After a period of studied withdrawal from the world scene from 1966 to 1969, the People’s Republic of China has returned to the international diplomatic and trading arenas with vigor and imagination. President Nixon’s projected visit to Peking symbolizes the rapid turnabout. Three years ago U.S. bombs were falling within miles of the Chinese border and fears of a Sino-American war were rampant in the two countries. Indeed, in 1967–68, when China had only one ambassador abroad, its trade had dropped and its relations with its neighbors had reached all-time lows, many students of Chinese foreign policy (this author included) thought it entirely possible that Chinese leaders had become overwhelmed by domestic problems of an enduring nature. As a result, it was thought that China was turning inward and was unlikely to play an active role on the world scene in the early 1970s.

That view was wrong. Ambassadors have returned to their posts. China’s trade has resumed its upward growth. Peking has embarked upon its largest aid program to date, the construction of the railroad from Tanzania to the Zambian copper fields. Limited tourism to China has resumed, with Japanese visitors particularly again flocking to the mainland. Following the armed clashes in April 1969 over the disputed islands in the Ussuri River in Manchuria, Sino-Soviet relations have improved somewhat; Peking and Moscow plan increases in their trade and are engaging in border talks.

A major development has been the surge of international recognition that it is the People’s Republic of China and not the rival Republic of China on Taiwan which is the legitimate government of China. Beginning with Canada in October 1970 a variegated group of nations have established diplomatic relations with Peking: Equatorial Guinea, Italy, Ethiopia, Chile, Nigeria, Kuwait, Cameroon, San Marino and Austria. Announcement of the Nixon visit dramatically strengthens the trend. In the fall of 1970, for the first time, a majority in the General Assembly voted that the Peking government was entitled to the Chinese seat in the United Nations; the motion failed because earlier in the session a majority had voted that this was an  “important” one, requiring a two-thirds vote for passage. Now that the United States has announced support for the seating of China, while attempting to preserve a seat for Taiwan, it seems certain that Peking will be voted a seat in the United Nations this year.

The most significant change is in Sino-American relations. Since 1960 the United States has made halting efforts to improve relations with China. Washington’s relationship with Taipei and its involvement in the Vietnam war—particularly the rationale that it was being fought to stop alleged Chinese expansionism—made improvement difficult. But as the influence of Taipei in American domestic affairs ebbed and the Vietnam war began to “wind down,” the Nixon administration was able to change its China policy. By early 1971, it had largely eliminated restrictions on American travel to China, relaxed the trade embargo on the sale of selected goods and allowed limited tourist purchases of Chinese products. Perhaps most significantly, the Seventh Fleet terminated its regular patrolling of the Formosa Strait. And the Nixon administration indicated that it believed the Peking government, not Taipei, was the effective, long-term ruler of the mainland. Peking responded to these gestures by purchasing machinery with American-made parts and by toning down the vehemence of its anti-American statements.

Then came the developments of late March and April, 1971. The United States removed all travel restrictions to the People’s Republic, and soon thereafter Peking invited the U.S. table tennis team to tour the mainland. Two U.S. pressmen accompanied the group, and invitations to other journalists followed. With the exception of Edgar Snow’s visits in 1960, 1964 and 1970, these were the first visits by American journalists to territory under the control of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) since its Yenan days. To underline Peking’s intent, Huang Hua was announced as the first ambassador to Canada. Huang has had extensive dealings with Americans before and is one of the most senior of the Chinese diplomatic corps. China apparently envisions its Canadian Embassy as more than that and is preparing for wider contacts with the American people and government. Also during this time, plans proceeded for Henry Kissinger’s visit to Peking, which culminated in the invitation to President Nixon.

