- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Communist China’s new leadership has embarked on a strategy of detente, to buy time while the country grows in economic power and prestige, strengthens its military, and prepares for the day it will seize Taiwan and evict the U.S. from East Asia.

Since Hu Jintao’s rise to power a year ago this month, China’s new leadership has been winning friends in Washington and Europe. The strident rhetoric about invading Taiwan and reluctance to help with North Korea have given way to moderation and an appearance of cooperation.

By winning the 2008 Olympics, putting a man in space, promoting trade and friendship with Europe and Russia, and contributing $200 million to Europe’s program to build navigation satellites, China is emerging as a global power.

Beijing lures Western businessmen with a skilled work force willing to toil for some of the world’s lowest wages. According to the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, there has been more than $400 billion in foreign direct investment in China. With plants deserting even Mexico for lower Chinese wages, many believe China’s 1.2 billion people could soon be producing most of the world’s manufactured goods, leaving widespread unemployment elsewhere.

China’s growth in production for export, its control of the value of its currency, and its delinquency in complying with World Trade Organization (WTO) rules, has produced a huge trade surplus.

The U.S. trade deficit with China is running well above $100 billion a year, but when Treasury Secretary John Snow recently went to Beijing to ask China for relief, he returned empty-handed.

Beijing has toned down its bombastic generals and sent its chief weapons proliferator, Defense Minister Gen. Cao Gangchuan, to Washington for a good-will visit with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Despite the new tone, China continues to confront Taiwan. In May, China blocked Taiwan from observer status at the World Health Organization (WHO) for the seventh time, and in September prevented it from joining the U.N. for the 11th time.

Perhaps most subject to misinterpretation is China’s role in the effort to control the Kim Jong-il regime in North Korea. After years of claiming North Korea was a U.S. problem, Beijing agreed to host multilateral talks on the North’s nuclear weapons program. This led many to believe Beijing is being helpful. China does not want a nuclear North Korea, they say, and it wants to avoid the massive influx of refugees that would result from a North Korean collapse. But the facts suggest otherwise.

Even while sponsoring the talks, China continues to prop up the North with food, fuel and supplies, refuses to apply sanctions or pressure, and takes North Korea’s side, calling on the U.S. to meet the North’s demands. China has long supported the communist regime in the North and now is buying time to keep it in place, with or without nuclear weapons.

But by appearing helpful to the U.S., China has won real rewards. The Bush administration refuses to get tough with China on its unfair trade practices and opposes congressional attempts to apply sanctions to reduce the trade deficit. Beijing offers soothing rhetoric that it will do something someday, while maintaining its currency at an artificial value and continuing to grow its huge trade surplus.

The administration is so eager for Chinese cooperation on North Korea that early this year it urged Taiwan not to hold national referendums on developing nuclear power and seeking observer status at the WHO, because Beijing opposed any referendum in Taiwan on any issue. This U.S. support for Beijing’s opposition to a referendum, the very essence of democracy, has been the saddest episode in the detente with China.

But democracy in Taiwan won’t go away. In September, 20,000 demonstrators, led by former President Lee Teng-hui and some 40 legislators, rallied in favor of changing their country’s name to Taiwan. They consider the name “Republic of China” an impediment in applying for membership in international organizations, and inaccurate to boot.

Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party holds that Taiwan and China are two countries on two sides of the Taiwan Strait, while Washington clings to the position in the 1979 U.S.-Beijing communique, which states that “the U.S. acknowledges the Chinese position that there is but one China and Taiwan is part of China.”

In the 24 years since then, it has become increasingly clear that democratic Taiwan is not part of communist China. It should be called what it is — Taiwan.

China’s new policy of detente is intended to lull the West while it builds economic and military strength. Peaceful coexistence with Beijing is fine, but it is no excuse to treat that regime with kid gloves on issues of unfair trade, the deficit, and its WTO obligations, to accept unending meetings on North Korea in lieu of squeezing the North’s lifeline, or to oppose democratic change on Taiwan.

The U.S. should stand firmly on principle and self-interest in dealing with Beijing’s charm offensive.

James T. Hackett is a contributing writer to The Washington Times and is based in San Diego.

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