Chinese Vice Premier Qian Qichen's visit here last week went
reasonably smoothly, but a key question remains: What will US
policy toward China be?
During his confirmation hearing, Secretary of State Colin Powell
called China neither a strategic partner nor an implacable foe -
but the administration has yet to clarify what it thinks China is.
This leaves a vacuum to be filled by news events: China has
announced a significant defense budget increase. Its foreign
minister has warned of serious consequences associated with US arms
sales to Taiwan. There is news of another Chinese missile base
capable of targeting that island. And press coverage of Vice
Premier Qian's visit was dominated by China's repugnant treatment
of a young American citizen whose mother has been detained by
These events can provoke our ire or tug our heartstrings, but
reacting to them does not a China policy make. The United States
must prevent single issues from dominating the bilateral agenda.
Both countries must recognize that it is difficult to move past
inflammatory rhetoric and should speak in moderate tones.
Although there is a personal connection between the Chinese
ambassador here, Yang Jiechi, and former President Bush - a
relationship that dates back to the 1970s - more than cordial
relations between the president's family and the ambassador is
needed. The list of agenda items does not look promising.
American emphasis on China's human rights conditions rubs Beijing
the wrong way. China recently released a report, "US Human Rights
Record in 2000," attacking the "myth" of American democracy.
Furthermore, the US decision to campaign for a resolution in Geneva
condemning China's human rights practices makes US partners
elsewhere uneasy. The Bush administration may be on the verge of
adopting the previous administration's approach, which ended up
isolating not China but the US on human rights.
The Bush administration should allow other actors to focus on
human rights. Congress and various nongovernmental organizations
can be more effective at highlighting abuses over a sustained
period, while the executive branch should not push on human rights
at the expense of other bilateral issues. The question is whether
pressuring China on human rights in Geneva is an ad hoc policy
decision or part of a coordinated strategy for developing US-China
relations. The distinction is a fundamental one for an
administration with limited capital to spend on the relationship. …