Larger World Role Forces China To Moderate Policies at Home


CHINA'S leaders, although condemned abroad, wield more influence in some areas of diplomacy than before their Army gunned down pro-democracy activists in 1989, foreign policy analysts say.

Since the end of the cold war, Beijing has gone on the diplomatic offensive and parlayed its primacy in Asia and veto power at the United Nations into a growing role in the world's new multipolar balance of power, according to diplomats and scholars.

China's potency abroad is rising even though it remains a second-tier power with a comparatively small economy, a stifling communist system, and a military that cannot reach far beyond its borders. Developed democracies now deem the support of China essential to arms control and stability in Cambodia, the Korean Peninsula, and other hot spots.

Beijing has desperately built up its global influence in response to its isolation after the Beijing massacre of 1989 and the downfall of the Soviet Communist Party last August. It also seeks to preempt the aggressive diplomacy of the rival Nationalist government in Taiwan, the scholars and diplomats say.

"Since Tiananmen, China has gone from being the pursued in international relations to being the pursuer," a Western diplomat says.

Yet as China carries more weight abroad, it increasingly will be influenced by foreign ideas and reliant on overseas markets, goods, and capital. Foreign ideas and economic interdependence will gradually help to compel China's hard-line leadership toward cooperative diplomacy and moderate politics at home, the scholars and diplomats say.

China is unwittingly accelerating its evolution toward political moderation by using its new diplomatic influence to achieve its primary aim of strengthening its economy. It is boosting trade and luring foreign investment and technology.

Already, nearly one-third of China's gross national product is linked to overseas trade, a level unthinkable just a few years ago.

Political forces are also taming Beijing's behavior overseas. In particular, China can no longer take advantage of a superpower rivalry by trafficking in weapons, ballistic missiles, and nuclear technology. Developed countries expect it to adopt standards in arms sales, trade, and human rights that are commensurate with its new diplomatic heft.

"China sees with growing horror an emerging international consensus on human rights, arms deals, and the parameters for economic and trade issues," another Western diplomat says.

China resists efforts by the West to "integrate it into the world community" and is a reluctant and sometimes hostile partner on global security issues. Beleaguered by the collapse of communism, China considers efforts by developed states to promote peace part of a conspiracy to coerce it toward capitalism and democracy.

China is using its leverage overseas to oppose the growing United States domination of world politics. Beijing worries that it will lose its diplomatic freedom and control over domestic affairs in a new world order orchestrated by the US.

"The major concern of China right now is that the United States is becoming the unipolar hegemon of the world," says David Shambaugh, a Sinologist at London University's school of African and Oriental studies.

Beijing is trying to counterbalance US influence in the Middle East and other regions and improve relations with Japan, Western Europe, and other longstanding US allies.

Premier Li Peng last year toured six Middle East countries and the prime ministers of Italy, Britain, and Japan visited Beijing. Tokyo was persuaded to restore credits and aid.

Premier Li also visited four countries in southern Europe this month in what Beijing calls a "breakthrough" in diplomacy with the West. The US, France, Germany, and other leading powers still keep Beijing at arm's length.

China is advancing its mission as the self-appointed champion of the third world by rallying developing nations against industrialized countries and building loose alliances in Asia that could rebuff US "hegemony."

In Asia, Beijing has normalized ties with Indonesia, Singapore, and Brunei, set up semi-official contacts with South Korea, and improved relations with India, Vietnam, Pakistan, Iran, Malaysia, Thailand, and Sri Lanka. It has also won observer status with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

In the clearest sign of hard-nosed pragmatism, China has extended a hand to two countries that for decades were its favorite targets for invective. It normalized relations with Israel last month and has publicly confirmed growing contacts with South Africa.

Finally, China is denouncing big powers that "bully" weak countries as part of its longstanding strategy to lead developing nations at the UN.

Foreign Minister Qian Qichen says China will use its veto power as one of five permanent members on the Security Council to defend third world countries, according to the Central People's Broadcasting Station.

China has difficulty, however, reconciling the responsibilities demanded by major-power status with its old Maoist commitment to developing countries, diplomats say.

In UN politics over Cambodia, the Gulf War, and efforts to compel Libya to hand over suspects in the Lockerbie bombing, China has been torn between its duty to punish lawlessness and its overarching adherence to the principle of sovereignty for third world countries.

China shows an intense devotion to the concept of sovereignty when defending its own interests. While deepening its involvement in diplomacy and world trade, China unrealistically aims to keep out the sweeping influence of liberal and free-market ideas.

"The world view of China's leadership is out of sync with reality," says Dr. Shambaugh. "There is an extreme disjuncture between the Chinese elite that clings to the idea of state sovereignty and anti-hegemonism and the simple fact of life today that money, trade, missiles, and human rights transcend national borders.

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