Challenging Chessboard of Asia

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), February 8, 2002 | Go to article overview

Challenging Chessboard of Asia


Byline: William R. Hawkins, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

President George W. Bush will soon embark on a diplomatic swing through Asia, which will include a summit in China with President Jiang Zemin.

Beijing's support for the U.S. campaign against al Qaeda? tepid as it has been, has led some observers, particularly former members of the Clinton administration, to argue that China should again be considered a "strategic partner." But a realist look at Beijing's behavior demolishes this line of thought.

China has recently held naval maneuvers in the East China Sea with the apparent intent to pressure Taiwan. And Chinese interceptors have again been harassing American patrol aircraft flying over the South China Sea, recalling the crisis of last April 1 when a Chinese jet collided with a U.S. Navy EP-3 reconnaissance plane and forced it down on Hainan Island.

The state-run Chinese media have been critical of the United States and its president. The official journal Beijing Liaowang concluded in a year-end review, "U.S. foreign policy under Bush is overbearing and extremely supercilious; it smacks of unilateralism, and obviously betrays the desire for exclusive domination." The Beijing Review, China's leading English-language journal, opened the new year with an article claiming "The September 11 tragedy, however, has not weakened America's superior role in world dynamics; the United States has not given up its demand for world hegemony."

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan said on Feb. 4 that China disapproves of the use of such words as the "axis of evil" in international relations. Mr. Kong also claimed that American public opinion does not support President Bush's characterization of Iran, Iraq and North Korea as terrorist states. "China always holds that anti-terrorism campaigns should be based on irrefutable evidence, and anti-terrorism attacks should not be expanded arbitrarily," said Mr. Kong.

Beijing has itself attempted to use "anti-terrorism" to justify suppression of the Muslim independence movement in Xinjiang Province, but this conflict has nothing to do with Sept. 11. Beijing well knows that Osama bin Laden's focus was the United States. Bin Laden also trained fighters for war in Chechnya against Russia and in Kashmir against India, but he did not make the same effort to train fighters for Xinjiang. This was because the al Qaeda/Taliban network was created and backed by China's ally, Pakistan.

The Taliban even sent parts of U.S. cruise missiles fired in 1998 at al Qaeda camps to China for study. Chinese firms also set up the Taliban's telecommunications system and shipped in weapons through Pakistan.

China's ambitions remain what they were before September 11, and Beijing continues to see the United States as the main obstacle to fulfilling those ambitions. While seeking a "multipolar" world to weaken American influence, China has wanted a unipolar Asia with Beijing as its center. It has worked to isolate India, bully Taiwan, contain Japan, and divide the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN).

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