The Overstretched Superpower
Does America Have More Rivals Than It Can Handle?
The Big Chill has descended over China. Sino-American relations are suffering. While we assess the ramifications, we must also look beyond the crisis and sketch blueprints for a warmer climate, for the present season will not long endure.
Over two decades five American administrations, of both parties, have pursued positive relations with Beijing. They have done so without illusions and with a firm grasp of the strategic and bilateral stakes. Only a small minority of Americans has opposed cooperation and they now point to recent events as vindication of their views. They have it exactly wrong. Not only has the United States derived enormous benefits from this relationship, but in the process it has encouraged and strengthened the very forces for greater openness and freedom in China that shone so brightly last April and May.
The fabric of our ties has shown impressive sturdiness since we first reopened the door in 1971. Both nations have weathered political earthquakes and tremors. Successive leaders in China and America, who have deeply disagreed among themselves on other issues, have all agreed it is in the national interest to expand bilateral bonds.
Naturally there have been plateaus and detours during our journey. Now we are circling back as we confront the most treacherous terrain yet. It is to President Bush's great credit that he has sought to keep our longer-term interests in view even as we register our revulsion, as we must, at the sorry spectacle unfolding on the mainland.
Let me begin on a personal note of profound sadness, for the tragedy inflicted on the Chinese people, for the dimming of Deng Xiaoping's vision in the twilight of his remarkable odyssey, for the necessity to address these issues. I do so with the anguish both of a professional who has for 20 years promoted Sino-American relations and as a friend of China's leaders.
I subscribe to the virtue of sticking by old friends, especially when they are in difficulty, as the Chinese did, for example, with President Nixon and Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka of Japan. I have greatly admired the courageous, historic achievements of Deng and his associates. While I consider the encouragement of human rights an important dimension of our foreign policy, I also weigh heavily the geopolitical and economic factors. As a former ambassador and holding many professional and personal ties to the Chinese, my strong natural impulse is to refrain from commenting on China's internal difficulties.
Nevertheless I have spoken out strongly against the actions of the Chinese regime since the spring, as it proceeded from intransigence to massacre, from roundups to executions and repression, all cloaked in a most brazen display of the Big Lie. My condemnation has been harsh because I am appalled at what the Chinese government has done and continues to do-this is not merely scandal or corruption. I believe that especially those of us who have worked for Sino-American relations need to speak to-and for-the vast legions of the Chinese people, including not only those who are purged, vilified and silenced, but also those in leading positions who once more must swallow their convictions and regurgitate the current party line. Surely these "old friends" deserve our loyalty more than the handful of those responsible for crushing Chinese spirits. I am persuaded that in the relatively near future there will once again be a Chinese regime composed of people with whom we can resume the forward march in our relationship.
The most cold-blooded observer would have difficulty justifying the Chinese government's policies since June. If the students and their broad phalanx of supporters had used violence or set out to overthrow the party, one could have understood a firm response. But for weeks the Chinese people displayed truly extraordinary moderation, discipline and goodwill.
In Beijing and other cities throughout the nation, huge numbers demonstrated daily without causing a single death or committing an act of violence. The authorities, whether by design or paralysis, also showed great restraint. Those on the streets chose the only avenues of expression open to them. They wished to work within the system, seeking gradual reform in the context of communist rule, indeed promoting the very goals the party had proclaimed. They petitioned for rights set forth in the Chinese constitution. At the beginning no one attacked the leadership or called for Western-style democracy. For weeks the students' platform boiled down to two concrete requests: an acknowledgment that the demonstrators were patriotic and a dialogue between genuine student leaders and the political leaders.
Meeting these two requests, as then Party Secretary Zhao Ziyang and many other leading figures were willing to do, would have defused the crisis. It would also have ushered in a new, hopeful chapter for China. There could have followed serious attacks on corruption, a freer press, the initiation of genuine exchanges between the authorities and the intellectual elites who were prepared, as always in Chinese history, to serve their nation. The inevitable transition pains of moving from one economic system to another could have been better understood and tolerated by the people. Possible solutions to complex issues could have been better aired in the media and among the elites. There could have evolved a greater sense of participation in decisions by the urban population. And all could have felt a greater sense of party accountability.
Instead, a few elders-fearing chaos or at least a slippery slope toward a Chinese "Solidarity" movement, defining stability as the suppression of dissent instead of gradual reform, clinging to power above all-chose to squash the peaceful demonstration, to "kill chickens to scare monkeys" and to haul China back 20 years to terror and Orwellian groupthink. There have been sickening replays of the Anti-Rightist Campaign and the Cultural Revolution: wholesale fabrications; exhortations to turn on one's fellow citizens; brainwashing in schools, offices and factories; widespread fear of speaking one's mind; and-somewhat scaled down-the cult of personality, studying the chairman's thoughts and blaming troubles on outside influence.
In response to foreign condemnation, Beijing has started masking its reprisals. Executions and arrests are no longer trumpeted; foreign journalists are expelled; contacts for foreigners are frozen; the glare of the world's attention is all but extinguished. The regime strives to present a more benign face to the world through a controlled press, endless reiteration of lies and distortions and seizing upon technical errors in foreign reporting. Unfortunately, this has some effect in certain Western quarters. But for countless Chinese the nightmare of interrogations, harassment, arrests, disappearances and indoctrination continues. The summer's events may not be as bloody as those in early June, but their range is wider, their effect more insidious.
This is all the more tragic for having been unnecessary. The regime could have maintained, indeed enhanced, its authority and legitimacy through rather modest conciliatory gestures. Instead, an ossified leadership proved incapable of comprehending and adjusting to the social and political changes its own economic reforms had generated. As a result, it has lost the "mandate of heaven" and radicalized some of the opposition. Former President Nixon-architect of the opening to China, a close friend of the Chinese leaders and no sentimentalist-described the crackdown as not only "shockingly cruel" but also "incredibly stupid."
