News & Politics

China in Washington: A Who’s Who Guide

China is invading Washington -- from think tanks to law firms to lobby shops. Here are a list of the top players:

By Neil King Jr., 

Panda Slayer

The Heritage Foundation’s John Tkacik, a former State Department diplomat in China, ranks among the city’s loudest China critics, accusing the Chinese of everything from rampant spying in Silicon Valley to saber-rattling over Taiwan. China, he warns, could soon become the preeminent military force in the Pacific—an assessment many others dismiss.

Mr. China

Former Goldman Sachs president John Thornton made a fortune in investment banking, dropped out at 49, and now devotes his time almost entirely to China, whose rise he describes as the signature event of the 21st century. He gave $12.5 million to Brookings to form the Thornton China Center and now teaches for half the year at Beijing’s prestigious Tsinghua University.

Bomb Thrower

No one sends chills down the spines of Washington’s China scholars and think-tankers quite like the blustery Washington Times scribe Bill Gertz. Tidbits in his weekly Inside the Ring column have been known to derail government promotions and thwart careers. Gertz is a top promoter of the “China threat” theory—he wrote a book on it.

Free Trader

The fast-talking Myron Brilliant runs the US Chamber of Commerce’s expanding Asia shop, where he spearheaded the business community’s hard-fought battle to win permanent favorable trade status for China in Congress in 2000. Next up: A Brilliant-backed plan for a multimillion-dollar center in Beijing to promote US companies and products.

Critic on the Hill

Beijing has plenty of skeptics in Congress, but none rivals new Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who made her name in 1989 lambasting the Chinese government’s bloody crackdown at Tiananmen Square. Pelosi staged her own protest on the square in 1991 and has since bashed Bush I, Clinton, and Bush II for meeting with Chinese leaders. Many wonder if she’ll use her new perch to steer Congress on a tougher course toward China.

The Hedgers

The Pentagon’s arch futurist, Andy Marshall, and his longtime adviser, Michael Pillsbury, are the prime proponents of the China hedge theory—that whatever China’s long-term intentions, the US military would be wise to prepare for the worst. The two often talk strategy over Peking duck at Chinatown’s Full Kee restaurant.

Top Engager

After Robert Zoellick left as number two at the State Department last year, Treasury secretary Hank Paulson took over the China portfolio with a vengeance, launching a new economic strategic dialogue with Beijing and becoming the administration’s go-to guy on all things China. It figures: As CEO of Goldman Sachs, Paulson put huge emphasis on China work and traveled there dozens of times.

Money Changers

Senators Chuck Schumer of New York and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina have threatened, then backed off on, legislation to slap hefty tariffs on Chinese imports so many times that they are household names in China. But the drive to prod Beijing over its monetary policy has lost steam. Last year the senators actually went to China to see the place firsthand and, well, came away better informed.