- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 26, 2006

What did Hu Jintao learn on his historic visit to the United States? Only last week, President Hu boarded an airplane in Beijing and flew to Seattle, arriving as our country is shaping its response to China’s growing influence in Asia. His American excursion began at Boeing, where Americans build huge airliners to move people freely around the globe, and at Microsoft, where innovators have done the same for information. That’s the kind of technology that fuels China’s growth, but threatens Beijing’s effort to suppress the flow of ideas and isolate its neighbor Taiwan.

The United States and China are now more than mere rivals. Our economies have become entwined, and with them our national destinies. Even as China grasps for market share in the United States, even as it asserts itself in East Asia and the Pacific, it desires our good will — we are China’s best market and the pre-eminent power in the Pacific. I hope Mr. Hu learned that our good will requires stability in China’s relationship with our friend, the small island of Taiwan.

As Mr. Hu flies home, he will pass north of Taiwan, whose citizens know viscerally the relevance of his trip to their lives. Stability between Washington and Beijing promotes stability in the cross-Strait relationship between China and Taiwan. Some fear Taiwan is an irritant in the U.S.-China relationship, but it is Taiwan that must live most closely with China. Taiwan is a democracy where the people want to protect the freedom they enjoy under the status quo; the United States supports that status quo. Beyond that, Taiwan understands that assaults against the status quo on either side of the strait are no good for Taiwan — I hope Mr. Hu learned that such gestures are not welcomed by the United States.

Engagement between the United States and China is nourished by international trade and travel, family relationships, educational exchange, the movement of data and untold thousands of individual economic relationships between Chinese and American businesspeople. It motivates both countries to nurture and protect their relationship. Taiwan’s security is thereby nurtured and protected. But it is undermined when China insists on provocations that upset the status quo, from its continuing buildup of missiles aimed at Taiwan to the so-called “anti-secession” law rubber-stamped by China’s legislature, to the shifting preconditions for simple talks between Beijing and Taipei.

The latest “National Security Strategy of the United States” devotes great attention to the relationship with China. It says: “China and Taiwan must also resolve their differences peacefully, without coercion and without unilateral action by either China or Taiwan.” Those words are not a request and not quite a demand. They are a statement of fact; after more than five decades as the most engaged observer of the cross-strait relationship, we in the United States don’t doubt their truth; I hope that Mr. Hu now understands that principle. The status quo astride the Taiwan Strait must never be threatened by either neighbor on that narrow band of sea, or both will suffer. For China, respecting the status quo is essential to a healthy relationship with the United States.

When Presidents Bush and Hu met, our president surely asserted the importance of stability in the cross-Strait relationship, as he has firmly done with Taiwan’s leaders. That advice should be heeded on both sides of the Strait. The two presidents talked of currency exchange rates and their effect on the balance of trade, of China’s growth as a military and economic power, of stability in East Asia and the Pacific. President Bush and others raised the matter of human rights and the tensions inherent in a society like China where economic growth is burgeoning, but political freedom is forbidden. All of those issues are important, but if the cross-Strait relationship goes bad, the U.S.-China relationship will not be sound.

Mr. Hu is unaccustomed to free dissent, but on his visit, he got a good dose of it. I hope that that sample of American opinion has helped him understand the great value that the United States places on stability in cross-Strait relations and the potential cost to China from further ill-advised gestures toward Taiwan. I hope he better understands now how complex the relationship has grown, and how much there is to lose. Mr. Hu’s visit to the United States was delayed by the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. A great storm of that kind may be predicted if not prevented. But we can prevent a storm from brewing in the Taiwan Strait where it may threaten the prosperity and security of people on both sides, and even in the United States.

Friendly relations between the United States and China will help the Chinese leadership to understand American priorities and make sound choices in the cross-Strait relationship. So, we welcomed President Hu to the United States to build better relations here and learn about our values and priorities. With that understanding, China’s rulers may see that one day, when China has embraced reform, it may have as good a friend in the United States as Taiwan has had for more than half a century.

Rep. Peter King,New York Republican, is chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security.

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