Clearly, a new phase in Chinese foreign policy has begun, including, as Chou En-lai has stated, a new page in Sino-American relations. How might the characteristics of this foreign policy be summarized? The Chinese operate on three levels of relations: state-to-state, party-to-party, and “people-to-people.” Unlike its approach in the late 1950s or mid-1960s, Peking is not stressing party-to-party relations, nor is it currently seeking to establish a world organization of revolutionary movements. With a few exceptions—such as a March 1971 statement commemorating the Paris Commune—it has muted its direct Party polemics aimed at other communist states. Concomitantly, China has emphasized normal state relations in its dealings with all sorts of governments around the world. But this emphasis on state relations has not lessened the emphasis on peoples’ diplomacy. Large numbers of “friendly personages” currently are visiting China. The Chinese continue to present Mao’s thoughts as an answer to the intellectual questioning of people around the world, although less exuberantly than they did during the peak of the Cultural Revolution. In fact, a distinctive aspect of current Chinese foreign policy is the attempt to combine both state relations and peoples’ diplomacy.

The Chinese are paying proportionately more attention to the developed capitalist world than probably has ever been the case in their 22 years of rule. They continue, of course, to give primacy to neighboring countries, and of the developing areas they take a particularly keen interest in the Middle East. As to their techniques of influence, the new phase appears to involve an increased use of trade and aid as a way of influencing world events. Possibly the best example of this is that China has ceased to purchase Australian wheat in order to put pressure on Canberra to change its China policy. (This move was coupled with the extension of an invitation to a group of opposing Labor Party parliamentarians to visit the mainland.) The extension of aid to Tanzania and Pakistan are other examples of the use of aid to enhance Chinese influence.

The current phase of China’s foreign policy involves building a broad united front to alter its strategic position. The invitation to President Nixon signals the beginning of China’s diplomatic efforts toward not only the United States but perhaps eventually the U.S.S.R. and Japan to reduce the military threats directed at it. The Chinese also hope to isolate and permanently rid China of one set of adversaries: the groups that have denied its legitimacy and perpetuated the existence of the Republic of China on Taiwan. These enemies are Chiang Kai-shek and his principal supporters in Japan and the United States. At the same time, now that this broad front of support has begun to be mobilized, the Chinese are using it to gain entry into the United Nations and to support their claim to a voice in the shaping of world affairs. After 22 years of unyielding enmity, the improvements in Sino-American relations have produced a sense of relief and optimism about the future. After all, prior to the ping-pong visit, Americans were more familiar with the moon than the People’s Republic; the moon has received wider TV coverage and more Americans had been there with government permission. The euphoria of the moment is to be welcomed. Yet, over-optimism would be tragic. For the history of Sino-American relations is the story of high hopes on both sides dashed by misunderstandings and conflicts of interest, leaving legacies of mutual recriminations. It is better to greet and advocate improvements in relations with a sense of the problems ahead, so that when and if they arise they will not end in another era of hostility.


How is one to interpret current Chinese foreign policy? Does it really represent a departure from the past? Or are the Chinese employing the same strategies in an altered context? Students of contemporary Chinese foreign policy, disagreeing among themselves, basically offer four explanations: (1) that it represents no change in Chinese policy but is a response to changed policies on the part of the U.S.S.R., United States and others; (2) that it involves a fundamental change in Chinese intentions and strategies in world affairs; (3) that it manifests the latest swing in a foreign policy characterized by oscillations between periods of fervor and periods of moderation; and (4) that after the aberrations of the Cultural Revolution, it is a return to an earlier trend toward increasing moderation and willingness to conduct diplomacy along Western lines. Let us examine each interpretation.

One wing of the “no change” school argues that Chinese policy now, as in the past, has largely been reactive. China has neither the economic resources nor the military might to underwrite an assertive foreign policy. Peking lives in a world which it has not shaped. Thus, Chinese foreign policy responds to the initiatives of others. And the Chinese tend to react in kind. They responded militarily to the advancing U.N. forces in Korea in the fall of 1950 and to the advancing Indian military positions on the Sino-Indian border in 1962. On the other hand, when approached in a conciliatory manner, as in the attempts to achieve a compromise settlement over Indochina problems in the Geneva conferences of 1954 and 1961–62, the Chinese played a constructive role in the pursuit of peace.

