- The Washington Times - Friday, April 13, 2001

The standoff with China over the release of a U.S. reconnaissance plane suggests the complexity of current U.S.-China relations, and is a foretaste of challenges that lie ahead. Since Richard Nixons historic trip to Beijing, China has occupied a unique place in U.S. policy. In the last three decades it has evolved from being a strategic partner against the Soviet Union, to a commercial market and now a human rights pariah. With the Cold War over, the United States the sole world power and China growing in influence, U.S.-China relations need but lack a new equilibrium.
Challenges will come from several directions. One is Taiwan. A vibrant democracy, Taiwan is ruled by the DPP, a party long identified with Taiwan independence. Despite conciliatory gestures by Taiwans new president, Beijing will continue to pressure its government, and will test the Bush administrations resolve to preserve Taiwans integrity and the right of Taiwans people to choose their government. Stability in Asia and our principles require us to stand firm.
An early test will come with Taiwans request for advanced defensive weapons. Chinas expected entry into the World Trade Organization may also test U.S. resolve. Despite Chinese objections, Taiwans economic importance, its market system and its economic ties with the United States all require that Taiwan also join, as World Trade Organization (WTO) rules provide, as its own customs union.
Trade is another. The deficit with China is our largest in the world, and potentially the most acrimonious. Last years extension to China of Permanent Normal Trade Relations and Chinese membership in the WTO will create new opportunities for U.S. business, but wont reverse the deficit quickly. These agreements are likely, in fact, to produce new disputes. Expect China to try to reinterpret their terms and extend the timetable for their implementation. We should acknowledge the real challenges that trade liberalization poses for Chinas leadership, but hold them to their commitments.
Human rights will remain a bone of contention. Beijing shows no sign of loosening its control of Chinas political system. If anything, during the last year Chinas human rights climate has deteriorated. Despite dramatic progress in economic and social liberalization, Chinas leaders will continue to defy U.S. attempts to influence their political system. Recent U.S. efforts to expand political rights using trade and political pressure have failed. We must be unambiguous about our values, but rethink the best ways to advance them.
Security issues may also complicate relations. China strongly opposes U.S. missile defense, seeing itself as a presumed adversary. A new push by the United States to deploy that system is certain to raise tensions. Improved stability on the Korean Peninsula may also lead Beijing to press for U.S. military disengagement from Asia -something that is in neither United States nor Asias interests.
George W. Bush wont be the first U.S. president to be tested by China. For decades, Chinese leaders have skillfully leveraged Chinas economic and military potential to exact concessions from the United States. Experience shows that overestimating Chinas importance decreases U.S. leverage and influence, and distorts U.S. policy in the region.
As an Asian power and an emerging world leader, Chinas interests will both coincide with and diverge from our own. Courting China is unwarranted, but treating it as an adversary will be self-fulfilling. The best course is to foster political cooperation wherever possible, aggressively promote U.S. business and work to draw China deeper into the world market system. Participation in global organizations like the WTO wont change China overnight or remove our differences. Deeper engagement with the West will, however, encourage the rule of law and create a growing zone of common interest. Over time, it will inexorably expand the personal and economic freedom of ordinary Chinese, and with it the environment for political reform.
U.S.-China relations have become increasingly politicized, making solutions to these issues difficult. China has an important role to play in Asia and the world, and despite the authoritarian rule of its Communist Party is an increasingly modern nation that is undergoing deep and rapid change. Beijing is already preparing China for the onslaught of economic competition that will follow WTO membership. Its ability to enforce its will in Chinas far-flung cities and provinces is constrained, however, and its fears of unemployment and instability-caused economic reform and globalization are real. These internal tensions will also complicate our management of the relationship.
Todays China is neither an ally nor an adversary. The course taken by Chinas political and economic development, however, engages vital U.S. interests. The Bush administration deserves credit for its firm but restrained management of negotiations for release of the U.S. aircraft and its crew. More difficult issues lie ahead: weapons sales to Taiwan, a continued congressional spotlight on human rights and the possibility of another bruising debate on Normal Trade Relations. Political tensions raised by the aircraft controversy will aggravate these issues. Charting a course through these turbulent waters will require both principle and pragmatism from the Bush team.

R. Sean Randolph is president of the Bay Area Economic Forum in San Francisco. He served in the State Department and in the Reagan White House, and as Californias director of international trade from 1994-98.

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