Duplantier reporting Behind The Headlines

Week of:
May 20, 2001
U.S. Can Use Its "Leverage" with China


by: F.R. Duplantier

"It is absolutely vital for American credibility that the Chinese understand that their actions have consequences, and that we mean what we say."

"American elites increasingly share the view that their country's future is tied to Asian fortunes," declares Kurt Campbell of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "American financial and trade statistics have long reflected the importance of Asia," he affirms, "but now U.S. military attention to the Asian theater is catching up. The last several years have seen renewed American efforts to revitalize bilateral security ties with Japan, South Korea, Australia, Thailand, and the Philippines. At the same time, however, forward deployment of U.S. forces is attracting opposition in Japan and South Korea."

According to Campbell, in a presentation made to the Foreign Policy Research Institute, "Most of Asia has long desired a more attentive and engaged partner in Washington. Now, ironically, the worry in Asian capitals," he points out, "is that the United States is preoccupied with China and may be veering toward confrontation. Taiwan, it is feared, could be the catalyst for serious conflict. Asians seek to avoid a major crisis," Campbell confides, "but at the same time do not want to see the United States forced to back down. While there is always hope of diplomatic progress between Taipei and Beijing," he asserts, "uncertainty about cross-strait security grows along with missile buildups, military exercises, and the introduction of new military technologies."

June Teufel Dreyer of the Foreign Policy Research Institute advises the Bush Administration not to assume "that China will necessarily evolve into a democracy. The transition away from a socialist economy," she emphasizes, "does not automatically result in pluralist democracy." Dreyer describes China's current economic and political status as "a kind of state capitalism under which entrepreneurs understand that they have to toe the party line in order to stay in business. While this could transition into pluralist decision-making," she concedes, "it would be unwise to assume that it will."

Dreyer cautions the Bush Administration against the assumption that "a democracy will necessarily be easier to deal with than the current autocracy. One of the few emotions that the current mainland government has been able to tap to shore up its legitimacy is nationalism," she notes. "The current government is able to restrain these nationalist passions as it deems advisable for diplomatic purposes. A popularly elected democratic government might find it impossible to do so."

Dreyer stresses the importance of being able and ready to quote China's words "back to China where relevant. Remonstrations to Beijing about its human rights abuses are invariably refuted with arguments that the People's Republic is a sovereign state, and as such can do what it wishes," she remarks. "Washington needs to remind Beijing that the United States is also a sovereign state. As such, it can invite, or allow to travel at will, anyone from anywhere who comes in peace and is willing to abide by its laws." While recognizing "limits on America's ability to change China," Dreyer insists that "Washington does, however, have some leverage."