China, Humiliating Ourselves
Ted Galen Carpenter
Galen Carpenter is vice president for defense and foreign
policy studies at the Cato Institute.
administration officials once again have their lips firmly
planted on Beijing's boot. The latest occasion for unnecessarily
appeasing the Chinese government is a brief stopover Sunday
in Los Angeles by Taiwanese president Chen Shui-bian, en
route to visiting several Central American countries that
maintain diplomatic relations with the Republic of China.
Since Beijing insists that the Republic of China ceased
to exist following the Communist revolution in 1949, and
that Taiwan is nothing more than a rebellious province,
Chinese leaders lodged a shrill diplomatic protest over
Chen's presence in Los Angeles.
of brusquely dismissing Beijing's protest, the Clinton administration
went out of its way to be accommodating. While declining
to bar Chen from landing at Los Angeles International Airport,
administration officials hastened to assure the Chinese
government that Chen was making only a "brief"
transit stop and that he would hold no meetings and conduct
no public activities while on U.S. soil. In reality, Chen
plans to stay overnight in Los Angeles, and a California
businessman hoped to give a reception in his honor. Several
journalists - and even some members of Congress - have also
asked to meet with Chen.
State Department has done everything possible to prevent
such interaction. Indeed, its conduct was so intrusive that
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) accused the department
of attempting to "quarantine" Chen and deny him
the rights to freedom of speech and assembly.
administration's conduct is disgraceful but not surprising.
It is reminiscent of the policy adopted more than five years
ago when then-Taiwanese president Lee Teng-hui requested
a visa to attend a reunion at his alma mater, Cornell University.
The administration's initial response to objections by the
Chinese regime was to offer assurances that the visa request
would be denied. Only after Congress overwhelmingly passed
a resolution demanding that Lee be allowed to come to the
United States did the administration beat a hasty retreat.
proper response to Beijing's attempts to block the visits
of Lee and Chen would have been a firm rebuff. Indeed, the
episodes created an opportunity to throw a favorite objection
made by Chinese officials back in their faces. The Beijing
government habitually responds to U.S. protests about its
egregious human-rights record by denouncing "interference
in China's internal affairs." Yet Chinese leaders don't
hesitate to try to dictate America's visa policy or decide
whether a traveler in transit can set foot on American soil.
officials should have told their Chinese counterparts that
such matters are none of Beijing's business. The Chinese
regime would have a legitimate objection if - and only if
- executive-branch policymakers held official meetings with
a Taiwanese leader. Otherwise, any resident of Taiwan should
be able to visit the United States, speak at public gatherings,
give interviews to journalists, and even meet with members
of Congress without interference. If Beijing doesn't like
such manifestations of a free society, too bad.
administration's excessively deferential behavior toward
China not only betrays important American values; it is
potentially dangerous. Chinese leaders are impressed with
quiet displays of strength and pride; they have justifiable
contempt for fawning behavior. Unfortunately, the Clinton
administration has all too often engaged in the latter.
addition to its campaign of diplomatic appeasement regarding
the Lee and Chen visits, the administration acquitted itself
poorly in May 1999 in responding to attacks on the U.S.
embassy in Beijing following NATO's inadvertent bombing
of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. It was certainly appropriate
for Washington to apologize - once - for the bombing and
to offer generous compensation to the victims and their
families. It was troubling, though, to see U.S. officials
apologizing to China again, and again, and again.
worse, the administration responded to the violent, week-long
attacks on the U.S. embassy and the U.S. ambassador's residence
- clearly conducted with the connivance of the Beijing regime
- with nothing more than anemic diplomatic protests. The
proper response would have been to recall the ambassador
(who was scheduled to retire in any case) and, more important,
announce that appointment of his successor would be delayed
until Beijing apologized and made explicit assurances that
it would provide appropriate protection for embassy property
in the future. Other contacts between the two governments
should have been curtailed as well, to show Washington's
actions would have made it clear to Beijing that the United
States was not about to be bullied and intimidated. Unfortunately,
the administration's actions conveyed precisely the opposite
people would dispute that it is important for the United
States to maintain a cordial relationship with China. But
there is a big difference between that goal and having U.S.
officials abase themselves when China's Communist rulers
make outrageous demands or engage in outrageous conduct.
The Clinton administration seems incapable of grasping that
essay first appeared August 14, 2000 on National Review