America's Response to China

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  • Edition: 5th
  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2010-04-30
  • Publisher: Columbia Univ Pr

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America's Response to Chinahas long been the standard resource for a succinct, historically grounded assessment of an increasingly complicated relationship. Written by one of America's leading diplomatic historians, this book analyzes the concerns and conceptions that have shaped U.S.-China policy over time and examines their far-reaching outcomes. Warren I. Cohen begins with the mercantile interests of the newly independent American colonies and discusses subsequent events up to the Tiananmen Square Massacre and the policies of George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton. For this fifth edition, Cohen adds a chapter on America in the age of potential Chinese ascendance, envisioning future partnerships between these two powers and the shrinking global consequence of the United States. Trenchant and insightful, America's Response to Chinais critically important for navigating U.S.-China relations in the twenty-first century.

Author Biography

Warren I. Cohen is the Distinguished University Professor Emeritus in the Department of History at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Table of Contents

Preface to the Fifth Editionp. ix
Preface to the Fourth Editionp. xi
Preface to the Third Editionp. xiii
Preface to the Second Editionp. xv
Preface to the First Editionp. xvii
Acknowledgments to the Fifth Editionp. xix
Romanization Tablep. xxi
Prologue: The Barbarians and the Tribute Systemp. 1
The Development of the Treaty Systemp. 8
The United States as a Power in East Asiap. 29
In the Light of the Rising Sunp. 60
The Response to Chinese Nationalismp. 89
China as an Abstraction-The Conflict with Japanp. 115
Communism in Chinap. 148
The Great Aberrationp. 195
Rapprochement-At Lastp. 215
In the Shadow of Tiananmenp. 232
America in the Age of Chinese Powerp. 263
Notesp. 293
Bibliographical Essayp. 299
Indexp. 311
Table of Contents provided by Ingram. All Rights Reserved.


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Excerpt fromChapter 10: America in the Age of Chinese Power

For Americans, however, September 11, when Osama bin Laden's minions destroyed the World Trade Center in New York, was the most unforgettable day of that summer. Jiang Zemin was among the first world leaders to offer condolences and his country's support in what would become the "war on terrorism." In October, Jiang and Bush met at an APEC (Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation) meeting where Jiang expressed approval of the American attacks on the Taliban and bin Laden in Afghanistan. He also persuaded Bush that Chinese suppression of Muslim/Uigher separatism in Xinjiang was part of the campaign against terrorism, winning Washington's endorsement of China's dubious contention.

In the years that followed, both countries were pleased with the relationship despite the festering Taiwan issue and China's appalling record on human rights, as well as its obstruction of international efforts to stop genocide in Darfur and Iran's effort to obtain nuclear weapons, and its support of brutal regimes such as those of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe and the junta in Burma. China bought Boeing jets, and the United States facilitated China's entry into the WTO in December 2001. Bush also signed a proclamation promising the PRC permanent "normal" (formerly "most-favored-nation") trading status -- although the U.S. trade representative warned that he did not expect China to honor all the commitments it made to gain entry into the WTO.

In February 2002, thirty years after Richard Nixon's celebrated trip to China, George W. Bush flew to Beijing where he and Jiang pledged long-term cooperation against terrorism and muted their differences. A few months later, Jiang's heir apparent, Hu Jintao, was invited to meet Bush in the Oval Office and given opportunities to introduce himself to the American people. And in October Jiang was invited to the president's ranch in Crawford, Texas -- another indication of the improved tone of the relationship.

But in Taiwan Chen Shui-bian, encouraged by sympathetic figures within the Bush administration, goaded Beijing bit by bit. At the beginning of the year he announced that the name "Taiwan" would be added to the passports of his constituents, heretofore citizens of the Republic of China (ROC). Unsurprisingly, spokesmen for the People's Republic complained that he was moving stealthily toward independence. Chinese leaders were well aware of the "secret" meetings held in Monterey, California, between representatives of Taiwan and the U.S. Department of Defense to discuss Taiwan's defense needs but found a publicized meeting between Taiwan's defense minister and Paul Wolfowitz, the American deputy secretary of defense, intolerable. They canceled planned exchange visits between vessels of the U.S. Navy and the Chinese navy -- and denied an American warship an anticipated visit to Hong Kong.

