Ex-US trade chief sees 'opportunities'

Updated: 2012-11-09 13:40

By Wang Jun in Los Angeles (China Daily)

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Ex-US trade chief sees 'opportunities'

Mickey Kantor, who served as US trade representative and commerce secretary under President Bill Clinton, is interviewed in his Los Angeles law office. He blames China-bashing on electoral politics. Kimia Mostaghimi / China Daily

Now that the 2012 elections have passed, people - or at least politicians - can reasonably be expected to talk more rationally about China-related issues, says a man who oversaw US trade policy during Bill Clinton's presidency.

Mickey Kantor, who served as US trade representative from 1993 to 1996, followed by nearly a year as commerce secretary, spoke to China Daily in his Los Angeles law office about his longtime advocacy of open trade and the rhetorical China-bashing that flared up during the just-ended presidential campaign.

"You're got to remember this is a political year in the United States. Therefore, people believe that if you criticize China, that will help you politically. I'm sorry that's the case."

He was referring to last month's House of Representatives Intelligence Committee report alleging illicit conduct by China's Huawei Technologies Co and ZTE Corp.

Kantor, who as the Clinton administration's point man led negotiations that formed the World Trade Organization in 1995, questioned the House committee's findings.

"I believe the report is vastly overwritten and overstated," he said. "Interestingly enough, the report admits they have no evidence that Huawei and ZTE has done anything."

The report capped a series of actions that have contributed to a sense of US unease over trade with China.

President Barack Obama's administration in mid-September filed a trade complaint with the WTO claiming Beijing subsidizes automobile and auto-parts exporters. Obama also blocked Chinese-owned Ralls Corp from erecting wind turbines near a navy test site in Oregon, the first time in 22 years that a US president barred a foreign investor for national-security reasons.

In contrast, an Asia Society report titled An American Open Door found that Chinese direct investment in the US "is soaring, both in value and number of deals".

It said Chinese companies have established operations and created jobs in at least 35 of the 50 states and across dozens of industries, in manufacturing and services.

"The actual number of [US] jobs that Chinese investors have created likely exceeds 10,000 - many times the official estimate," the report said.

"If China follows the pattern of other emerging nations, more than $1 trillion in direct Chinese investment will flow worldwide by 2020, a significant share of which will be destined for advanced markets such as the United States," the report added.

Kantor pointed out that all governments have security laws to protect against certain kinds of commercial acquisitions of technology developed in their countries.

"What interests me is that the US government continues to focus on Huawei," he said. "There are reasons that companies that compete with Huawei are pressing the US government to take their stands, and they're trying to convince the government that Huawei is doing something wrong."

The former Cabinet official said he didn't like the idea that such claims could escalate as high as they have without firm evidence being cited.

"Everyone's technology can be hacked," he said.

Last year, the Washington Post obtained a presentation titled Huawei and National Security, prepared by Cisco Systems Inc, the Silicon Valley giant that competes against the Chinese company in the manufacture of networking equipment and other telecommunications gear. The Cisco presentation's content was similar to that of the House committee report.

"It's good if it's healthy and everyone plays fair by the same rules," Kantor said of trade. "In this case in fact, this report is wrong. I hope that responsible officials in the US government read it, understand that the report is not what it pretends to be, and they will not act on this but will act in a mature fashion supporting open trade.

"We can use investment and commercial relations to build our political relations as well," he added. "Commercial relations are wonderful ways to bring countries closer together because both sides have something to gain and something to lose.

"In trying that, we've got to be open to each other in trying to promote our own products and expecting products and investment from other nations. There's a huge amount of Chinese investment in the United States. Haier and Lenovo, just to mention two very big ones - they've been very viable and their companies have done very well in the United States. There has been no discrimination by Chinese companies in the United States."

Criticisms such as those in the House committee report can be costly to any company, individual or government, Kantor said.

"We are by far the two most powerful nations. Therefore, we have a special obligation to work together."

Kantor, now in private practice in Los Angeles and Washington, has advised US companies' entry into European and Asian markets. He said the US must turn concerns over China into "opportunities".

"Opportunities to make progress, opportunities to cooperate, opportunities to sit down and understand each other's goals, aspirations.

We have in common many things that bring us together. We need to use that as a foundation to build our relations."