In the 1950s, and for years thereafter, wrenching political debate swirled around the question: Who Lost China?
America doesn't need a repeat. It can't afford one.
Republican leaders in Congress must quickly make it clear that they make a distinction between:
1. Investigating apparent laxity by the Clinton administration in regard to missile and nuclear secrets leaking to China; and
2. Continuing to encourage democratization, trade, fair laws, privatization of industry, military restraint, and environmental responsibility by the more enlightened Chinese leaders.
Diligent probing of Point 1 should not be allowed to wreak long term damage on Point 2.
Some politicians, honestly believing they are aiding Chinese dissidents or protecting Taiwan's interests, want to threaten a new Bamboo Curtain, boycotting and pressuring China into docile behavior. History gives little support to such tactics.
Look at the "Who lost China" era. Senator Joseph McCarthy and more sober critics known as the China Lobby castigated diplomats and politicians from the Truman years for letting Mao Zedong's Communists grab the mainland. A dangerous and diplomatically sterile era followed.
Hundreds of millions of Chinese suffered and millions died during Mao's experiments in massive class warfare, personality cults, isolation, indoctrination, and nationwide barracks life. Americans suffered in the Korean and Vietnam wars, the first involving Chinese intervention, the second, fear of Maoism spreading throughout Southeast Asia.
Next, recall progress since Deng Xiaoping started capitalist reforms and opened China to trade and diplomatic engagement. The result: one of history's great turning points.
What's needed now is not US confrontation, but continued active engagement. That includes:
*A constructive, truth-speaking summit with China's leaders in Washington next month.
*Tough but helpful negotiation to bring China into the World Trade Organization.
*Regular, high-level US-China defense parleys to pursue steps to curb nuclear proliferation. Also, to prevent confrontations in the Taiwan Straits and over the disputed islands that could threaten world sea lanes.
*Further research and technology exchanges on curbing pollution by the world's biggest population, rapidly increasing its use of carbon fuels for transport, industry, and home power.
*Encouragement for China's responsible behavior in not devaluing its currency during Asia's financial crisis.
There is absolutely no need to "lose China" again. On the contrary, there is every reason for the US to keep dealing with China as it investigates leaks at home. To be in China is to understand it better. Not to be in is to fly blind in a crucial area of the world.