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By Zbigniew Brzezinski

Zbigniew Brzezinski was national security advisor to President Carter when normalization between the United States and China was formally concluded.

WASHINGTON -- It is quite evident that the U.S.-Chinese relationship is deteriorating. It is far less evident that it should be so. Unfortunately, both sides have contributed to this state of affairs, though in my judgment the Chinese side is more at fault. It also has more to lose.

On the American side, the last two or so years have seen a marked rise in anti-Chinese rhetoric. The left of the Democratic Party has focused on Chinese abuses of human rights while the right wing of the Republican Party has become more outspoken in labeling China as a likely threat. Moreover, the appearance of a healthy democracy in Taiwan has reduced some of the earlier Democratic antipathy toward that island's regime while stimulating an even stronger inclination among the Republicans to support Taiwan militarily.

As a result, the established argument for a cooperative -- indeed, once even a strategic -- relationship with China, initiated two decades ago in the face of a jointly perceived threat from the Soviet Union, has come under intensified fire. China has even been labeled as America's "strategic competitor'' despite the fact that, according to the recently published projections of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the country is not expected to become even "moderately developed'' until about the year 2050. Increasingly, the conventional wisdom on editorial pages and in congressional debates has taken the form of potentially self-fulfilling predictions that China, as a rising power, is destined to be America's next enemy.

However, the Chinese side has gone considerably further than the American in fostering an antagonistic climate in the bilateral relationship. The American debate has been exactly what the word "debate'' implies: a critical discussion conducted in open and free
media by participants who speak their minds and often disagree. Moreover, apart from
that public debate, the official U.S. position toward Beijing has been restrained, eschewing any comprehensive indictments of China. Also, as recently as last year, President Clinton reiterated in Shanghai U.S. respect for the one-China formula.

In contrast, over the last two or so years, the Chinese press controlled by the government, including the daily organ of the Communist Party, has been drumbeating the proposition that the United States has become a globally domineering hegemon,
aggressive and threatening to global stability. The organs of the People's Liberation Army have published various articles warning that America may be planning to repeat against China itself the "aggressive'' tactics that it employed in Kosovo. To make matters worse, top Chinese leaders, in their official joint statements with like-minded foreign leaders, have become outspoken in their condemnations of the allegedly American-sponsored "hegemonic'' character of the existing international system.

In brief, over the last several years, the Chinese government has fostered at home and in joint declarations with other countries a doctrine of antagonism toward the United States. Given that the appeal of communism is waning in China but that nationalism among the Chinese people is intensifying, there may be some element of domestic political opportunism in this officially sponsored anti-American campaign.

It was in this context that the recent air incident occurred. Influenced perhaps by their own propaganda and probably annoyed by the initial American public statement, made by a very senior military official, claiming that the U.S. aircraft enjoyed "sovereign immunity, ''followed by President Bush's public request that the aircraft and crew be promptly released, and with no word of sympathy over the loss of a Chinese life, the Chinese then
overplayed their hand.

Their 11-day-long detention of the U.S. crew, their insistence on a one-sided acknowledgment of American responsibility for the accident and especially their heavy-handed use of the American crew as a bargaining chip in order to exact some sort of an apology have had a most adverse impact on the American public's perception of China. It was the conduct of an unfriendly state. As a result, though the Bush administration kept its cool and ably negotiated an ambiguous expression of regret for the return of the U.S. personnel, there can be little doubt that Beijing's insistence on the two little words "very sorry'' will prove very expensive for China.

The belligerent Chinese conduct already made it easier for the U.S. administration to decide to put together a sizable defense package for Taiwan. It was also easier for President Bush in that context to bluntly state that the United States would step in to
defend Taiwan, if needed. It will become more difficult for the administration to push through Congress a renewal of the trade act, although in the end Congress will probably approve it. It is far less certain that the United States will support holding the Olympics of 2008 in Beijing, especially given growing American resentment also over the arrests on he mainland of some Chinese scholars, who are residents or even citizens of the United States.

The relationship may thus deteriorate further. This should be a source of concern for both sides. For America, antagonism with China poses the risk of greater instability in the Far East. It would be likely to polarize public opinion in Japan, pushing some toward
anti-American pacifism and some toward anti-Chinese militarism. It will make a peaceful resolution of the division of Korea much more difficult. At some point, it could even precipitate a military collision with China over Taiwan, although for at least a decade or so China will lack the means to undertake any effective assault on the island.

For China, the consequences would be graver still. Antagonism with America would be likely to prompt the emergence of an offshore de facto U.S.-Japan-Taiwan coalition. That would perpetuate indefinitely the separate status of Taiwan. A serious crisis with America would also have a most adverse long-term impact on the flow of foreign capital and technology to China, gravely impeding China's economic growth. China's ambitions to
become modern could thus be placed in jeopardy.

Both sides should, therefore, cool it and think about it. For America, a good relationship with China, even if no longer an anti-Moscow partnership, is needed for the sake of stability in the Far East. China is a major regional power, but it is neither a global one nor a serious military threat. In fact, despite having acquired a nuclear capability some 36 years ago, China has been remarkably restrained in the buildup of its ICBM forces, relying on a truly minimum deterrent of only a score or so of ICBMs. Engaging China
constructively and expanding the scope of social and economic contacts increase the probability that China will evolve in a positive direction.

For China, a good relationship with America is the key to a positive future. Without it, China will find it much more difficult to develop and modernize, and it will not be able to resolve the issue of Taiwan. The use of force, even if the Chinese continue to insist on
their theoretical right to it, is not a viable option. America will stand in the way. Unification can happen only when China can attract Taiwan. It will do so only when it is both prosperous and democratic. Hostility toward America will advance neither.

(c) 2001, Global Viewpoint. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate International, a division of Tribune Media Services.

For immediate release (Distributed 4/30/01)