The present relationship between the United States and China can perhaps best be characterized as "ambiguous engagement" or even "destructive engagement." Mr. Clinton's "strategic partnership" always had an "Alice-in-Wonderland" quality about it, but recent events have even put the "constructive engagement" approach in question.
The slowly-unraveling tale of campaign-funding, leakage of Hughes and Loral rocket technology and now thanks to the bi-partisan effort of Congressman Chris Cox and his colleagues the well-documented disaster of massive theft of nuclear weapon technology, calls for a thorough reassessment of American policy towards China.
No-one is arguing for "isolation" of China (if that would even be possible), and "engagement" with a major power in Asia is unavoidable. However, whether this is "constructive" or "destructive" engagement depends upon China's basic attitude.
Judging from China's behaviour over the past years, the picture is not positive:
1. China acts like a belligerent bully and a neo-imperialist towards its neighbors Taiwan, Tibet and the Philippines.
2. It manipulates its relations with the United States and Western Europe, dangling a "market access" carrot in front of gullible Western noses.
3. It throws temper tantrums when the accidental NATO bombs hit the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, but totally disregards the mass murder of tens of thousands Kosovars by Milosevic's murderous troops.
4. And now, when ample evidence is presented of Chinese spying and theft of nuclear weapon technology, it arrogantly plays innocent, and accuses Americans of everything evil under the sun.
The Chinese reaction showed China's real face and lack of responsibility. The Chinese leaders have shown they are certainly not ready for the "strategic partnership", Mr. Clinton has been talking about, as seen through his rosy-colored glasses. They aren't even ready for "constructive engagement". Just make that simply "engagement": whether it is "constructive" will depend very much on the behaviour of the Chinese leaders.
The Chinese response to the Kosovo situation is illustrative:
First, the Chinese leaders were whipping up nationalistic sentiment in China, by bussing in students, monks, and just about everyone else for staged demonstrations in front of the American Embassy. They were providing the students with sheets with slogans to shout.
In a country where even the smallest gathering is monitored by the Communist Party-controlled police and security forces, and where any demonstration is quickly broken up, one suddenly saw thousands of students marching in the street, picking up rocks and pelting the American embassy, with the hapless US ambassador holed up inside.
As was obvious from the TV pictures, the police were not doing anything to prevent the students from throwing rocks, breaking windows and damaging embassy automobiles. This is irresponsible government behaviour.
As was stated in an excellent editorial in the Washington Post: "...China's cynical manipulation of this event may have consequences that its regime does not foresee. One of those might be a clearer understanding among outsiders of the true nature of the Chinese regime" ("China's true colors", Washington Post, 11 May 1999).
Second, the government-controlled Chinese media have been misinforming the Chinese public on the events in Kosovo and Yugoslavia. Until very recently, the intentional slaughter, maiming and displacement of thousands of Kosovars by the murderous Serb troops went unreported in the Chinese media.
It is thus highly hypocritical of China to make such noise about the accidental death of three persons in the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. As was stated by Gerald Segal of the London-based International Ins titute for Strategic Studies: "Beijing hysterical reaction to the bombing revealed fundamental flaws in China as a great power" ("The Balkan War has exposed the weakness of China", International Herald Tribune, 26 May 1999).
Finally, the specter of President Clinton having to apologize some five times is a deliberate and demeaning tactic by the Chinese to make the US "kowtow." As was stated in an OpEd piece in the New York Times: "...it is America that is owed an apology. After an accident of war, we have been falsely accused of killing Chinese with malice aforethought. That is a great insult, compounded by the calculated thrashing of our embassy by a bused-in mob encouraged by police" ("Cut the apologies", William Safire, New York Times, 17 May 1999).
Taiwan Communiqué comment: The United States should indeed not let itself be intimidated by the Chinese temper tantrums and hold firm: continue the effort to expel the Serbs from Kosovo by all means, and refuse the Chinese any concessions. It's time to play hardball.
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