According to this line of reasoning, current Chinese foreign policy is a response to a number of friendly overtures. The Nixon administration has changed its China policy. The Soviet Union has adopted a less militant posture, following the war scares of the spring of 1969 and Kosygin’s September 1969 visit to Peking. And the United Nations opens up prospects for China that had never existed before. Always eager to have state-to-state relations with nations that recognize it as the legitimate government of all of China, Peking is responding to opportunities it simply never had before. There has been no change in foreign policy; there has only been a change in the way others perceive and deal with Peking.

Others conclude “no change,” but for totally different reasons. They view Chinese maneuverings as mere tactics to camouflage China’s aims. The wolf has temporarily donned sheep’s clothing to enter the United Nations and wreak havoc once it gets in. They note that in spite of the changes in posture, Peking has yet to make any overt, major concessions, such as on the Taiwan issue or apparently on the Sino-Soviet border conflict.

Others, however, suggest that a fundamental change has occurred in China’s approach to the world. They note shifts away from what they characterize as the hallmarks of Peking’s policy during the late 1950s and most of the 1960s: the open encouragement of many revolutionary movements around the world; the attempts to create a new world revolutionary movement under Peking’s leadership; the energetic pursuit of the Sino-Soviet dispute; the severance of meaningful cultural exchanges with developed countries. To these analysts, current Chinese foreign policy, with its emphasis on state-to-state relations, its quest for membership in the United Nations and its willingness to host the leader of the “imperialist powers” represents considerable movement, although to be sure not a total abandonment of the old policies.

People who subscribe to this view differ among themselves concerning the reasons for the fundamental change. Some argue that the Chinese have learned from past policies which basically ended in failure. And indeed, a plausible case can be made that the policies pursued from the late 1950s through the late 1960s yielded few tangible rewards. By the end of this time, China was encircled by enemies who were strengthening their military positions on China’s periphery. China had made little headway in gaining recognition in the developing world; indeed, on the eve of the Cultural Revolution, the Chinese suffered serious reversals in Indonesia, in Africa and in Afro-Asian organizations. In 1968–69 Peking came frighteningly close to nuclear war with Moscow. China faces a potentially threatening Japan. The Cultural Revolution left China more isolated in world affairs than ever before. Recognizing their deteriorating position, Chinese leaders have altered their approach to world affairs.

On the other hand, equally plausibly, it could be argued that the current phase is based on strength and optimism rather than on necessity and adversity. The Cultural Revolution may have made the leaders of China more willing to take part in world activities, confident that their people, now more ideologically prepared, could deal with foreigners without being corrupted and losing their revolutionary commitment. Moreover, as a result of the Cultural Revolution, the leaders of China may feel that they now have more to offer the world, in terms of their bold and often innovative experiments in public health, education, industrial management, bureaucratic controls, penology and so on. Hence they may feel that any participation in world affairs would be truly reciprocal in the flow of ideas. In sum, after putting their own revolutionary house in order, the leaders of China may be more prepared to risk state-to-state relations and participation in “bourgeois” organizations.

A third interpretation is that current policy represents neither continuity with the past phase nor a fundamental change, but a swing back to moderation after the ideological militance of the Cultural Revolution. Indeed, this view concentrates upon a distinctive characteristic of Chinese foreign policy; its marked fluctuations over the past 22 years between the periods of fervor and the periods of moderation. (China’s domestic politics evidence similar oscillations between the periods of maximum mobilization and revolutionary advance and the periods of consolidation.) The current phase represents a return roughly to the kinds of policies pursued during the Bandung phase of Chinese foreign policy in the mid-1950s or the policies of the early 1960s. With the exception of 1955 and early 1956, these periods of external moderation have tended to correspond to periods of internal moderation in policies. Similarly, periods of internal revolutionary militancy tend to be reflected soon in greater fervor and rigidity abroad. According to this cyclical interpretation of China’s foreign relations, coupled with the close relationship it sees between domestic and foreign policies, current Peking actions abroad flow from the more moderate domestic policies intended to consolidate the gains of the Cultural Revolution.

