Clinton can't fool China

June 17, 1998|By Cal Thomas

CHINA'S Communist leaders have President Clinton just where they want him -- coming to Tiananmen Square in the anniversary month of the slaughter of pro-democracy demonstrators and believing that what he does will have a positive impact on China's actions.

Defending his decision to sign waivers so China could acquire U.S. missile technology, the president said he was just doing what presidents Reagan and Bush did. But during the 1992 campaign Mr. Clinton and then-Sen. Al Gore were harsh critics of President Bush, whom they accused of "coddling" the Chinese. On March 9, 1992, Mr. Clinton said: "I do not believe we should extend most-favored-nation status to China unless they make significant progress in human rights, arms proliferation and fair trade."

In all three areas, China's "progress" has been nonexistent. The head of a "planned birth" office in the Fujian province told a House hearing she ordered thousands of abortions and sterilizations on unwilling women, some nine months pregnant, even destroying the homes of women who refused to comply. Human rights in China are getting worse -- in part because of Mr. Clinton's failure to make them a chief concern due to his shameless pursuit of reelection money, much of it allegedly coming from Chinese and American sources determined to pursue business as usual with Beijing.

The U.S.-China trade imbalance continues to significantly favor China. President Clinton de-linked trade and human rights, even though he and Mr. Gore wrote in the 1992 book "Putting People First," "We should not reward China with improved trade status when it has continued to trade goods made by prison labor and has failed to make significant progress on human rights since the Tiananmen massacre."

Mr. Bush had defended the sale of missile technology to the Chinese because it produced $300 million in business for American firms. In 1992 Mr. Gore called that "another effort to curry favor with the hard-liners in Beijing."

Mr. Gore sponsored legislation to prohibit the launching of U.S.-manufactured satellites on Chinese rockets unless the president declares it to be in the national interest, which Mr. Bush had declared it was. Mr. Clinton's decision to do likewise fits the same pattern, but it also fits a familiar Clinton pattern of claiming the high ground of principle, only to allow its erosion by pragmatism in his pursuit of campaign funds.

China's sale of missile technology to Pakistan brought a mild slap on the Chinese wrist. As a result of this administration's unprincipled behavior, the Chinese regard Americans as paper tigers. Our Asian friends see us as increasingly untrustworthy.

The Chinese Communist government will be a growing problem for the United States in the new century. The president says he doesn't believe the dictators will turn away from economic growth and opportunity. How naive. It sounds like Jimmy Carter saying he couldn't believe that Leonid Brezhnev would lie to him and invade Afghanistan.

The president thinks he can fool China the same way he fools a majority of Americans. But the Chinese are tough cookies who have correctly read Bill Clinton's fortune. They have enough information about trade and trade-offs to cause him serious political damage. He will do what they expect him to do and no more.

Cal Thomas is a syndicated columnist.

Pub Date: 6/17/98

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