China: The Coming Power

A Troubled Relationship

ONE OF THE FIRST tests of the Clinton administration’s ability to develop a forward?looking foreign policy will be the troubled U.S.-China relationship. The successful conclusion of market-access negotiations with Beijing in October, and the decisions of the recently concluded 14th Party Congress to promote younger technocratic leaders and widen economic reform in China, provide an opportunity for progress.

Within the United States there has been little consensus on an appropriate China policy. Since the June 1989 Tiananmen tragedy Congress has tried to use sanctions to prod China to better observe human rights. Although President Bush imposed some sanctions in the aftermath of the crackdown, he consistently opposed legislation that would eliminate or impose conditions on most-favored-nation treatment for China. In September he vetoed legislation to place conditions on renewal of China’s MFN trade status, saying it would hurt Chinese citizens and American companies that sell goods there. For his part President-elect Clinton has stated that he would be firmer, by linking continued MFN status for China to improvements in human rights practices. Beijing categorically rejects such a linkage and promises retaliation.

China’s political repression, its nuclear technology and weapons sales to Iran and other volatile regions of the world, along with some illegal trade practices and a mounting trade surplus with the United States, have only added to the tensions in a relationship already strained by the unnecessary and tragic violence of June 1989 and subsequent repression. China’s strategic value is inaccurately perceived as having greatly diminished following the collapse of the Soviet Union. If the current strains in America’s relations with China deteriorate into a U.S. policy of benign neglect or outright hostility, the damage could be widespread to the United States’ economic future, its relations with other countries and its hopes for cooperation on global problems

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