- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 25, 2001

Chinese leaders are extending olive branches to the Bush administration while they continue to pursue policies contrary to American interests. This week, Secretary of State Colin Powell embarks on a five-nation tour of Asia which includes a visit to Beijing, where he will address such difficult issues as human rights and missile defense - and once again he will encounter Chinese professions of friendship and goodwill while their actions continue to send a different message.

Recently, China's Assistant Foreign Minister Zhou Wenzhong met U.S. officials in Washington in an attempt to soothe U.S.-Sino relations. Similarly, Chinese President Jiang Zemin sent a conciliatory statement to President Bush: Mr. Zemin indicated that he hoped that the April 1 incident, during which a U.S. Navy reconnaissance plane collided with a Chinese fighter jet, no longer tarnishes the rapport of the two nations.

These diplomatic gestures are part of a broader strategy by Beijing to propagate the notion that China has now embarked on a softer tone in the South Pacific, especially in its rapport with Taiwan. Chinese officials lament Mr. Bush's reference to the Chinese as strategic competitors and fear that a hard line by the Bush administration will eventually lead to conflict. Chinese leaders explain that they are hoping to avoid increasing tensions, if only to prevent diverting funds into defense rather than into the sluggish economy.

As the Chinese assert their rights as a rising power in the region, they are confronting a reversal of American policy. During the Clinton years, America was sympathetic to China rather than to Taiwan. In contrast, Mr. Bush has demonstrated his support to Taiwan by selling arms and by promising military assistance in case of an attack by mainland China. In this manner, he has terminated a previous U.S. policy of ambiguity regarding the status of Taiwan and has also clearly outlined the parameters of American strategic interests in Asia.

In response, Chinese leaders are now attempting to palliate the Bush administration with kind words. However, their deeds contradict their speech. Recent reports indicate that China is increasing its military cooperation with Cuba. In December, China's military chief of staff, Gen. Fu Quanyou, signed an agreement pledging to assist Cuba and help it modernize its army. Furthermore, the State Department confirmed that in December, Cuba received a shipment of weapons from the state-owned China Ocean Shipping Co. This prompted leading Republicans, such as Sen. Jesse Helms, to demand the imposition of economic sanctions on Beijing for violating the 1996 amendment to the 1962 Foreign Assistance Act, which prohibits the selling of lethal arms to a nation like Cuba, whose government supports global terrorism.

While the State Department deemed that the arms sold were not "lethal" enough to impose sanctions, the incident is nonetheless deeply disturbing. It is part of a pattern of Chinese belligerency as in their increasing cooperation with a revanchist Russia, the sale of missile technology to Iran and Iraq, provocative military exercises in the Taiwan Straits and the recent military occupation of the disputed Spratly Islands.

By selling weapons to a hostile nation that is 90 miles from American shores, the Chinese are threatening the security of the United States. Furthermore, by denying the sale of arms despite confirmation by the State Department, the Chinese government has revealed that it is willing to use deceit in order to further its foreign policy objectives. This is typical of the double-edged sword of Chinese diplomacy.

Thus, as smiling Chinese diplomats descend upon Washington, lies are told and arms are transported to Cuba. The recent conciliatory gestures by Chinese leaders are not a genuine effort to secure American friendship. Instead, this is an attempt to court American public opinion while sowing the seeds of antagonism through America's back door. Mr. Bush's usual hard line is therefore exactly what the Chinese deserve.

Grace Vuoto is assistant professor of British history at the University of Virginia Commonwealth and an editorial writer for The Washington Times.

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