China's Global Role - Given Its Population, Resources, and Economic Growth Rates, China Will Be a Great Power by the Middle of This Century
Moore, Gregory J., The World and I
Are the People's Republic of China (PRC) and the United States destined to enter into serious conflict such as a new cold war or possibly a hot war over Taiwan? This seems to be the dominant view in the Bush administration. According to Kenneth Lieberthal, China expert and former National Security Council adviser to the Clinton administration, "the underlying rationale that one sees played out in [the Bush administration's China] policy to this point is very much the China threat caricature."
There are certainly reasons to conclude that China and the United States could find themselves in some form of serious confrontation in the near future. Yet while taking a closer look at national interests and foreign policy trajectories of these two countries, there is no reason to assume that China is a threat to the United States or that the two nations must go to war, hot or cold.
Lieberthal and others worry that the "China as menace" viewpoint may become a self-fulfilling prophecy. "Aside from the fact that it's factually wrong, the major flaw ... is that the prescription that grows from that mindset assumes that China will be an enemy and therefore almost certainly condemns it to become one," says Lieberthal. "I have felt for a long time that we are quite capable of moving China into a position of hostility with the United States because we are so big and so strong and loom so large. ... Their bottom line will be that they have to protect themselves."
Given China's population, resources, and economic growth rates, there can be no doubt that it is going to be a true great power by the middle of this century. As history bears out with the rise of Prussia-Germany in the late nineteenth century and Japan in the 1930s, how a country uses its newfound power and how it is treated by the existing great powers are extremely important.
As the reigning superpower, the United States has important decisions to make in coming decades regarding how to manage its power. If China believes the United States and the other powers are trying to hold it down, it is likely to become more belligerent and less accountable to international norms.
If China feels it is being treated fairly and accommodated in the international arena, it is likely to be more cooperative and act with greater restraint, having more to lose by shirking a fair system in which its economy can thrive. For these reasons, the course to take in dealing with China in the near future is an important question for U.S. policymakers.
Human rights and trade
China's human rights record is a big sticking point, from the American perspective. Human rights became a major issue in Sino-American relations after the Chinese government suppressed the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989. President George Bush was criticized for sending secret emissaries to Beijing on two occasions to reassure China's leaders that while offended by the handling of the protests, the United States valued its relations with China.
In the 1992 presidential campaign, Bill Clinton accused Bush of coddling dictators. Yet in 1994 he went further than Bush, delinking human rights from the annual vote in Congress on China's Most Favored Nation status (or MFN, now called Normal Trade Relations, or NTR). Congress brought the issue back, however, and has annually debated extension of China's MFN status.
At issue is whether to use MFN status as a lever to require specific improvements in China's human rights record. Thus, if China fails to meet certain conditions, it would cost China's export community millions of dollars in lost revenues.
While the debate will likely be laid to rest with China's accession to the WTO (MFN is granted permanently to all members of the WTO), the debate about how America should treat China in light of its continued human rights violations continues to rage.
Sens. Paul Wellstone (D-Minnesota), Jesse Helms (R-North Carolina), and others argue that China should be isolated until it improves its human rights record, as was the case with South Africa under apartheid. They say that trading freely with China, treating it as a normal member of the international community, is an insult to Chinese dissidents. Trading with China and buying Chinese products will strengthen the hands of the Communist Party, allowing it to continue its authoritarian reign indefinitely.
The problems they cite are China's persecution of Tibetans and Uighur Muslims, religious groups like the Falun Gong and Christians, workers who protest government policy or try to form labor unions, and anyone who simply holds dissenting political views.
Senator Helms believes that America cannot trade freely with China and at the same time espouse the values of human rights and democracy, for trade strengthens a regime he deems both deplorable to American sensibilities and a threat to the American people. In September 2000 he said, "The safety and security of the American people come first. ... That safety and security will be ensured ultimately not by appeasement, not by the hope of trade at any cost, but by dealing with Communist China without selling out the very moral and spiritual principles that made America great in the first place."
