AVOIDING A NEW COLD WAR BETWEEN UNITED STATES AND CHINA
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
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
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
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)