- The Washington Times - Monday, April 17, 2006

Economic concerns will be paramount in the discussion between President Bush and Chinese President Hu Jintao at the White House on Thursday, but these important issues should not overshadow U.S. questions about the role an increasingly powerful China will play in Asia and the world.

The U.S. trade deficit, intellectual property rights and currency valuation — the primary U.S. economic concerns — should be addressed in conjunction with the broader issue of China’s increasing power in the international system, and particularly how China seeks to satisfy its growing energy needs and how it proceeds with respect to Taiwan. Caution is in order, as both leaders are aware that either country can cause a severe downturn in the economic fortunes of the other — a turn which would have a deleterious effect on either president’s domestic support.

China’s foreign policy follows a far too mercantilist line, which results in Beijing’s support for rogue regimes and brutal dictatorships solely on the grounds that they can offer natural resources, using its position on the U.N. Security Council to stymie action against countries in which it has an energy interest, such as Iran and Sudan. China negotiated an agreement this year worth nearly $100 billion to help develop the Yadavaran oil field in Iran, which not only undermined the effort to isolate the Ahmadinejad regime, but also weakened China’s own rhetorical opposition to the Iranian nuclear program. If the Bush administration is to make China into what Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick called a “responsible stakeholder,” then Mr. Bush needs to convince Mr. Hu to work with the Security Council matters of such importance as thwarting nuclear programs in Iran.

Mr. Bush should proceed very carefully on the tightrope that is U.S. policy toward the Taiwan issue, which Mr. Hu will likely raise. On Sunday, the Chinese president told the former chairman of the Nationalist Party, who is a supporter of re-unification, that “only by opposing and checking Taiwan’s independence forces can we eliminate the biggest threat harming the peaceful and stable development of ties across the strait,” according to the Associated Press. While Washington acknowledges “one China,” does not support Taiwan independence and is opposed to a unilateral change to the status quo, it is in no way incumbent on the United States to play the role of Beijing’s political watchdog in Taiwan. Mr. Bush should follow any reaffirmation of Washington’s commitment to a “one China” policy with an equally adamant assertion that the United States is committed to a peaceful resolution.

To punctuate this policy, Mr. Bush needs to demand greater transparency in the buildup of the Chinese military, the People’s Liberation Army. China has tried to market its increasing influence as a peaceful rise, but the 2005 Pentagon report on China’s military power notes that actual military spending could be as much as three times reported spending. Developments in the PLA “put regional military balances at risk,” the report concluded. Engaging China entails correcting trade imbalances, but it also means shrewdly pressuring China on important security matters as well.

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