China's growing economic power and the U.S.

?conomic issu?s incr?asingly d?fin? th? Unit?d Stat?s’ for?ign policy toward China, on? of Am?rica’s most important trading partn?rs. Whil? ?x?rting diplomatic pr?ssur? to bring a r?solution of China’s abusiv? polici?s on human rights and r?gional aggr?ssion, th? Clinton administration has b??n car?ful to pr?s?rv? trading ti?s. To do oth?rwis? might j?opardiz? c?rtain financial int?r?sts of Am?rican big busin?ss. Whil? Clinton’s strat?gy mak?s ?conomic s?ns?, it do?s littl? to addr?ss issu?s of ?ast Asian s?curity, a pr?ssing national int?r?st of th? Am?rican p?opl?. Th? ?xpansion of trad? has always figur?d promin?ntly in Pr?sid?nt Clinton’s for?ign policy ag?nda. For instanc?, Clinton’s ?conomic program includ?d th? North Am?rican Fr?? Trad? Agr??m?nt (NAFTA) and a n?w trading agr??m?nt n?gotiat?d by th? m?mb?r nations of GATT (th? G?n?ral Agr??m?nt on Tariffs and Trad?, now r?nam?d th? World Trad? Organization).

?arly in his administration, Clinton ?xhibit?d a tough stanc? against China by thr?at?ning h?avy punitiv? tariffs on imports as a way of pr?ssuring B?ijing to halt th? black-mark?t pirating of U.S. movi?s, CDs, and comput?r softwar?: “China has follow?d th? Third World lin? in taking full advantag? of W?st?rn products without paying th? compani?s that own th?m” (Ov?rholt 385). N?v?rth?l?ss, in 1994, Clinton ?xt?nd?d China’s “most favor?d nation” trading status with th? United States. The trading status of “most favored nation” is an important designation. It affirms that a particular country is a member of the world economic and political system. Without such status, Chinese markets that serve the United States (most notably Hong Kong) would have been dealt a serious economic blow. In addition, the United States would have found itself isolated by the international community, many of whom support China’s attempts at reform.

In 1996, the Clinton administration developed a China policy that it termed “comprehensive engagement.” The three tenets of this policy are that China must be paid attention to, that China is not an enemy of the United States, and the acknowledgement that a variety of American interests are at stake in East Asia. The supporters of Clinton’s comprehensive engagement policy include “the business community, free-market advocates, and prominent Republican former officials who argue that a confrontation now with China would be premature” (Rodman 39). Critics of Clinton’s comprehensive engagement strategy claimed that the policy was vague and weak, and predicted that China would take advantage of it. So far, this criticism has failed to materialize: “China has realized that it will have to adapt to international rules, not simply ignore them, and be careful how it throws its weight about” (“Greeting” 16). An important development in U.S.-China relations was the recent state visit of Chinese President Jiang Zemin.

China wants to modify its image as ruthless Communists and demonstrate its willingness to become an active member in the international community. As President Clinton puts it, “Isolation of China is unworkable, counterproductive and potentially dangerous . . . That is not the world we want” (Liu and Bogert 45). The relationship that Jiang and Clinton want is one that reinforces the global trend toward borderless economies. Jiang’s state dinner doubled as a networking session with numerous CEOs in attendance. The emphasis of Jiang’s summit visit is that improved foreign relations equals increased profits for American businesses: “To drive home his point, China ordered 50 Boeing airliners–a $3 billion deal that means paychecks for perhaps 34,000 American workers” (Omestad 66). During his state visit, Jiang toured the operations at AT&T and IBM, and even rang the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange. And unless Congress blocks it, American firms will soon be able to compete for sales of nuclear power reactors to China. Clearly, it is in the economic interest of the United States to improve its political relations with China.

One of the major issues in the U.S.-China relationship is human rights. Conservative Christian groups in America criticize China’s persecution of Christians. Others protest China’s imprisonment of dissidents. Anti-abortion activists rave against China’s one-child policy. Even China’s most active supporters agree that the country has a deplorable record on human rights. Jiang, however, shows no inclination to alter his country’s stance on human rights. Recently, when asked in Beijing about the status of China’s longest-held political prisoner, Wei Jingsheng, Jiang immediately changed the subject: “Chinese officials continued rebuffing such appeals as ‘intervention in China’s internal affairs’ and ‘unwelcome'” (Liu and Bogert 45). Jiang contends that the Communist treatment of dissidents has been necessary to preserve structure and order in Chinese society. Perhaps the most critical issue in U.S.-China relations concerns the national interest of the American people. The security and military power of Asia are important concerns for the United States. China is a potentially hostile power because of its aggressive efforts to dominate the East Asian region. The people of Tibet have suffered severely under communism, China has openly intimidated Taiwan with military force, and China is allied with communist North Korea.

