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Good China Or Bad China

Hu Jintao and his advisers back in Beijing can be forgiven if they arrive somewhat confused about Washington's current policy toward them. Copyright AFP
by Martin Walker
Washington (UPI) Apr 17, 2006
The visit to Washington next week of China's President Hu Jintao will test the Bush administration's ability to chew gum and walk at the same time.

This is not just a matter of a Bush administration deeply preoccupied with the dismal war in Iraq suddenly focusing attention on China, the world's most populous country with a supercharged economy that has more than tripled in size over the past two decades.

It also means focusing on the twin strategies that the Bush administration has developed for dealing with China, or rather, on how the United States deals with the schizophrenic problem of deciding whether it is working with the good China or starting a new cold war with the bad one.

The first strategy, according to Michael Green, formerly director for Asian affairs in the White House National Security Council, is to engage China and to welcome it into international bodies like the World Trade Organization and treat is an important and honored fellow-stakeholder in managing global affairs. The "stakeholder" phrase comes from Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick, who has made it his business to deal with the good China.

The second strategy, also according to Green, who is now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank in Washington, is to hedge that bet.

That means keeping a wary eye on China's rearmament program, building up America's long-range strike capabilities, shoring up America's alliances with Japan and Australia and increasingly these days with India, just to provide some reassurance if the engagement policy turns sour.

That approach has traditionally been filled by U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, whose job requires him to consider what we might call the bad China. His Quadrennial defense review in February warned that China had "the greatest potential to compete militarily with the United States and field disruptive military technologies that over time offset traditional U.S. military advantages."

Last month, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, whom might have been expected to focus on the good China, made her wariness about the bad China clear last month, when she warned that Beijing could become a "negative force" in the region and that China's military build-up was "concerning for those of us that had a responsibility for defending the peace in the Asia Pacific region."

So Hu Jintao and his advisers back in Beijing can be forgiven if they arrive somewhat confused about Washington's current policy toward them.

Or as Kurt Campbell, another former NSC official now at CSIS put it: "Each of these (American) strategies had been largely self-contained and not really connected with each other. That is becoming less and less allowable."

The Chinese leadership sees some of the right-wing think tanks, which have proved highly influential with the Bush administration, sounding ominous warnings about China's new strategic and economic interest in Latin America and Africa and the South Pacific, regions once thought firmly within the West's sphere of influence.

Beijing also hears the rising complaints in Congress about its $202 billion trade surplus with the United States last year, about its failure fully to implement the intellectual property rights and other requirements of its WTO membership.

The Chinese leadership sees with alarm new legislation being threatened that would impose 27 percent tariffs on Chinese imports unless they revalue their currency or change the economic system that has so quickly turned their country into the world's low-cost manufacturing center.

Green, along with other experts and former government officials at CSIS and the Institute of International Economics, Thursday presented a new book entitled, "China -- The Balance Sheet; what the world needs to know about the emerging superpower," that seeks to explain to Chinese and Americans alike the apparent contradictions and mixed signals coming from the Bush administration as it tries to cope with China's rise.

They presented three main arguments. The first was that China will for the foreseeable future be "focused like a laser beam" on domestic challenges of demographics, environmental degradation, the widening gaps between rich and poor, cities and countryside, and between the rich coast and poor inland provinces. So with luck and judgment there should be no major clashes of strategic interest between the United States and China.

The second was that rather than being rivals for future energy supplies, they should be allies, with common concerns for reliable oil supplies and a stable Persian Gulf and for swift development of alternative energy resources including clean coal and nuclear power.

The third was that China had better soon realize the levels of frustration and anger building in Congress at China's $202 billion trade surplus, and move swiftly to abate it by ceasing to manipulate its currency to keep it undervalued against the dollar.

"In this crucial area, China is not playing by the rules," said Fred Bergsten, director of the Institute for International Economics, and a former assistant Secretary of the U.S. Treasury. "Failure to get progress on the economic issues will undermine the whole relationship and make it harder to get cooperation on security issues."

Hu Jintao is probably expecting some strong pressure from President Bush to get China to move on its currency, and on international efforts to restrain the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea. But curiously, a large portion of the preliminary negotiations between the U.S. and China have been about protocol, and how many guns of salute will be fired at the White House to mark Hu Jintao's arrival. The Chinese say this is a full-scale official visit. The White House does not quite agree.

In short, the Chinese are looking for symbolism during the visit, a sign that the Americans are at last treating China with friendly respect as a great power again. The Americans, however, are looking for substance -- once they work out whether they are dealing with good China or bad China, or coming to realize that like most other great powers, it is likely to be a bit of both.

Source: United Press International

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