End The Cold War With China

Who lost China? The terrible debate that wracked America in the '50s appears well on its way to returning in the '90s. If the current American demonization of China continues, there is little question that Beijing will soon begin to act as an enemy. Its huge, fast-growing economy will be lost to the U.S. as American exports and investments are shut out. Far worse, a chance to help shape the peaceful integration of a rising Asian giant into the world community will be lost as well. It is time for Washington to step back, stop the continuous display of anger and threats aimed at Beijing, and begin a more reasoned and dispassionate discourse with the largest nation in the world.

Plenty of people bear responsibility for America's feckless China policy. At the heart of the budding anti-China crusade is a coalition of Congressional Republican hard-liners, economic nationalists, liberal human-rights advocates, and old cold warriors who see a rising China potentially as dangerous as the Soviet Union. The flash point is the June 3 review on granting China most-favored-nation trade status. But the issue of how the U.S. should deal with China extends far beyond MFN.

Unfortunately, Beijing, in its thuggish attempt to influence Taiwan's first democratic Presidential election, is playing into the hands of the anti-China clique in Washington. It also reinforces the coalition of economic nationalists, the military, and old Russian-trained cold warriors inside China who are just as comfortable demonizing the U.S. as their American counterparts are in portraying China as an enemy.

But are the actual sins of China so grave that it should be shunned as an international pariah? We think not. Here is the usual litany of complaints: China is helping Pakistan develop nuclear weapons. Well, yes--but Pakistan, an American ally, is only responding to India's lead in creating a nuclear-tipped missile arsenal. China is a dictatorship. Sure, but not nearly as dictatorial as Syria, which Washington courts as a Middle East player, or as ruthless as Russia in Chechnya. China threatens Taiwan, a market democracy. Absolutely true--but both Taiwan and China do agree on a one-China policy of eventual reunification. China is a pirate of music and software. O.K., but so are Mexico and India. China is running a big trade surplus with the U.S. Yes, but Japan's surplus is still higher. In fact, the Chinese say that the numbers are inflated, and they're right. Half of what the U.S. exports to Hong Kong is reexported to China but not reported. The real U.S. trade deficit with China is billions of dollars lower than the official statistics.

Enough. The failure of Washington to establish a long-term strategic relationship with China focusing on peace and prosperity in the Pacific Basin may turn out to be the ultimate foreign-policy tragedy of our time. What is needed is an overriding strategy that involves constant personal summitry between American and Chinese national leaders, direct security negotiations over Asian hot spots, and integration of China into the global economic system. A modicum of mutual respect wouldn't hurt either. What did China receive for helping to defuse the most important crisis in Asia today--North Korea's meltdown--by abandoning its old ally? It got a fly-over by President Clinton as he traveled between Tokyo and Moscow.

China is clearly not without sin as it makes the transition to big-power status. But the U.S. reaction to the changing scene in Asia must be balanced, rational, and thoughtful. U.S. policy of promoting economic growth in Taiwan and South Korea paved the way for their transition to democracy. The process took many decades. The same long-term strategy should apply to China. If China is lost, it will be thanks to those on both sides who prefer demonization to discussion.

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