As of this writing the regime's grip seems firm. But, as is seen so often in China and recently in other totalitarian states, the surface does not necessarily reflect reality. This spring's movement was spontaneous and sweeping in its scope. It will be recorded as a major event in Chinese history. In cities throughout China not only students, workers and ordinary citizens, but party and government officials, leading journalists, top think-tankers and innovative entrepreneurs joined in. These forces are the political cutting edge of China and precisely those sectors most crucial for reforms and the opening. The Chinese leadership cannot round up and shut up these people and at the same time hope to modernize the nation and obtain foreign assistance. The urban population may be temporarily cowed, but people are angry, sullen and ready to turn to more enlightened leaders in the future.
Furthermore, there are clear splits within the political leadership itself. Not only those who have been purged but many still holding official positions would have strongly preferred conciliation to crackdown. Important elements of the Chinese military also spoke out against martial law and refused to move against the demonstrators. Some fell into line only out of personal loyalty to Deng. Many officers resented being dragged from their march toward professionalism back into politics; many harbor shame over the role of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) in the June massacre.
Economic pressures on the regime will intensify. Before this spring there were already serious problems: an overheated economy, inflation, unemployment, bottlenecks in energy, raw materials and transportation, and income disparities. Rampant nepotism and corruption were souring the populace. All of this has now been compounded by the dislocation of recent months and the prospect of a more resentful, inefficient work force, spending long hours in sterile political sessions. Subsidies will be needed to keep urban workers and peasants quiet; in a nonproductive economy this will boost inflation even higher. We will see the stifling of initiative and the increased bucking of decisions to the top; normally cautious bureaucrats will be even more fearful of making politically incorrect decisions. Dealing with foreigners is riskier than ever. Key economic thinkers and actors have fled or are intimidated.
The crucial assistance provided by the outside world is being erased in reaction to what the communiqué of the recent economic summit in Paris referred to as China's "violent repression." Government actions by the United States, Europe, Japan and others are suspending military cooperation and slowing economic assistance, technology transfers and investment. International financial institutions are postponing badly needed loans. There has been a severe impact on the psyches as well as the wallets of Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea. Most important are the thousands of decisions by private individuals around the world-businessmen cancelling or stretching out trade and investment projects; intellectuals freezing scientific, cultural and academic exchanges; tourists staying away from China in droves; and Chinese students, scientists and scholars refusing to return to their homeland. China's balance-of-payments position will be extremely shaky as key sources of foreign exchange dwindle sharply-exports, foreign investment, tourism and loans.
In a few brief months the Chinese leaders have lost the respect, confidence and credibility they had garnered during the past decade. Their assurances on a whole range of issues will not be as readily accepted. They have squandered their special standing in world affairs. They have shaken the view that China's entry into the international economic, security and intellectual systems should be encouraged and facilitated.
All these forces will build against the strange and fragile coalition in Beijing, consisting of central actors whose age will soon sweep them from the stage, elder gurus who resist both reforms and outside influence, opportunistic figureheads and closet moderates.
The best way to understand the reality in China today is to turn the official line upside down. For "the situation is stable" read the situation is precarious. For "broad consensus" substitute fierce disagreement. For "the people love the army" understand that the people hate the army units engaged in the suppression. "A small band" means massive numbers and "hooligans and ruffians" translates into law-abiding citizens from all walks of life. When a handful of people are shown on television turning in their neighbors to the authorities, millions of others are refusing to do so or are helping the hunted escape. When Chinese are shown earnestly studying the chairman's speeches, they are really numb with boredom and cynicism. The authorities vigorously proclaim the continuation of reforms and opening to the outside world. The reality is that ten years of heartening progress has been shattered in a few weeks, and China's drive for modernization has been dealt savage body blows that will take years to heal.
No one can predict how the Chinese panorama will unreel in the near term. Much depends on the sequence in which key aging leaders depart. The current discredited regime is clearly a transitional one. It is not clear how fully it can extend its writ to all corners of China, especially in the south near Hong Kong. There may be some interim shuffling of the political deck among hard-line coalitions. There will probably be future power struggles. It is at least possible that, echoing Chinese history, central authority will disintegrate and some form of regionalism will take hold.
But we can be confident that, however grim the interlude, a more enlightened leadership will emerge within a few years. And we can be absolutely sure that when that day comes, the official Chinese line will manage to rewrite history once again.1 Next time it will approximate the truth. The true criminals and the true martyrs will then be recognized in party pronouncements-as they are already known by Chinese urban dwellers and people around the world.
In short, what we see in China today is not what we will see within a few years. As the British historian R. H. Tawney noted in 1931: "Political forces in China recall Chinese rivers. The pressure on the dam is enormous but unseen, and it is not till it bursts that the strain is realized."
It may well turn out that the tragic events in China this year have foreshortened that great nation's march toward democracy.
It may well turn out that the tragic events in China this year have foreshortened that great nation's march toward democracy. The forecast had been for gradual, spasmodic progress toward a freer society, impelled by the demands of a more market-oriented economy and growing interaction with the world. Now, after experiencing the giddy liberating weeks of last spring that preceded the great leap backward, the Chinese people may not settle for incremental advance.
Once the hard-liners leave, we may see a more determined move toward pluralism and openness. To be sure, China will not become like a Western democracy. Like the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe it will face a perilous transition from one system to another. But by the end of the century the Chinese may well enjoy a freer press, a more highly developed legal system and a more open political process than would have been the case without the dark phase now being endured.
As the current leaders themselves have said, the agony of the Cultural Revolution made possible the decade of reform. It became clear that pragmatism and international cooperation had to replace ideological frenzy and xenophobia. Chairman Deng, who together with his family was a victim of that madness, boldly led his nation on a new path. He himself repeatedly proclaimed the need for younger people to take over for the next phase of China's Long March. Sadly, he did not see this mission through. Had he succeeded, his historic legacy would not have been sullied by recent events.
The current agony, like the Cultural Revolution, may well propel China forward again. It is clear that political reform must accompany economic reform. We now know that it is too much to expect the octogenarians to lead the country to new frontiers. It will require the fresh vision and flexibility of a younger generation.
What of the Big Chill's effect on relations with the United States? Certainly we are experiencing the most serious setback since 1971. American global diplomacy will be hampered, significantly in some areas. Many bilateral edifices, painstakingly constructed, have been torn down or left uncompleted. But since our mutual long-term interests remain and the bilateral foundations we have laid are broad, I believe the relationship will weather the shocks.
Prudence, however, requires a careful assessment of the damage. On the international front, Moscow has predictably sought to make gains at Washington's expense by adopting a restrained attitude toward China's brutal repression. On the heels of the May Sino-Soviet summit in Beijing, Mikhail Gorbachev has been deliberately currying favor with Chinese leaders, encouraging them to compare his "understanding" with the attitudes of the moralistic, meddlesome West, in particular the United States.
The Middle Kingdom's prickly leaders are calibrating the tone of their relations with various countries according to their rhetorical and policy stances. Some key Chinese figures remain more comfortable with central planning than with market forces. Beijing may seek to unnerve the West by suggesting further movement toward Moscow. We will probably see more Sino-Soviet meetings, trade and exchanges, additional progress on their border negotiations and increased consultation on regional conflicts.
Such developments are not cost free, but neither should they be cause for undue concern. The same underlying limits to Sino-Soviet rapprochement that existed before the Gorbachev-Deng meeting will remain. The 4,500-mile Sino-Soviet border-the site of past clashes and restless, overlapping ethnic minorities-will not disappear. The Pacific Ocean that reassuringly separates China and America will not shrink.
Chinese authorities may be very adept at rewriting history but they will not blot out tsarist territorial grabs or Soviet perfidies. Under Gorbachev, direct threats and tensions have eased. But the long-term geopolitical pressures of neighboring Soviet proxies and friends in Vietnam, Afghanistan, India, Mongolia and North Korea will persist. Finally, Beijing's overwhelming preoccupation well into the next century will be economic development and modernization. Only the United States, Europe and Japan can provide the capital, technology, markets and managerial savvy that China urgently requires. The Soviet Union's disastrous economy, lagging technology and limited barter trade provide no alternatives.
Chinese leaders, of whatever stripe on domestic issues, are united in their basic world orientation. However intense their irritation with Washington, they will continue to take the long-range view toward security and development. The PLA is particularly suspicious of the Soviet Union; it will look forward to resuming cooperation with the United States and Western Europe. Beijing will not wish to further jeopardize Western cash and computers by excessive flirtation with Moscow.
It is to the carefully built process of consultation on international issues that Washington's current estrangement from Beijing causes the most serious political damage. In recent years both countries have striven hard to broaden the scope of discussions, and both have reaped substantial dividends. America and China kept each other posted on their developing ties with the Soviet Union. Beijing provided constant reassurance, and Washington reflected Chinese (as well as Japanese and Korean) views in its final position on the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Moscow, eliminating intermediate missiles in Asia as well as Europe. Due to America's energetic representations, China ceased sending Silkworm missiles to Iran and instilled confidence that it would not ship intermediate ballistic missiles to others after its one-time deal with Saudi Arabia.
For several years China has been shifting toward a responsible stance on nuclear nonproliferation. Despite significant commercial complexities, the United States agreed to launch American satellites on Chinese rockets. Both countries cooperated very closely on evicting Soviet troops from Afghanistan. The Chinese moved somewhat toward the U.S. position that the Khmer Rouge be prevented from regaining power in Cambodia. They facilitated direct dialogue between the United States and North Korea in Beijing and forged commercial links with South Korea. For the first time in a century, Tokyo, Beijing and Washington have all enjoyed cordial relations with one another. At the United Nations, Chinese representatives were more cooperative on issues ranging from the Gulf war to Namibia. The Chinese showed restraint on Central America. They cultivated ties with Israel.
Clearly Beijing made these various moves for its own reasons. Just as clearly, our exchanges at all levels have paid off in greater mutual understanding and some adjustments in our respective positions.
While the chill in our relations continues, we will lose the benefits of this process. Our direct influence on Chinese policies will shrivel. The pursuit of some of our international objectives will be more arduous. Problems on which we already have differences could become more acute and the tone of discourse could become nastier.
Nevertheless Beijing will, as always, conduct an independent foreign policy based on hardheaded calculations. It will not alter its approach on key issues to spite the United States. The degree of Chinese warmth toward Moscow and Washington may shift-but not the fundamental geopolitical equations. History and geography will not change.
Meanwhile, our two countries will continue to pursue compatible policies on certain issues, but generally in parallel, not in concert. They will result from independent assessments of respective national interests, not from steady consultations and mutual education.
In the military sphere all sales, technology transfers, visits and exchanges are halted in their tracks. While some economic, commercial and scientific exchanges continue, they decline sharply as trips and programs are cancelled or postponed. The suspension of all high-level government contacts aborts new official initiatives.
Moreover, the great bulk of these activities are conducted in the private sector. Based on both practical and moral grounds, thousands of individual decisions every week are wiping out or stretching out trade deals, investment and scientific plans. In the cultural and academic areas, from ballet companies to art exhibits, from journalistic exchanges to student exchanges, a host of promising projects are dying or placed in cold storage.
Such are the by-products-costly to both sides-of the Chinese authorities' actions. The Bush Administration was given no choice but to express national outrage and halt cooperation in various fields. American values and practical considerations dictated this response. Public opinion was rightly incensed through television exposure, and the views of key allies matched our own. It was also important-a point not widely noticed-to paint a precedent to advise Moscow, as it fashions its own responses to the Soviet internal stresses.
At the same time the administration has wisely chosen to suspend rather than dismantle relationships. For a decade we have spun an impressive web of legislation, umbrella agreements and consultative mechanisms under which a broad range of visits and projects go forward. While many of these activities are frozen, the frameworks remain. Cabinet secretaries do not travel to Beijing but joint commissions remain intact, pending resumption of efforts to increase trade and investment. Specific scientific programs are temporarily shelved but the basic protocols remain valid. Cultural and academic exchanges are canceled but the broad bilateral agreements are preserved for a more auspicious climate. One day we will once again learn from each other.
The Bush administration has wisely chosen to suspend rather than dismantle relationships.
This is a difficult period for government and private decision-makers alike. There is no clear road map as we feel our way through an ambiguous passage. We cannot practice business as usual; nor do we wish to destroy all the structures in place. We do not seek to hurt the Chinese people, but we also do not want to hand the leaders photo-opportunities depicting normalcy.
In this context it is difficult to generalize; an ad hoc approach is unavoidable. We face a period of sanctions, holding actions, carrots and sticks and damage limitation. If a Stalinist-type regime persists over time, we will have no choice but to hunker down and wait it out as best we can. It is certainly appropriate to cease cooperation in areas that carry strong symbolism, such as the military. This holds as well for those commercial or scientific projects that benefit the Chinese more than us or in cases where we have solid alternatives.
Many areas, however, pose complex choices. We cannot expect American businesses to write off years of hard work and hard cash when they are playing for the long run in any event. If, in principle, the U.S. government forgoes extending special help to its private sector's efforts in China, what if foreign competitors were to exploit this restraint to their advantage?
Moreover, it is not simply a matter of our policies but also the practical results of Chinese policies. In general, I would like to see academic and cultural ties maintained. But how can there be productive conferences with Chinese intellectuals when they are not free to express their real views? If Washington seeks to continue bringing future Chinese leaders to the United States under auspices like the immensely successful International Visitors Program of the U.S. Information Agency, will Beijing let them come? Should American scholars, such as those in the Fulbright program, continue to go to China, even if their access will be severely curtailed? Should cultural groups convey American art to eager Chinese audiences when they will be exploited by the Chinese media?
The United States cannot fully restore ties with China until those responsible for the June debacle and its aftermath are no longer at the helm. In the meantime we face the practical question of how to conduct policy. The ingredients of U.S. policy should depend on the actions of the Beijing regime. It is impossible as well as unwise to draw up rigid standards or precise calibrations between actions by China and moves by the United States. Let me nevertheless sketch some criteria to guide U.S. policy. Here are some suggestions of steps by the Chinese authorities that might invite positive responses:
-lifting martial law in Beijing and Tibet;
-cessation and rollback of the imprisonment, persecution and execution of the peaceful demonstrators and their supporters;
-conciliatory gestures, tolerance of debate and genuine dialogue with the disaffected;
-termination of the ideological campaigns against foreign ideas;
-reopening of access to foreign media, including the Voice of America;
-revival of foreign exchanges of students and others;
-resumption of the commitment to economic and political reform;
-restoration of a climate in which Chinese and foreign professionals (journalists, businessmen, scholars and such) can meet international standards in their dealings on Chinese soil;
-confidence that U.S. presence and access in China does not endanger Chinese friends;
-serious efforts by the Chinese government to acknowledge the damage it has done to its international credibility, for example, by renegotiating aspects of the draft fundamental law on Hong Kong's governance after 1997 now being considered by the National People's Congress;
-evidence over a sustained time that China is honoring its previous statements on such issues as missile sales, nuclear nonproliferation, stability in Korea, progress toward a settlement in Cambodia and patience on the Taiwan issue.2
While we must not condone what has happened and is happening in China, we must not totally isolate the Chinese and rip out all the roots that we have so carefully nurtured. We need to find a way to balance our objectives of expressing near-term censure and holding open long-term cooperation with an enlightened leadership. While salvaging the framework, we must sustain indignation. In this process we should maintain contact with those who don masks but share our concerns. We should try to lighten the gloom for the Chinese people. The impact of our policies may be modest, but it will be magnified if we can preserve unity between Congress and the administration at home and cohesion with our allies abroad.
To be sure, the revival of broad cooperation will not be automatic or facile even with a moderate government in the future. Scars will remain. Trust will have to be rebuilt. The assumption of long-term political stability in China that has grown during the past decade has been rudely shaken. Traders and investors will be more prone to hedge their bets and to swerve to other markets. Cultural and academic leaders will harbor uneasiness about future winds of xenophobia. And China may have forfeited its special status in certain U.S. government projects.
I believe nevertheless that there are grounds for longer-term optimism. A vast network of official, professional and personal contacts has been created. The key Chinese interlocutors are precisely those elements who supported-and will support-the aspirations for a freer, more open society. They are shackled now from expressing their views and dealing with foreigners, but they are eager to resume cooperation and will do so once a progressive regime takes hold.
History is on their side. Gone forever is the time when the Middle Kingdom could shut out the barbarians behind great walls of indifference or condescension. Too many doors have been opened. Even hard-line leaders understand China's desperate need for foreign capital, technology and markets (indeed they have been avidly seeking to regain lost ground by trying to project an image of business as usual). No nation can prosper in the age of information and technology without opening up within and to the world outside. No government propaganda can erase years of images of relative progress elsewhere around the globe-conveyed by television sets reaching over 800 million Chinese, by millions of tourists, including overseas Chinese, by thousands of businessmen, scientists and scholars, and by the elite of China returning from more promising lands.
Americans in turn have every incentive to resume progress with China when conditions allow. A more moderate government in Beijing will need-and deserve-outside cooperation. We should then move vigorously to energize a wide range of contacts and programs that are now on hold. This will not be a favor to China but rather to ourselves.
When this more hopeful time arrives, the fundamental challenges-and promises-that the United States and China faced in their relationship until the spring of 1989 will resurface:
-to recast geopolitical cooperation in a more ambiguous world;
-to expand economic links even while grappling with transitions;
-to reap more fruit than friction from the mingling of two cultures.
Let us look at the context and contours of a fully renewed relationship down the road, noting the transformation in the international landscape since the 1970s.
After redressing the Soviet-American strategic balance in the early 1980s, Washington is now moving energetically with Moscow to reduce and stabilize arms across the spectrum. Facing immense problems at home and confronted by firmness abroad, Gorbachev seeks to cut the costs of Soviet foreign adventures. Both Washington and Beijing have taken advantage of these conditions to improve relations with Moscow. Triangular diplomacy is thus blurred.
As the relative positions of the superpowers decline in the military sphere, new centers of wealth and stability emerge. China has asserted itself forcefully on this new world stage: increasing trade, selling arms, launching satellites and projecting power. Its domestic trauma and the international reaction are cramping Beijing's diplomacy right now. But this is transitory. With a more benign regime, China's full weight will once again be felt.
Other trends, mostly positive, have radically altered the international context of Sino-American relations. There has been movement on several regional conflicts, Afghanistan and Cambodia, for instance. On the Korean peninsula economic contacts and tentative dialogues have begun among the major outside powers and between North and South Korea. Fragile cease-fires are in place in the Persian Gulf and southwest Africa. In Central America and the Middle East, there is at least more fluidity. Dramatic reforms unfold in Eastern Europe.
Finally, historic forces are shrinking the globe and loosening up many of its societies. We ride a scientific and information revolution. Countries receptive to new ideas and technologies forge ahead, while closed controlled societies fall behind. Democracy and the market economy are gaining everywhere, while totalitarianism and Marxism are fading fast. Most of these trends should continue into the next century. They will inevitably affect how China and America relate and react to one another.
Conventional wisdom holds that strategic factors in the Sino-American relationship are dwindling in importance. I strongly disagree. To be sure, this dimension will be more muted and nuanced than it was in the 1970s. But references to "triangles" and "cards" were misleading even then. While Beijing and Washington will seek further improvement in ties with Moscow, both capitals will also continue to share a stake in preserving global and regional balances. As Chairman Deng made clear to President Bush last February, the history and geography of Sino-Soviet and Sino-Japanese relations will not change. Nor will the traditional Chinese approach of balancing near powers with far powers. Nor will America's convictions that no country, or set of countries, should dominate Asia or the world, and that China's integrity is essential for world equilibrium.
In this context, the United States and China should keep each other informed once again on their respective dealings with the Soviet Union, to prevent miscalculations and increase the prospects for international stability.
Indochina will remain an area of tension, if not conflict, for many years. China and the United States share a strong interest in preventing Vietnamese domination of the region. Together with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and other interested countries, the United States should ensure that the Vietnamese truly evacuate Cambodia and do not rule it by proxy. Washington will need to continue encouraging Beijing to support the noncommunist factions led by Prince Norodom Sihanouk and to exert its influence to control the Khmer Rouge. This will entail an eventual halt of Chinese aid to the Khmer Rouge; the Chinese might also provide exile to some of its most murderous leaders.
No easing of tensions in the Korean peninsula will be possible without China's constructive role. Washington should seek Beijing's ongoing contributions: restrain the North Koreans, increase ties with the South Koreans and abet the U.S. embryonic dialogue with Pyongyang.
The situation in the South Asian subcontinent is particularly fluid. For years Washington worked intimately with Beijing to drive Soviet forces from Afghanistan. China and the United States are modestly improving relations with India, while maintaining close links with Pakistan. Nowhere is the risk of nuclear proliferation more acute than in the interplay among India, Pakistan and China. This complex terrain will require sustained Sino-American exchanges.
Tokyo, Beijing and Washington have been building positive ties with each other. Japan will remain an important U.S. ally and most important friend in Asia. Washington should consult closely with Tokyo about policy toward China so as to avoid shocks like those of the early 1970s. At the same time, it should strive to reduce suspicion and foster understanding among the three states. This process is crucial for regional stability, easing the transition that is being caused by Japan's economic juggernaut, emerging political influence and growing military clout.
Chinese influence outside Asia is less central. It will demand attention, however, given China's role in the United Nations, its more expansive diplomacy and its arms sales. Nowhere is this clearer than in the Middle East. China was moderately helpful in bringing about a cease-fire in the Persian Gulf. It has delivered huge amounts of weapons, including ballistic missiles, to the area. It would play a part in a U.N.-sponsored Middle East peace conference. Other regional issues such as southern Africa and Central America would also benefit from steadier Sino-American dialogue.
The most serious problem in bilateral relations during my tenure as ambassador was the sale of Chinese missiles to Third World countries. Beijing had its reasons for resisting our representations: it gained international influence from the sales; its profits helped finance an impoverished PLA. No country willingly gives another a veto on its arms policy; China charged us with double standards in our approach to various countries, and its global arms sales were very modest compared to ours, the Soviets' and the Europeans'. Yet, largely as a result of our persistent demarches and discussions, the Chinese took constructive actions. I regard these as prime examples of the tangible benefits to be derived from serious exchanges with China on international topics.
This issue is far from settled, however. Numerous questions remain about defining intermediate missiles, unstable regions and unsavory recipients. We face very real dangers that these destabilizing weapons will find their way into volatile areas. The arms trade is emphatically a global problem; we must work with a host of potential suppliers and recipients. China is crucial to any successful effort to stem the tide of proliferation.
When conditions permit, the United States should search for new areas of cooperation. We have been heartened by recent Chinese collaboration in halting the flow of drugs. Increasing these joint efforts would not only help meet this problem but earn Beijing some sorely needed goodwill in America where drugs are a rampant plague. So too would Chinese efforts to help attack the scourge of international terrorism. Still another potential new area for beneficial exchange would be cleaning up the world's environment.
On the international scene, therefore, China and the United States have been friends but not allies. Both countries share parallel interests and pursue compatible, if not collaborative, policies on many issues, especially in Asia. On other questions they disagree, sometimes fundamentally, sometimes on tactical approaches toward similar ends.
Against this backdrop the United States gradually developed military ties with China. This dimension is a natural component of a relationship expanding across the board. Neither country threatens the other, and both have been building friendly links in other sectors of their societies. The United States and China share common perceptions on the necessity for Asian and global military balances. Washington has judged a secure, modernizing and humanely governed China to be a force for stability. The Chinese have looked to the West to help their defense modernization. To be sure, the United States must be sensitive to the perceptions of others, whether in southeast Asia or across the Taiwan Straits. Beijing and Washington have some diverging national interests. Their domestic systems profoundly differ.
Thus the United States has measured its tread. Military cooperation has proceeded carefully on three tracks: high-level visits, functional exchanges and technology transfers. Trips by defense ministers, chiefs of staffs and heads of services provide opportunities to discuss the geopolitical scene, give impetus to ongoing programs and map out future cooperation. Functional military exchanges implement agreements reached at higher levels. The United States has shared information in many fields ranging from strategy to tactics, from systems to equipment and from medicine to academic training. U.S. and Chinese ships have visited each other's ports, and U.S. Thunderbirds have soared in Chinese skies. These exchanges represent the most important aspect of defense cooperation between the United States and China; they forge mutual understanding, personal ties and constituencies for a strong bilateral relationship.
The United States has not pushed arms on the Chinese. On the contrary, it has considered their requests on a case-by-case basis and has turned aside many inquiries because of concern over exporting advanced technology or projection capability. U.S. military sales are strictly limited to defensive weapons, and to date they add up to about $800 million in long-term programs.
In response to the events of June, President Bush correctly singled out the military relationship as the leading area in which to halt Sino-U.S. cooperation. This action was appropriate symbolically, because of the PLA's role in suppressing the demonstrators. And it provides possible leverage for those Chinese, including those in the military, who wish to follow a more moderate course-they can point to the loss of U.S. cooperation in the modernization of the PLA as one of the costs of a repressive policy.
Presumably, military ties will be one of the last parts of the Sino-U.S. relationship to return to its previous course. But when the United States again advances with China on a broad front, they will clearly serve U.S. interests.
High on the Chinese political agenda is the question of Taiwan. The most senior American officials in successive administrations have pledged to abide by the three joint Sino-American communiqués of the past two decades and adhere to the principle of one China.
For years Beijing has urged Washington to promote reconciliation between the mainland and Taiwan. The United States has demurred, stating that this is a process that must be worked out peacefully by the two sides themselves. While the United States will therefore not advocate specific avenues of reconciliation, neither will it obstruct them; it has explicitly welcomed the remarkable surge in trade and contacts that has occurred in the past two years across the Taiwan Straits.
The soundness of the U.S. position has been evident. There has recently been little tension between Beijing and Washington on this question, although it remains a matter of fundamental principle to the Chinese. Taiwan, feeling secure, has continued its astonishing economic progress and initiated political reforms. There has been almost no debate in the United States. Meanwhile Taiwan and the mainland have been reaching out peacefully toward each other through the exchange of goods and people.
It is still too early to assess the damage to Taiwan-mainland relations caused by the crackdown in China. Taipei has shown relative restraint. Beijing has made only modest attempts to accuse Taiwan of involvement in its turmoil. Nevertheless one could only expect the people of Taiwan to recoil from the ugly scenes they have witnessed on the mainland. It will be extremely difficult for future Chinese regimes to make close association appear inviting to those living elsewhere. The devastating impact on Hong Kong will cause further repercussions in Taiwan.
It would be a serious mistake to tamper with the balanced U.S. approach, which has enjoyed broad bipartisan support and has worked so well. For us to shift toward a two-China, or a one-China, one-Taiwan policy could wreck our relations with the People's Republic. It could provide a dangerous situation in the Straits. It would undo the solemn undertakings of five presidents of contrasting ideologies. It would not find favor with the authorities in Taiwan who also subscribe to a one-China policy. Whether conservative or moderate, whatever their differences on other issues, the Chinese agree on one China-any Beijing leader would be obligated to downgrade, perhaps sever, relations with Washington were there a fundamental U.S. shift on the Taiwan question. To anyone who grasps the long-term importance of Sino-American relations the case for maintaining our successful posture on Taiwan is irrefutable.
The events since June, however, pose fresh dilemmas for U.S. policy. Substantial numbers of understandably angry Chinese intellectuals and students are at war with their own government, seeking platforms in the United States, Europe, Hong Kong and elsewhere in Asia from which to pursue their struggle. The United States was able to reach a mutual accommodation with the Beijing government in the 1970s by promising, in effect, to disengage itself gradually and responsibly from the dispute between Taiwan and the mainland. In return we expected the Chinese to pursue reconciliation by peaceful means alone. That has been the thrust of American policy ever since.
In the months ahead, the United States faces a difficult balancing act. On the one hand, we must offer refuge and moral support to the Chinese who are threatened with political persecution due to their beliefs, and we must adhere to our obligations toward the people in Taiwan. On the other hand, we should not inadvertently become deeply engaged in Chinese domestic politics.
It is a melancholy irony that 1988, just before the Chinese great leap backward, was the most positive year ever in Sino-American economic relations. Bilateral trade jumped forty percent to exceed $14 billion. Agricultural exports from the United States doubled to $1.2 billion. China was becoming our leading overseas market for wheat. The P.R.C. became our thirteenth-largest trading partner; the United States was China's second-largest export market. American investment leapt from 400 to 630 projects. With some $3.5 billion committed to China, the United States was the top outside investor after Hong Kong.
Certainly there remained substantial obstacles to trade and investment, and Beijing's decisions in the summer of 1988 to cool the economy and postpone reforms were casting shadows. Nevertheless, a series of negotiations and agreements was laying the groundwork for further expansion. After being stalled for years, the United States and China broke through to a maritime agreement. Progress was made on updating our civil aviation accord. With our allies in the Coordinating Committee for Multilateral Export Controls, we were steadily easing controls over technology exports and were ready to extend a distribution licensing system to China. The Chinese were significantly improving their investment climate and were at last beginning to move on protecting intellectual property rights. We were engaged in constructive talks concerning China's application for membership in the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.
This very promising advance in our economic relations has been aborted for both practical and moral reasons. But as the United States waits for a more benevolent climate, we can already identify our longer-term objectives.
When China resumes its difficult transition from central planning to market forces, we should encourage its reforms while recognizing that their ultimate success depends on the Chinese themselves. Our efforts in trade, technology and investment help China modernize and become stronger.
Some question whether this bodes well for the United States. To be sure, a more powerful China will present fresh challenges, especially for its neighbors. But it is decidedly in our interest to participate in its development, and we should not leave the field to others. A prosperous and stable China will be less subject to outside pressures and in a better position to help maintain a multipolar balance in Asia. A China engaged in international markets and institutions will have greater incentives to pursue a responsible foreign policy.
It is decidedly in our interest to participate in China's development; we should not leave the field to others.
With these considerations in mind-and when the Chinese make it possible-we will want to revive a broad economic relationship. For our part this will include keeping open U.S. markets to Chinese goods, transferring technology and encouraging China's participation in the global economy.
For its part, a more enlightened Chinese regime will have to work hard to attract foreign technology, capital and management skills. The wounds of 1989 will not heal quickly. American companies will be looking hard before leaping into investments. Beyond meeting the necessary humane standards in their political system, Chinese authorities will need to resume the momentum toward a pluralistic market economy and a trade and investment climate that is clear, fair and sure. To these ends key moves will be: reducing high tariffs and import barriers; loosening controls over foreign exchange and import licenses; allowing competition in the services sectors; streamlining bureaucracy; ensuring consistent implementation of agreements.
The most difficult requirement for the Chinese, especially for its elder leaders, may be to recognize that it cannot expect to attract and exploit international science while excluding outside ideas. For much of its recent history, China has attempted to gain foreign knowledge without being contaminated by foreign culture. During the past 150 years this has proven to be very difficult. During the past decade of reforms and opening to the world, the Chinese leaders have sought to stamp out unsettling Western influences at three different times-the tearing down of Democracy Wall in 1979, the attack on "spiritual pollution" in 1983 and the "antibourgeois liberalization" campaign of 1987. Now they are at it again-banning books, shutting out the world media, hounding those "infected" by Western concepts, stepping up political "education" on campuses and in the work places.
Today, in the age of information and telecommunications, galloping technology and increasing interdependence, such an approach is impossible. No country can prosper without opening up within its borders and to the outside world. It is not a question of "Westernization" but rather the imperatives of modernization. China cannot simply import gadgets and boost productivity without applying modern management techniques. Students and scientists returning from abroad will carry back values as well as knowledge. The loosening and opening up of Chinese society will be essential not only for economic progress but also for political stability. For as millions of Chinese so vividly demonstrated once again this past spring, men and women do not live by rice alone.
The events of 1989 painfully illustrate that the most profound challenge in dealing with China will be in the cultural realm. For most of our history, Americans and Chinese viewed each other through veils of rhetoric and sentiment. During the past two decades expanded contacts between our societies began to increase mutual understanding.
Artists and experts, teachers and tourists were crisscrossing the Pacific in increasing numbers. Thirty protocols on science and technology exchanges constituted the largest such program that either of us had with any other country. There were over 40,000 Chinese students on American campuses by the end of 1988, more than half of all those sent abroad. Hundreds of American scholars and students were teaching and studying in China. Weekly Sino-American conferences examined a wide range of topics, ranging from law to the stock market to the U.S. Congress. We were rapidly increasing cultural exchanges, our access to Chinese television and radio and the publication of American books in Chinese. More than 300,000 American tourists visited China yearly. After years of effort, and just two weeks before leaving Beijing in April 1989, I signed an agreement with the Chinese that would have sent Peace Corps volunteers for the first time ever to a communist country. This project, like so many others, hangs in suspense.
This extensive process, largely carried on by the private sector, was fostering a more enlightened appreciation of each other's histories, societies and systems. But it was highlighting some sharply different values as well. Cultural and academic exchanges have mutually enriched both countries. At the same time, closer scrutiny was spawning tensions and frictions well before Beijing's actions all but ruptured the growing links.
Believers in freedom, Americans chafe at controls, whether on Tibetan monks, prospective mothers or outspoken dissidents. As a nation of immigrants, our concern for human rights is natural and universal. We have never singled out China. Indeed there has been a rising chorus of complaints in the United States about an alleged double standard between our vigorous espousal of human rights in the Soviet Union and our more muted approach toward China.
Presumably a more moderate government will allow intellectual "flowers" to bloom, tolerate dissent, move toward a freer press and further develop a legal system to protect individual rights. Presumably its leaders will not create a major bilateral crisis when future visiting American officials invite dissidents to banquets. Even under a more progressive regime, however, China will be very sensitive on human rights. The world's oldest, richest civilization does not take kindly to outside advice. Chinese leaders, who have always feared chaos, will be wary of a rapid rush toward democracy. As communists, they will fear loss of party control. Some see crime, homelessness and drugs as the costs of excessive freedom. The Chinese do not raise human rights in their dealings with any country. Since they do not seek to impose their concepts on the United States, they resent what they perceive as our attempt to do so on them.
Human rights abuses and martial law in Tibet predated the Chinese crackdown in Beijing and elsewhere. Lacking access to the area and without media coverage, we can only glumly imagine what has been transpiring in that remote region. Until recently Beijing had taken some positive steps to improve the religious and economic conditions in Tibet, but there was also continuing cultural arrogance, harsh suppression of dissent and mistreatment of prisoners.
Whatever our anguish for Tibetans, the United States will need to continue to recognize that Tibet is part of China. This is not only our long-standing policy but that of all governments in the world. Encouraging Tibetan independence would be quixotic. There is a solid consensus among Chinese that they cannot and will not grant it because of sovereignty, security and the implications for other nationalities in China. Fanning independence fever would also be a cruel incitement to the Tibetan people, given China's overwhelming power and control in the area. The Dalai Lama himself has stopped short of demanding independence.
Thus adherence to the recognition of Chinese sovereignty over Tibet is a prerequisite for engaging the Chinese constructively on the broader issues. We must continue to press China for moderation in Tibet and for access to outsiders. Our best route will be to support negotiations between Beijing and the Dalai Lama. Progress toward greater autonomy under Chinese authority will be required for the Tibetans to enjoy a happier fate and for Sino-American tensions to subside.
Beijing's population policy will be another continuing source of friction. Americans need to comprehend that China confronts the most dramatic Malthusian dilemma in world history: a young and mushrooming population, already more than a billion people weak, living on a land that is only one-tenth arable and three-quarters urban sprawl, mountains and sand. Unrestrained population growth would doom China's future.
The Chinese in turn need to understand that, while Americans disagree passionately on the subject of abortion, they find forced abortions and sterilization abhorrent in any country. While Beijing's official policy prohibits coercion, its infrequent punishment of abuses is far from credible or effective. A concerted Chinese effort to root out coercion will be necessary to regain American assistance. It will be difficult, but it should not be impossible, to find a way to help China's family-planning policy without either compromising our values or imposing them.
The United States should encourage progress in these various areas of human rights with a judicious mix of policies. We can provide practical assistance through exchanges and conferences in certain areas, such as developing legal institutions and a more responsible press. We should welcome advances as well as censure backsliding. We should pursue policies, including quiet diplomacy, that promote real progress rather than mere visceral satisfaction. We should recognize that the Chinese face genuine problems of economic development, stability and balance of central control with local initiative. We should not expect instant breakthroughs or American models. We should gear our attitude to relative movement and not to snapshots that do not measure up to our ideals. And we must continue to consider our major geopolitical and economic interests with China in tandem with our pursuit of human rights.
For their part, the Chinese must have surely learned this year that the violation of human rights is costly not only in terms of world opinion but also world cooperation.
For the Chinese people above all, we must hope that the Big Chill is soon lifted. In my view the question is when, not whether. Former President Reagan put it best: "You cannot massacre an idea." We witnessed China's future not in those grim nights in June but rather in the heady days of April and May.
When those days return, Americans should be prepared fully to resume the journey with that great nation. It will not be easy to keep a balanced perspective; it never has been for Americans. George Kennan once observed that "If we are to regard ourselves as a grownup nation . . . then we must, as the biblical phrase goes, put away childish things; and . . . the first to go . . . should be self-idealization and the search for absolutes in world affairs: for absolute security, absolute amity, absolute harmony."
That injunction captures the primary challenge in our China policy. The current course is full of ambiguities and tough decisions. Our strategic imperative is to preserve a long-term relationship. Our moral imperative is to project our principles as we survive this cold season of suppression.
Even when a warmer climate returns, the journey will be complex. Our two nations will share important security concerns, but we will not be allies, and we will differ on many international issues. We will strengthen ties of amity. But we will face inevitable tensions as we mesh two continental giants with vastly contrasting histories, cultures, stages of development and values. We will cultivate cooperation. But we can hardly hope for harmony.
This may seem an obvious precept for relations with almost any country. It has not, however, been applied for most of America's past history with China. American perspectives toward that nation have swung between romance and hostility. We have held wildly fluctuating images-the evil Fu Manchu, the noble peasant of Pearl Buck. During just the past half century, the Chinese have appeared, successively, as beleaguered allies and implacable foes, as yellow hordes, red guards and blue ants, the angelic Maoist man and the diabolical Gang of Four, budding capitalists adorning magazine covers and beastly communists crushing students.
We need a steadier vision. Both in our attitudes and in our policies, we must incorporate the Chinese yin and yang of opposites forming a whole.
In recent years, thanks to expanding links, we have traveled far. Americans were becoming more clear-eyed toward China, discarding both red herrings and rose-colored glasses. In recent months, thanks to television images, we have traveled farther. Americans have seen the two faces of China. Beyond the Big Chill, our challenge will be formidable. So will the stakes-for Chinese, for Americans, and for this planet's prospects in the 21st century.
1 In 1978 Deng himself insisted that the 1976 Tiananmen Square demonstrations supporting him be redefined as a popular uprising rather than as a counterrevolution.
2 I am indebted to Professor Michel Oksenberg of the University of Michigan for his thoughts on these criteria.