China Policy Is in Disarray

By Dimitri K. Simes Newsday | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), February 23, 1996 | Go to article overview

China Policy Is in Disarray


Dimitri K. Simes Newsday, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


Is the Clinton administration completely out of touch with what is going on in the world? Or are senior officials intentionally misleading the American people about the state of international affairs?

There is simply no rational explanation for the continuous boasting by top policymakers, including President Bill Clinton, that U.S. foreign policy is solidly on track. In reality, what Secretary of State Warren Christopher recently described as "a remarkable period of achievement for American diplomacy" looks increasingly like the road to disaster - an outcome that seemed unthinkable only three years ago, when the United States and its allies were celebrating a historic victory in the Cold War.

Forget the administration's self-proclaimed successes in sideshows like Haiti and Bosnia: Even if peace and democracy prevail in both places - a most unlikely occurrence - the benefits to U.S. security and prosperity are likely to be marginal at best. What really matters is the growing disarray in relations with such great powers as China and Russia, which the administration is trying to sweep under the rug.

The administration's approach to China has the greatest potential for fiasco. After more than three years in office, Clinton does not have a real and serious policy toward China - the most populous nation on Earth, which has both the second-largest and the fastest-growing economy in the world (not to mention its expanding conventional and nuclear military capabilities). Christopher insists that the administration is interested in a good relationship with China but insists that Beijing, in turn, "has the responsibility to take meaningful steps to address areas of our concern and to respect accepted international principles."

What this amounts to in practice is that China is told not to abuse its dissidents; not to discriminate against its women; not to supply nuclear arms technology to anyone or conventional weapons to outlaw regimes like Iran; not to threaten Taiwan with its military; not to allow Chinese companies to pirate U.S. music and videos; and, more generally, not to engage in trade practices that result in a multibillion-dollar trade surplus with the United States.

In principle, there is nothing wrong with this ambitious wish list. In practice, however, the list ignores the fact that China - its remarkable economic modernization notwithstanding - is still a totalitarian state committed to maintaining strict controls at home and great power assertiveness abroad. All this could change, but a great transformation in China will require new internal dynamics - not lectures from Washington about Beijing's "responsibility." Meanwhile, the internal struggle for leadership in the post-Deng Xiaoping era makes China particularly unresponsive to foreign pressures, especially when such pressures do not reflect a carefully planned strategy and are not based on genuine leverage and the will to use it. …

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