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China's Youth Are Up in Arms against Uncle Sam

It's a sunny afternoon at Shanghai Jiaotong University, a top Chinese academy and President Jiang Zemin's alma mater. But even as exams near, students want to talk about a more pressing issue: their anger at U.S. hegemony. Sparking the debate: the recent crisis over the midair collision between a Chinese fighter jet and a U.S. spy plane. "America is at fault. We lost a life," says Yang Mingyu, a 20-year-old economics major. "Some Americans always want to control our politics and economics," he adds.

Anti-Americanism is on the rise on Chinese campuses, and this should spark concern in the Bush Administration, even as Washington ponders the lessons of the debacle. For years, American policymakers assumed that students such as those at Jiaotong would become a liberal force to replace the Old Guard now running China. Educated at a time when China was moving steadily toward a market economy, the elite of the generation now in its 20s and early 30s was expected to ensure that China developed into a country that was open, capitalist--and friendly to U.S. policies.

PROPAGANDA. That assumption, however, looks increasingly naive. More and more, Chinese young people strike a tone of strident nationalism. That's not just because they've been taught to remember historic grievances suffered by China or indoctrinated with propaganda about points of tension, such as U.S. support for wayward Taiwan. Compared with their parents---or even the generation that launched the Tiananmen Square protests--today's Chinese students enjoy more affluence and freedom. These conditions make them more inclined to support Beijing in face-offs with the U.S.

What's more, China's 6 million university students are by and large well-informed about what's going on in the outside world and inside their country. Many have access to the Internet, where they can track everything from government corruption to U.S. foreign policy, despite government controls on content. Most support China's plans to join the World Trade Organization. But when they ponder U.S. policy toward China, many don't like what they see. Says David M. Lampton, a China scholar at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies: "When they look at the U.S., they see a country that throws its weight around with little consideration of Chinese interests."

Of course, most students would still jump at the chance to study in the U.S., and they enjoy American movies and music. But the Bush Administration's early moves have nonetheless exacerbated a growing anti-American mood. The young are angry over what they see as the Administration's efforts to demonize China while strengthening relations with China's rivals such as Japan. Chinese youths also resent that Bush has not even telephoned President Jiang Zemin. "After Bush came into power, he treated our President quite coldly," says a 27-year-old editor at an influential policy journal in Beijing. "We feel we are the victims of U.S. policy."

The U.S. spy-plane incident inspired a flood of anti-American messages in Chinese chat rooms on the Internet. That doesn't faze the Bush team. The U.S. wants a stable and peaceful China, not "a generation of kids that is going to be slavishly pro-American," says a top Administration official. Still, that approach may be shortsighted. If Chinese-American relations take a serious turn for the worse, the anti-American mood could become ingrained in the minds of China's future leaders. That could pose problems for Washington and Beijing long after the brouhaha over the spy plane dies down. The Bush Administration could face another test in the Balkans after Montenegro holds elections for its regional legislature on Apr. 22. With a population of 700,000, the tiny republic is the only one besides Serbia remaining in the Yugoslav federation. But Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic is itching to declare the republic's independence. That could come to pass if his Democratic Party of Socialists does well in the election. The party, now polling 39%, is expected to form a coalition with the Liberal Party, which enjoys 10% support and also backs independence. If the two parties gain a majority in the 77-seat legislature, Djukanovic is likely to call for a referendum on the subject of leaving the Yugoslav Federation--and he may even make a unilateral declaration of independence, some diplomats say. Polls say 56% of Montenegrins favor independence.

Both the U.S. and the European Union oppose Montenegrin independence. Instead, the Bush Administration and the EU want to shore up the government of Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica, who defeated strongman Slobodan Milosevic in a democratic election last year. But "if Montenegro declares independence, we are not going to have any choice but to accept it," says Richard C. Holbrooke, former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. and a former envoy to the region. If Montenegro breaks away, it will effectively mean the end of the Yugoslav Federation. The danger is that Albanian separatists in Kosovo, which is part of Serbia, may step up their demands for independence. Some 37,000 NATO troops are stationed in Kosovo.

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