On Tuesday, 28 January 1997, at his first news conference in his second term of office, President Clinton acknowledged that his policy of "constructive engagement" had failed to spur the Chinese Communist authorities towards respect for human rights in China.
However, Mr. Clinton still defended the policy, and stated that he believed that "...the impulse of society and the nature of economic change will work together, along with the availability of information from the outside world, to increase the spirit of liberty over time." He added: I don't think that there's any way that anyone who disagrees with that in China can hold that back. .....it's inevitable, just as inevitable the Berlin Wall fell."
In an editorial a couple of days later, the New York Times cautioned that it would be a mistake to adopt a passive American policy based on that optimistic prospect, as Mr. Clinton seems to be doing ("The Berlin Wall and China", New York Times, 30 January 1997). The New York Times editorial termed Mr. Clinton's faith in the power of trade and information to liberate China "...stirring but unrealistic and his analogy to the Berlin Wall oversimplified."
The New York Times referred to the repression of political dissidents in China, to the Chinese intentions to restrict civil liberties in Hong Kong, and concluded there is little likelihood of political liberalization anytime soon.
The Washington Post, in its editorial on this issue ("China's human rights violations", 31 January 1997) equally concluded that Mr. Clinton was too optimistic, and emphasized that it would be a mistake to conclude that pressure on China on the issue of human rights could be reduced. The Post emphasized "...Americans must be true to themselves. That does not mean neglecting every other consideration but it does mean speaking out on things that matter."
Taiwan Communiqué comment: The question is thus, will the Great Wall fall, and if so, when ? Mr. Clinton's parallel of the Berlin Wall and the Great Wall in China in itself is a good one: both walls were designed to prevent the free flow of people and information.
However, we agree with both the New York Times and Washington Post that a much firmer policy towards China is required, not only from the United States, but also from Europe, which has done its share of cuddling up to the dictators in Beijing, before the Chinese rulers will relent and show some improvement of human rights and respect for democratic principles.
The US and Europe should beware of new Chinese attempts to drive a wedge between the two sides of the Atlantic by playing them out against eachother, whether on the issue of trade or human rights. In particular the sudden Chinese offer to reopen the long-stagnant dialogue with the European Union on human rights planned for 14 February 1997 in Singapore must be seen as an attempt to forestall a joint US-European sponsorship of the annual resolution condemning China at the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva.
Another issue which continues to mar US-China relations is the John Huang / Lippo case. In our previous issue we referred to a 10 November 1996 report by the London Times that the John Huang connection and the Indonesian/Chinese Lippo Group may have been part of a Chinese spy operation designed to gain insight information on matters like the United States negotiating position on Most Favored Nation status (Taiwan Communiqué no. 73, p. 9).
Subsequently, two other major publications the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal published reports presenting indications that this may have been the case.
On 3 January 1997, the New York Times printed an article by columnist William Safire (published as "Has Chinese intelligence penetrated the White House" in the International Herald Tribune, 4 January 1997), in which the author points to a number of pieces of evidence which indicate that the Chinese were able to get a significant amount of confidential information.
A second investigative article was written by Mr. Peter Schweizer and published in the Wall Street Journal ("Lippo's Chinese Connections", 15 January 1997). Mr. Schweizer states that "Questions swirling around former Deputy Assistant Commerce Secretary John Huang, the Lippo group of Indonesia and the fund-raising activities of Charles Yan Lin Trie may well be linked by the shadow efforts of the Chinese military to influence U.S. foreign and military policy."
China to the U.S.: "I want to select my own goodies."
Mr. Schweizer presents detailed information on the links between John Huang / Lippo and the Chinese military establishment, in particular COSTIND, the Chinese Commission on Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense.
The article refers to the meeting arranged with Mr. Clinton at the White House by another operative in the affair, Arkansas restaurant owner Charlie Trie, for Mr. Wang Jun, a Chinese arms dealer, who is chairman of Poly Technologies, a front for COSTIND. Mr. Wang also happens to be the son of one of China's most vengeful hardliners, Wang Zhen. During the Tienanmen Incident, the older Wang was one of the most relentless advocates of crushing the pro-democracy movement.
Mr. Schweizer describes how COSTIND and its front organizations such as Poly Technologies manage arms sales to countries such as Iraq, North Korea and Pakistan, how they acquire advanced dual use technologies to assist in the modernization of the PLA, and, thirdly, serve as conduits for intelligence operations.
Mr. Schweizer argues that in gaining access to the upper levels of the Commerce Department, the Chinese were probably most interested in gaining access to high technology, in particular dual-use technologies, which have both civilian and military applications.
The article gives several examples when the Commerce Department, which is responsible for licensing exports for dual-use items, overrode objections from U.S. military and intelligence officials, and approved the export of machine tools (the McDonnell Douglas case we described earlier) and of AT&T telecommunication technology to China. The latter case involved Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) and Digital Synchronous Hierarchy equipment to HuaMei Company. Pentagon officials in 1994 warned Commerce that such equipment would greatly enhance the capability of the Chinese military in their command and control of military operations. At Commerce, the warnings fell on deaf ears.
Yet another dark blotch on U.S. - China relations was the December 1996 visit to the United States of General Chi Haotien, the PLA general who commanded the Chinese troops which were responsible for the Tienanmen massacre in June 1989. Mr. Chi was given a red-carpet treatment in Washington and visited a myriad of U.S. military installations from Norfolk, Virginia to Honolulu, Hawaii.
At a speech to students at the U.S. National Defense University Mr. Chi had the audacity to reiterate China's intention to use military force against Taiwan.
Taiwan Communiqué comment: While some type of communication between the U.S. and the Chinese military may be necessary in order to avoid misunderstandings, a full reception in Washington capped by a 19-gun salute and a meeting with Mr. Clinton is an insult to those who died at Tienanmen and to those who achieved democracy in Taiwan. It represents a dangerous coddling of the most repressive elements of an already repressive regime.
Back to: Table of Contents
Copyright © 1997 Taiwan Communiqué