IT will not be surprising if questions are raised in South Asia about United States priorities after the visit to China this month by Secretary of Defense William Perry.
Pakistan, an occasional ally of the US, has been the subject of pressures and criticisms regarding its purported nuclear program. It is the one country that, under the Pressler amendment, is subject to sanctions because of its unwillingness to renounce intentions to build nuclear weapons. Bilateral relations with the US are also cool because of reports of human rights violations, even though Pakistan has held elections and has functioning democratic institutions.
Washington's relations with New Delhi have been distant but are improving. Nevertheless, India's refusal to sign the nonproliferation treaty remains a source of contention between the two countries.
By contrast, Mr. Perry has visited Beijing and has held meetings with top Chinese defense officials despite China's test of another nuclear device just before the visit. Discussions with the Chinese reportedly also included human rights questions. Yet the day after the meetings, China jailed another prominent dissident. Tibet remains under harsh Chinese control. Images of the Tiananmen Square massacre have not completely faded. Moreover, the talks in Beijing involved efforts to restrict the sale of Chinese missiles to other countries, including Pakistan. The contrast with US policies toward Pakistan and India is stark.
To Washington, the differences are logical. China is a pivotal country. As one of the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, China's support is important to global US policies. Its influence in North Korea is considered vital in efforts to restrict Pyongyang's nuclear program. Talks with the Chinese People's Liberation Army aid in assessing Beijing's long-range capabilities and ambitions - to the extent the Chinese are candid about either.
Clinton administration officials and supporters of congressional legislation targeting Pakistan will further argue that India and Pakistan are not yet formally nuclear states; efforts to limit their weapons ambitions are important to worldwide efforts at nonproliferation, especially in advance of the review of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1995.
The two South Asian states, India and Pakistan, have always been, to some extent, stepchildren of US-Asian policy. Relations with New Delhi have suffered from Indian nonalignment during the cold war and, until recently, from economic policies cool to outside investment. Pakistan became important when Secretary of State John Foster Dulles developed the concept of a northern tier alliance against the Soviet Union and, again, when Pesh-awar became the main chan-nel for aid to the Afghan re-sistance movement after the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. Each time, however, when the US security interest in cooperation with Islamabad lessened, Congress pressed to suspend aid to Pakistan.
If US policy toward China is based on what is considered a realistic balance of American national interests, shouldn't the same criterion be applied to the Indo-Pakistan subcontinent?
The combined population of the two South Asian states is only slightly less than that of China. The subcontinental states dominate the Indian Ocean, where the US has substantial interests in the transit routes to the Gulf and in the viability of the supply base at Diego Garcia. The unresolved question of Kashmir's future constantly threatens the peace of the region and remains a concern to those in Washington responsible for South Asia policy. US trade with the region, especially India, is growing. India is a working democracy. Pakistan, despite the imperfections of its political system, is far less repressive than China.
As worthy as the goal of a nonnuclear subcontinent may be, it is unlikely to be attained while China continues to test weapons. Pakistan is not likely to give up its program so long as India has one, and neither will India as long as China remains a nuclear power. The time has come for Washington to recognize these realities - as it has recognized those in China - and relieve the pressures, especially on Pakistan, designed to achieve goals that are unattainable.
Nonproliferation and human rights are worthy goals and should continue to be US objectives. They are not likely to be realized, however, through policies that appear to favor one offender, China, over others.