Secretary of State Warren Christopher's visit to Beijing next
month is aimed in part at resolving mounting conflicts in Sino-US
relations. If left unchecked, current tensions could lead to a
second cold war, say American and Chinese analysts.
Misperceptions on each side and a chain reaction of increasingly
alarming responses culminated earlier this year when two US
aircraft carriers engaged in a virtual showdown with the Chinese
military off the coast of Taiwan.
A running battle between the two Pacific Rim giants has caused
leaders in both Beijing and Washington to rethink the fundamentals
of their ties, the analysts say. Mr. Christopher hopes to defuse
tensions over US strategic interests in Asia, Washington's
ballooning trade deficit with Beijing, and human rights issues
during meetings with Chinese leaders in mid-November, says a
He also plans to set out a tentative schedule for President
Jiang Zemin to visit the United States next year, with
President Clinton, if
reelected, expected to reciprocate by early 1998.
Worsening disagreements have led some conservatives in Beijing
to accuse Washington of plotting to contain China's growing
influence and power, while their American counterparts paint China
as a dangerous dragon that threatens Asia.
Both sides are fundamentally wrong, says William Overholt,
author of "China: The Next Economic Superpower" and the managing
director of Asian research at Bankers Trust in Hong Kong. Beijing's
war games during Taiwan's first democratic presidential election
last spring caused some leaders in Washington to "view China as
dangerously aggressive, which was just as inaccurate as China's
view that the United States was trying to dismantle it," Mr.
China never intended to attack Taiwan, says the banker, and
aimed instead to "send a loud clear message to Washington to stop
interfering in China's sovereign affairs." China analysts at US
think tanks and universities generally agree that the main conflict
between the world's present and potential superpowers centers on
the status of Taiwan, which Beijing regards as a renegade province
whose separation from the mainland is a legacy of the cold war.
The US, in establishing diplomatic ties, recognized Beijing as
the legitimate government of one China, and in the 1982
Sino-American joint communique pledged to gradually reduce arms
sales to Taiwan as Beijing pursued peaceful reunification.
"There is no question that Washington broke the treaty" in 1992,
when President Bush agreed to sell Taiwan up to 150 advanced F-16
jet fighters, says Robert Ross, an associate at Harvard
University's Fairbank Center for East Asian Research.
The breach was widened in June 1995 with the granting of a US
visa to Taiwan's President Lee Teng-hui.
American foreign policy analysts say those actions, along with
calls in Congress to revoke China's most-favored-nation trade
status, to send an ambassador to Tibet, and to safeguard Hong
Kong's political autonomy following its return to Chinese rule in
mid-1997, have incensed China.
"If you're sitting in Beijing watching these moves, you don't
have to reach far to begin to believe that the US is trying to
dismantle China," says Overholt. "An equal and opposite paranoia on
the part of the US" has brought the world to the "brink of an
utterly gratuitous second cold war."
The official China Daily warned on Oct. 24 that if a
Sino-American cold war breaks out, the effects would be felt
A senior Chinese official who spoke on condition of anonymity
says some hard-liners in Beijing believe that a new cold war has
already begun. He says more and more party officials are concluding
that "following its success in breaking apart the Soviet Union, the
US has set its sights on China."
He added that by adopting a confrontational approach, the US is
losing any leverage it had to promote peaceful, gradual political
change in China. …