Great Leap Backward
WILLIAM SAFIRE, The New York Times
plates are shifting under China's political system. The resulting
stress seems to be leading toward a political earthquake.
to explain Beijing's apparently irrational threat last week
of growing readiness to take Taiwan by force?
China, working closely with the Clinton administration to
join the World Trade Organization, and thereby to further
penetrate the American market while removing the annual human-rights
pressure from the U.S.
is China, working in Washington to block the Taiwan Security
Enhancement Act, helping President Clinton prevent that nation
of 22 million free Chinese from buying defenses against Beijing's
new missile batteries across the Taiwan Strait.
critical moment, with both China's W.T.O. admission and Taiwan's
anti-missile defense in the balance in Congress, Beijing's
Communist leaders undermine Clinton's efforts to help them.
they double-crossed Clinton in the most insulting way. The
U.S. president sent a mission to Beijing headed by his closest
diplomatic and military advisers. Their goal was to prevent
any rash moves by China against dissidents or harsh rhetoric
about Taiwan that would embarrass Clinton's pro-China backers
to our mission, the Beijing regime was preparing an 11,000-word
white paper escalating the tension. Just after our delegation
left, Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott was delivered
the diplomatic equivalent of a slap in the face with a wet
leaders are not crazy. The only rational explanation for their
seemingly aberrant behavior is that a split in their leadership
is widening rapidly. That severe internal stress could cause
a lashing-out into war in the Strait.
-- the "half-good" side behind Prime Minister Zhu Rongji --
while stifling political freedom at home, wants to take the
capitalist road, loosen economic constraints, do business
with the U.S. and join the W.T.O.
worse side -- behind President Jiang Zemin and the corrupt
military-industrial cartels -- fears free trade, and counters
worker and student unrest by arresting dissidents and cracking
down on (and driving underground) the growing Falun Gong movement.
has been assuming that the half-good side behind Zhu is winning.
That (and not just the suasion of his lucrative Riady connection)
accounts for his flip-flop from "butchers of Beijing" to "strategic
is that the Jiang hard-liners are winning. To be charitable
about the motive for Clinton's appeasement, see it as intended
to help the better side -- but the practical result has been
to enrich, embolden and empower those hard-core Communist
despots whose families are tightly tied to the militarists.
why China sells arms to rogue states, why it sides stridently
with Russia against the West on Kosovo and Iraq, and why it
sent a mob to trash our embassy in deliberately violent response
to our accidental bombing. Most important, the failure of
Clinton's appeasement is revealed in China's sharp escalation
of military threats to Taiwan.
Communist militarists have recently seen what a dose of nationalist
fervor can do to keep a repressive regime in power. They watched
how Vladimir Putin used "breakaway Chechnya" as his scapegoat
to take workers' minds off economic distress, and how Washington
reacted by admiring his intellect and thereby supporting his
election. They have been making the same noises about "breakaway
Taiwan" as Putin did before his popular rape of the Chechens.
policy must not reward the Jiang adventurists by extending
them W.T.O. membership and by failing to be the arsenal of
Taiwan's democracy. That would further enervate Jiang's internal
opposition in the Forbidden City.
for President, Al Gore included, should call on Clinton and
Congress to respond with resolution to the new intimidation
of Taiwan. The way to prevent war -- and the terrible decision
that would face the next president -- is to make clear now
that belligerent threats by Beijing's dominant faction trigger
consequences that will weaken China.