China Policy Must Go Past Human Rights

Article excerpt

With the Clinton administration's attention fixed on crises in Somalia, Haiti and Bosnia, events in China that in the long term will have much more influence on U.S. interests have been largely ignored. The most neglected priority for charting a post-Cold War foreign policy has been the formulation of a post-Tiananmen Square China policy.

When the administration's foreign policy leaders sought to define their vision of U.S. interests in the world in a series of heavily promoted speeches, China policy was missing, as it was from the president's speech to the United Nations in September and when he ticked off major foreign policy issues at a recent news conference.

None addressed the fact that America's economic future will be written along the Pacific Rim. Unless the United States moves aggressively to take advantage of the Chinese market, we may be shut out of the richest economic prize of this and the next decade. China's support for possible United Nations sanctions against North Korea if it fails to comply with obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty will be critical to stopping an armament program that threatens the stability of the entire region. Already it is leading many in the Japanese government to consider whether Japan should undertake a nuclear weapons program.

The president has placed nonproliferation at the top of his foreign policy agenda, but the United States has paid scant attention to the fact that China's unilateral decision to resume nuclear testing threatens a new chain of testing. Meanwhile, the Chinese army has embarked on an ominous modernization program that includes procuring technology and expertise in advanced weaponry and nuclear armaments from the former Soviet Union while simultaneously and equally aggressively marketing military wares in several of the world's most combustible regions.

The first post-Mao, pro-development class of leadership has begun jockeying to succeed Deng Xiaoping, a transition that promises to bring China's military strength and its economy, the fastest-growing in the world, to center stage. But instead of focusing on the trading opportunities in China or the tanks arrayed along the 38th parallel, our China policy is gripped by memories of tanks rolling through Tiananmen Square. We adopted, rightly, a get-tough posture toward Beijing then. Now is the time to be just as tough-minded and reorient that policy.

When American attention has turned toward China, it has been fixed almost exclusively on human rights, exemplified by speculation about whether Beijing's transparent attempts to burnish its human rights record would persuade the International Olympic Committee to award it the 2000 games. This single-mindedness is a failure as potentially costly as relegating China policy to second-tier status.

The human rights objectives attached to China's most-favored-nation trading status are significant, but must not overshadow the economic and security interests at stake in our relationship. Policy that does not give these interests equal weight with human rights is shortsighted. It risks our economic future and ability to protect U.S. interests in the midst of the momentous changes taking place throughout Asia. …