China Is Awakening Let the World Tremble

RICHARD REEVES

August 31, 1993|By RICHARD REEVES

NEW YORK — New York. -- The United States government did what it had to do in banning the sale and shipment of certain high-technology products to China last week. But it will do no good.

The Chinese have been selling missile technology to Pakistan in violation of international agreements and of United States law, which mandates American sanctions against countries buying and selling nuclear arms and delivery systems. For the United States government there was no way around enforcing the law this time -- though generally we prefer to let the Chinese go their own way.

The law, of course, is the height of righteous arrogance: the theory being we can have nuclear weapons but no one else can. But that arrogance has been developed into a matter of principle by such Western devices as the Missile Technology Control Regime.

We are also hypocrites in criticizing China's business with Pakistan when we ourselves looked the other way while Pakistan developed its nuclear capability. We pretended it was not happening because of the services being rendered by Pakistan in the delivery of American weapons and services to rebels fighting Soviet rule in Afghanistan.

But again, it does not matter. The Chinese will do anything they please with weapons or with students rebeling in Tiananmen Square. And I do mean the Chinese -- not people called Chinese ''communists.''

''When China awakens, the world will tremble,'' said Napoleon. China is awakening now. At the moment, its economic growth rate, as calculated by international monitors, is running at more than 13 percent.

That cannot be sustained indefinitely even in a world eagerly knocking on China's door to get a cheap and skilled labor force. There will be some downturns, to be sure, but it does seem that China is finally, as they say, ''coming on line'' -- as a vast labor pool and, soon, vast market of 1.2 billion people.

It seems no one can hold China back now, including its own government. The communists in Beijing are searching, clumsily, for some way to open up their country economically while keeping it closed politically.

It won't work, and we should tremble about the consequences, intended and unintended, of that particular communist folly. The country is in a new kind of civil war, between fighters for the political system and fighters for the new economic boom, all in conflict with each other for control of the nation.

Unless it is able to resort to great use of force, trying to forcibly close the country to the world again, the government in Beijing will fall in one way or another, decentralizing political power on a scale the world has rarely seen. The conflict -- and its outcome -- is dramatized by statistics on central government financing of Guangdong Province in southern China, just above Hong Kong. ZTC In 1980, the province received 80 percent of its budget from Beijing. That figure today is 2 percent.

To put in perspective China's importance to a free market world, Guangdong, the most Westernized, though not all that much, of the country's provinces, has 65 million people -- that's more than the population of France.

China, after absorbing Hong Kong in 1997, will be the big story of the first decades of the 21st century. We should tremble.

We should also figure out what we plan to do about that -- knowing that China will never follow our orders. Its history as the center of the world goes back too far to be changed by statements and sanctions from a building called the White House far away in a strange land called America. But we can change ourselves, beginning with trade policies designed to avoid the kind of U.S.-Japanese trade trouble and tensions we have experienced over these past 15 years.

Last year, the United States exported $7.3 billion in goods and services to China. In turn, China exported $25 billion in goods to the United States. We are once again on the wrong end of another Asian trade gap. It's a gap that increased by 20 percent last year and will keep increasing until it surpasses our trade imbalance with Japan.

Probably we will have to try to control our China trade in a way that we have not controlled trade with Japan -- that is, by establishing in advance guidelines on imports from China. Each year we would determine how great a negative gap we can sustain and make the Chinese themselves decide what they will export or not export, and whether to import more to keep the gap within United States-mandated limits.

They can do it their way. We can do it our way. The methods will be different because the peoples of the two countries are different.

''Nothing could be more fallacious than to judge China by any European standard,'' said Lord Macartney 200 years ago. In 1793 Macartney led a British trade mission to China and was thrown out of the country for refusing to bow before the emperor Qian-long, who said: ''We have no need of anyone. Go home! Take back your gifts.''

Richard Reeves is a syndicated columnist.

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