Although China does not yet have the military power to realize its dream of domination it is likely that it will acquire the military capability to do so in the future. America’s current foreign policy toward China largely ignores this threat: “In Asia, the Clinton administration often subordinated the pursuit of security to the pursuit of trade, in the fashionable but mistaken belief that a good business climate will lead more or less automatically to a good security climate (and more democracy) (“A New China”! 9). In many respects, China appears determined to conduct foreign affairs by its own methods. During his recent summit visit to the United States, Jiang carefully avoided open forums in which embarrassing questions could be raised. In accepting an invitation to speak at Harvard University, Jiang agreed on the condition that all questions would be submitted two days in advance and that he alone would be the only speaker. The University had to settle for hosting debates about China policy at other campus locations. And Harvard student activists arranged a variety of protest demonstrations ranging from hunger strikes to chanting Tibetan monks. The massacre of demonstrators by tanks in Tiananmen Square in 1989 played a prominent role in China’s image as a Communist bully. The Chinese army brutally crushed a prodemocracy demonstration by masses of unarmed students, killing hundreds of young men and women. A wave of repression, arrests, and public executions followed. When asked about Tiananmen Square, Jiang gave a characteristic hardline response, claiming that the Communist party and government “have long drawn the correct conclusion on this political disturbance . . . if a country with an over 1.2 billion population does not enjoy social and political stability, it cannot possibly have the situation of reform and opening up that we are having today” (Omestad 66). But few outside China share Jiang’s pride in his country’s progress toward reform. Even President Clinton noted that China was “on the wrong side of history” in its handling of the Tiananmen incident (Omestad 66). In terms of political diplomacy, Jiang’s visit to the United States was a success. He and President Clinton agreed that future American presidents should meet regularly with China’s chief executives.

A presidential hotline between the two leaders was established and an agreement was reached for the two nations to begin holding cabinet-level sessions. The alliance formed between Clinton and Jiang holds promise for reshaping of the diplomatic relationship between the United States and China. A longstanding focus of disagreement between China and the United States has been nuclear weapons proliferation. The United States was able to secure some important concessions as a result of Jiang’s state visit. China agreed to stop supplying nuclear technology to Iran, and to stop selling cruise missiles to Iran as well. Jiang also reported that China was abiding by a 1996 agreement not to give nuclear technology assistance to nations who refused to allow international inspections of their weaponry. The Chinese president also made trade concessions. Jiang pledged that China will join an international agreement to eliminate tariffs on certain import items. Jiang, however, refused to concede to a broader loosening of trade restrictions, and likewise refused to enter the World Trade Organization. The recent visit of China’s president Jiang Zemin to the United States symbolizes a fresh start in relations between the two countries. Whereas the relationship appeared on the verge of a cold war after the Tiananmen Square incident, both Chinese and America officials now proclaim that the relationship has stabilized. Although encouraging, U.S. policy toward China must be adjusted to reflect security interests as well as economic realities. American interest in China is at an all-time high. According to one activist: “Jiang’s visit has had a greater motivating effect than anything I’ve seen in 10 years” (Liu and Bogert 45). Films like “Seven Years in Tibet” and “Red Corner” (strategically timed to premiere during Jiang’s state visit to the White House) have raised the awareness of the American public to China’s oppressive policies. The supporters of the Dalai Lama have been instrumental in raising the public’s consciousness as well. Absent other clear cut international targets for social movements, the American public has chosen China: “Jiang may not realize how China has become the new bogeyman for many people, now that the Soviet Union has collapsed” (Liu and Bogert 45).

China’s abusive policies have created coalitions among diverse interest groups in the United States, among them the Christian right, trade unionists, and students. These policies have mobilized the Asian-American community as well: “T! hrough increasing numbers and rising affluence, Asian-Americans have overcome aspects of [their] unassimiliability to acquire more influence in the politics of foreign policy than they had in the past” (DeConde 193). This high level of public interest in China can be used effectively as a wedge to encourage cooperation on regional security issues. The United States should focus on dissuading China from its campaign of dominance in East Asia. As a result of his recent summit visit, Jiang received assurances that Washington would oppose independence for Taiwan. But this assurance sends a crippling signal throughout East Asia. The United States must make its willingness to defend Taiwan against attack by a Chinese dictatorship absolutely clear. The best way for the United States to show its nonacceptance of China’s regional aggression is through a foreign policy tool known as signalling. This means making or saying, publicly or through intermediaries, political statements that are meant as messages to another government. This method was used with considerable success during the 1970s when the United States dissuaded the French government from selling nuclear-processing facilities and equipment to Pakistan and the Middle East. The ultimate goal of this policy of signalling China would be to insist that Beijing subordinate military aggression to responsible foreign policy discipline.

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