In August 2002 President Chen declared the existence of "one country on each side of the Strait," angering Beijing once more and worrying those Americans eager to avoid tension in the region. Taiwan's premier was invited to the United States, apparently another step toward treating the Taiwan government with more respect but also an opportunity to explain the need to rein in his president. After the Jiang visit to Crawford, Chinese concerns seem to have been alleviated. High-level talks between the Chinese and American military resumed, as did port calls by U.S. ships into Hong Kong and Qingdao. The PRC "White Paper" of 2002 contained a softer tone on Taiwan. Chinese analysts continued to warn Americans about the danger in the Strait, but their American counterparts were persuaded that the People's Republic was too busy on other fronts to be bothered by Taiwan and was showing greater flexibility on the issue.

What Bush did not tell Jiang—or for that matter his own secretary of state—was that he had decided to invade Iraq and overthrow its brutal dictator, Saddam Hussein. Nonetheless, Chinese leaders chose to put the maintenance of good relations with the United States ahead of their discomfort with American belligerence. China supported the UN Security Council demand that Iraq comply with all disarmament requests and, unlike France and Russia, did not play a prominent role in opposing the resolution to authorize the use of force. Whereas the French and Russians declared their intention to veto the resolution should it be brought to a vote, the Chinese did not. American analysts concluded the Chinese were likely to abstain.

The People's Republic was adamantly opposed to the Bush administration's penchant for "regime change," but in the case of Iraq its leaders determined that its interests there were not sufficiently important to jeopardize improved relations with the United States. They had reason to believe the Bush administration would demonstrate its gratitude -- and they were right. The Americans invaded Iraq in March 2003, and in April the United States announced that for the first time since 1989 it would not sponsor a resolution in the United Nations Human Rights Commission condemning China for its human rights abuses. During that year, the relationship continued to warm. Occasionally Congress or a mid-level Washington official would go "off message" and criticize China's human rights record or its currency manipulation, but the signs of cooperation were much more pronounced.

In April the United States announced that Chinese assistance in drug enforcement had helped break a heroin-smuggling operation. In August the United States deferred to Chinese leadership in the six-power talks on North Korea's nuclear weapons program. A few months later Bush met with Hu Jintao, Jiang's successor, in Bangkok at an APEC meeting and again in Beijing. Hu's charm offensive stressed his government's focus on economic growth and regional cooperation, and Chinese analysts were notably optimistic about the future of the relationship. China's new defense minister flew to Washington to meet with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and National Security Adviser Condolezza Rice, and shortly afterward the Chinese navy sent ships to visit the American base on Guam. Hu threw the United States another bone, deporting a Chinese American convicted of obtaining state secrets, a man whose congressional friends put him high on the American priority list.

The greatest reward—an almost unthinkable reward—symbolizing the extent to which relations between Beijing and Washington had improved over the past three years came in December when Premier Wen Jiabao visited the United States. Taiwan's president, Chen Shui-bian, had irritated President Bush. In his campaign for reelection he had used language designed to intensify Taiwanese national consciousness. Bush had sent a special envoy with a letter requesting Chen to back off, to stop provoking China with rhetoric and actions that implied he intended to declare independence from China. Chen ignored Bush, outraging a president accustomed to having his way. With Wen Jiabao standing beside him in the Oval Office, Bush publicly rebuked Chen. No Chinese leader could have imagined a better Christmas present. Analysts in Taiwan were badly shaken, fearing abandonment by the United States once more, as Washington chose to strengthen its ties to Beijing.

In March 2004, however, despite a disputed vote count, Chen Shui-bian was reelected president of Taiwan, and the anxieties of Chinese leaders soared. No government on the mainland could risk the internal consequences of inaction in the face of a move toward independence by Chen. With the disappearance of ideological bonds as "socialism with Chinese characteristics" came to look a lot like capitalism, and communism as Mao had imagined it had been all but forgotten, nationalism provided the glue that held the Chinese nation together -- and reunification with Taiwan was its indispensable goal.

Bush's remonstrations with Chen notwithstanding, the Chinese, especially the military, blamed American arms sales to Taiwan and its talk about defending the island for Chen's continued intransigence and the unwillingness of the Taiwanese to accept unification. Beijing showed its displeasure by criticizing the occupation of Iraq by the Americans and by playing a less helpful role in the efforts to halt North Korea's nuclear program. The Chinese were further irritated by Washington's efforts to have Taiwan granted observer status at the World Health Assembly. In July Condolezza Rice traveled to Beijing in an unsuccessful effort to assuage Chinese concerns. Her Chinese interlocutors demanded an end to or a substantial diminishing of arms sales and a more effective effort by the United States to contain Chen. She demurred, and neither side was satisfied. Chinese forces in Fujian, across the Strait from Taiwan, were increased.

