Clinton's China policy under fire
As president meets with Chinese premier today, critics say US needs toget tough.
Only nine months ago, President Clinton was in China lauding the "vision" and "competence" of Chinese leaders and exuding confidence in a "good positive partnership" with Beijing.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
China since then has dashed the president's high hopes on several fronts. Beijing has waged a harsh crackdown on dissidents. It has threatened Taiwan with a missile buildup. Ongoing Chinese espionage targeting US military secrets is compromising American security, officials say. And most recently, Beijing has attacked the US-led NATO airstrikes against Yugoslavia as a "barbarity."
As a result, Mr. Clinton greets Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji in Washington today amid wide-ranging criticism that his China policy - aimed at building a "constructive strategic partnership" with Beijing - is somewhat fawning and unrealistic. "[To] speak in overly flowery terms as though we were partners or allies is way out of bounds," says Richard Haass, director of foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution in Washington.
A new alternative
To be sure, opponents from both ends of the political spectrum have for years castigated the Clinton administration for laxity and appeasement towards Beijing's Communist regime. Yet now, a mainstream alternative to the Clinton policy is emerging in Congress and policymaking circles - one that argues that the US should continue to engage China, but on much tougher terms.
This approach to engagement asserts that the Clinton team has advanced diplomatic relations and large corporate interests in China at the expense of other core interests such as national security and human rights.
Supporters of tougher engagement include both Republicans and Democrats. "We need a constructive and continued dialogue," says Rep. Christopher Cox (R) of California, "but the terms of engagement are all-important. The Clinton policy is excessively China-centric."
Representative Cox chairs the House Select Committee investigating US security concerns with China. The committee is expected to release its declassified report outlining Chinese threats to US security as early as later this month.
Indeed, security and proliferation issues top the list of areas where critics say Washington needs to show greater vigilance toward Beijing. Chinese weapons proliferation in Asia and the Middle East "are areas where the administration policy gets an F," Cox says. Such concerns have been heightened by recent evidence that China has since the late 1980s stolen US nuclear weapons designs and used them to improve Chinese missiles. "The magnitude of the losses is unparalleled," says Cox.
"The criticism I have of the administration is not that the Chinese are spying on us, but that there is administration complicity," says Sen. Gordon Smith (R) of Oregon, who visited China earlier this month and met with Premier Zhu.
China's worsening human-rights situation, highlighted this year in a State Department report, has also fueled calls for a get-tough stance on China. Following the president's visit to China last summer, Chinese police have waged a major crackdown on members of the China Democratic Party, an incipient opposition group, sentencing them to long prison terms.