Bringing in 'The Year of China' Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Other Territorial Issues Should Be the Heart of Washington's Diplomacy

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In China, they are celebrating "The Year of the Ox." In the United States, however, we may have already rung in "The Year of China" - a year in which Asian diplomacy will increasingly focus on US-China relations, for better or for worse.

China's year actually began last November, when President Clinton met with Chinese President Jiang Zemin during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in the Philippines. This helped get the troubled relationship back on track.

The new US secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, has a chance to sustain the momentum when she visits Beijing this weekend. A strategic framework One can only hope that her discussions will move beyond the perfunctory US admonitions about human rights - where both sides will at best agree to disagree - to a meaningful discussion of areas where misdeeds or miscalculation could derail the fragile relationship and potentially start a new cold (or hot) war. * Taiwan. Foremost among these are continued differences over Taiwan. Mrs. Albright must assure China that the US remains committed to a "one China" policy, but she must also forcefully reiterate her predecessor's caution that this is "predicated on {China's} pursuit of a peaceful resolution on issues between Taipei and Beijing." She should also stress that the best way to keep the US out of the middle of this "internal Chinese affair" is for Beijing to restart its high-level dialogue with Taipei. * The South China Sea. Albright should acknowledge and support the Chinese view that the peaceful settlement of the South China Sea territorial disputes is an internal matter to be solved by the various claimants. But she must also stress that the use of force by the People's Republic of China (PRC) in the contested territories could derail both Sino-US relations and China's ties with its Southeast Asian neighbors. * The Senkaku Islands. The still unsettled dispute between Japan and China over the Senkaku (or Diaoyu) islands may also create future problems. While the US has remained largely on the sidelines, America is more than an innocent bystander, given both its security alliance with Japan and its role in placing administration of the islands in Japanese hands. Beijing must understand that Chinese-initiated military action in the Senkakus would cause the US-Japan Mutual Defense Treaty to be invoked. * The US-Japan alliance and TMD. Albright should expect to hear Chinese criticism about the "expansion" of the US-Japan alliance and the "destabilizing nature" of US-Japan cooperation on theater missile defense (TMD). …