Friction over Taiwan intensified throughout the autumn. Colin Powell flew to Beijing in October and heard Chinese leaders insist that the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979, guaranteeing Taiwan the assistance it would need to defend itself, violated American commitments to China: as always they claimed that the "three communiqués" of 1972, 1978, and 1982 constituted American promises to gradually reduce arms sales to Taiwan. Powell rejected the Chinese argument, seeking to pacify his hosts by declaring that Taiwan was not an independent country and that eventual unification was the outcome everyone sought. He also might have called attention to the fact that the Taiwan legislature had yet to approve the purchase of the arms offered by the United States in 2001. The Chinese were not mollified, and their military buildup continued. In November Qian Qichen, writing in the English-language China Daily , was harshly critical of the Bush administration's foreign policy. In December—in a further effort to pacify China and warn Chen Shui-bian -- Armitage, speaking on PBS, declared categorically that the United States was not required to defend Taiwan. Ingenuously, he reminded his audience that the Constitution gave Congress the right to decide when the country went to war. Once again he pronounced the official mantra: all agree there is only one China and Taiwan is part of it.

Both the Chinese and American governments wanted to focus on economic issues, but Chen's provocative rhetoric and the belligerent posture of the PLA kept the embers burning uncomfortably close to the Taiwan powder keg. If the PLA attacked across the Strait, would the United States come to Taiwan's defense? For years American policy had stressed "strategic ambiguity," trying to keep both Beijing and Taipei guessing as to what the American response would be. If it was clear that the United States would defend Taiwan, American leaders feared that Chen or others on the island would behave dangerously -- perhaps declare independence -- sparking an attack from the mainland. On the other hand, if it seemed certain the United States would not defend Taiwan, then most analysts assumed nothing would restrain the PLA. The most important point, inescapable to the national security elite in both Beijing and Washington, was that the Taiwan Strait was the most dangerous place in the world -- the only spot on the globe where two great nuclear powers might stumble into war.

Chen was relatively quiet in the early months of 2005, but distrust of him and his intentions ran deep in China. In January there were indications that the National People's Congress (NPC) was drafting an "anti-secession law" intended to legitimize military action should Taiwan declare independence. The Chinese were not deterred by American complaints, and they were angered by the announcement that a new Japanese-American security cooperation agreement included a region of which Taiwan was a part. Moreover, Tokyo and Washington issued a joint statement calling for the peaceful resolution of the Strait issue, a further annoyance to Beijing. In March the NPC passed the anti-secession law, and the Chinese government warned Japan and the United States not to meddle in its management of the Taiwan issue, insisting as always that it was a domestic matter -- since Taiwan was part of China.

Only a year or so earlier, analysts in the United States had argued that Chinese-American relations were the best they had ever been, but none of the persistent issues—Taiwan, human rights, and, increasingly, economic concerns—had been resolved. By 2005 the post 9/11 honeymoon seemed to be over. In April, Rice, now secretary of state, returned to Beijing, went to church, criticized the anti-secession law, and called upon her hosts to show more respect for human rights and especially freedom of religion. She offered none of the conciliatory words with which Powell had tried to comfort Chinese leaders. The possibility of a confrontation over Taiwan seemed to be growing. And in July a PLA general serving as a dean at China's National Defense University warned that China would respond with nuclear weapons if the United States targeted the mainland in the event of a conflict in the Strait.

Nor did other aspects of the relationship provide much with which to balance the stress caused by differences over Taiwan. In 2004 the U.S. Department of State accused China of regressing in the area of human rights, and the Chinese countered with their negative assessment of the state of human rights in America. The two nations repeated the charade in 2005. At the WTO, the United States filed a case against the People's Republic, and the U.S. Department of Commerce retained "nonmarket" status for China, denying the Chinese trade concessions. By 2005 Congress, noting the enormous deficit in American trade with China, was pressing the Bush administration to demand that Beijing revalue its currency, which was widely perceived as undervalued in relation to the dollar. A cheaper yuan facilitated Chinese exports to the United States, and an overvalued dollar hampered American exports to China. The constant struggle over China's violation of intellectual property rights -- its pirating of CDs, DVDs, computer software, and a host of other items -- intensified, as did the perennial quarrel over Chinese textile exports to the United States. A relatively new concern centered around efforts by Chinese corporations with links to the Chinese government to buy major American corporations. The purchase of IBM's personal computer unit by Lenovo was approved by the United States, but when the state-owned China National Offshore Oil Company attempted to buy UNOCOL, a medium-size American oil company, panic over competition for control of energy resources prevented approval of the deal.

