Great-Power Competition Is Coming to Africa
The United States Needs to Think Regionally to Win
Sino-American relations are in disarray. China's current leaders complain of continued American sanctions, the Bush administration's refusal to engage in high-level official exchanges and the deterioration in the quality of consultations on matters of common strategic interest. They protest President Bush's April 1991 meeting with the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan leader. They believe the United States has sought to restrain other leading industrialized nations in the Group of Seven from restoring relations with China to the levels that existed prior to the events in Tiananmen Square in June 1989. Washington is also accused of discouraging a rapid and full restoration of lending to China by international financial institutions. And behind these charges are more deep-seated fears-of another era of American global hegemonism and an American design to undermine China's communist regime.
Meanwhile, at least among key opinion molders in Congress and the U.S. media, China's leaders are scorned and disdained. Memories of the June 4, 1989, massacre in Beijing remain vivid in the American mind. China's leaders have expressed no remorse for their decision to send heavily armed military forces into the capital. No amnesty has been given to activists in that spring's demonstrations, and many dissidents languish in prisons without charges filed against them. In the two years since Tiananmen Square leaders in Beijing have pursued a hard line toward intellectuals. They have sought to impose ideological uniformity on the Chinese people. As in the Mao era the urban populace engages in weekly political study sessions; censors monitor and ban artistic works; leading universities are under intense pressure; Voice of America radio is jammed. The propaganda apparatus organizes campaigns to recall and emulate heroes of the Cultural Revolution era. But all these efforts have generated little cooperation and much disenchantment.
The Tiananmen tragedy and Beijing's subsequent record have altered the American mood. In addition, the apparent end of the Cold War and the change in Soviet-American relations have led many Americans to conclude that the United States no longer needs China as a counterweight to the Soviet Union; China is seen as strategically less important to the United States. Moreover many Americans believe the crisis of communist rule that has swept eastern Europe and the Soviet Union will also hit China. Influenced in part by Chinese dissidents in the United States, many American observers believe political reform will inevitably resume once 86-year-old Deng Xiaoping and the other elders die. They argue that the United States should not prop up dictatorship or bestow legitimacy upon it. Washington should be patient and not embrace faltering rulers, but await the verdict of history in confidence that a more democratic, liberal or reform-minded set of leaders is on the horizon.
Under these circumstances, it is argued, the United States should maintain its ban on high-level visits, deny China "most favored nation" (MFN) trade status and vigorously press a human rights agenda. The institutional framework painstakingly erected under the Nixon, Ford, Carter and Reagan administrations for constructive Sino-American relations-bilateral agreements for exchanges in science and technology, joint committees for settling economic and commercial disputes-would thus be allowed to atrophy.
Nor is there a powerful business lobby in Washington to defend Sino-American commercial ties. American corporations have acquired a realistic sense of the problems and risks of doing business in China. While some corporations are doing well, the intense interest of the early and mid-1980s is gone.
Those in Washington who seek to sustain contacts with China are now on the defensive. The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in August 1990 provided a respite to the descending spiral in Sino-American relations. As a permanent member of the Security Council, China had to support or acquiesce in U.N. resolutions passed on the gulf crisis. Denigrators of Beijing's importance in world affairs were reminded of its pivotal role in one major international forum, and Beijing's adherence to U.N. positions evidenced strands of realism in Chinese foreign policy.
But additional stresses on the Sino-American relationship remain: mounting American trade deficits with China; intelligence reports that China transferred nuclear technology to Algeria-possibly without adequate safeguards against atomic weapons proliferation; Chinese refusal to participate in multinational discussions to prevent missile proliferation; revelations of Chinese classified documents discussing exports of textiles manufactured in labor camps; Chinese failures to protect intellectual property; arms sales to Burma; links with the Khmer Rouge; continued trials of the political activists who participated in the 1989 demonstrations-some of whom have received harsh sentences.
