China Emerges From Isolation

`ONCE we have stabilized the political situation and have the economy going again, the foreigners will again come knocking on our door.'' So said Deng Xiaoping at a conclave of leaders on June 9, 1989, which acclaimed the massacre of liberal protesters five days earlier in Tiananmen Square. Less than two years after Mr. Deng, China's paramount leader, ordered an Army assault on Beijing, foreign envoys have indeed come calling.

Britain, Japan, and the Soviet Union this month dispatched their foreign ministers to Beijing, and Australia and France plan to do so in the coming weeks. Three ranking US officials have come to the capital since December.

British Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd leaves China today after attempting to dispel the lame-duck image of the Hong Kong government. He has sought assurances from Beijing that it will not meddle in the administration of the colony before it regains sovereignty in 1997.

Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Nakayama left Beijing yesterday after attempting to influence China's support of rebels in Cambodia's civil war, an issue Tokyo has seized on to bolster its prestige in the region.

The visits mark the end to a ban on high-level meetings, the most prominent of the remaining sanctions that the West imposed after the crackdown. Only a limit on the sale of weaponry and related technology is still in force.

Meanwhile, China continues to flout the human rights standards that the West used to justify the diplomatic freeze, say diplomats, foreign policy experts, and human rights organizations.

In fact, official press reports indicate that China's leaders have reinforced its repressive security apparatus.

"Eighteen months ago one would not have guessed that they could have done as well [diplomatically] as they have done," says Michel Oksenberg, professor of political science at the University of Michigan.

Damage control

The foreign policy success of China has primarily been in damage control. It still has far to go in restoring its global influence and esteem to the level it enjoyed before the carnage in Tiananmen Square, according to the diplomats and experts.

Also, China has failed to shape a coherent foreign policy for a rapidly shifting world order in which communism is in retreat and the lone superpower is a capitalistic democracy, they say.

"They have repaired some of the damage" since the Tiananmen crackdown, says Dr. Oksenberg, who served on the National Security Council under the Carter administration. "But they haven't done what really needs to be done and that's build a framework for a foreign policy commensurate with China's needs and capabilities in the 21st century."

China has regained some of its standing in part by relying on its limited influence on some regional issues to lure the attention of foreign envoys, say the diplomats and foreign policy experts.

First, Beijing has masked its human rights abuses with propaganda and secrecy, following the slogan nei jin, wai song, or "loose on the outside, tight within."

While quietly locking up at least 1,000 liberal activists, the leadership has widely publicized comparatively light jail terms for leaders of the pro-democracy movement. Chinese government figures alone indicate that more than 355 dissidents are held without trial in Beijing, according to a report released in February.

Also, Beijing has subordinated doctrinaire Marxism to raw national interest in pragmatic dealings with other countries.

For example, Beijing has improved relations with Moscow, although in internal documents it condemns Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev as a traitor to communism. Similarly, Beijing has called for better relations with Washington while castigating it for allegedly trying to supplant communism and install democracy and capitalism in China.

Moreover, China has exploited its role as a "swing factor" in the Gulf and Cambodia.

Political leverage

Western diplomats heavily lobbied Beijing for support in punishing Iraq and leashing the Khmer Rouge rebels in Cambodia. China's diplomats used that courting as leverage for heaving Beijing out of isolation.

The recent visits by foreign ministers and high level US officials have underscored that powerful countries cannot ignore China without neglecting some crucial concerns.

US officials have met with their Chinese counterparts over such key matters as trade, missile proliferation, and Cambodia, as well as human rights.

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