- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 23, 2000

The bizarre mutation of the term "national security" continues apace. The Clinton-Gore administration tells us it must now be defined to mean fighting AIDS in Africa and global warming. In this way, it tries to justify the further diversion not to say squandering of limited defense resources toward ever more non-defense activities, from worldwide environmental clean-up to hugely expensive humanitarian and open-ended peacekeeping operations.

Now the folks whose dubious judgments about national security have done so much to dissipate U.S. military power and prestige around the globe declare Congress must grant Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) status to China lest America's security suffer. Incredibly, administration flacks (such as China trade lobbyist-turned-President Clinton's National Security Adviser Samuel "Sandy" Berger) and their allies in big business (many of whom have shown precious little concern about defense interests if they impinge upon foreign sales) are being joined in this effort by others who should know better, like former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

The argument that PNTR will enhance U.S. security rests on a huge leap of faith: Expanded U.S. investment in and business dealings with China accompanied by vastly greater exposure for the Chinese people to Western ideas and values and Beijing's inclusion in the World Trade Organization (WTO) will create internal conditions and subject the PRC to external pressures that will transform that nation. Or, in the words of one of the prime-movers behind PNTR in the House of Representatives, Majority Whip Tom DeLay, this opening will "undermine the communist government of China."

It is entirely possible that, in the long run, that is how things will turn out. The problem is, as John Maynard Keynes famously observed in 1923, "In the long run, we are all dead." If the proponents of PNTR are wrong, moreover, and the communist regime translates Western assistance into ever more formidable capabilities to threaten this country, its allies and interests, a great many of us may wind up being dead at Chinese hands in the not-so-long run.

Unfortunately, there are abundant examples of despots on the Left parlaying trade and other outside help into increased power and malevolence. One notable example is brought to mind by the claim Sandy Berger and National Economic Adviser Gene Sperling made in the New York Times last week to the effect that there are "hard-liners" and Preformers" in the Chinese Politburo. Congressional approval of PNTR, they opine, will "hurt China's hard-liners" while its rejection would undermine the reformers bent on a "daring transition from a command-and-control to a market economy."

There are echoes in these statements of the line served up by Cold War Kremlinologists to justify helping the "doves" said to be among the Soviet leadership prevail over its "hawks." The resulting policy, which came to be known as "detente," was the functional equivalent in its day of the current Clinton-Gore approach to China dubbed "engagement."

The effect of detente with its infusion of Western loans, access to dual-use technology, arms control agreements and other forms of political legitimation was to postpone the destruction of the Soviet Union by nearly two decades. Who knows, had it not been for Ronald Reagan explicitly abandoning that policy in favor of a concerted strategy of "rolling back" the Evil Empire, the U.S.S.R. might still be a going concern.

In fact, there is every reason to believe that the effect of adopting now, under present and foreseeable circumstances, a "permanent" posture of engaging China with all the attendant political, economic, financial, technological and strategic life-support that will flow to the communist rulers of Beijing will be to perpetuate their despotic tenure for at least the near- and possibly the medium-term.

As one of the most astute of today's strategic thinkers, former Navy Secretary James Webb, observed recently, our relationship with China is much too unstable to lock ourselves into any "permanent" ties with the People's Republic of China, trade or otherwise. Interestingly, this point was underscored by a foray made recently by Rep. Howard Berman of California, the influential third-ranking Democrat on the House International Relations Committee.

Mr. Berman sought the administration's support for adding a proviso to the PNTR legislation requiring that "normal trade relations treatment shall be withdrawn from the products of the People's Republic of China if that country attacks, invades or imposes a blockade on Taiwan." He was reportedly rebuffed by, guess who, Sandy Berger. Is there any doubt how Beijing is reading this latest confirmation that nothing is more important to the U.S. than trade?

Syndicated columnist Jim Hoagland wrote in a seminal essay in Sunday's edition of The Washington Post that, while Mr. Berger argues "a vengeful, menacing China would work to circumscribe U.S. options and harm U.S. interests if rejected on WTO … the problem is that China acted that way even as Congress began its debate. Using the national security standard, the House should force the administration to pull this legislation back to avoid defeat, and to work to get the strategic context right, as well as the trade details."

Interestingly, this prescription would seem to jibe with the wise counsel offered two months ago by the same Tom DeLay who is now helping deliver votes for President Clinton's PNTR: "We must rethink our view of 'engagement' and trade as tools for managing the U.S.-Chinese relationship. Once a process, engagement has been perverted into a comprehensive policy that is its own objective.

"And because Communist China holds ultimate power over our ability to interact with them, they alone can determine the success or failure of engagement. This fact makes exerting real pressure on a competing nation almost impossible, and Beijing has wasted no time mastering the art of exploiting our current view of engagement as an end rather than as a means… . We should never be fooled into cheering higher profits while Communist China harnesses that prosperity to construct an arsenal of tyranny."

Author Kevin Phillips has updated Samuel Johnson's famous dictum by declaring that "specious invocations of national security" are "the last refuge of scoundrels." We must all hope that sufficient numbers of legislators will repudiate such scoundrels rather than approve PNTR and, thereby: endorse Clinton's distorted definition of national security; reward, empower and embolden those in Beijing who wish us ill; and likely accelerate Chinese preparations for Sino-American conflict over Taiwan or other causes, perhaps in the not-too-distant future.

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

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