Isolation is counterproductive
While recognizing these human rights problems, others argue that America's attempts to isolate China are counterproductive. By trading freely with China and engaging it at all levels, it is further opened up to liberal, rational influences, they maintain. The people who benefit most by trade and opening to the outside world will be empowered to counterbalance the power of the state.
Consequently, through China's engagement with the West, the more doctrinaire members of the Chinese elite will slowly lose ground. As the state modernizes and market reforms continue, power will devolve to private sources as capital and power are accumulated in nongovernmental circles. In this way, civil society grows and pressures the state to further relinquish power. Moderating its governance would include striving for greater transparency, adherence to the strictures of law, and popular participation in decision making.
Trying to isolate China would be impossible, as other nations would fill any trade gaps. It would serve to empower the old-guard, anti- Western conservatives, who would say, "We told you so," depicting it as yet another Western attempt to prevent China's growth as a power. This could threaten the status of China's reformers. In the words of Sinologist Joseph Fewsmith, "The negotiation of the WTO agreement itself is a very good example of how the United States can exert leverage to move China in directions that are compatible both with its own long-term interests and with integrating China into the global order as a normal nation. Indeed, it took many years to reach an acceptable agreement, and those within China who argued for the agreement recognized that joining the world is the way to promote China's own reforms."
China's hosting the 2008 Olympic Games will be a test of these two points of view. Will it act, as Fewsmith argues, to draw the Chinese regime deeper into accountability and reform? Or will it, as holders of the "China threat" thesis argue, be another 1936 Munich Olympics, used by Hitler to showcase his new regime. The world will be watching closely.
Taiwan, China, and the United States
The question of Taiwan's status is the issue with the greatest potential to drag China and the United States into war. If Taiwan were to declare its independence, there can be no doubt that China would go to war to prevent it. The Chinese people would most likely support the use of force wholeheartedly, even if it meant a confrontation with the United States.
If China were to attack Taiwan, the United States would find itself having to choose between war with China or allowing a friendly democracy to be swallowed up by a communist giant.
How did this situation arise? Having fled the mainland to Taiwan in 1949 after they lost the Chinese civil war, the Chinese Nationalists maintained their own authoritarian rule in Taiwan through the Cold War years until 1988, when they opened the island up to multiparty elections. As Taiwan democratized and power shifted away from mainland- born Chinese, tensions rose further between Taiwan and mainland China. These increased in 1995 when then Nationalist President Lee Teng-hui made a trip to the United States to visit his alma mater, Cornell University, over China's vehement objections.
In protest and in an attempt to influence the outcome of Taiwan's March 1996 presidential elections, Beijing held war games near Taiwan, even firing missiles. In 1999 Lee riled China again by proclaiming his "two- countries theory" (not Beijing's preferred "one-China" policy). Tensions rose yet again after the proindependence Democratic Progressive Party took power in the island's 2000 presidential elections. A reassuring note is that recent polls show many Taiwanese (33 percent) accepting of reunification with the mainland as the two economies grow closer together and China continues its reforms.
Despite allowing Lee to visit Cornell, President Clinton walked softly on the Taiwan issue. His policy could be summed up as the "three nos": no support for Taiwanese independence, no support for "two Chinas" (one China and one Taiwan), and no support for Taiwan's admission to the United Nations.
Possibly as a result of ill feelings about China's April 1 destruction of our spy plane, the Bush administration has taken a different approach on Taiwan. Appearing on a popular talk show shortly after the capture, President Bush said the United States would do "whatever it takes" to defend Taiwan, a departure from the long-standing policy of strategic ambiguity.
In the past, American policy was characterized by the slogan "China, don't count us out; Taiwan, don't count us in." The idea behind this ambiguity was that if China believed the United States would not defend Taiwan, it might feel more free to attack, whereas if Taiwan felt sure the United States would come to its defense, it might be more likely to provoke Beijing.
Strategic ambiguity might have served its purposes, but America would do well to clarify the reality of U.S. policy. If China were to attack without provocation, the United States would defend Taiwan. If Taiwan attacked the mainland or declared independence, the United States would not likely defend Taiwan (though we might provide arms or other support, depending on the circumstances).