For these reasons in both 1990 and 1991 the extension of China's MFN status became a widely debated political issue. Each year since the 1980 ratification of the Sino-American trade agreement, the president has had to decide whether China, as a nonmarket economy, meets the legal requirements of the Jackson-Vanik amendment concerning its immigration practices and, more generally, its human rights record. Granting MFN to China was a major part of the normalization of Sino-American relations in the late 1970s. It was a centerpiece of the talks between President Carter and Vice Premier Deng in February 1979, and the prospects of expanded Sino-American trade probably helped moderate China's response to the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979. To both the Chinese government and people-especially those whose livelihood depends on strong economic ties to the United States-MFN is an integral part of the Sino-American relationship.
Until the Tiananmen tragedy extension of MFN was routine. Now it has turned into a perennial political battle, fueled by China's human rights abuses and its trade surpluses. Sino-American relations are thus becoming a regular, bruising debate over MFN. Although President Bush has decided to continue MFN, as he indicated on May 27, Congress has the authority to reject it or impose conditions; the president could then veto the congressional plan, but Congress, of course, can override the veto.
One can question whether American interests are served by introducing this annual discordant note to relations with China. Prudence dictates sober reflection before actually retracting MFN. Once withdrawn, it cannot be easily reinstated, and its abolition could have lasting and severe repercussions.
Several questions therefore merit examination. What is the domestic situation in China? Are the assumptions about the inevitability of China's democratization accurate? Have events since June 1989 demonstrated that the regime is likely to collapse? Where is Chinese foreign policy headed? What is the enlightened and humane American interest in China? Are the leaders of the United States and China now locked in a Greek tragedy, unable to act on the vision that brought the countries together in the 1970s? In light of common interests, is it possible to pursue a sustainable set of policies that are germane to the post-1989 era and that benefit the people of both nations?
The 1980s brought considerable change to China. The gross national product more than doubled. Peasant incomes rose swiftly following the dissolution of the commune system in the early part of the decade. New employment opportunities arose in rapidly expanding, labor-intensive light industries and in private and collective enterprises in rural areas. As a result the portion of the population fully immersed in agricultural production dropped by one percent per year. The nation resumed the transformation from a rural agricultural society to an urban industrial one, a transition begun in the 1920s and 1930s, disrupted by the Japanese and then prevented under Maoist rule. During the 1980s well over 50 million people left their rural villages and even more entered new occupations. The incomes of the new entrepreneurial class far exceeded the wages of officials and intellectuals.
China's opening to the outside world-joint ventures, tourism, foreign-manufactured consumer goods-also had a profound impact on popular culture and tastes; in particular, the rapid spread of tape recorders, television and videocassette recorders accelerated this trend. Contacts with Hong Kong and Taiwan, as well as South Korea and Japan, drew the populations of coastal China into the dynamic East Asian orbit. Propagandists in Beijing no longer enjoyed monopoly control over the media. Their ideological messages competed with those distributed legally or surreptitiously from abroad.
These developments have continued after the Beijing massacre. The economic reforms of the Deng era have also remained largely in place. China's top leaders nonetheless seem deadlocked over the future direction of economic policy. Efforts in 1989-90 to roll back several reforms were rebuffed by provincial authorities and reformers at the center. Major pieces of the reform program have been indefinitely postponed-such as strengthening the taxation and banking systems and invigorating large, inefficient state enterprises-but other measures have been implemented: devaluation of the yuan and limited price adjustments. China may also be moving cautiously toward making the renminbi a convertible currency. While this move would strengthen China's claim for full accession to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, other measures that would ease GATT membership, such as reduction of nontariff trade barriers, are stalled.
Despite this mixed picture, no east European country has yet matched the extent of China's transition from a centrally planned economy. China is not yet a market economy and local bureaucrats still control much economic activity, but well over half its economy is now beyond the control of planners in Beijing; local bureaucratic entrepreneurship flourishes, and the foreign trade sector is surprisingly large for a continental-sized economy. The major economic problem that helped fuel the 1989 demonstrations-inflation-has been at least temporarily eased. But the leaders used the means of central planners to carry out their retrenchment: sharp cuts in construction projects, constriction of credit and reduction of imports. When and how China will undertake the next steps of economic reform remain major undecided issues. The Eighth Five Year Plan launched in 1991 did not resolve the debate.
