Bamboo diplomacy

"Bamboo diplomacy" Continued...

Issue: "Showing the alternative," April 21, 2001

Standing tall is important in the region. China is determined to replace the United States-both economically and militarily-as the force to contend with in East Asia. The standoff was meant as a preview of tensions to come if the Bush administration follows through with a plan to sell advanced destroyers to Taiwan. Prior to the mid-air collision, Mr. Bush was scheduled to approve this month the sale of the destroyers, capable of carrying Aegis radar systems. That equipment would substantially counter China's growing naval presence.

And while China was playing diplomatic hardball, important issues relating to its record on human rights were swept cleanly off the front pages. The United States this week is scheduled to introduce a resolution in Geneva at the annual UN Commission on Human Rights condemning China's record on conduct toward civilians. A U.S. delegate to the convention confirmed that the resolution had yet to pick up a single co-sponsor. Most states are loathe to take on China, anyway, but more reluctant with the high-stakes tussle over the EP-3E dominating the news. China is expected to go unchallenged, too, when it counters the resolution with a "no debate" resolution of its own, foreclosing all discussion of its record. Human-rights groups believe President Jiang Zemin pressed on with a visit to Latin America, in spite of his crisis with the United States, because he needed Latin American support to defeat the U.S. resolution in Geneva.

Those groups condemned Beijing's publication last week of a "white paper" showing progress on human rights. It highlighted improvements in the general standard of living and in "people's rights to subsistence" at a time when rural education and other programs in mainland China are collapsing. It emphasized a guarantee of political rights, despite recent arrests of Falun Gong members, the burning of Christian churches, and the arrest of two Chinese scholars, one a U.S. citizen and the other a legal U.S. resident. Beijing hopes to persuade other countries that it is changing, even as it holds Americans in violation of at least two signed treaties.

With the Navy's EP-3E crew safely homeward bound, the Bush administration adeptly weathered its first international storm. What remains to be seen is what may have been traded away for calmer seas: weapons sales to Taiwan, Beijing's bid for the 2008 Olympics, or the U.S. scholars who are still jailed in China. Members of Congress returning from an Easter recess that spanned the crisis will want answers. "We've only accomplished half our goal," said Pennsylvania Republican Joe Pitts. "China still has our plane, and holding it is an illegal act."

Other lawmakers threaten to revive debate on China's trade status. Even business die-hards acknowledge that Congress is likely to revisit trade as a result of the conflict. Congress last summer approved permanent normal trade relations with China, on the condition that it meet standards for entry into the World Trade Organization by June. It is questionable now whether it can meet those conditions.

Some conservatives, too, remain critical of the Bush administration's conciliatory approach to Beijing. They urged the president to recall the U.S. ambassador, speed up weapons sales to Taiwan, and restrict U.S.-China exchanges while China's military held the Navy flight crew. The most apparent punishment was an order by Secretary of State Colin Powell to his diplomatic corps, forbidding them to attend a party welcoming Yang Jiechi as the new Chinese ambassador to Washington.

All point to a president still very much under scrutiny. Can Mr. Bush live up to

his oft-repeated campaign pledge to "deal with China without ill will-but without illusions"?


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