Finally, some people emphasize that the current policies fit into a long-term trend of China’s involvement in world affairs. They see an historical process unfolding in China as in the Soviet Union before it. The revolutionary régime is in the process of gradually losing its commitment to violence and radical change, with its leadership increasingly technically proficient and aware of the complexities of the world. Moreover, with the passage of time, it increasingly acquires acceptance in the world at large. And the recent phase in Chinese foreign policy merely testifies to the strengths of those trends—the triumph of “reasonableness” and “pragmatism.”

What is so striking about these varying interpretations is how they are rooted in more basic assumptions about American domestic and foreign affairs, the consequences of the Cultural Revolution, the relationship between domestic and foreign policies, and the long-term intentions and capabilities of the Chinese in world affairs. For example, people who are convinced of the essential rationality of American policies and who consider radical ideologies ill-suited to the modern world are inclined also to believe in a long-run moderating trend in Chinese foreign policy. Militant anti-communists have proclivities toward the “wolf in sheep’s clothing” interpretation of present Chinese policies; and people who are deeply disturbed by American military activities in East Asia tend to interpret Chinese foreign policy as essentially reactive.

Actually, the search for a single interpretation is misdirected. The interpretations outlined above focus upon different aspects of Chinese policy. All are partially correct. Peking’s approach to world affairs is the most recent of several swings toward moderation, but it is not exactly like earlier ones. In this sense, Chinese foreign policy has fundamentally changed, for the current policies contain elements that have not come together before. Not all can be interpreted in terms of new departures and oscillations, however. Certain long-run trends are also evident in terms of China’s increasing capabilities and role in world affairs. Finally, there is no clear sign of a basic change in China’s international goals and strategies.


The foreign policies of all countries appear to fluctuate between periods of zealousness and periods of moderation or quiescence. Certainly the United States has been more willing at some times than at others to become engaged militarily abroad and to use its economic resources to shape the course of world events. The Chinese fluctuations, however, appear to be more extreme than elsewhere.

Certainly one reason for the oscillations is Mao Tse-tung himself. He seeks to take advantage of possibilities for forward movement, but recognizes that when inevitable restraints are encountered, consolidation must begin. Mao advocates mass mobilization, struggle and militancy during the periods of advance, and emphasizes unity, to a certain extent harmony, and an effort to build institutions during the consolidation periods.

The reasons go deeper than Maoist theory. Although Western observers do not yet clearly understand the precise relationship, the fluctuations appear to be connected to Chinese economic conditions. A large portion of China’s sales abroad are derived from agricultural production, so that a bad harvest leads to decreases in China’s exporting capacity and changes in the composition and direction of trade. Further, government revenue and hence expenditures in this “balanced budget-minded” régime drop when the economy falters. As in capitalist countries, the Chinese economic performance over the past 22 years has been unsteady, cycling between periods of maximum productivity and recessions of varying degrees. Indeed, some scholars believe China’s economic cycle is an inherent part of this régime, the result of its pursuit of both rapid social change and economic growth.

Yet another reason for the oscillating nature of Chinese foreign policy may be the existence of different opinion groups among the leadership, and fluctuations in their relative power. Indeed one detects the continued presence of three approaches which have existed since the late 1800s to the basic question: how to respond to the Western challenge? That is, how much “Chineseness” to preserve in order to retain the essence of China and to make a distinctive contribution to the world? And how much to accept from abroad in order to defend and transform China? (Of course, another deep difference is over what the “essence” of China is.) One response could be labelled “ideological militancy.” This is the nativistic response, inflexible and unyielding, which seeks to preserve ideological purity even at the risk of temporary military defeat. It places utmost confidence in the long-run capabilities of the Chinese people to outlast any adversary as long as they remain armed ideologically. To be sure, the ideological militants of today differ from their forebears over the values to be guarded—Maoism rather than Confucianism. A second position is to accept Western technology and Western strategies, and even to accept a Western presence in China, but primarily for the purpose of controlling, manipulating and perhaps eventually defeating the West. It is an attempt to use the West against itself. Seemingly compromising and flexible, this approach none the less seeks to preserve a distinctive Chinese identity. A third approach advocates the pursuit of national greatness as a Westernized country. It urges participation in world affairs on Western terms, confident that eventually China would emerge as a wealthy and powerful country.[i] This latter group has always been a distinct minority. Since 1949, the major line of contention has been over the two other positions.