The drift toward confrontation slowed late in 2005. Leaders in Beijing and Washington wanted desperately to find a continued basis for a good working relationship despite their sharp differences. Late in September, Robert Zoellick, then deputy secretary of state, called for China to become a "responsible stakeholder" in the international system. It was a role Chinese analysts believed their country was ready to play. It was indeed time for China to stop reveling in victimhood, to move beyond whining about the "century of humiliation" at the hands of the imperialists, and accept the responsibilities that came with great power status. The earlier arguments of Jiang Zemin and his advisers, insisting that good relations with the United States were essential to China's continued economic growth, still had merit. Oozing reassurances, Bush and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld visited China in November, and before the month was over an agreement was reached to avoid a textile war.

The perspectives of the national security elites in both capitals remained different, however. The Pentagon's Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), while parroting the call for the PRC to become a responsible stakeholder, reasserted the doctrine of preemptive strikes: the United States would not wait to be attacked before taking offensive action against perceived threats. The QDR, combined with the director of national intelligence's annual threat-assessment testimony calling attention to China's rapidly rising power and expanding global reach and labeling China a potential "peer competitor" set off alarms in Beijing.

China's interest in being perceived as having a responsible foreign policy did not extend to assisting Western efforts to contain Iran's nuclear ambitions. In 2005--2006, Iran provided China with an estimated 12 percent of its oil imports. Zoellick flew to Beijing in January 2006 to urge Beijing to support a British, French, and German proposal for sanctions against Tehran. He failed. He fared no better when he pressed them the government on economic issues, which were causing increasing trouble in American domestic politics. The administration feared Congress would pass a trade-sanctions bill against China, but Chinese negotiators were unyielding. A revaluation of the yuan was not in China's interest, and Chinese leaders rightly argued that the economic problems the United States was confronting were the result of Washington's policies, not their own. And they counted on their friends in the American business community to come to their aid. On cue, the U.S.-China Business Council insisted, justly, that the ballooning trade deficit with China reflected a narrowing deficit with other countries that were moving their manufacturing operations to China—where labor was cheap and docile.

Predictably, Chen Shui-bian stoked the flames once more by calling for the abolition of the National Unification Council, a Taiwan organization that worked, however perfunctorily, on the issues that would have to be resolved before "Island China" could be unified with the mainland. Equally as predictably, Beijing denounced the proposed action as an unacceptable step toward independence, and Washington offered its ritual reaffirmation of its one-China policy. The Chinese foreign minister urged the United States to restrain Chen, and the Americans were able to limit Chen to an announcement that the National Unification Council would cease to function. Proudly, the Bush administration's senior China analyst noted that Chen had not abolished the Council -- and claimed credit for the difference. But anger at Chen was close to the boiling point in Washington. Ted Galen Carpenter, a prominent public intellectual with the libertarian Cato Institute, published a book, America ' s Coming War with China , expressing fear that Taiwan would suck the United States into a war in the Strait. He urged disengagement from Taiwan and elimination of any official policy on the unification issue -- although he had no objection to arms sales to the island.

The Taiwan issue continued to fester while Chen remained in office—and his term would not expire until 2008. Analysts in Beijing were convinced he would take some major step toward independence before he left the presidency. Washington was equally apprehensive and trying frantically to prevent any action that would provoke a military response from the mainland -- and bring about Carpenter's nightmarish scenario.

In April 2006 Hu Jintao flew to Washington and met with Bush. The talks solved nothing but proved useful in assuring each leader of the other's good intentions. Both men understood the extent to which their countries economies were intertwined and the enormous value, strategically as well as economically, of maintaining good relations. Hu intended to maintain Jiang Zemin's grand strategy, and Bush and his advisers, like the Reagan and Clinton teams before them, had learned the importance of gaining some level of cooperation from China. The United States had too many concerns around the globe that could easily be aggravated if China perceived the Americans as hostile -- and many international problems could no longer be resolved without help from Beijing. Differences over Taiwan, China's appalling record on human rights, currency valuations, trade barriers, and the like had to be subordinated to the joint management of threats from terrorism and nuclear proliferation. The "lesser" issues would be raised and contended over, but their resolution would be postponed indefinitely. Both in China and in the United States analysts in think tanks wrote about maturing Chinese-American relations. They wrote of a major change in the Chinese worldview and of a greater emphasis on international accommodation. Certainly the Bush administration had come a long way from where it had started in 2001. In December 2006 Bush declared the relationship the "best ever."

