- The Washington Times - Friday, February 8, 2002

President George W. Bush will soon embark on a diplomatic swing through Asia, which will include a summit in China with President Jiang Zemin.
Beijing's support for the U.S. campaign against al Qaeda, tepid as it has been, has led some observers, particularly former members of the Clinton administration, to argue that China should again be considered a "strategic partner." But a realist look at Beijing's behavior demolishes this line of thought.
China has recently held naval maneuvers in the East China Sea with the apparent intent to pressure Taiwan. And Chinese interceptors have again been harassing American patrol aircraft flying over the South China Sea, recalling the crisis of last April 1 when a Chinese jet collided with a U.S. Navy EP-3 reconnaissance plane and forced it down on Hainan Island.
The state-run Chinese media have been critical of the United States and its president. The official journal Beijing Liaowang concluded in a year-end review, "U.S. foreign policy under Bush is overbearing and extremely supercilious; it smacks of unilateralism, and obviously betrays the desire for exclusive domination." The Beijing Review, China's leading English-language journal, opened the new year with an article claiming "The September 11 tragedy, however, has not weakened America's superior role in world dynamics; the United States has not given up its demand for world hegemony."
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan said on Feb. 4 that China disapproves of the use of such words as the "axis of evil" in international relations. Mr. Kong also claimed that American public opinion does not support President Bush's characterization of Iran, Iraq and North Korea as terrorist states. "China always holds that anti-terrorism campaigns should be based on irrefutable evidence, and anti-terrorism attacks should not be expanded arbitrarily," said Mr. Kong.
Beijing has itself attempted to use "anti-terrorism" to justify suppression of the Muslim independence movement in Xinjiang Province, but this conflict has nothing to do with Sept. 11. Beijing well knows that Osama bin Laden's focus was the United States. Bin Laden also trained fighters for war in Chechnya against Russia and in Kashmir against India, but he did not make the same effort to train fighters for Xinjiang. This was because the al Qaeda/ Taliban network was created and backed by China's ally, Pakistan.
The Taliban even sent parts of U.S. cruise missiles fired in 1998 at al Qaeda camps to China for study. Chinese firms also set up the Taliban's telecommunications system and shipped in weapons through Pakistan.
China's ambitions remain what they were before September 11, and Beijing continues to see the United States as the main obstacle to fulfilling those ambitions. While seeking a "multipolar" world to weaken American influence, China has wanted a unipolar Asia with Beijing as its center. It has worked to isolate India, bully Taiwan, contain Japan, and divide the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN).
China has been working hard to encircle India. In Tibet, Beijing has built all-weather military roads linking a chain of army bases, major airfields and ballistic missile sites. China is fast increasing its ability to launch deep strikes by both aircraft and medium-range missiles, against major Indian targets in the hinterland. China still holds the disputed territory in the Aksai Chin, over which the 1962 war with India was fought and through which runs a vital logistical route supporting Beijing's occupation of Tibet.
In Myanmar (Burma), long recognized as "the back door to India" China has strongly supported the military dictatorship by providing arms, and upgrading strategic infrastructure and port facilities. Beijing has built naval bases along Burma's coastline in the Bay of Bengal, better designed to service Chinese warships than the nonexistent Myanmar fleet.
China is also sending arms and money to support the "Maoist" guerrillas in Nepal, and is the main supplier of arms to Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
Beijing's strategic calculations have been thrown into turmoil, however, by the vigorous U.S. response to September 11. China sees the United States acquiring a new foothold in Central Asia and improving relations with Russia.
Chinese has long supported Pakistan's jihad in Kashmir. Pakistan's top military commanders met with their opposite numbers in Beijing at the height of the India-Pakistan crisis triggered by a terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament. This Chinese gambit against India has been damaged by American pressure on Islamabad to curtail the infiltration of guerrillas into Kashmir, and by the elimination of the Taliban.
Beijing views a potential U.S.-Indian military alignment with horror. Paired with the U.S.-Japan alliance, it would bracket China and bring into concert with Washington Asia's other two major powers. Furthermore, the new Changi Naval Station in Singapore, the provision of new weapons to Taiwan, the reintroduction of American troops into the Philippines and U.S. discussions of collaborative work with regional allies on missile defense presents Beijing with the specter of having its encirclement strategy turned against it.
A prominent circle of Chinese military thinkers and hardline academics believe that Beijing needs to demonstrate its strength, rather than look meek, in the wake of the American demonstration of power in Afghanistan. They are urging President Jiang to more forcefully confront President Bush over issues like Taiwan, missile defense and any expansion of the war on terrorism.
Whatever the atmosphere of the summit turns out to be, President Bush needs to remember one thing; he had Beijing pegged right the first time.
China is a "strategic competitor."

William R. Hawkins is senior fellow for National Security Studies at the U.S. Business and Industry Council Educational Foundation.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide