To Asia, an inscrutable West

If only, to paraphrase the poet Robert Burns, we could see ourselves as others see us.

Over the years, an extraordinary amount of research and intelligence has been devoted to trying to understand the "Inscrutable East." Jim Hoagland writes in The Washington Post that American scholars are arrested in China because "espionage, not diplomacy" dominates US-Chinese relations. Veteran Korea-watcher Selig Harrison writes in The New York Times that, in its avowed fear that North Korea will develop long-range missiles, the Bush administration is painting North Korea into a corner.

We are aware of the deep suspicions with which some in the Bush administration regard the Asian communist states. Flipping the mirror, how do they see the American superpower?

Mr. Harrison, recently back from one of his frequent visits to Pyongyang, writes that North Korean officials believe some of Bush's more hawkish advisers are exaggerating North Korean missile capabilities in order to establish a rationale for US missile defense. Their suspicion is that, needing a rogue state, the Bush administration is acting to create one.

As to China and the "Inscrutable West," an interesting view is given by a government-controlled Beijing news magazine, the Global Times. It says Chinese optimists believe that the early Bush hard-line position will prove to be temporary, that relations tend to worsen for a time whenever a new president takes office. In the long run, it suggests that China and America will be able to continue developing a strategic relationship.

But the pessimists are described as believing that the hard positions represented by the bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, the collision with a surveillance plane, and the new round of American arms sales to Taiwan reflect an overall shift in America's strategy toward regarding China as a long-range competitor and arch- enemy.

This official analysis suggests that both theories carry weight in the Chinese regime. It describes the relationship as "multi-dimensional and complex," and concludes that China, needing a peaceful environment for its economic development, can choose to confront and cooperate at the same time, avoiding commitment to any strategic choice.

Nice to know that our partners and/or adversaries in Asia seem to be having as much trouble reading us as we have reading them.

Daniel Schorr is a senior news analyst for National Public Radio.

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