Two scorpions in a small bottle China trip: Clinton's mission is to seek accommodations from a potentially dangerous nation.

June 24, 1998

THE MOST important goal on President Clinton's state visit to China must be to rein in China's international conduct, particularly its hostility to Taiwan.

The March 1996 war games, in which Beijing rehearsed a missile attack and invasion while the U.S. Seventh Fleet interposed itself between mainland and island, was too dangerous to be repeated. With elections likely to give Taiwan a more independent posture than at present, the Sino-American agreement on peaceful resolution of Taiwan's relation to China must be reinforced.

The next most sensitive issues are China's relation to North Korea, which appears responsible, and its weapons technology exports to Pakistan and Iran, which do not. Pakistan's recent tests of nuclear explosions reflected years of Chinese assistance.

In this regard, U.S. military cooperation with China, inherited from the Reagan and Bush administrations, needs to be reviewed. Its origins lie in the Nixon administration's opening to China based on containing the Soviet Union. That rationale no longer applies.

China is the world's most populous country and dynamic economy. It is perhaps the only major power expanding rather than reducing its army. The U.S.-China "strategic partnership" of which the Clinton administration speaks is really the partnership of two scorpions in a bottle. Cooperation is in their mutual interest.

Getting China into the World Trade Organization is in the U.S. economic interest. But Charlene Barshevsky, U.S. trade representative, is not encountering sufficient Chinese willingness to open markets. These are difficult times for China, when the Asian economic disease may be infecting it.

All these concerns are reasons why candidate Bill Clinton's attacks on President Bush's China policy in the 1992 campaign were wrong, and why his visit to Beijing tomorrow is right. This trip is bad politics but effective foreign policy.

China's human rights record is deplorable. Its dynamic economic growth and new technology, however, have created freedoms and subversive thoughts on the prosperous South China coast that the Communist government cannot control.

There are compensations for being a lame duck president not facing re-election. This mission to advance U.S. national interests, seeking accords with an immense and potentially dangerous nation, is one of them.

Pub Date: 6/24/98

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