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     The Struggle on China Policy

In GOP, a Simmering Struggle on China Policy

By Steven Mufson, the Washington Post Staff Writer

Tuesday , August 22, 2000 ; A10

When it comes to China, Vice President Gore and Gov. George W. Bush have a lot in common. Both men favor permanent normal trade relations, support the one-China policy of the past three decades, and insist upon a peaceful settlement of the Taiwan issue. Yet Republicans have been battling to push their candidate to take a tougher line toward Beijing and show more overt support for Taiwan.

That backstage struggle broke into the open during the Republican Party platform drafting. It continues to strain relations between different Republican factions and could spill into the next administration if Bush wins the election.

One group of Republicans fought during the drafting of the platform to remove any reference to the one-China policy, a formulation from the 1970s under which the United States severed formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan and established them with Beijing. Former representative Bob Livingston (La.), a member of the platform committee, led a push to change the first draft of the Republican platform.

"There is a sloppy tendency in policy to say that our policy in Asia is based on the one-China policy," said Bruce Jackson, chairman of the Republican platform subcommittee on foreign policy and a District delegate at the Republican convention. "Nonsense. Our policy in Asia is based on freedom, democracy and the peaceful resolution of disputes."

But aides close to Bush back a more moderate view. "The United States has a very big interest in continuing the policy that has served everyone well: No one changes the status quo," said Condoleezza Rice, the National Security Council staffer under former president George Bush who is the Republican nominee's top foreign policy coordinator.

Led by Rice and Robert D. Blackwill, a lecturer at Harvard University and former State Department official, the Republican candidate's campaign forged a compromise that acknowledged the existence of the one-China policy without endorsing it.

The tiff is just the tip of a wider dispute within each party over U.S. policy toward China. Members of the "blue team," a loose group of people who see China as the biggest future security threat to the United States, want to stop all modernization of the Chinese military. "I don't see why Beijing needs anything more than a lightly armed police force and a coast guard," said one Republican congressional aide.

But others, including Rice and Blackwill, accept that China will be a major nuclear-armed force in Asia and are seeking to defuse any threat through diplomacy.

"China is a changing power in Asia and I think it's going to modernize its forces," Rice said in an interview during the convention. "I don't think China is going to modernize enough--if we keep our nuke secrets to ourselves--to be a threat to our deterrent capabilities. It can modernize enough to threaten our missile defenses, but I'm not putting China in a category of states that would try to blackmail the United States."

In an earlier meeting with journalists in Washington, Rice said she could envision China expanding its nuclear missile arsenal beyond its current level of about two dozen to more than 100 without fundamentally changing U.S. nuclear strategy.

Republican infighting also has a personal dimension. Many of those favoring a tougher line toward Beijing take a dim view of Blackwill, who has been running an exchange program that has brought People's Liberation Army officers to Harvard. Blackwill has run a similar program for Russian officers. The China program has been funded by Nina Kung, a Hong Kong businesswoman who has given $7 million to Harvard. Kung heads Chinachem, which is one of China's largest importers of plastics, petrochemicals, rubber and animal feed.

Differing views of China's intentions and capabilities also shade Republican views on national missile defense. Many in the Bush camp support a boost-phase missile defense system, which would catch intercontinental ballistic missiles on their way up. That would enable the United States to deploy sea-based defense systems capable of stopping missiles from North Korea or Iraq, without threatening the nuclear forces--or nuclear deterrents--of Russia and China. Many boost-phase advocates see that as a virtue because it would avoid diplomatic strains with Moscow and Beijing.

But other Republicans believe that a missile defense should guard against China. They fear China might try to blackmail the United States to block U.S. aid for Taiwan in the event of a confrontation there.

China, which sees Taiwan as part of its own territory, has not ruled out the use of force against the self-governing island. The United States says it favors a peaceful resolution of differences between Beijing and Taipei.

The struggle within the Republican Party over China policy isn't new. For years, especially since the collapse of the Soviet Union, many conservative Republicans have favored stronger support for Taiwan and expressed growing anxiety about China as a threat to the United States rather than as a useful counterweight to Moscow.

They have been aligned against Republican business interests favoring warmer ties and expanded trade, as well as foreign policy experts such as former secretary of state Henry A. Kissinger, who established ties with Beijing, and former secretary of state Alexander M. Haig, who also favors good relations.

Republicans have united over some aspects of China policy. Led by Bush adviser Paul Wolfowitz, a former senior State and Defense Department official, Republicans have blasted President Clinton for paying too much attention to China and insufficient attention to Japan. But sometimes, as during the Republican platform spat, differences come to the surface. An early draft of the party's platform said that "America's commitment to a one-China policy is based on the principle that there must be no use of force by China against Taiwan." The final version read: "America has acknowledged the view that there is one China. Our policy is based on the principle that there must be no use of force by China against Taiwan."

Jackson said, "What we wrote is that America acknowledges that there is a view that there is one China. That is China's view."

The platform also erodes the "strategic ambiguity" the United States has used to leave unclear what circumstances would bring its intervention in a Taiwan Straits crisis. If China attacks Taiwan, the Republican document bluntly states, "America will help Taiwan defend itself." Jackson said, "What we say is that it should be resolved peacefully. We were correcting the imprecision that has been creeping in."

 


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