China experts may be shifting their thinking. Americans admire Taiwan's democratic achievements and would not look kindly on a mainland attempt to squelch them. Yet they do not want to give Taiwan carte blanche to involve U.S. forces in a war of its choosing.
Some American politicians, like Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R- California), are happy to see this trend and hope to see a further shift in American policy away from the mainland and toward Taiwan. In 1996 Rohrabacher pointed out that Taiwan is a liberal democracy whereas mainland China is run by gangsters. He has been an outspoken critic of Washington's one-China policy, being a sponsor of a 1994 House resolution supporting Taiwan's membership in the United Nations.
Other China experts such as Lieberthal argue that the United States should continue to support a one-China policy and encourage the two sides to resolve their differences peacefully. America should also encourage the two sides to integrate economically, until they can be peacefully united under a pluralistic system that effectively accounts for the interests of both sides.
Most security analysts and China experts agree that the United States has a responsibility to assist Taiwan in maintaining at least a minimal deterrent against the mainland, for it is not in anyone's interests to have war break out. Yet at the same time the United States should not give Taiwan whatever it wants in terms of arms. Taiwan must be very aware of the sensibilities of the PRC.
Bush's recent refusal to sell Aegis destroyers to Taiwan was a wise move. This would have been too provocative for Beijing. Moreover, international law upholds Beijing's claim to Taiwan as long as its claim is made peacefully. Thus America stands on the side of international law by opposing Taiwanese independence.
President Clinton's 1998 advocacy of a "strategic partnership" between Beijing and Washington was unrealistic. While Beijing and Washington can indeed be partners on many issues, our values and interests are far apart.
Yet Bush's recent suggestion that China and the United States have a "competitive relationship" is equally misleading in suggesting that the two sides are set in opposition to each other, with one's gain being the other's loss. In many instances, in fact, the two are in a "win- win" (or a "lose-lose") situation. War over Taiwan is certainly a case of "lose-lose." But the growth of our economies, improvement of our welfare, and the peaceful resolution of our differences constitute a "win-win" situation.
Given the smallness of the world in this information age and the interdependence of the American and Chinese economies, China and the United States must find creative and cooperative ways to work out their differences. As China quickly changes--with deeper marketization as it enters the WTO, village-level elections, and the passing of the ideologues of yore--the best U.S. policy is one of both patience and vigilance, seasoned with restraint and hope. Edwin Feulner, president of the Heritage Foundation, made this point a few years ago in the Washington Times: "That Chile, the Czech Republic, El Salvador, Hungary, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Thailand are today democracies is in large part due to the transforming nature of our values. It is also due to the fact that we remained open to and engaged with these societies: trading with them; living among them; and inviting their children to live among us while studying at American colleges and universities." Feulner concluded: "In the process, we gave them the desire and tools to transform their societies, making them more open, more free, and more respectful of human rights. China is not so unique that it is immune to these same forces."
Both South Korea and Taiwan, now modern democracies, were authoritiarian regimes that stifled dissent. Each had their own "Tiananmen massacres"--Taiwan in 1947, and South Korea in 1980 (in Kwangju). Yet both countries were blessed later with enlightened leaders who saw the benefit of liberal economic policies and brought about reforms. This, in turn, eventually brought about political liberalization and full democracy as well.
No one knows the future of China. Yet if the examples of South Korea and Taiwan are any indication, China is likely to have a bright and not altogether illiberal future, which can only be good for relations between the United States and China.
--Gregory J. Moore is assistant director of the Center for China-- United States Cooperation at the University of Denver's Graduate School of International Studies. He has lived in China for over four years and is finishing his doctoral dissertation on Sino-American relations.…
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Publication information: Article title: China's Global Role - Given Its Population, Resources, and Economic Growth Rates, China Will Be a Great Power by the Middle of This Century. Contributors: Moore, Gregory J. - Author. Magazine title: The World and I. Volume: 16. Issue: 10 Publication date: October 2001. Page number: 30. © 1999 News World Communications, Inc. COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group.
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