Why has not one of these approaches remained dominant? This question probes the limits of our knowledge about the dynamics of this vast society. It may well be, however, that the advocates of the differing approaches to China’s foreign policy problems, in an imprecise and subtle way, are embodiments or representatives of various social interests in China. That is, the available evidence suggests that the “ideological militants” find their greatest appeal among some of the young, perhaps a large portion of the peasantry, and perhaps more in the interior regions than on the coast. On the other hand, scientists, commercial personnel, and in general the urban dwellers along the coast may be more receptive to Western influence. (The fact that the present leaders of Shanghai are among the most vociferous supporters of “ideological militancy,” to be sure, detracts from the force of the argument.) Thus fluctuations in policy lines in China may to a certain extent reflect changes in the political strength of the various constituencies which these spokesmen indirectly represent or whom they consider to be their “referent groups.”

This situation probably is not unlike the American scene. The foreign policy of Republican presidents must reflect, to some extent, the mood of the major sources of Republican strength in the country, particularly in the Middle West, while the Democratic Party must be more responsive in its foreign policy to its constituencies, such as the intellectuals and labor. As a nation undergoing rapid change, Chinese society is riven by many cleavages between the young and the old, between the privileged and the deprived, between the urban and rural dwellers, between people in different bureaucracies and in different geographical areas, and so on. Now the leaders of any country must rest their rule upon the strong support of certain segments of society, but the leaders of China apparently have had difficulty forging a supportive coalition of different social groups that can endure. The coalitions that have been formed thus far are subject to sharp tensions. The oscillations in Chinese foreign policy, then, reflect to some extent the continually shifting social basis of the régime and the differing foreign policy predilections of the coalitions that have been put together. Admittedly, it is difficult to provide the hard evidence to sustain this interpretation, but it grows out of a long historical perspective of Chinese foreign policy, where it seems to hold.

Whether considered from an economic, political or sociological perspective, the forces that produce the fluctuations appear deeply embedded. For the foreseeable future, therefore, Chinese policy is likely to continue its gyrations between periods of fervor and moderation. In the past, Chinese and American policies have been out of phase. Chinese moderation in the mid-1950s confronted U.S. assertiveness, while American accommodations of the late 1960s encountered Chinese militance. For the first time, the two are in phase, which may help explain the rapidity of the progress. And the task for Washington in the future, in the current idiom, will be to swing with the Chinese.


Chinese foreign policy also has exhibited certain underlying continuities over the past 22 years. In the broadest terms, the goals have remained the same. The leaders of China have searched for national security, for dignity and for the ability to make a contribution to world affairs. As the French and Russian Revolutions, the Chinese Revolution faced a largely hostile world; for understandable reasons the established countries feared what its consequences might be. Since the Chinese face military might deployed at their very doorstep, they have made the quest for security fundamental.

But even more fundamental has been the concern with their dignity. Interstate relations as we know them today grew out of the Western experience, and were brought to the rest of the world during the past 300 years by Western military men, adventurers, traders and missionaries. Except for the third opinion group mentioned above, most Chinese believe this to be inequitable. China seems quite willing to join the world, but not on dictated terms. That solution would entail a loss of dignity. In many areas of interstate relations, the Chinese are dissatisfied with current international practices—how borders have been delineated, what the limits of territorial waters are, how trade should be conducted, how shipping insurance should be set, and so on. In sum, a world in which China will feel it has a dignified role will be one in which China helps write some of the rules of interstate intercourse. China is the last great cultural area to hold out on this point. This is what makes the bringing together of China and the rest of the world so difficult, for the Chinese, more than any other nation, raise profound questions about the present structure of interstate relations.

