CHINA is both a blessing and a bogy for its Asian neighbors.
Not unlike Japan, whose economic presence in the past fueled
rapid growth around Asia, China now lures other countries with its
booming economy and vast virgin market. But, also like Japan,
economic opportunity in China has stirred unease over the emergence
of an economically and military strong giant.
"We may be enjoying the boom now," says a senior Asian
diplomat in Beijing, "but in the long run, we are not without
worries." Now that China has developed economically, he asks,
where will it go from here? "To defend such a prosperous area, any
country would have to have some teeth."
To the disquiet of its neighbors, China is already cutting its
Ever since the Communist Party congress a year ago, which
anointed China's moves toward a market economy, the military has
been in the ascendancy.
On the one hand, a major military reshuffle has sidetracked
hard-line Communist ideologues in the People's Liberation Army and
bolstered professionally oriented officers intent on turning their
once peasant Army into a technologically sophisticated fighting
On the other hand, military professionals have assumed a higher
political profile as the ruling Communists brace for an uncertain
transition following the death of ailing paramount leader Deng
"Military participation has grown in the last year," says a
Western diplomat in Beijing. "Until we have a clear idea of who
will succeed Deng Xiaoping, the military will play a key role."
For its part, the US, which has been the foremost power in Asia
for more than four decades, recently ended its ban on military
contacts imposed following the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989
and decided to engage the Chinese in high level talks.
Charles Freeman, assistant secretary of defense for regional
security, recently visited Beijing in what has been an ongoing
effort by President Clinton to step up the level of US contacts
with China and defuse sharp disputes over the sale of missiles to
Pakistan and the inspection of the cargo ship Yinhe.
Mr. Freeman, who announced that the two countries will pursue
talks over China's role in United Nations peacekeeping operations,
is among a stream of visiting senior Clinton Administration
officials, including Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights
John Shattuck, Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy, and trade
representative Charlene Barshevsky.
Mr. Clinton's switch from confrontation to consultation will
culminate in his meeting Nov. 19 with Chinese President Jiang Zemin
at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Seattle.
"This is the beginning of the turnaround. This is the beginning
of getting things back on track," a Western diplomat says.
"The United States and China are like Siamese twins: you are
there for good or bad and always operate together," an Asian
diplomat says. …