Although Congress remained unhappy about currency manipulation after Hu's visit to Washington, China gave way on other economic issues by allowing greater access to its domestic market and stiffening its effort to stop violations of intellectual property rights. The U.S. military and the PLA increased their contacts, and Beijing was noticeably more cooperative with American efforts to deal with the Iranian and especially the North Korean nuclear problems. The PLA also attempted strenuously to assuage American fears about its military modernization, insisting it would take at least twenty years to catch up with American military power -- and more likely one hundred.

Before the year was out the Chinese and American navies held their first joint exercises. The two governments worked together on port security and on the policing of fishing in the North Pacific. Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson led a large delegation of cabinet-level economic policy makers to Beijing for what would become a formal twice yearly "strategic dialogue." The United States was making a grand effort to engage China, to edge China closer to the role of responsible stakeholder in the international system.

In the United States celebrities, like the actors Mia Farrow and Richard Gere, and nongovernmental organizations, such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, remained profoundly troubled by China's performance at home and abroad. China's mistreatment of dissenters, the Communist Party's negation of the rule of law promised to the country's citizens, and the repression of Tibetans and Uighers were intolerable sins for men and women of goodwill. And Chinese support for the Sudan government, despite its genocidal policy toward the inhabitants of the Darfur region, aroused further indignation. But for the Bush administration -- and the majority of the national security elite -- these issues were negligible when weighed against the need for China's help in dealing with North Korea.

In July, Pyongyang caught the world's attention by firing a long-range ballistic missile. The possibility of North Korea's acquiring the capability to launch nuclear-tipped missiles shattered Bush's resolve to reject negotiations with Kim Jong Il's regime. Bush and Hu shared their concerns, and Bush, to the discomfort of Vice President Richard Cheney and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, set the Department of State to work with the Chinese Foreign Ministry to find a way to restrain Kim. In October the North Koreans removed any remaining doubt about whether they had nuclear weapons by testing a nuclear device. Chinese and American negotiators intensified their consultations. With China taking the lead, six-party talks on dismantling North Korea's nuclear weapons began in December. In February 2007 an agreement was reached to get Pyongyang to dismantle its main reactor in return for fuel aid -- an agreement very much like the one the Bush administration had denounced Clinton for accepting in 1994.

At home the Bush administration was in trouble, and the Chinese knew it. In the midterm elections in November 2006, the president's Republican Party, held responsible by the public for the unpopular war in Iraq, suffered major setbacks and lost control of Congress. The president had two years left to serve, but now he would be hamstrung at every turn by his political opponents. Demonstrating their increasingly sophisticated understanding of American politics, the Chinese pronounced Bush a "lame duck."

Assessing the immediate future, Chinese analysts worried about the new Congress. They noted that Congress was always a breeding ground for "China threat" theories, but they feared most the possibility of protectionism, recognizing that Democrats were more responsive to labor concerns about lost jobs and about "outsourcing" than were Republicans. They also perceived the Democrats to be more concerned with human rights issues. The road ahead might be bumpy, but the English-language China Daily laid out Beijing's official estimate: a solid foundation had been built for future cooperation between the two countries. China needed an open international system, and good relations with the United States were essential for its peaceful development -- which would be in accord with American interests. American misgivings about China's development were unfortunate. It was time for them to act in accordance with their long-expressed desire to see the emergence of a strong, prosperous, and open China.

The schizophrenic nature of the relationship persisted through the remaining years of the Bush administration. One American analyst called the relationship stable and complicated. Parts of each government worked well together, at least on some issues, and other parts seemed determined to roil the waters. No clear, consistent pattern emerged. In January 2007 the Chinese conducted an anti-satellite test, destroying one of their aging devices. The test was seen in Washington as a threat to American satellite communications, an essential element of the capability of the U.S. military. Vice President Cheney criticized the test and warned of China's rapid military buildup. Inquiries to Beijing went unanswered, and the foreign ministry seemed genuinely puzzled and apparently uninformed about the test. Despite increasing contacts and growing cooperation between the Pentagon and the PLA, mutual suspicion lingered.