Related to the search for dignity is China’s desire to assist the impoverished peoples of the world, and to be the spokesman for the smaller countries. Certainly these efforts seek to expand its influence and control. But American aid programs can be seen in a similar light. In both instances, though, the aid programs also spring from the belief that they can truly benefit the recipients. However, the American and the Chinese views of what constitutes an improved life and how to achieve it usually come into direct conflict. None the less, this impulse of the Chinese to assist the downtrodden probably will remain strong, because of their pride in their domestic achievements and because of the belief that they are relevant to the plight of others.

There are also continuities in Chinese strategy. The Chinese do not divide the world into the strong and the weak. That is a static view of power. Rather, perhaps because of their long history, they consider power as something dynamic, ever-changing. Thus, they see a world divided into the “powerful-becoming-weaker” and the “weaker-becoming-stronger.” The Chinese leaders believe themselves to be in the latter category and their task is to hasten the process. They adopt strategies which they perceive appropriate to this condition: (1) garbing actions in the cloak of virtue (to become the “aggrieved” party in a dispute, to make sure the stronger party appears as a bully) ; (2) hiding their weakness through secrecy and dissimulation; (3) employing stratagems to provoke conflict among their rivals; (4) playing upon the internal tensions and weaknesses of the enemy; (5) maximizing their leverage by becoming a balancer (to become an object of a bidding game between stronger and competing powers) ; (6) depriving stronger powers of threatening options through prolonged negotiations or temporary agreements that do not surrender their own flexibility; and (7) when possible, luring the stronger power into untenable positions and then vanquishing him. These are the strategies of protracted struggles.

Indeed, traditional Chinese strategic thinking is rich with analysis concerning the conditions favorable to the use of each of these stratagems, the range of problems and opportunities involved in employing them, and so on. But one lesson above all others emerges from this literature: to employ any of these strategies, a nation must retain its independence. Mao Tse-tung is in keeping with this tradition when he asserts, “We must keep the initiative in our own hands.” A weak nation can not hasten its growth if it is enmeshed in a net of entangling alliances and mutual obligations that deprive it of flexibility in manipulating its environment.


Against this background, what are the principles upon which American policy must be based? A number of essential characteristics immediately come to mind: self-awareness, realism, flexibility, imagination and sensitivity.

Washington’s approach toward Peking must be based on an awareness of self. While Vietnam has demonstrated the limits and dangers of U.S. capabilities, Washington none the less is still fond of saying: “We are still the greatest, richest and most powerful nation on earth.” But this view of the world—that there is a clear hierarchy of nations—is simplistic and outmoded. To be sure, the United States is the greatest power, in that it believes it has interests in every area of the globe; no other nation makes this claim. On the nuclear level, admittedly there are but two giants—the United States and the U.S.S.R. But it is foolish to rank nations according to a single dimension. One must consider many dimensions—a nation’s quality of life, the strength of its currency in international markets, its conventional military capability, the vitality of its intellectual activity, the extent of social equity and so on. America is not on top in all of these, and probably is surpassed by China in some of them. A balanced view of the world provides the basis for a more successful relationship with China, encouraging neither arrogance nor servility, but a recognition that each can benefit from the other’s strengths.

Nor should American policy stem from a paternalistic desire to draw China out of its isolation. It is not clear that the leaders of China are more isolated from the world than their American counterparts. Rather, the leaders of the two countries have contact with different aspects of the world. While China’s leaders are unacquainted with the offices of the multinational corporation, America’s leaders have demonstrated that they are isolated from the lives of an aroused, impoverished peasantry. Moreover, the plain fact is that the Chinese have had wider contacts with Western nations than is often believed. We should pursue improvements in Sino-American relations, then, in order to end our isolation from an important current in the world.

Our search for self-awareness also requires that we understand the Chinese view of America. Remarkably little is known about what the Chinese leaders truly think about U.S. policies. But as contacts multiply, they must be encouraged to speak to this point. Their undue fears should be allayed; our past misunderstood actions must be explained; our current actions—such as at the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT)—must be interpreted. Washington must strive to establish the validity of U.S. policies in terms understandable to the Chinese.

