- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 7, 2005

Chinese President Hu Jintao will not meet President George W. Bush at the White House, but only “on the margins” of a U.N. General Assembly session in New York.

Beijing tried to portray the summit as U.S. acceptance of “a rising China.” With the U.S. focused on Iraq, Beijing hoped Mr. Bush wanted a high-profile “feel good” meeting that would paper over the many challenges by China to U.S. interests. Downgrading of the Bush-Hu meeting, due to the Hurricane Katrina recovery effort, avoids a Chinese diplomatic trap.

Taiwan remains a flash point, with China’s military buildup continuing and more talk from Beijing about using nuclear weapons to deter any interference with a conquest of the de facto independent island. A new round of talks on North Korea’s nuclear program is expected to start Sept. 12, with Beijing using endless discussions to prevent any action against the Pyongyang regime. China also helps Iran resist international pressure, using trade and investment to undermine any U.S. or European sanctions. Beijing has been clear it will block taking the Iran nuclear issue to the U.N. Security Council.

On Sept. 1, China released a white paper on disarmament and nonproliferation to blunt criticism during the summit. But even in a text filled with propaganda platitudes, Beijing could not abandon the party line undergirding its position on North Korea and Iran, “Nonproliferation should be dealt with by political and diplomatic means within the framework of international law. … The legitimate rights and interests of all countries as regards the peaceful use of science and technology should be guaranteed.” For international law, the paper cites U.N. Resolution 1540, introduced by the U.S. in 2003 but gutted before adoption last year. The operative section now refer to nonstate actors and enforcement of domestic controls. It treats proliferation as an illicit private activity, rather than state policy, thus avoiding any foundation for international sanctions.

Last July, Mr. Hu addressed the Shanghai Cooperation Organization meeting in Kazakhstan, stressing China’s role in Central Asian stability and development. Stability means supporting dictatorships like Uzbekistan’s, which has closed a U.S. base. Development means shipping the region’s oil and natural gas directly to China rather than selling in the world market. In August, Russia and China held their first joint military exercise involving 10,000 Chinese troops with Russian strategic bombers. The exercise partly involved resisting an outside “third force” — an obvious reference to the United States.

President Hu has newly emphasized combat-readiness and the ability to win a war “under new conditions.” He has championed major increases in military spending, concentrated on naval, air and missile programs oriented out toward the Pacific.

While reformist Deng Xiao-ping gave economic development priority over military expansion, Mr. Hu represents a step back to a more hard-line view of the world. He is impatient to convert China’s economic growth into power projection.

While Beijing understands the unity of wealth and power in world affairs, it hopes U.S. policymakers will continue treating economic issues apart from security issues. This is also the view of those U.S. corporations whose investments in China make them Beijing’s most powerful lobby in Washington. But it would be a fundamental mistake for the Bush administration to ignore how U.S.-China trade and investment flows help provide Beijing with the means to pursue strategic ambitions contrary to U.S. interests.

How to reduce the U.S. trade deficit with China, which may top $220 billion this year, will be a summit topic. At an Aug. 30 press conference, He Yafei, director-general of the Department of North American Affairs, said “We are willing to import more U.S. goods.” But he quickly added the standard Beijing line, “We hope the United States will ease curbs on exports to China, especially curbs on high-tech goods.” Those restrictions are on technologies with military applications.

China is not interested in importing consumer goods. Beijing only wants two things: advanced technology and the capital to further expand its industrial base. While China continues to push exports, it also invests in import-substitution sectors and buys foreign sources of energy and raw materials (including American holdings).

Though diplomatic and military flashpoints attract the most attention, the economic patterns in “peacetime” shifts the balance of power. If one great power builds up its industrial capabilities and financial reserves while another power swamped by fiscal and foreign debts as its domestic production is ravaged by overseas competitors, the capabilities of the two in a future confrontation will tilt to the more dynamic player.

In his global travels, Mr. Hu has exuded confidence in his country’s rise. If Mr. Bush validates that by public show of accommodating China’s views on major issues, it will weaken U.S. influence around the world.

A less formal New York meeting gives the Bush administration a chance to deal seriously with emerging threats rather than perform in Beijing’s public relations show.

William Hawkins is senior fellow for national security studies at the U.S. Business and Industry Council.

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