- The Washington Times - Monday, February 19, 2001

STANFORD, Calif. —Former Secretary of State George Shultz does not like putting a label on America's relationship with China, and he hopes that President Bush avoids the temptation to do so.
Mr. Shultz, who says China is "not an adversary," thinks such designations can be counterproductive and get in the way of the statecraft that will be needed to safely steer our relationship through the stormy seas that we may face in the future.
"I hope we can resist putting a label on our relationship with China," Mr. Shultz told me during a recent interview in his office here at the Hoover Institution on the Stanford University campus.
The Clinton administration once called China "a strategic partner" as it sought political support for its free-trade policies with that country. But that was a label that gave China's authoritarian government, armed to the teeth and threatening Taiwan almost daily, more credit than it deserved at the time. It was a label Mr. Bush summarily rejected during his campaign as he reached out to his political base with a more resolute, clear-headed posture toward Beijing.
Mr. Bush criticized Bill Clinton's China policy as misguided, naive and filled with contradictions. Mr. Bush preferred to characterize China as "a strategic competitor," because the term better reflected his free-trade approach to China while also suggesting that this mighty nuclear and emerging economic power was also a tough competitor on many levels one we need not fear, but also one we have to approach from a position of strength and without any illusions.
But Mr. Bush's desire to give our relationship with China a new label does not sit well with Mr. Shultz. His admonishing remark sent a clear message to the administration that it would be better off abandoning the practice of relationship-labeling in such a high-stakes game.
Asked how he would describe our relationship with China, Mr. Shultz says he wouldn't. "We're better off not to find a name for it. Our relationship is too complicated."
Asked which area of the world the Bush administration should focus on first, Mr. Shultz responds without hesitation. "Our first priority is our own neighborhood, the Western Hemisphere. First is Mexico." Mr. Bush thinks so too, as he demonstrated with his one-day visit last Friday to our next-door neighbor.
Life has marginally improved in Mexico. This is in large part due to the North American Free Trade Agreement, which has given Mexico's economy a huge boost in the form of a wave of privatization and economic development. Still, there are big problems to solve, including the reduced but continuing flow of Mexicans who illegally cross the border daily to find work. The administration is considering the idea of a one-year green-card system to let that occur legally.
Mr. Bush will be doing much more in the Western Hemisphere in the months to come as he pursues Ronald Reagan's vision of a free-trade zone that stretches throughout the Americas. It is a top priority for him, one that will help America sell more to emerging Latin American economies, and it will do much to combat poverty throughout the Southern Hemisphere.
The president will need fast-track negotiating authority from Congress to broaden trade in our hemisphere. It is likely that he will get such authority this year.
On developing an anti-missile system and dealing with Russian, Chinese and European opposition to it, Mr. Shultz thinks the United States must move full speed ahead.
The new administration is "determined to move ahead with it, and we need to make that determination plain" to opponents of the initiative, he said. As for the anti-ballistic missile treaty banning such defenses, he notes that "the treaty has a provision to withdraw. We can give six months notice."
"We should not be constrained in our research efforts by the terms of the ABM treaty or what the Russians may think," he said.
Mr. Shultz does not disagree with the observation that the United States under Mr. Clinton sent troops to too many places, in the Balkans and elsewhere. He does, however, say the missions went on too long. "They didn't have an exit strategy, and there's got to be a way to leave. You don't want large numbers of troops in those areas," he said.
That does not mean the United States should not and will not move militarily in places where its vital national security interests are at stake, he adds. But "when you make an intervention, you must do it in a way that you have an exit strategy."
"In the Reagan years we were very active in the world, but we didn't send troops into many places," he said. Troops abroad can become targets for terrorism, he added ruefully, remembering the Oct. 23, 1983, terrorist bombing that killed 241 U.S. troops in Lebanon. "We stayed in Beirut too long," he said.
The administration said last week that it has no immediate plans to pull U.S. armed forces out of Kosovo and the other places that Clinton has sent them, but was reviewing its options. Mr. Shultz's advice: Don't keep them there too long. "You don't have the same mission that you did when war and fighting is involved."

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