February 29, 2000
Note to China: He Who Raises
Ante Doesn't Always Win
By GEORGE MELLOAN, The Wall Street Journal
age-old technique of putting foreign visitors off-balance
through subtle affronts is alive and well, it seems. But perhaps
today's imperial Politburo should keep something in mind:
This is not an age when the rest of the world sees fit to
kowtow to the Middle Kingdom. The Senate, for example, does
not suffer mind games gladly.
thoughts arise from a series of events that began on Feb.
17 when a high-level U.S. delegation arrived in Beijing to
resume "military-to-military" talks with the Chinese. It was
headed by Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, Madeleine
Albright's No. 2. Gen. Joseph B. Ralston, vice chairman of
the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was the ranking military man. In
what we must assume was a deliberate snub, the Chinese top
brass sent out a lower-ranking officer to parley with the
American four-star. And instead of parleying, the Chinese
side mainly lectured the visitors on the evils of U.S. support
insult to logorrhea, the Chinese gave no indication to the
Americans that they were about to explode a diplomatic bombshell.
Three days later, Beijing made international news by issuing
a 11,000-word "white paper" setting out a new hard-line policy
toward Taiwan. Its main point: China will use force, if necessary,
to persuade the Taiwanese to begin serious talks leading to
reunification. Or more bluntly: Submit to our demands, Taipei,
or we shoot. Mr. Talbott's people searched the transcripts
of their conversations in Beijing and could not find one subtle
hint that such an outrageous diktat was coming.
That's hardly a friendly way to treat an administration that
has gone out of its way to be nice to Beijing. Bill Clinton
had capitulated to China's "three noes" policy -- proscribing
any form of recognition of Taiwan as a state -- when he visited
China in 1998. In November, his trade reps reached a bilateral
agreement to clear the way for Chinese entry into the World
Trade Organization. And his administration has been working
overtime to try to block congressional passage of the Taiwan
Security Enhancement Act, which would give Taiwan better means
to defend itself against just the kind of attack China now
is threatening. Included in the package would be two Arleigh
Burke-class destroyers equipped with Aegis antiballistic missile
form, Mr. Clinton seemed to be apologizing for the Chinese
last week after they issued their Taiwan ukase. "You have
to see it [the threat of an attack on Taiwan] in the context
of electoral politics playing out in Taiwan and not necessarily
assume some destructive action will follow," the president
told the press. Is this a president talking or a news analyst?
Presidents usually respond to threats. What real assurance
does Mr. Clinton have that China's generals are not serious
when they brandish their newly acquired Russian-made weapons
in defiance of world opinion? Maybe they see Taiwan as their
Chechnya. Certainly, nothing that happened in those "military-to-military"
talks in Beijing 12 days ago would offer any such assurance,
considering the fact that China's top commanders didn't show
indeed a safe assumption that Beijing hopes its broadside
will influence the outcome of Taiwan's presidential election
next month. It wants to spike the chances of Chen Shui-bian,
leader of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). All three
leading candidates, including independent James Soong and
Lien Chan of the ruling Kuomintang (KMT), are avoiding any
public espousal of Taiwanese independence, but the DPP has
for years made it clear that it considers Taiwan to be, de
facto, an independent state. The KMT is not far from that
position either. Mr. Soong is more friendly toward the mainland.
Taiwanese people increasingly unwilling to turn back the clock
to their 19th-century status as a Chinese province, China's
generals are growing more strident in their demands and threats.
"Hong Kong, Macau and now Taiwan" is their mantra, as if China's
destiny demands that final conquest. But Hong Kong and Macau
were leased territories and came back when the leases expired.
Taiwan, by contrast, has been a political football, ceded
to the Japanese in 1895 and recovered in 1945 by Chiang Kai-shek,
who fled to the island with his army after his defeat by the
Communists in 1949. Now a free, democratic state, Taiwan is
tired of irredentist claims.
government spokesman Zhu Bangzao said last week that after
Hong Kong and Macau "it is natural that we have felt a certain
urgency in solving the Taiwan problem." Really? Taiwan's "problems"
can't match those on the mainland. The State Department has
just reported a deterioration of human-rights policies in
China last year, manifested among other things in persecution
of the Falun Dafa ethical movement. It also suggested some
weakening of the rule of law in Hong Kong since the 1997 handover.
Foreign investment in China is falling sharply. Social unrest
is a growing worry for the Communist leadership.
said last week that he hoped Congress wouldn't use the China-Taiwan
tensions as a reason to vote against a grant of permanent
normal trade status to China. So now, in the president's view,
it's the Republicans causing all the trouble, not a Chinese
threat to blow a small, democratic country out of the sea.
trade with China should be normalized and China should be
allowed into the WTO. That would promote the more positive
forces in the Chinese polity, the many Chinese who would like
to have a free, democratic society and market economy, just
like Taiwan. But if Mr. Clinton is not going to stand up against
snubs and threats from the Chinese military, who is there
left to do so but Congress?
has been put in a difficult position by presidential weakness.
It has been issued a direct challenge by the Chinese military
as the Senate considers a bill to enhance Taiwan's security.
It is faced as well with a president who shows little regard
for the future of a small democratic state and threatens to
veto added military aid. The U.S. has a longstanding policy
of warning China not to attempt the use of force to reunify
Taiwan with the mainland. China is now directly challenging
this policy by asserting its own "right" to solve the "Taiwan
problem" by killing Taiwanese. Instead of warning China forcefully,
the president passes it all off as politics as usual.
seems to be up to Congress to take a stand. That's a poor
way to run a foreign policy, but may be better than not having
a foreign policy at all.