Civil conversation in Beijing Lake mission: U.S. needs to control its relations with superpower.

July 12, 1996

THEY ARE two superpowers on the same planet. The U.S. and China have a mutual interest in managing their relationship in a manner not injurious to their own interests or to the world -- all the more so since they have so much to disagree about.

The visit of National Security Adviser Anthony Lake to Beijing has put the two governments in command of their relationship rather than allowing it to dictate to them. This is not alliance or historic friendship or ideological blinders. It is national interest and common sense.

The worst obstacle to cordiality has been Taiwan. Reportedly, the Lake trip built on previous understandings privately reached that China will not invade Taiwan and the United States will not recognize Taiwan as sovereign. Significantly, China renewed an overture to Taipei to resume dialogue -- which Beijing had broken off -- while Mr. Lake was in China.

China's bellicose territorial disputes with smaller neighbors over seabeds holding oil reserves is another potential threat to civil relations with the world community, though it does not yet loom so large. More damaging now is China's sale of nuclear technology and strategic delivery systems that threaten nuclear proliferation. Significant understanding in this area appears to have been made.

Trade-related disputes will recur, but these can be thrashed out on their merits as long as they are not confused with non-trade issues. As long as China remains Communist, as it will for at least some years, it will fail any American human rights test, as do several nations with which the U.S. maintains normal relations.

Looked at in the most cynical way, what the Lake mission sought was an assurance against unwelcome surprises for Mr. Clinton before the November election. The mutually enticing prospect of summit visits between Mr. Clinton and President Jiang Zemin is held out as a reward for the latter next year, if Mr. Clinton is still in office.

When the world's most populous country is the third-strongest nuclear power and the most rapidly developing large economy, relations with it are too important to be demagogued. The Lake mission responsibly subjects Sino-U.S. relations to close management that will not let quarrels take on their own momentum. It is about time.

Pub Date: 7/12/96

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