The Power Struggle In China

When both the liberal New Republic and the conservative Weekly Standard magazines agree that China is an enemy, and Republicans in Congress accuse CEOs doing business with Beijing of being greedy, it is clear that the consensus governing U.S. policy toward China for the past 25 years is breaking down. Asia is a growing flash point for conflict, and the U.S. must decide what its goals are in the Pacific Rim and what kind of relationship it wants to have with China.

U.S. policy should go beyond the stale debate over engagement vs. containment to address the three major issues of importance to Asia today: the rise of Chinese power and its nature; the staying power of the U.S. in the region; and the possible return of Japan to militarism. (Surprising as it may seem to Americans and Europeans, many Asians view Japan warily because it refuses to apologize for its World War II behavior and has today the region's largest navy and air force.)

No one knows what path China will take following the death of Deng Xiaoping, but the U.S. can help shape the future by turning China's desire to enter the World Trade Organization into an opportunity for furthering pluralism. Reformists want to downsize the huge state-owned sector, create an independent Parliament, build a new legal system, and open the entire economy to market forces. Before the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, these reformers had a serious chance of taking power in China. They can again. The old ex-Communist Party elite, however, is fighting to retain the state-owned sector because it is the foundation of their power and wealth. A mercantile economic policy favors their rule. By insisting on serious WTO entry rules, the U.S. can bolster the reformers, help spread the pluralism-producing solvent of market capitalism, and peacefully integrate China into the global system. Nothing is more important to U.S. policy in 1997 than China and the WTO.

America's military commitment to keeping the balance of power stable in Asia is critical as well. An arms race is under way all over the region, buttressing the power of generals everywhere, especially in China. The U.S. must show Asia a long-term commitment to blocking military projections of power by any country. By persuading, cajoling, and insisting that the "game" be an economic one based on free-market rules, the U.S. can help channel the rising power of China into internationally acceptable forms of competition. This is a foreign policy goal worthy of consensus from all groups in America, including its chattering class.

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