Perhaps the most stunning statistics concern China's population growth and land use. China's rate of population increase in the 1980s-between 1.2 and 1.6 percent per year-was low compared to most other developing countries. But its population still grew by roughly 12 million to 15 million people per year. Increases of this magnitude will continue through the 1990s. China's population topped 1.1 billion in 1990, and by the year 2000 it will approach 1.3 billion. In the 14 years of his rule Deng has presided over a population increase of nearly 200 million people. This increase occurred despite the well-heralded, vigorous family planning program that has earned widespread condemnation for the excesses of some overzealous local officials. This population increase has placed considerable added burdens on the government in delivering education, health care, housing and other public services simply to stay even in meeting human needs.
This growing population feeds itself basically on the same amount of tilled acreage; little new land is available that can easily be brought under cultivation. In fact cultivated acreage decreased somewhat in the 1980s due to industrialization, expansion of peasant housing and soil erosion. The increased numbers of Chinese were fed through growth in per-acre yields, a development that will have to continue in the 1990s. Rapid industrialization, coupled with population increase, is placing severe pressures on China's natural environment. In north China water supply is inadequate to meet the needs of both agriculture and industry. Problems of environmental degradation are widespread, including acid rain, poor air quality in large cities, severely polluted rivers and lakes, denuding of forests in the upland regions of the southwest, soil erosion and desertification in the northwest.
All these trends-the economic reforms, the opening to the outside, population increase, the emergence of new classes-have altered the balance between the state and society and between the central government and the regions.
In China, as elsewhere in the world, the central government lacks the financial resources to cope with the increasing demands of its society. In fact it can be argued that in the 1980s China's government coped with the stresses of industrialization, population growth and social change far more successfully than the governments of most developing countries. In comparative terms China's record continues to be outstanding in areas such as reducing infant mortality, extending life span, improving public hygiene and controlling communicable diseases. But the trend in China's governmental capacity to meet human demands for services appears in some respects to be eroding. Growing corruption is diminishing regulative and implementational abilities. The central government now faces chronic and massive budget deficits. Its revenue-generating capacity lags behind mounting demands for various expenditures. And, as a result of the economic reforms, substantial portions of the economy now fall outside state control.
Thus China may retain a stronger political system than many developing countries-measured in terms of its ability to control the populace, to implement public policies and to meet human needs. But provinces, municipalities and counties have gained considerable autonomy, while the central state apparatus in many respects is weaker.
China has entered a protracted period of political uncertainty. Beneath a surface calm, the country's leaders-Premier Li Peng, Party General Secretary Jiang Zemin, State Planning Commission Chief Zou Jiahua, Secretary General of the Central Military Commission Yang Baibing and newly appointed Vice Premier Zhu Rongji-are overwhelmed by the pressing problems they confront. Deng, Chen Yun and the other octogenarians peer over their shoulders, intervene in almost random fashion and prevent coherent and consistent efforts to address the issues of the day.
Since Deng cast aside Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang as his political heirs, no credible arrangements appear to exist for an orderly succession. Precious time is lost in coping with the country's rapidly eroding natural environment and in investing requisite sums in human resources and infrastructure to sustain agricultural production. The nation awaits the passing of the elders, the inevitable ensuing power struggle, the emergence of a credible successor-if one does emerge-and the enunciation of his domestic and foreign policy orientations. This process is likely to consume several years. In the meantime, China is politically adrift.
During the succession struggle, the authority of China's central state apparatus is likely to continue to diminish. Several yawning gaps now divide the Chinese polity: between those in and out of power, between Beijing and the rest of the country, between the older generation and the youth, between urban and rural areas, and between those affected by Western ideas and those with an indigenous orientation. These lines of cleavage and potential conflict mean the elders in Beijing are isolated from substantial portions of the country.
Adding to the uncertainty are factors that produce instability in many developing countries: corruption and nepotism, unsettled civil-military relations, unattainable popular aspirations and social discontent generated by rapid economic growth. As in eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, China is in the midst of an unprecedented transition from a centrally planned economy to an as yet unspecified system. How to manage this transition and its outcome are major questions confronting China's leaders. Coping with the modernization process, handling the political succession from the "revolutionary founder" generation to a generation that matured under communism and engineering the transition away from Leninism-Maoism are enormously complex and challenging tasks. The regime would still confront great difficulties even if the immediate succession to Deng were smooth and rapid, if reformers were to recapture power and if political reform were to resume. From this perspective the purges of general secretaries Hu Yaobang in 1987 and Zhao Ziyang in May 1989, the brutal crushing of the demonstrations in June 1989 and the subsequent suppression of intellectuals are manifestations of much deeper flaws in China's political structure.
Increasing numbers of observers within and outside China are concluding that the communist revolution did not fundamentally resolve the basic constitutional issues that have plagued China since the eighteenth century: orderly arrangements for succession; national, institutionalized decision-making processes as opposed to highly personal and factional rule; appropriate division of responsibilities among central, provincial and local levels of government; adequate sources of revenue for the central government; a military whose cohesiveness does not depend on personal loyalties to individual commanders; a compelling national ideology that both builds on the country's intellectual traditions and sustains scientific and economic progress; local institutions that both regulate society and respond to its demands; national institutions that enable effective engagement in world affairs. As in the 1920s and 1930s many Chinese intellectuals are exploring whether and how to reconcile their cultural heritage with the demands of modernity. Raising this issue, in turn, generates xenophobic responses; divisive issues again are on the Chinese agenda.
The resurfacing of fundamental problems in China's governance underscores the uncertainty of its future. A wide range of possibilities exists: abandonment of reform and reimposition of centralized rule; continued drift toward a messy, rather ineffective, corrupt and fragmented authoritarian system typical of many developing countries; fashioning of a more liberal and open but "soft" authoritarian system that Zhao apparently envisioned; transition to a pluralistic, democratic system; widespread turmoil and systemic disintegration.
Rather than predicting the likely outcome, assigning odds or even identifying the factors likely to determine a particular future, it is enough to stress that China's march toward democracy is by no means certain. Americans may wish for the Chinese government to become more liberal or democratic. Realism, however, requires recognition that China may well continue to possess something it has had throughout its 4,000 years of recorded history-namely, a system based on principles largely antithetical to our own. Perhaps the Chinese government will resume the political progress that Americans found so heartening in the 1980s. On the other hand, the domestic situation could just as easily deteriorate.
Chinese foreign policy in the 1990s appears in many respects to have been very successful. Beijing skillfully used the gulf crisis to restore some of its image as a responsible member of the community of nations. But by criticizing both Iraq and the war to expel Iraq from Kuwait, China preserved its Third World identity as well. Moreover, since Tiananmen, Beijing has established diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia and Singapore, restored relations with Indonesia, reduced tensions with Vietnam and cultivated expanding commercial ties with Taiwan and South Korea. Japan, Australia and the west European democracies have largely restored their relations to pre-June 1989 levels. The Sino-Soviet rapprochement even extended to a restoration of military and Communist Party ties. The American posture toward China is the anomaly.
Despite this record, China's leaders have lost much of their self-assurance. The overthrow of the east European communist regimes profoundly frightened the Chinese leaders. Moreover, the crisis in the Soviet Union and the end of bipolarity have left China's leaders without a definition of their place in the world.
Since their rise to power in the 1940s, Mao, Deng and their advisers pursued security within the structure of the existing international order: they adopted a balance-of-power strategy. Their self-esteem was assuaged in the 1970s and 1980s through the notion of a global "strategic triangle." Historians may conclude that notion was inaccurate, but it certainly appealed to the Chinese sense of grandeur and specified the nation's place in world affairs.
But as the international order changes-and especially since the Gulf War-China's leaders, like the leaders of other countries, are having difficulty identifying a satisfactory niche in a new global system. One Chinese strategist recently put forth three concepts of the world's emerging power structure: unipolarity-the United States being the only country with worldwide military reach; tripolarity-the United States, Japan and Europe with Germany as the main actor-with economic might joining military prowess as the currency of power; or nonpolarity, due to interdependence and the eroding capacity of all states to govern effectively. He noted that no matter which concept or combination best captured reality, it was hard to identify China's strategic significance. None of these concepts yields an easy or satisfying prescription for China's pursuit of national security. This formulation of China's current foreign policy dilemma is echoed by other strategists as well. They stress that China's foreign policy makers are abandoning pretenses of being a global power and now perceive their country primarily as a regional power.
The foreign policy dilemma-perhaps bewilderment is a better word-is all the more vexing because of the sudden advent of the leaders' perceived crisis. Only two years ago China seemed on the verge of an era of unprecedented tranquility; no foreign country appeared to pose an immediate threat. But Chinese leaders now perceive themselves as under seige, the potential victims of a massive external effort to subvert their rule and to bring about the peaceful evolution of their system.
Adding to their frustration are regional developments. In the 1980s Japan's defense expenditures surpassed those of China, fueling fears of resurgent Japanese militarism. South Korea and Taiwan became economic actors of global significance. Thailand and Malaysia positioned themselves to be Asia's next "little dragons," and in 1989-90 Indonesia began to attract increased foreign investment. Some foreign capital flowed to Southeast Asia after evaluations of the investment risks and opportunities in China, which suffered in comparison. Nor do the leaders welcome Sino-American tensions. As a distant power, the United States serves as a desirable balance to their Japanese and Soviet neighbors.
China's top leaders are hardly alone in their trouble conceptualizing the changes in world affairs, but the intellectual limitations seem even more severe in China than in most other countries. The conceptual problem goes beyond the elders and includes portions of the next generation of possible leaders and segments of the foreign policy establishment. Several interrelated, widely held perceptions of world affairs make China unlikely to agree soon with American ideas about global trends.
Unless they have had extensive exposure to the West, many Chinese leaders and their strategists still cling tenaciously to the nineteenth-century view of sovereignty as an attainable and essential goal of the state. They hold mercantilist views of international trade. In essence, they believe interstate relations are a zero-sum game. Both China's deep past and memories of imperialist domination until 1949 prompt its leaders-especially the octogenarians-to believe that a hierarchy of power inevitably exists among nations, and the more powerful tend to exploit and dominate the weak. Requisite strategies to attain national security and power entail the retention of independence and flexibility and the avoidance of entangling alliances and enduring commitments.
This understanding of world affairs facilitated the rapprochement with the United States in the 1970s, when both sides engaged in a calculus of realpolitik balance-of-power needs. Zhao and his entourage were modifying this view of world affairs, as demonstrated by their effective cooperation with international economic organizations such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. But there has been significant backsliding since 1988, and the prevalent stated Chinese conceptual framework leaves little room for notions of interdependence and subordination of national independence to international norms and regimes-ideas likely to be central to the American search in the 1990s for a new international order.
Rays of hope do exist, however, for reestablishing common understandings to link Chinese and American leaders, though this task requires extensive and protracted dialogue. Coexisting with Chinese sensitivity over national sovereignty is a desire to be involved in and contribute to world affairs. The generation of officials below the elders and their ideologues exhibits greater awareness of the profound changes being wrought by the globalization of manufacturing processes, the telecommunications transformation and the increased geographic mobility of people.
Chinese officials, including Li Peng, do acknowledge increasing interdependence in the international economy, though its implications for Chinese domestic behavior are not clearly understood. Moreover the current leaders have undertaken important steps in recognizing the growing importance of transnational issues such as AIDS, narcotics control, global warming and environmental protection. In these and other areas Chinese professionals have persuaded their leaders to acknowledge openly their own problems and to join in worldwide efforts for solutions. For example, China has admitted incipient narcotics and AIDS problems, and international conferences have been held in Beijing to discuss the issues. A few years ago this would have been unthinkable.
Perhaps most relevant, in private conversations younger officials, intellectuals and ordinary workers are derisive of their leaders' notions that foreign influence is "spiritual pollution" and that the West intends to subvert the Chinese regime through a strategy of "peaceful evolution." Cab drivers, workers and intellectuals throughout China angrily denounce and mock their leaders for their hypocrisy in denouncing the West. The entire urban populace appears to know that all Chinese rulers have sent their children and grandchildren abroad for education and that many ruling families are extensively engaged in lucrative foreign trade. The yearning among considerable portions of the populace for more extensive contact with the outside world appears quite strong.
