Even as China announced that it is increasing its defense budget by more than 7 percent, renewed its threats against Taiwan, and warned that conflict with the United States is inevitable unless Washington’s policy accommodates China’s demands, the mirage of détente with China survives — and no more so than in the ranks of the National Committee on U.S.–China Relations and its president, Stephen Orlins.
Writing in the Diplomat, Orlins urges policymakers in the United States and China to follow the examples of Jimmy Carter and Deng Xiaoping to “create a China-U.S. relationship that preserves peace and generates prosperity for the peoples of both the United States and China.” Carter and Deng, Orlins claims, laid the foundation for global economic growth and for maintaining peace for over 40 years.
Orlins was a legal adviser to the State Department during the Carter administration who “proudly” recalls standing “on the White House lawn watching Carter welcome Deng for his landmark visit in January 1979, followed by a U.S. tour.” He praises Carter and Deng for “achiev[ing] a breakthrough that benefited the people of both countries.” Orlins later served as managing director of Carlyle Asia; chaired a Taiwanese internet and cable TV provider; worked for “a New York based leveraged buyout firm”; was managing director at Lehman Brothers and president of Lehman Brothers Asia; and worked at a major international law firm with offices in New York, Hong Kong, and Beijing.
China’s aggressive moves pose the greatest geopolitical challenge America has faced since World War II.
Of course, it was not Carter but President Richard Nixon who shrewdly established relations with China as a means of exploiting Sino-Soviet tensions and laying the foundation for America’s victory in the Cold War with the Soviet Union. Carter, it is true, built upon that foundation, but he needlessly severed relations with Taiwan in the process, as he and his foreign-policy team failed to understand that China needed improved relations with the U.S. as much or more than we needed improved relations with China. And Carter, it is worth recalling, lectured Americans about their “inordinate fear of communism.”
Orlins’ National Committee on U.S.-China Relations receives praise from top Chinese Communist Party leaders and China’s English-language mouthpiece, the Global Times. President Joe Biden has also praised the work of Orlins’ national committee, using the language of détente. Early in the Biden presidency, the Washington Free Beacon noted that “[t]op Biden allies … have done work for a nonprofit funded by companies like Facebook and Disney that is known for working closely with Chinese officials and Communist Party front groups.” That “nonprofit” is the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations, which an intelligence analyst characterized as having a “‘soft-on-China’ position [that] helps open Chinese markets to the National Committee’s corporate donors, a group of more than 50 companies that includes firms like Blackrock, Blackstone, Citigroup, and Mastercard.”
The Free Beacon story also noted that Orlins gave a speech at a China–U.S. Exchange Foundation event and shared a panel discussion with the head of the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries, which the article described as “a top organization in the Communist Party’s united front system.”
Orlins’ “soft-on-China” position is on full display in his Diplomat article, where he expresses concern that the U.S. and China are “slipping into a cold war” and counsels Americans to avoid “the temptation to heap blame on other countries when we face seriously challenging problems at home.” He recommends “cutting” the “excessive tariffs” imposed on China by the Trump administration; “reopening” our respective consulates in Houston and Chengdu; and “ending visa restrictions,” “reestablish[ing] military-to-military contacts at senior and operational levels,” restoring scientific exchanges, and, of course, “coordinat[ing] efforts on climate change.”
The website of the National Committee on U.S.–China Relations states that its mission is to “promote understanding and cooperation between the United States and Greater China in the belief that sound and productive Sino-American relations serve vital American and world interests.” It boasts a distinguished board of directors, including corporate chairpersons and former high-level government officials. It has received grants from the State Department. According to ProPublica, in 2020, Orlins’ national committee had total revenue of more than $5 million, of which $4.6 million came from contributions — down from 2019, when its total revenue was nearly $9 million, with $8.5 million coming from contributions. And Orlins does well as its president, earning more than a half-million dollars to promote the committee’s “soft-on-China” position.
China’s aggressive moves in the South China Sea, its massive conventional and nuclear weapons buildup, its threatening military exercises near Taiwan, and its “no limits” strategic partnership with Russia arguably pose the greatest geopolitical challenge America has faced since World War II. But for some China experts — like Stephen Orlins and his National Committee on U.S.–China Relations — nothing, it seems, will erase the mirage of détente.
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