US Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson. Photo: AFP / Brendan Smialowski
US Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson. Photo: AFP / Brendan Smialowski

In a further sign of warming bilateral ties, US Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben Carson delivered an upbeat speech on US-China relations in Washington, D.C. on Friday.

“When you look at China you see a very, very accomplished society and not a very belligerent society,” Carson said at an annual conference hosted by the Committee of 100 (C100). “I think there’s an opportunity for China and the US to become very good friends – and the administration is looking for that.”

The comments by Carson, who was sent by the White House as a fill-in speaker for US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, appeared to be another positive policy signal by the Trump administration on China.

The HUD’s secretary’s speech followed Ross’s announcement last week of a 10-part trade agreement with China on beef, poultry and financial market access issues.

Carson, whose domestic agency has nothing to do with China, told the audience that he had spoken with Ross, who couldn’t attend, before making his speech. The C100 is an organization of prominent Chinese Americans active in Sino-US policy matters.

“I hope the US and the Middle Kingdom can learn from the mistakes and triumphs of the past,” Carson said at another point in his speech.

He also sought to allay fears of future US-China friction. “When we say America First, it does not mean America only,” Carson said, alluding to a slogan used by Trump during his presidential campaign.

Carson is a famous African American surgeon who backed Trump’s presidential bid and was later appointed to head HUD, which oversees home ownership, low-income housing and housing development.

Senator warns of ‘Thucydides Trap’

Another speaker at the C100 conference was Dan Sullivan, a Republican US senator from Alaska who serves as co-chair of the Senate’s China Working Group, a bipartisan panel that helps frame US China policy.

Sullivan said both the US and China were working to avoid the so-called “Thucydides Trap”, a strategic metaphor where a rising power challenges an established one – in a scenario that usually leads to war.

“Some say the US should contain China. I don’t think this is the right strategy,” Sullivan said, arguing that it’s better for the US to engage China.

Sullivan also offered some hints on how the GOP-controlled Congress and the Trump administration may craft future US economic policy toward China.

He noted in his speech that reciprocity from China on bilateral trade and investment issues and China’s alleged theft of US intellectual property remain sticking points between the two nations.

But the senator noted on the reciprocity issue that China currently has an opportunity to create jobs in the US through investment. “There’s a great opportunity to do that with the US-China relationship,” Sullivan noted.

Sullivan said another potential area for bilateral cooperation was energy. “(The US has) enormous reserves of clean-burning natural gas” that can be exported to an energy-hungry China, Sullivan said, adding that he and his colleagues would continue to work on such ideas in Congress.

Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, who is on deck to be the next US ambassador to China, was slated to be one of the main speakers at the C100 conference but was unable to attend due to a full schedule.
Reports say the full Senate is set to vote on Branstad’s confirmation as ambassador to China on Monday.

Doug Tsuruoka is Editor-at-Large of Asia Times

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