There is no greater challenge to the Western powers in the post-Cold War era than to develop a unified and realistic policy toward the People's Republic of China. This report from the Trilateral Commission goes a long way toward providing the basis for such a policy. Written by three prominent specialists -- one American, one Japanese and one European Asian -- the report is sharply critical of Western (particularly U.S.) policy toward China in recent years. It deplores the sporadic attention to China since Tiananmen, the inconsistent signals, the failure to sustain high-level dialogue, and the lost opportunities to share and shape perspectives and help nurture the sense of responsibility that should accompany China's growing great power status. The result of this misguided policy has been to force the West to seek Chinese cooperation on headline-grabbing transitory issues such as the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, North Korea's acquisition of nuclear weapons, or Beijing's treatment of specific dissidents rather than to develop a shared conceptual framework to illuminate for the Chinese why it is in their interest to resolve the problem at hand.
The report argues that China should be regarded more as an opportunity than a threat, and it recommends a wide range of economic, strategic, and political actions that would facilitate China's involvement in the world community. It also urges that expectations be kept realistic. All too often in the past, it points out, Western powers have harbored unrealistic hopes for China, and China has been blamed for dashing the unrealistic dreams of others. China, the report continues, is a great civilization with its own history and traditions, and its path will be shaped largely by internal forces and the choices of its leaders. In seeking to incorporate China in the emerging world order, Western leaders must recognize that China's leaders will govern their country in accord with their own vision. Consequently, the West will require great patience and persistence, and the challenge of incorporating China into the world community will be a protracted one, involving decades and generations.
In sum, the challenge of dealing with China requires what the American political process seems incapable of developing a steady, long-term, consistent policy that sets out to weave China into webs of economic interdependence, engage China in multilateral security arrangements, and maintain frequent and extensive high-level dialogue with Chinese leaders. This report needs to be widely circulated within the administration and the Congress.
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