Similarly, the Bush administration had soured on Chen Shui-bian and indicated publicly its unhappiness with his continuing provocations. Nonetheless, he was allowed to make stopovers in the United States on his international travels, reinforcing Chinese skepticism about American determination to restrain him. Moreover, in February 2007 the Department of Defense announced a plan to sell Patriot missiles to Taiwan. And when, shortly after returning to Taipei, Chen announced his four "wants," including independence and a change of name from the Republic of China to something more indicative of Taiwan's de facto independence, Beijing was not satisfied with American criticism. The PLA continued to augment its offensive capability across the Taiwan Strait and warned the United States not to interfere.

It was apparent that the United States had minimal influence over the democratically elected president of Taiwan, but Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte tried to appease China by criticizing Chen's decision to hold a referendum on the island on the question of whether to attempt to join the United Nations as "Taiwan." Although the Chinese ambassador in Washington expressed China's appreciation, the PLA was focused on missile sales and, as retribution, denied several U.S. naval vessels entry to Hong Kong. Once such incident gained considerable press coverage in the United States: on Thanksgiving Day 2007 the U.S.S. Kitty Hawk was sent away while the families of the ship's crew waited ashore, preparing to celebrate the holiday. In February 2008 Thomas Fingar, the highly respected deputy director of National Intelligence, a longtime student of Chinese politics, declared the military confrontation in the Strait as one of the most worrisome threats to American interests.

In the spring of 2008, as the people of Taiwan prepared to vote for a new president, both Chinese and American leaders hoped Chen's party would be driven from power, easing the crisis in the Strait. Fearful that a DPP victory might trigger an attack by the PLA, two U.S. carrier battle groups hovered in the area to act as a deterrent. Even as it became evident that Ma Ying-cheou, the Kuomintang candidate who favored improved relations with the mainland, would win the election, the Chinese continued to fret -- fearing that the American-educated Ma would gain new support for Taiwan from Washington. Ma's election in May, however, came as a tremendous relief to both the American and Chinese governments -- and resulted, at least in the short run, in greatly reduced tension in the Strait. In the months that followed, American military analysts concluded that a fundamental change in PLA tactics, a shift from plans to invade Taiwan to a posture designed to prevent a Taiwanese declaration of independence, had taken place.

The pattern of alternating highs and lows was equally apparent in economic relations between the United States and the People's Republic. Washington accused Beijing of subsidizing exports and threatened to impose tariffs on Chinese goods. A few weeks later the United States filed a complaint with the WTO alleging Chinese violations of intellectual property rights (IPRs). But in May, in another Strategic Economic Dialogue, Chinese representatives agreed to increase market access, open their financial sector to foreign investment, promote energy security, protect the environment, and strengthen the rule of law, especially as applied to IPRs.

Preceding and following the dialogue, the issue of product safety made headlines internationally. The cause of the deaths of many American dogs and cats was traced to toxins in pet food originating in China. Tensions rose as poisons were found in toothpaste and prescription drugs, illegal antibiotics in catfish, eels and shrimp, melanin in milk products, and lead paint on toys imported from China. The Chinese launched a public relations offensive to demonstrate renewed efforts to regulate and monitor the production of all the tainted items, but they also replied by condemning American food and health-supplement exports to China. They declared American sardines, beef, pork, and chicken unsafe. And in September they launched their first case against American trade practices in the WTO. Both American and Chinese officials acknowledged that quarrels over such issues would never disappear, but the two countries had mechanisms for managing them. It seemed unlikely that they would ever disrupt their relationship, however bumpy they might make it.

Chinese diplomatists demonstrated striking sophistication in the early years of the twentieth-first century and worked increasingly well with their American counterparts. Again, some of the differences between the two nations were likely to persist for some long time. China's interest in exploiting the resources of neighboring Burma and its indifference to the brutality of the Burmese military junta, its lack of sympathy for the democracy movement in that benighted country, precluded support for American pressures on the Burmese regime. Similarly, it was unmoved by the atrocious practices and corruption of Robert Mugabe's government, continued to provide it with arms, and obstructed efforts to call Mugabe to account. Its policy toward Iran often frustrated American and European diplomats trying to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons -- although there were occasional indications that the nonproliferation cause had its advocates in Beijing, even if China's thirst for oil trumped their efforts.

