The U.S. entry into China was significantly later than any other Western country. The West had already started trading with China since the 16th century. Therefore, the U.S. had to differentiate its strategy to dominate the Chinese market. Moreover, the ideology to protect its strengths and principles as a new independent country was to become dominant.
The United States' trade strategy with China had to be differentiated
First, it was to encourage participation in the trade industry at the individual business level. This was a different strategy from the United Kingdom, the largest trading power at the time. The UK established the East India Company and granted exclusive rights. The United States, on the contrary, preferred individualism and free trade. This was because the United States was founded on the ideology of individualism and freedom. That was why the U.S. Congress opposed the establishment of a British monopoly in 1786. Instead, as the U.S. advocated free trade, it was convinced that private businessmen should lead the trade industry.
The second strategy was the respect for China's territorial sovereignty. Unlike other imperial powers, the United States did not want China to cede its territory. In 1844, the United States formalized this in the first treaty with China (Treaty of Wanghia). The U.S. Secretary of State, Daniel Webster, ordered his envoy, Caleb Cushing, to make it clear that the U.S. had no territorial ambitions. This position was maintained during the Tianjin Treaty (1860) with China after the Second Opium War (1856). Although a merger was suggested to use Taiwan as a trade outpost, President James Buchanan completely ignored it.
Third, the United States made equality, fairness, and justice as the fundamental principles of trade and exchange with China. It was also a basic diplomatic policy that the U.S. government pursued at that time. Although the United States signed a series of 'unequal treaties' with China, it tried to minimize infringing on China’s sovereignty as much as possible. Instead, the U.S. focused only on expanding its position in the Chinese market, such as through "most favored nation treatment." It can be seen that the U.S. trade principles (respecting sovereignty) and position (free trade) with China have a long tradition.
Jaewoo Choo is a professor of International Politics at Kyung Hee University, South Korea, and Director of China Research Center, Korea Research Institute for National Strategy.
Copyrights ⓒ Segye Ilbo. All rights reserved.