- The Washington Times - Friday, October 21, 2005

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld this week visited China for the first time since taking office in 2001, and candidly pointed to the shortfalls in the U.S.-Sino relationship, as well as the potential for improvement. The official Chinese press tellingly played up all of Mr. Rumsfeld’s more positive comments, demonstrating that despite Beijing’s occasional blustering about U.S. hegemony, it still believes a closer relationship with the United States plays well domestically.

Mr. Rumsfeld said Beijing’s lack of transparency on military matters causes the United States to question its intentions and prevents it from developing the relationships that would allow China to bolster its geopolitical stature and allow work toward global peace and security. Mr. Rumsfeld specifically pointed to Beijing’s maneuvering to keep the United States out of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, an organization grouping Russia, China and Central Asian countries that earlier this year called on the United States to set a date for removing U.S. forces from Central Asia. Mr. Rumsfeld also suggested that China may be understating its military spending, by claiming its budget is $30.2 billion.

Mr. Rumsfeld signaled there is room for the relationship to improve. “We should upgrade our military ties compatible to the national relationship,” Mr. Rumsfeld told his Chinese counterpart, Cao Gangchuan. The official Chinese press gave those kinds of comments broad coverage, but gloss over Mr. Rumsfeld’s more critical statements.

Mr. Rumsfeld also pointed to China’s larger political and economic vulnerabilities. “A look across the globe suggests that societies that tend to encourage more open markets and freer systems are societies where the people are enjoying the greatest opportunities,” he said. He also asked the students, “What future will you help bring for China as a constructive partner in the international system?”

In a white paper on the future of Communism in China, Beijing made it clear that it is attempting to recast its political realities through rhetorical contortions. “Democratic government is the Chinese Communist party governing on behalf of the people … while upholding and perfecting the people’s democratic dictatorship,” said the document — impressive if only for its authors’ linguistic audacity.

China can rely on cheap labor to drive growth for only so long. After a certain level of development, its labor costs will become comparable to those of other developing nations and, consequently, less competitive. Its tight control of the Internet and other information technologies could undermine its ability to compete in a knowledge-based global economy. Beijing’s notorious muzzling of the press means corruption will continue to rage unchecked, as will the incarceration of dissenters — which are often society’s bold and enterprising personalities and innovators.

With President Bush scheduled to visit China in November, the Rumsfeld trip highlights the tenuous atmospherics in U.S.-Sino relations due to Beijing’s hermetic inclinations and values-based differences. Mr. Bush will likely take a relatively conciliatory tone in Beijing, but will have to broach thorny issues that Mr. Rumsfeld did not address, such as China’s undervalued currency and its impact on the U.S. trade deficit.

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