China's domestic conditions, its international setting and diverging Sino-American perceptions of international affairs will make China's top leaders even more frustrating to deal with in the future than they were in the 1980s. From arms control and arms sales issues to trade problems and human rights, they react with suspicion and uncooperative inclinations to the many issues raised by the United States. Managing a tension-ridden relationship and preventing its further erosion will be the underlying challenges for the United States in the foreseeable future.
Compounding the difficulty will be the fragmenting of China's authoritarian system. Even when top leaders pledge to meet certain objectives, they are frequently unable to deliver all their colleagues, families and the entire bureaucratic system. This touches on a whole range of issues of concern to the United States: monitoring textile quotas; policing patent and copyright infringements; controlling the illicit flow of narcotics from the Golden Triangle through China's interior to its coast for export to the United States; halting arms sales or transfers of sensitive nuclear and missile technology; preventing the flow of illegal immigrants; or adhering to various environmental protection agreements.
China has already failed to meet many such commitments; the failures will only increase. The failures are not always due to falsehoods, though that too is a problem. Often top leaders are unable to elicit compliance. This erosion of internal discipline and cohesion has already cost the leaders of China one of the strongest assets of the Mao, Zhou and early Deng eras: credibility.
Under these circumstances the challenge of dealing with the world's most populous nation will require patience, persistence and vision, as it has for over a century. When these qualities have disappeared from America's approach, as in the 1950s and 1960s, the damage can be as great to the United States as to the Chinese people. What makes this posture so frustrating is the penchant of Chinese leaders to expect, misinterpret and take advantage of a spirit of generosity.
In defining the American interest in China, the underlying conditions of East Asia must be kept in mind. First, the Asian-Pacific region is undergoing enormous change. America's China policy must be part of its overall regional approach, and must also take into account the policies toward China of other nations in the region. The United States no longer has a dominant presence in the western Pacific. Intra-regional trade is growing rapidly. Japan's regional economic role is increasing, and Taiwan and South Korea have also become economic powers of regional and even global consequence. Vietnam is a client of neither the Soviet Union nor China; its determination to control the entire Indochinese peninsula is ebbing, and its leaders are divided over whether to embark on economic and political reform. Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia are in the midst of rapid economic growth. The United States can influence but not control the China policy of these Asian nations.
In the 1970s and 1980s, in several respects, U.S. policy in the region attached priority to Japan and China. The axiom was that stability would flow from constructive relations with Tokyo and Beijing. Fundamental to this regional design was encouraging and expanding ties between Japan and China. This underlying architecture retains much validity today. Thus it is still important that American and Japanese approaches to China remain congruent. But the rise of South Korea, Taiwan and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations necessitates adjustments to America's previous strategy; their growing roles must be acknowledged.
Second, despite changes in the Soviet Union, China remains strategically important to the United States. Its cooperation is essential in addressing the problems that threaten humanity: dissemination of weapons of mass destruction, environmental and health issues, agricultural production and population growth. Its constructive engagement in issues such as Korea and Indochina is also essential to attaining regional stability. Its behavior toward Hong Kong and Taiwan not only shape their futures but has global economic consequence as well. Its posture in Security Council debates will influence the role the United Nations will play in any emerging world order.
Third, only a modernizing, stable and effectively and humanely governed mainland can fulfill its commitments on issues important to the United States. Only in such a China can the rights and needs of its people be attained. The problems a disintegrating China would pose to East Asia are indeed enormous. Japan, South Korea and Taiwan all recognize their stake in the mainland's economic development and stability.
Finally, America has only limited influence on China's internal affairs. The United States cannot create to its liking small countries on its doorstep-Panama, Haiti, Cuba, El Salvador. And experiences in the Middle East and Southeast Asia demonstrate that Americans have no special talent for shaping the governance of countries farther afield. Yet, for reasons that have fascinated successive generations of historians, America has periodically sought to produce a China more to its liking. The efforts have always ended in massive failure. The disappointments were attributed to Chinese inadequacies and, in exasperation, Americans called for sanctions, reparations and even China's isolation until the leaders responsible for the failures were driven from office. The United States still seems trapped in the cycle of a "love-hate" relationship with China. It seems reluctant to acknowledge the obvious: China represents a distinct and proud civilization whose search for modernity will continue to be punctuated by calamity and tragedy and whose necessary incorporation into world affairs will require years of effort.
