- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 4, 2001

The collision of a U.S. intelligence reconnaissance aircraft with a Chinese jet off of the southeast coast of China underscores how the Chinese have been aggressively shadowing U.S. intelligence planes recently. The Chinese defied President Bush, refusing to return the plane and crew promptly. This only emphasizes the present strategic rivalry between the United States and Chinese militaries.

Chinese President and Communist Party Secretary General Jiang Zemin and Vice Premier Qian Qichen have made it quite clear that they are not going to relent on their hard-line policy. Mr. Qichen opposes linking Chinese human rights policies with Taiwan´s liberation. The attitude of the present Chinese Communist Party leaders is that they can manage both economic modernization and political authoritarianism.

The present leadership has no Mikhail Gorbachev. It is not ready to give up Stalinist control of China. In a meeting last week with four reporters from The Washington Post, President Jiang Zemin was described as "dismissive, even apparently uncomprehending of the values that underlie, or should underlie, U.S. foreign policy." The fact that the Chinese are oblivious to American values enhances the position of the Bush administration´s China hawks. The hawks are unwilling to follow Bill Clinton´s appeasement policy.

Conservative realists have not been in power since the Nixon years, and the Chinese should learn quickly that this administration does not use kid gloves and has no romantic views that the present Chinese system will become democratic or, for that matter, less aggressive.

Other forces, especially in the State Department and outside the government, dispute the hard-line policy of Pentagon leaders. The State Department and opposition argument is that linking Taiwan´s military modernization to the abuse of human rights in China helps neither the Taiwanese nor human rights organizations. The present leadership of China considers its most vocal opposition, Falun Gong, an evil cult.

The detention of the American University faculty fellow Zhan Gao on charges of espionage along with her family, and the removal of their 5-year-old child from his parents, is a most egregious act. A Chinese spokesman was paraphrased to have said, "Don´t fret over the 5-year-old who was removed from his parents for a month without explanation. He was in boarding kindergarten, not in jail." This is surely a reflection of the difference in values of the two cultures. The totalitarian Chinese Communist Party also does not shy away from suppressing religious groups, Buddhist and Catholic, and has no respect for our religious commitments, which are our national interest.

The Bush administration´s conservative realism is founded on both American values and American strategic needs, which are inseparable and represent American national interests. The foundation of the Bush policy of strategic competition with China must prevail over Mr. Clinton´s failed strategic cooperation.

The Chinese oppose the essentials of the Bush strategy: missile defense and an aggressive policy toward Saddam Hussein. They support international terrorism, weapons of mass destruction for Iran and Iraq, and nuclear development in Pakistan. This is hardly a strategic partner.

We must deal with the arrogant Chinese communists in their own terms. They appreciate political and military power. Their economic modernization is geared to enhance this form of power. Therefore, an appeasement policy is impractical and we must negotiate from a position of strength.

Chinese economic modernization should be encouraged if it leads to political freedom. The opposite has been true for the last 20 years. Economic modernization has been and is linked to military power. None of the perceived benefits of economic development have eroded the totalitarian regime. Economic modernization and autocracy are living comfortably together in China contrary to the view of the Clinton administration that it would lead to democratization and political pluralism in China.

The national debate over China is still open. Only after the Communist Party Congress in the year 2002 will we know who is in and who is out, and what the policies of a new Chinese government will be. The Tiananmen Papers demonstrate that the struggle between the old dinosaurs and the new technocrats has not been resolved. Nor can we guarantee that the young technocrats will turn into democrats overnight. Young and old share the same values, and are indifferent to or contemptuous of our own, as the case of the American University professor and her family demonstrates.

In the meeting with American journalists, Mr. Jiang inquired why it should be that Americans put emphasis on human rights, as we are the largest country in the world, a military and economic superpower. He wondered why America bothers with such inconsequential issues as an American family in China. Mr. Jiang is completely indifferent to the fact that these are American citizens, and that American citizenship is a central value of our society. From the Chinese point of view, what we consider human rights is irrelevant. Could the president of the United States meet the Chinese president without bringing up the issue of the psychological torture of the American child? The American people and Congress would not tolerate it.

President Bush said he would support China´s entry into the World Trade Organization. But in view of the most recent human rights violations, the debate can be rekindled in the U.S. Congress and in public opinion forums. The question is whether the Congress will normalize relations with China, without which entry into WTO would not be as meaningful or lucrative to the Chinese. Normalization would mean free trade with the United States, where the Chinese already have a trade balance of $100 billion in their favor.

The Chinese must realize that when they combine economic development with political authoritarianism they cannot have a strategic partnership with the United States. This would only be possible if the regime were to change its structure and authoritarian orientations. Until that happens, President Bush is correct when he bases his China policy on strategic competition.

Amos Perlmutter is a professor of political science and sociology at American University and editor of the Journal of Strategic Studies.

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