Delivering On Asia's Rich Promise

Asia's billions. For decades, those words meant masses of impoverished people. No longer. Today, when people speak of Asia's billions, they're likely to be talking about its wealth--the world's highest savings rates, fastest-growing family fortunes, and heftiest foreign-currency reserves. With growth three times as fast as the West's, China and the rest of East and Southeast Asia have a burgeoning middle class and a growing roster of millionaires.

For the first time since the 15th century, when Europe pulled ahead of China and moved the world's center of gravity westward, economic power appears to be shifting back toward the East. The return of a muscular China to the global arena offers both opportunities--and serious challenges--in the decades ahead.

The U.S. stands to benefit tremendously from the forces shaping Asia. President Clinton is embracing this opportunity by sitting down with Chinese President Jiang Zemin and 10 other national leaders at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Seattle this week. The challenge for the U.S. is to replace its stale cold-war hostility and sermonizing with a forward-looking China policy: one based on joint interests.

The best way for the U.S. to promote human rights in China is to encourage reforms that foster private ownership, a market economy, and the rule of law. Tiananmen Square was a disgrace. But today, China has more pluralism, more access to information, and more freedom than ever before, thanks to the opening of its economy to foreign trade and investment. Raising living standards for China's people, not lambasting politicians in Beijing, is the most effective way for Washington to promote human rights in that country.

The U.S. has a strong hand in doing just that. America has shown itself to be far more willing than Japan to share technology with Asian companies and to open its domestic markets to Asian exports. It is up to Clinton at the APEC meeting to make sure these bargaining chips are exchanged for greater access to Chinese and East Asian markets for American investments and exports.