Several specific policies flow from this general appraisal. A resumption of official, high-level dialogue between Beijing and Washington seems warranted. The American interlocutors should be authoritative political figures, such as the secretaries of state, the treasury or commerce, the president's special trade representative and members of Congress. Intermediaries at the bureaucratic level-even ambassadors and assistant secretaries-are important but insufficient to a process that must reach a wide range of China's current and future political leaders, both in Beijing and the provinces. There should be little expectation, however, that conversations will produce immediate results. Rather, the purpose of these political conversations with China's leaders is to ensure that they hear in undiluted fashion American political views, and for American political figures, in turn, to understand Chinese perspectives.
Human rights must be an important part of the dialogue. This will add acrimony to the relationship, but China's leaders must understand that how they treat their people has global consequence and hence is of legitimate universal concern. The leaders of China must be told directly and repeatedly that the nature of their rule and of American rule are appropriate subjects of international scrutiny. At the same time, Washington should not expect Beijing immediately to accept all of its views, nor should the entire relationship await Chinese compliance with American concepts of human rights.
The United States should resume efforts to engage China energetically on matters of global interdependence. When China clearly violates its commitments to international regimes, such as that preventing proliferation of nuclear weapons, or when it disdains emerging norms, such as limiting the spread of missile technology, appropriate sanctions should be applied-preferably through multilateral agencies. But the United States should seize upon the instances of China's acknowledgment of interdependence, as in global warming, environmental protection, agricultural production, more humane methods of birth control, control of communicable diseases (especially AIDS) and prevention of narcotics trafficking. It makes little sense for the White House not to welcome representatives of the relevant Chinese bureaucracies in these areas-such as Beijing's ministry of public health or its environmental protection agency. To foster active programs of cooperation in areas of interdependence benefits both the Chinese and American people.
American economic relations with China present a particularly complicated set of issues. On balance, extension of MFN trade status should continue, on grounds that its withdrawal would undermine the future of Hong Kong and weaken entrepreneurs and foreign-oriented sectors of the society. Moreover, America's economic involvement in China promotes the process of economic and political reforms. While China's burgeoning trade surplus with the United States must be addressed, withdrawing MFN status is the wrong weapon with which to attack this problem. Rather, remedies should be sought under the Trade Act-such as energetic filing of antidumping cases, strict monitoring of textile agreements, swift restriction of textile quotas when Chinese exports exceed agreed limits and use of the 301 clause when intellectual property rights are violated.
On regional issues, in two important respects, perhaps the time has come to be less sensitive to the views of Beijing's current leadership. Taiwan's application for membership in the GATT deserves evaluation on its own merits, which are considerable in light of Taiwan's economic accomplishments, and should not be held hostage to the pace of negotiations on China's membership. These negotiations must continue in a hard-headed fashion, and hence will be protracted. Taiwan could well precede the mainland into the GATT, but this is already the case for Hong Kong. And China should be able to accommodate itself to this development under its "one country, two systems" formula.
The rationale for a constructive American engagement with the Chinese mainland also pertains to Vietnam. The opportunities presented by the changes in Hanoi deserve pursuit. The United States, together with Japan and the Group of Seven leading industrialized nations, should seek to draw Vietnam out of its isolation through diplomatic recognition, dropping trade embargoes and offering economic assistance. Tying these moves to a resolution of the Cambodian conflict-the current American policy-places the cart before the horse and enables China, through its support of the Khmer Rouge, to exercise veto power over American policy in Indochina.
This set of policies entails adjustments to Washington's present mix. Still, current Chinese leaders will not be happy with it. While they would welcome resumption of high-level visits and retention of MFN status, any credit won through such moves would be dissipated through adverse reaction to Taiwan's GATT membership and America's emphasis on human rights and a tough posture on trade issues. But the total package does seem to be politically sustainable. It seeks to retain and, when possible, expand links with the Chinese people and reform-oriented bureaucracies and regions during periods of uncertainty. It places the Bush administration in a position to expand the relationship should opportunities present themselves on the Chinese side, or to hunker down in case the situation in Beijing deteriorates.