A sense of realism must also pervade U.S. policies. Nothing could be more detrimental at this stage than believing that the 22-year legacy of mutual bitterness and distrust could disappear swiftly or that the Taiwan issue is all that separates Washington from friendship with Peking. In short, improving Sino-American relations involves the bringing of two different social systems and cultures together. No countries in the world—including those which recognize Peking’s claim to Taiwan—have enjoyed easy relations with China. The Chinese are developing nuclear weapons. The need for a military balance of power in the region remains. While the long-run goal should be to develop a close relationship, Washington’s minimal goal should be to remove the rancor from, and introduce mutual respect into, what probably will remain an adversary relationship. The outbursts and setbacks which undoubtedly will occur during periods of ideological militancy must be endured. We also must recognize China’s legitimate security interests around its periphery. We must cease rewarding states for their hostility toward China. And the various intelligence-gathering operations aimed at China should be closely scrutinized in order to balance the hostility generated against the value of information acquired.

In addition, the American public and the Chinese must be made aware of the constraints within which the United States currently operates. Improvements in Sino-American relations should be sought in ways that would not unduly harm U.S. Japanese relations, U.S.-Soviet relations (especially with regard to SALT), or Sino-Japanese relations. In particular, any U.S. military disengagement from the Western Pacific—especially from Taiwan—must be done in such a way as to maintain Japan’s confidence in its own security. Sino-American hostility must not be replaced by a new era of Sino-Japanese enmity. Nor should the motivation for improving Sino-American relations be to manipulate Sino-Soviet tensions.

In a number of areas Chinese and American interests coincide. Both long for a reduction in the American military presence in East Asia; Washington should specify to China what Chinese actions might hasten the process of withdrawal to acceptable levels. Neither side desires a nuclear-armed Japan; perhaps Tokyo should be included in quiet trilateral talks to allay Chinese fears of revived Japanese militarism. While Chinese science is advanced in some areas, it lags in other nonstrategic fields; for our government to encourage the inclusion of Chinese scientists in international gatherings would have mutual benefit. Both parties could profit from Chinese purchase of American capital equipment, financed by U.S. extensions of credit. Each might be interested in opening permanent news and trade offices in the other’s capital. Finally, as previously noted, the Chinese on two occasions have participated constructively in conferences on Indochina. Perhaps they may be interested in doing so again.

Setbacks should be expected and endured. The first American journalists who visited the mainland wrote glowing reports of the achievements of the past 22 years, and indeed those achievements have occurred. But the day will come when journalists begin to inquire into the fate of imprisoned intellectuals, and report a seamier side of Chinese life. If tourism increases and trade increases, some Americans are bound to transgress Chinese law. American journalists may be expelled and other Americans arrested. A more serious reversal will occur when the pendulum swings toward the ideological militants who even now give evidence of opposing the overtures toward Washington.

Above all, we must learn to be more sensitive to the Chinese than we have heretofore. Words are extremely important. The President’s reference to the “People’s Republic of China” is important, as is his reference to “Peking” rather than “Peiping.” Crucial in this regard, obviously, is our handling of the Taiwan issue, where misunderstandings could arise not only out of substance but out of the choice of words—such as whether there is only “one China.”

Historic opportunities are now present to involve China more fully in world affairs. We should welcome the challenge which previous generations have shunned, to build with a unified China the institutions which would draw China and the rest of the world closer together. This course must be pursued with no illusions that old problems will be solved. The new problems, however, will be more worthy of our attention than those faced in Asia in the past decade.

[i] These same three groupings of opinion, interestingly enough, are visible in Taiwan.

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  • MICHEL OKSENBERG was Senior Fellow at the Asia-Pacific Research Center at Stanford University, and a senior member of the National Security Council in the administration of U.S. President Jimmy Carter.
  • More By Michel Oksenberg