Skip to main content

Dear President Hu: China must meet its global responsibilities

By Jamie Metzl, Special to CNN
  • Jamie Metzl: 21st century global challenges depend on collaboration of China, U.S.
  • U.S. wary, he writes, that China will not address international concerns
  • Metzl: China must help build global economy, halt spread of nuclear weapons
  • Stronger China must help make the world safe and secure, hand in hand with U.S., he says

Editor's note: Jamie Metzl is executive vice president of the Asia Society. He served in the U.S. National Security Council and State Department during the Clinton administration and as a human rights officer with the United Nations in Cambodia. The views expressed are his own.

(CNN) -- Dear President Hu Jintao,

Welcome to the United States. China is a great and ancient civilization, and we are thrilled that your country has made so much progress in so many areas over past decades, that it has brought hundreds of millions out of dire poverty and done so much to promote global economic growth during the recent financial crisis.

At the same time, we are both painfully aware of the rising tensions between our two countries. Many people here in the United States are critical of some of China's actions: its perceived unfair business practices through its currency valuation, subsidies to local manufacturers and weak intellectual property protections, its seeming unwillingness to address nuclear proliferation in North Korea and Iran, its support of extremely abusive regimes, its rapid and opaque military buildup, and its more aggressive posture in the South and East China Seas, to name a few.

Chinese media have been equally critical of America and the West, asserting that we are unfairly blaming China for our own economic challenges and seeking to block China's growth.

Whatever our differences, one thing is absolutely clear. No major global challenge of the 21st century can be addressed without the active collaboration of our two countries.

As much as I respect you and your country, however, forgive me for saying in the spirit of honesty and friendship that we do not believe you are doing enough to promote the global common good. It is natural and healthy for a country to pursue its narrow national interests, but when a country becomes as rich and powerful as China, it must take on new global responsibilities or it ends up, intentionally or not, undermining the international system.

China's military power concerns others
Clinton: 'Distrust lingers' with China
Official: China not a threat to U.S.

I know that China still has a great deal of poverty and must continue to grow to realize the aspirations of its very talented citizens. But if China continues to rise without sufficiently supporting an international system that helps everyone, many aspects of that system will collapse and we will all be worse off.

Call it the tragedy of the commons. If an overstretched America plays a lesser role in managing world affairs and no one else steps up, we're going to have a big mess that will harm us all.

I hope you won't mind my sharing a few ideas for what you, and China, can do.

It would really go a long way if you would make a major speech at the United Nations articulating your vision of the kind of world that China would like to see in the future, and what your country is willing to do to help build it. If you think that the U.S.-led system of the last six-plus decades has worked well for everyone but needs modifications, you can articulate your concerns and express what you feel should be done to address them. If, on the other hand, you believe that the post-war system is fundamentally flawed and should be replaced, why not describe your alternate vision of how the world should work and what China is willing to do to make it happen?

Of course, I can't promise that we'll like every one of your proposals. But let's have an open, honest, global debate about what the world should look like and who should do what to help make sure the system works for everyone.

Believe me when I say that Americans welcome the rise of China. In many ways it is the ultimate positive expression of the world America helped build out of the ashes of World War II. But we will only continue to feel this way if we believe that a stronger China will make the world safer and more secure.

The more that China can do its part to help build a more balanced global economy, respect intellectual property rights, halt the spread of nuclear weapons, foster military transparency, and strengthen international institutions, the more comfortable the American people and others around the world will be with China's rise.

Working together, our two countries can make the 21st century even more prosperous and secure than the second half of the 20th century has been. Let's use your visit to start a meaningful conversation about what each of us can do, alone and together, to bring this about.

Xie xie,

Uncle Sam

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Jamie Metzl.

Part of complete coverage on
How was Obama's salesmanship?
Americans fall for rising Shanghai
Op-Ed: China's charm offensive
Why is China's Hu visiting the U.S.?
Keeping a check on America's banker
US and China: When giants meet
Immersion in China 101: Teen's story