The U.S. And China: A Rare Opportunity

Care to see a gigantic transfer of public housing into a billion private hands? Interested in a massive transformation of state-owned enterprises into private businesses? Want to watch a country stabilizing Asia by not devaluing its currency? Need to see a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act condemn India for its atomic blasts and plead with Pakistan not to follow? In all of these, look to China.

As President Clinton prepares for his state visit to Beijing, both he and President Jiang Zemin should keep in mind that the U.S. and China are condemned to live with one another through their geography, their power, and their history. The only question is whether the hawks in each country, nostalgic for the old cold war, succeed in pushing aside the pragmatists to create a new cold war.

At the moment, the pragmatists are in charge of U.S.-Chinese policy and they should take advantage of the upcoming summit to promote a new partnership. Elements of it are already coming into view. From the U.S. side, Washington wants China to allow more human rights and stop playing "bad boy" on the international scene. That means cutting off support for terrorist groups, ending the export of nuclear weapons material, curbing China's trade surplus with the U.S. and, above all, showing restraint over Taiwan.

China wants the U.S. to keep providing capital and open markets for its goods, help in getting into the World Trade Organization, and, above all, restraint in supporting Taiwan's growing independence movement.

Washington is impressed with the way Beijing has been handling itself in recent months. Japan, to the surprise and shock of Asia, abnegated all leadership in the current Asian financial crisis through beggar-they-neighbor policies of depreciating the yen and promoting exports. China, however, has been heroic by keeping the renminbi stable, despite a loss of competitiveness. And by pumping up domestic investment by $250 billion this year, it will increase imports from around the Pacific Rim and help ease the crunch.

Something big is changing in Asia. Old powers are waning, new powers are rising. This is a golden moment to begin building the foundation for what might become a new strategic relationship in the century ahead.

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