Benefits of a Murky Foreign Policy

The Dec. 11 [World Edition Dec. 13-19] article, "World Waits for Clinton's 'Clarity of Purpose,' " echoes many past pleas that US presidents proclaim specific "strategic plans," and "long-range programs." In most cases this is an impossible task.

If the president's words are general, no one knows exactly what the US will do in a specific situation, so such words are of little help to anyone. Some years ago, Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger proposed a set of constraints against the US engaging in war, including not being the aggressor and acting only when vital US interests were involved. But when a nation is an aggressor and what constitutes our vital interests were left undefined, so his rules were of little use.

At the other extreme, if precisely defined foreign objectives are enunciated, these then give would-be aggressors such as Saddam Hussein or Muammar Qaddafi a blueprint for how they can freely nibble around the edges and in time cause serious erosion of the US position. Many feel that Secretary of State Dean Acheson's specific exclusion of South Korea from the US area of national interests spurred North Korea to attack and led to the disastrous Korean War.

You have to be willing to feint and bluff, but place your bets when severely threatened. Any player who announces ahead of time how he will respond to various types of hands will surely lose out in the long run. Even if a president does have a highly detailed foreign policy plan, he may be prudent not to announce it, and he will surely have to judge each situation on its own merits.

David Herron

Atherton, Calif.

China friendlier, but not its people

The Nov. 22 article, "The US and China: A New Consensus," outlined several important issues in the Sino-US relationship. Yet, one point has been totally ignored: What the United States is facing today is not an unfriendly Chinese regime but an increasingly unfriendly Chinese population.

Since President Nixon's historic visit to China nearly a quarter century ago, China has a policy of supporting Sino-US friendship, despite events like Tiananmen Square and missile launches near Taiwan. A good relationship with the US is important, partly due to trade. Yet, the whole population has become increasingly unfriendly toward the US, especially in the '90s. Two surveys of 150,000 young Chinese published in 1994 and 1995 listed the US as the most unfriendly and least favorable country. Also, "China Can Say No," a recent bestseller in China, demonstrates tremendous anti-America sentiment among Chinese intellectuals.

My personal life is also illuminating. My father is a 70-year-old retired bank executive living a good middle-class life in China. In the past 14 months, he has been repeatedly denied a tourist visa to come here. Five US senators including Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms contacted Joseph Borich, American consul general in Shanghai. Amazingly, Mr. Borich wrongly said my father lives in poor housing with inferior health care in a remote town. More amazingly, Richard Adams, Shanghai consular section chief, informed me that the visa was denied because Chinese people are too poor. Chinese-Americans might recall that in the late 19th century US consular officials in China essentially barred Chinese railroad workers' relatives from visiting the US. Today, a Chinese grandfather still cannot visit his loved ones here.

This is not an isolated incident. Recently, many Chinese students and scholars have complained that their families were denied family visits by US consular officials in China. This is a de facto continuation of the practice under the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.

I wonder how incidents like my father's, if publicized in China, could create a favorable image of the US. Foreign affairs are people's affairs. Though I disagree with most views in "China Can Say No," it would be beneficial for our foreign policymakers to read it.

Charles Bu

Wellesley, Mass.

Wellesley College

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