Recent congressional actions and rhetoric on China, including hearings of the House Select Committee on China, can be a positive step in focusing U.S. policy on the myriad issues that divide the U.S. and China. And there are many. Human rights, Taiwan, technology and spying, piracy, and the threat of Chinese assistance to the Russians fighting Ukraine; there are many issues that divide us, and they are serious. And they demand equally serious consideration by U.S. policymakers. Simply put, Chinese policies do not make it easy for U.S. policymakers.

Nonetheless, we must find ways to reduce the chance that intense rhetoric on both sides of the Pacific leads us into a dangerous or potentially inevitable confrontation. Our differences are deep and intense, but so is the need to work together on a variety of global issues like climate, science, food and agriculture, and even working to influence Russian behavior in Eastern Europe. My observation, based on my service on the House Intelligence Committee in the 1990s (granted, a long time ago) is that China was not always aligned with Russia’s global interests and foreign policy, and the U.S. sometimes worked collaboratively on those matters. Seems to me that China is not a natural ally of Russia and we should use our relationship to strongly ensure that China maintains independence from the extraordinarily bad Russian behavior in Ukraine.

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China is the top buyer of U.S. agriculture. From my position as the former Agriculture Secretary, it is worth noting that U.S. agriculture exports to China in FY 2022 were $36.4 billion, surpassing the previous year's record as the largest export market for U.S. agriculture products for the second consecutive year. Soybeans accounted for nearly half these exports, with also strong export demand for sorghum, cotton, livestock, dairy and horticulture products. The benefits to American farmers and ranchers, and to rural America, are obvious.

I am not so naive, or so overly focused on agriculture products, to argue that we should ignore the serious Chinese abuses of human rights, aggressive policies toward Taiwan and the South China Sea, possible military cooperation with Russia in Ukraine, and the other issues that divide us and could lead to the unthinkable, just to sell more farm products to China. That is too narrow-minded an approach to protecting America’s legitimate interests. And it is worthwhile pursuing a strategic economic policy to produce more of our products in the U.S. and not relying on China so much for our manufacturing base, which is a bipartisan policy goal of the administration and Congress. But it is good that Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and his team are engaged in discussions with their Chinese counterparts. I don’t think we can ignore the interdependence between China and the U.S. on so many global issues as well and the need to work together where possible in areas compatible with our national interests and goals at home.

Dan Glickman served as the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture in the Clinton administration after serving 18 years in the U.S. House of Representatives representing the 4th Congressional District of Kansas. Now, he is a senior adviser for the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, Apco Worldwide, The Russell Group and the Bipartisan Policy Center.

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