New life in the old adversaries

February 12, 1996|By Jeane Kirkpatrick

WASHINGTON -- Rather suddenly the prospects for global peace and freedom, economic growth and prosperity look less promising, and the world is once again beginning to appear a more dangerous place.

The two totalitarian giants, which seemed near death, are showing new signs of life and fight.

Both Russia and China were transformed when new leaders adopted new, more liberal, ''open'' policies. Deng Xiao Peng ''opened'' China -- sending Chinese students abroad, admitting foreign businessmen and introducing elements of a market economy -- private plots for peasants, differential rewards, foreign investment. The result of this ''opening'' was unprecedented trade, growth and prosperity.

Mikhail Gorbachev went further -- permitting open borders and open investigation, a free press and free elections. Boris Yeltsin continued and expanded his policies. The dramatic liberalization in both countries resulted from a significant change in the goals and characters of leaders. Now another change in China and Russia is under way in the leadership of each country, and once again new leaders foreshadow new policies.

Going back?

Communist and nationalist candidates led the pack in Russia's parliamentary elections last December. Now they are leading the opinion polls for the spring presidential elections. The very possibility that Russians might choose a communist president to govern the country along with a communist parliament raises serious questions about the future of Russian democracy, the Russian economy and Russia's relations with the world.

Would a communist government continue the privatization of the economy? They are already attempting to curtail it. Would it continue cooperation with the United States on nuclear matters? Would a communist government respect minority rights and submit itself to be judged by the electorate in the next elections? A Russia governed by a communist majority and equipped with all the nuclear weapons of the previous regime might well turn out to be as aggressive and expansionist and dangerous as the original communist model.

The consequences of the change can already be perceived in Mr. Yeltsin's recent appointments which brought to the cabinet a foreign minister with aggressive associates and habits and a defense minister hostile to the expansion of NATO. Their goals and styles resemble Bolsheviks of a past era. The assistance and restraint of the Clinton administration have had little visible effect.

The trend is still worse in China, where the liberalizing Mr. Deng has passed from power. There, the Clinton administration has worked extremely hard to cultivate good relations and to promote its policies in ways that will be unoffensive to the Chinese government -- in spite of China's continuing military buildup and its increasingly assertive behavior -- in the South China Sea and toward Taiwan.

Pursuing a policy of ''comprehensive engagement,'' the Clinton administration has de-linked human rights and trade; declining to take U.S. human-rights standards into account in formulating trade accords; declining even to take U.S. trade policy into account in making trade agreements with China.

China's deteriorating policy has created new problems for which the Clinton administration has been ill-suited.

When the Chinese have systematically and flagrantly violated U.S. copyright and patent laws, the Clinton administration does nothing. When China promises not to transfer sensitive technology and transfers it, the Clinton administration takes no action. When China transfers advanced M-11 missiles to Pakistan, in violation of U.S. policy, or advanced cruise missiles to Iran, the Clinton administration turns a blind eye. When China sells nuclear-weapons-related equipment to Pakistan, the administration decides that making an issue of it might make matters worse.

China's ''face''

But despite the Clinton team's expectations to the contrary, ''comprehensive engagement'' has led to no improvement in China's human-rights practices. Neither has U.S. cooperation in China's military buildup rendered China less interested in further militarization, nor has U.S. respect for China's ''face'' in these matters produced greater Chinese respect for U.S. standards on matters about which Americans care most.

China's militarization continues. Its disregard for U.S. law continues and its threats against Taiwan have escalated -- outrageously. Only last week, Premier Li Peng underscored the matter, noting, ''In the final analysis we cannot promise to give up the use of force.'' The Chinese leaders in charge today have violated American face -- by suggesting we may not even decide to whom we will give a visa.

So far the Clinton administration has met China's provocations with soft talk and no action. Presumably they have not taken China's threats seriously. They should. It is unthinkable that the U.S. government should tolerate an attack on Taiwan.

It would be prudent for our government to make this clear to those making China's aggressive new policies.

Jeane Kirkpatrick is a syndicated columnist.

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