's new ambassador to China. The decision to nominate Baucus, according to many, was influenced by the US administration's domestic political calculus and the senator's work on US-China trade matters. But Baucus has another asset that should not be overlooked: 35 years of experience in US Congress. He is well positioned to help bridge the gap of understanding and trust between Congress and China, which could lead to more effective US and Chinese policymaking.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Barack Obama have made it a priority to deepen their personal relationship and better understand each other's foreign and domestic priorities. But Chinese officials still need a better understanding of how the US government functions between the executive and legislative branches, and US Congress needs a more sophisticated understanding of China and to pay greater attention to the country.

Members of the US House of Representatives are the closest public officials to the American people and can be important educators of their constituents on China and foreign policy issues. Yet close familiarity with and consistent focus on China has been lacking on Capitol Hill primarily because US representatives are elected to look after the interests of their constituents, not necessarily for their foreign policy expertise. What's more, internal and domestic matters have recently consumed the congressional agenda because of Washington's political gridlock and high turnover in the House (new members do not usually focus on foreign policy).

The bipartisan US-China Working Group, is meant to address this gap in expertise about and dedicated interest in China. Formed in 2005 and led by Congressmen Rick Larsen and Charles Boustany, the group has been doing excellent work in educating congressional members and staff about China. Yet having a well-respected former congressman like Baucus at the helm of the US-China relationship could, as former US ambassador to China Jon Huntsman said recently, "reintroduce members of Congress to the most important relationship of the 21st century".

True, the majority of engagement between Washington and Beijing will continue to come from the executive branch. But Baucus's potential to improve congressional savvy on China is important because Congress is set to play a key role in a number of critical issues in US-China ties. To craft effective legislation that advances US interests and policy, Congress will need good, accurate information on current developments in China and a deeper understanding of how history, geography and culture form Chinese views and behavior.

Baucus, a six-term senator and chairman of the powerful Finance Committee, is well equipped to educate and inform congressional members and staff about China. Using his network on Capitol Hill to bring awareness and attention to pressing China-related matters, Baucus can help facilitate smarter and more effective decisions regarding US policy toward the rising Asian power.

Previous Page 1 2 Next Page

Most Viewed Today's Top News
New type of urbanization is in the details