- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 8, 2000

China will become a superpower in the early decades of the 21st century. The present leadership of China is striving to achieve hegemony politically, economically and militarily. Chinese civilization is one of the oldest and greatest in history. Chinese science and technology were well developed long before Europe awakened during the Renaissance.

There is no reason that the economic reform of China will not make China an important information power. In a country of 1.3 billion people and with such intelligent, competitive people 1 percent of the population would be sufficient to make a Chinese Silicon Valley that will compete successfully with the rest of the world in e-commerce and e-technology. In this uncharted and unpredictable information revolution, we can predict that the Chinese will become serious rivals. The momentum of the economic reform that began with Tang Tsaiping in the 1980s continues to grow, as does China's military expansionism.

China's strategic goals could not be more transparent than in the white paper that was released by China on Feb. 21. The document directly confronts Taiwan, repeating ad nauseum the basis for the one-China policy, de facto and de jure. "The one-China principle has been evolved in the course of the Chinese people's just struggle to safeguard China's sovereignty and territorial integrity, and its basis, both de facto and de jure, is unshakable."

The target of this quote is obviously Taiwan. Unabashedly, the document states, "Taiwan is an inalienable part of China. All the facts and laws about Taiwan prove that Taiwan is an inalienable part of Chinese territory."

Taiwan's response to China is no less belligerent, rejecting Beijing's "unilateral definition" of a one-China policy.

The People's Republic of China (PRC) document states further that it is an effort "to influence the ROC [Republic of China Taiwan] presidential election."

There is no question that both the PRC and ROC have disturbed the status quo in the Straits of Taiwan that was established during President Nixon's visit to China in 1972 known as the Shanghai Communique.

This skirmish was not predicted by the Clinton administration, which was caught unprepared. The Clinton administration's carrot-stick policy toward China lobbying for its entry into the World Trade Organization while speaking against its violations of human rights has failed. Congress, especially the Republican majority, is impatient with the president. The Republican majority supports Taiwan's request for super weapons, arguing that the Taiwanese must create a new shield against China's expansionist aspirations.

The Taiwanese are also testing American resolve by requesting strategic weapons in the form of four guided missile destroyers of the Arleigh Burke class, the SPY-1 multifunctional radar system and Tomahawk long-range cruise missiles. The Republican majority, supported by a considerable number of Democrats, is behind the Taiwanese request.

The administration is divided between the Pentagon, which justifies the request, and senior officials of the State Department and the National Security Council, who see it as "an unnecessary and risky provocation of China." The president has yet to weigh in. This indecision is leaving the China policy to Congress.

President Clinton continues his predecessor's appeasement of China. The Chinese snubbed a recent senior U.S. delegation to China, headed by the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Ralston, by meeting them with low-ranking officers. This act of disrespect only demonstrates Chinese arrogance. In view of the president's inability to make up his mind on what governs U.S. policy on China, it is not surprising.

However, foreign policy abhors a vacuum. Instead, Congress has stepped in. The New York Times enumerated congressional actions taken on China over the Clinton administration's objections. Here are two actions related to a PRC challenge to Taiwan:

(1) The Taiwan Strait report: "A rider to the fiscal 1999 defense appropriations bill requires the Pentagon to produce an annual report on the balance of military forces across the Taiwan Strait."

(2) Limiting military exchanges: "a rider to the fiscal 2000 defense authorization bill limiting the kinds of weaponry and exercises that the U.S. military can show to visiting People's Liberation Army officers."

A 21st-century policy on China must be founded on an alliance with U.S. allies and China's neighbors, rivals and competitors. The United States must play a role in a political and diplomatic encirclement of China, and provide India, Taiwan and South Korea with the weapons necessary to deter Chinese expansionism.

Until the Chinese descend from their pedestal of arrogance and lower their level of expansionist aspirations, U.S. policy must support China's neighbors. This arrangement should be defensive in nature, but it will signal to China that the United States no longer tolerates its behavior on Taiwan. This must be conceived before China becomes a military nuclear superpower.

It is unfortunate that the Republican contenders are vague on China. George W. Bush's statement that China is not a partner, but a competitor, is only a preamble to a long-range policy. It is essential that China enters the WTO, but it is also essential that, as a growing power, they have an obligation to the international community to behave according to the prevailing norms. A firm U.S. China policy would create the ability to influence China to prevent escalation in the Taiwan Strait and discourage China's aggressive orientations.

Amos Perlmutter is a professor of political science and sociology at American University and editor of the Journal of Strategic Studies.

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