Differences in China Policy

Article excerpt

How will the next president's China policy contrast with Bill Clinton's? And how will the China policies of Al Gore and George W. Bush differ from each outer? Here is the scorecard.

President Clinton, Vice President Al Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush share similar views on trade with the People's Republic of China. All support "permanent normal trade relations," or PNTR -- formerly known as "most favored nation" trade status -- with China. All back China's membership in the World Trade Organization, or WTO. All say that trade will "reform" China's Communist system. All support the "One China" policy.

So how will the next president's China policy differ from that of Clinton? And how will the China policies of Democrat Gore and Republican Bush differ from one another? It boils down to one thing, according to a Senate GOP operative: "Have you been making money off the comrades?" From his Buddhist-temple foray for illegally laundered Chinese campaign cash to his acceptance of hundreds of thousands of dollars from corporate chief executive officers -- such as Loral Space and Communications Corp.'s Bernard Schwartz, who benefited from technology-transfer deals that helped Beijing's nuclear-missile program -- Gore's political fortunes benefited tidily.

Bush also has accepted campaign contributions from U.S. businessmen with interests in China, as well as donations from Sino-softie Brent Scowcroft, his father's national-security adviser at the White House. Apart from trade, Bush's policy pronouncements on China do not reflect influence from the China lobby. But GOP operatives on Capitol Hill are concerned that, with the withdrawal of Arizona Sen. John McCain from the Republican presidential race, the Beijing lobby within the GOP will bring its influence to bear on Bush.

Some fear that the camel's nose already is under the big tent. Gov. Bush's uncle, Prescott Bush, has large investments in China. And while nobody is making any accusations yet, pro-Bush national-security experts who know how Beijing leverages family connections and money into political power are worried that Communist China's leaders will try covertly to influence the presidential hopeful.

Bush's national-security team is headed by Condoleeza Rice, a savvy and articulate Sovietologist who served on President Bush's National Security Council. Rice, deftly so far, has bridged between those whose first interest is the national security of the United States and those who have been criticized for letting national security take a back seat to making money on China. While encouraged that candidate Bush has come out hard against the Clinton-Gore policies toward China that have affected U.S. national security, some Capitol Hill supporters with a more skeptical view of Beijing are not optimistic that their concerns will dominate. The Bush national-security team, some say, is not as inclusive of conservative natural allies in Congress as they might be.

"They've never reached out to anyone I know," a senior Senate GOP foreign-policy staffer tells Insight. "If Bush brings Beijing apologists into his policy circle before the election, their presence will rob him of his moral high ground to go after Gore where Gore is very vulnerable," says a former Senate staffer and Republican-campaign veteran. "He can't let himself be tainted by taking their money or their advice. Bringing them in after the election would be the equivalent of his father's promise of `Read my lips: No new taxes.' It would wreck his credibility on strategic issues." By staking out the moral high ground on China, Bush appears to have forced Gore to retreat from his record.

After seven years of unswerving support for virtually every item on Clinton's China agenda, Gore is showing the first tentative signs of backing away -- and is bashing Bush even as he steals from Bush's script. In a major policy address in Boston on April 30, the vice president unveiled his "new security agenda" for U. …