- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 16, 2000

For some reason, Clinton-Gore administration spokesmen and other champions of Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) with Communist China recently have started to recast their sales pitch. Suddenly, we are being told that eliminating annual congressional reviews of China's behavior and admitting China into the World Trade Organization (WTO) is not simply desirable from an economic point of view. For example, President Clinton's national security adviser, Samuel "Sandy" Berger, recently declared PNTR "essential" to U.S. national security.

My guess is that this new party line reflects the fact that the hugely expensive pressure campaign being mounted by the executive branch, the House Republican leadership and its allies in industry trade associations, agribusinesses and establishment foreign policy circles is in trouble. The proponents have discovered that the debatable net benefits of PNTR for the U.S. economy are proving to be a hard sell with an American public properly skeptical about Communist China and its intentions.

Whatever the reason, the pro-PNTR crowd's bid to offer a new and more coercive justification has the ring of desperation to it. After all, it strains credulity given what a relatively poor China is currently doing to threaten U.S. national security and other vital interests that a richer China will prove to be other than an even more serious, and emboldened, adversary. Consider a sampler of China's present, worrisome behavior:

• As novelist Mark Helprin recently noted in an incisive essay in National Review, China is steadily pursuing a long-term strategy aimed not only at dominating Asia, but at becoming a global superpower. Even the Clinton Pentagon has acknowledged that China sees the United States which its military and political elite routinely refer to as "the main enemy" as the only real impediment to realization of this goal.

• Mr. Helprin observes that it is, of course, essential for China to build up its economic power if China is to have any hope of displacing the United States in its region and countering American influence elsewhere. This principle was laid down in 1978 by the prime mover behind China's ambitious modernization program, then-"paramount Leader" Deng Xiao-ping, in his ubiquitously cited "16 Character Policy: Combine the military and civil; combine peace and war; give priority to military products; let the civil support the military."

Toward this end, China is not merely exploiting unfair trade practices which are expected to produce a trade surplus in excess of $60 billion with the United States this year. Beijing has recently launched a concerted effort to secure tens of billions of dollars worth of undisciplined and largely non-transparent funds from U.S. investors by having People's Liberation Army and other Chinese government-affiliated entities penetrate and tap into the U.S. capital markets. (Thanks to a determined effort by a coalition of national security-minded, human rights, religious freedom and organized labor groups, the flagship of this effort an initial public offering on the New York Stock Exchange by state-owned Petro China was a fiasco. Other problematic Chinese IPOs are in the offing, however.)

• China's military is using such resources to make what Mao Tse-tung once described as a "Great Leap Forward" a massive modernization program capable of transforming its 1950s and '60s vintage equipment and tactics into those at the forefront of the 21st century. In the hope of accomplishing this enormous task as rapidly and as inexpensively as possible, Beijing is taking maximum advantage of technology acquired legally or illegally from us, as well as through a growing strategic axis with Russia.

Of particular concern is the emphasis being placed by the People's Liberation Army on a doctrine that envisions using asymmetric means and technologies to counter American military power, rather than concentrating (for now at least) on what would, of necessity, be the long-term task of fielding conventional forces comparable to our own. Thus, we see China pursuing ominous capabilities in such areas as: information warfare; the buildup of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons and long-range ballistic missile delivery systems; advanced nuclear-armed anti-ship missiles from Russia designed to destroy American carrier battle groups; and electromagnetic pulse weapons. In recent months, Chinese leaders have become increasingly brazen in threatening to use nuclear and other weapons against this country, its people and forces overseas.

• Beijing is not only aggressively developing strategic ties with the Kremlin. It also regards "rogue states" like North Korea, Cuba, Iran, Sudan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Myanmar and Pakistan as clients, and is nurturing relations with them in the common pursuit of initiatives at odds with the United States and its interests. In many cases, these relations provide a vehicle for the transfer by China of weapons of mass destruction and missile technology.

This is precisely the sort of coalition between China and radical states whose prevention former-Chinese-trade-lobbyist Sandy Berger declared in 1995 to be a key goal of the Clinton policy of "engagement." In practice, however, that policy is abetting PRC efforts to weaken important U.S. alliances in East Asia and beyond, even as the growing capacity for malevolence from Beijing's clients exacerbates the overextension of sharply reduced American forces.

It is time to recognize that President Clinton's "see-no-evil" brand of "engagement" with China has failed to promote U.S. security. Eliminating annual reviews of China's behavior in this and other areas will make matters worse, not better.

Helping the communist regime in Beijing become richer will only intensify the comprehensiveness and severity of the threat it represents. And agreeing to do so in the immediate aftermath of explicit Chinese threats to both the United States and Taiwan can only encourage Beijing to wield such threats, to the potentially serious detriment of this country and its allies.

Frank J. Gaffney Jr. is the president of the Center for Security Policy and a columnist for The Washington Times.

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