Monday, February 19, 2001

On Jan. 20, the Chinese Politburo went into deep mourning. For the People’s Republic, the Clinton presidency was a dream come true. But developments last week would indicate that for China, 2001 could be the Year of the Rude Awakening.

Secretary of State Colin Powell criticized religious oppression in China. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Beijing’s opposition to missile defense wasn’t a consideration and hinted that Taiwan might benefit from such a system.

The White House says it will soon decide on whether to sell sophisticated weaponry to the Taipei. Constructive engagement hasn’t quite been buried, but it seems to be assuming room temperature.

In eight years, Clinton’s pendulum swung from trashing his predecessor for “coddling” the “Butchers of Beijing” to hailing the butchers as our “strategic partners.” He stood in Tiananmen Square (site of the 1989 butchery) and criticized not the PRC’s bloodbath, but Taiwan’s desire to avoid the chopping block.

If Clinton’s policy had come stamped “Made in the China,” it could hardly have been more pro-PRC. Bill succeeded in decoupling China’s trade status from human-rights considerations.

Export controls were relaxed. On dual-use technology, authority to grant export licenses was transferred from the security-conscious State Department to business-as-usual Commerce. Beijing went shopping in our technology market and took home 603 high-speed computers, so useful in designing and testing nuclear weapons.

Officers of the Peoples Liberation Army visited U.S. military bases and were exposed to our strategic thinking, on the bizarre theory this sharing would lead to mutual trust.

State-owned Chinese firms were allowed to penetrate our capital markets. Due in part to Clinton’s insouciance, a Hong Kong firm with close ties to Beijing now operates port facilities on both ends of the Panama Canal.

While passionately pursuing China’s totalitarian rulers, Clinton cold-shouldered one of the most democratic governments in Asia.

He threatened to veto the Taiwan Security Enhancement Act (passed by the House of Representatives by a margin of 370-41 last year), which would mandate the sale of certain advanced weapons to Taipei.

Nothing could be allowed to upset the touchy tyrants of the Middle Kingdom. And nothing could interfere with the one-sided China trade — by which Beijing finances its military expansion.

Between 1992 and 1999, the United States ran a cumulative trade deficit with the Peoples Republic of $391 billion — more by a third than the entire U.S. defense budget for the coming fiscal year.

The PRC has used this wealth transfer to buy advanced weapons systems from Europe, including airborne early warning radar, air-to-surface missiles, new jet fighters and submarines. It has deployed more than 200 missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads opposite Taiwan — a number scheduled to grow to 5,000 within four years.

Even the establishment media, which normally finds criticism of China alarmist, is voicing concern.

Last November, The Washington Post ran a story that noted, “In government pronouncements, stories in the state-run press, books and interviews,” Beijing increasingly refers to America as “Enemy No. 1.”

Digging out from under the rubble of Clinton’s China policy is a very long-term project. How far George W. Bush will take us down the road to realism remains to be seen. The president has a pronounced corporate orientation, seen in his support last year of so-called Permanent Normal Trade Relations with the abnormally aggressive Peoples Republic.

The man rumored to be Bush’s pick for ambassador to Beijing is Hong Kong-based trade lawyer Clark Randt Jr. To rescue a China policy hopelessly enthralled to business interests, Randt’s background does not bode well. Still, compared to others under consideration (like ex-Sen. Rod Grams, a cheerleader for technology transfers to the Middle Kingdom), Rant may be the best we can hope for.

This administration is guaranteed to be an improvement over the last. But after almost a decade of a pandereing to our greatest security threat, a whole new direction is needed.

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