However, more hopeful signs of a willingness to cooperate appeared. The Chinese government was embarrassed by the public relations campaign challenging its support of the Sudanese government accused of genocide in Darfur -- at a time when China was preparing to take its place in the sun by hosting the 2008 Olympics. Suddenly a special Chinese envoy appeared in Khartoum and, in concert with American efforts, gently nudged Sudan's leaders to cooperate with the UN. Progress was minimal, but the Americans expressed appreciation for the Chinese effort. Most obvious -- and most important—was the Chinese diplomatic effort with North Korea.

China was probably the only country in the world with any leverage over Kim Jong Il -- and it did not have much. It could hamper the flow of food and energy that North Korea needed desperately, but with a government indifferent to the suffering of its people and unanswerable to anyone, Chinese pressures had limited impact. Moreover, Kim and his court were not unaware that the Chinese feared the collapse of his regime. If the North Korean government crashed, thousands of North Korean refugees could be expected to pour into Manchuria -- a flow China anticipated having to staunch forcibly. Moreover, the collapse of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea leading to the reunification of Korea might extend American influence to China's northeast border. It was not a scenario anyone in Beijing welcomed. Carefully weighing its interests and options, China took the lead in pushing the North Koreans and the Americans into talks. Chinese leaders considered a nuclear-armed North Korea undesirable. They did not want the Japanese to use Kim's nuclear weapons as a rationale for developing their own; nor did they want to risk an American attack on North Korea. The principal American negotiator, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, and Secretary of State Rice praised the Chinese efforts and saw them as improving Chinese-American relations.

Many prominent Americans, such as Carla Hill, former USTR, and Admiral Dennis Blair, former CINCPAC, argued that the policy of engaging China had been an enormous success, contending that it had brought great prosperity to both countries and had facilitated the peaceful development of East Asia. They called for greater efforts to integrate China into the international community, a positive approach to China's rise rather than an attempt to contain the People's Republic. Polls commissioned by the Committee of 100, an organization of leading Chinese Americans, indicated public pressure for a tougher policy toward China was lacking. But in addition to differences over economic matters between the United States and China profound concerns about Beijing in the Pentagon and in the human rights community remained -- and these were shared by the American public.

In May 2007 the U.S. Department of Defense issued its 2007 Report on Chinese Power , which expressed uneasiness about the opaqueness of China's military spending program and the threat of Chinese military power to American interests. The Chinese reacted angrily, insisting the Pentagon exaggerated the threat. In June Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, successor to the discredited Rumsfeld, met with Chinese defense leaders in Shanghai and succeeded in lowering temperatures on both sides. Ever more military-to-military contacts were arranged, and a few months later a military hotline was established between defense departments. The Chinese media reported that more cooperation than competition now existed between the two sides. Early in 2008 several retired American flag officers launched the "Sanya Initiative," a program through which they met regularly with Chinese counterparts in an effort to counter the warnings of American analysts who trumpeted the China threat. Nevertheless military-to-military relations remained relatively undeveloped and characterized by mutual mistrust and were usually the first to be disrupted whenever the Chinese were irritated by American actions.

The one issue that could not be resolved -- and possibly will never be resolved -- was human rights. In the cold war era Washington consistently ignored human rights violations in countries friendly to the United States. In the 1970s and 1980s that included China. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, China became less important strategically, and misgivings over Beijing's domestic policies, specifically how it treated its people, were less easily muffled. The June 4, 1989, massacres focused the attention of the American people on China's human rights record, and Americans did not like what they saw. The United States was forced by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, the Dalai Lama, and exiled Chinese activists to protest Chinese behavior. Congress demanded annual reports on the state of human rights around the world and demonstrated particular interest in China's progress -- or lack thereof -- toward more humane treatment of its people. In the early years of the twenty-first century Americans constantly complained, and the Chinese constantly rejected those complaints. Occasionally, however, they released a dissident from prison; for example, Wei Jingsheng and Wang Dan were shipped back to the United States. By the time the Bush administration took hold in Washington, it was apparent that even without the cold war good relations with China were enormously important. Kissinger and his disciples consistently argued that what China did within its borders did not matter nearly as much as achieving Chinese cooperation on a host of global issues, such as nuclear nonproliferation and the war on terror. These so-called realists, supported by much of the business community, rejected the priority the human rights community gave to the Chinese government's treatment of dissidents, its unwillingness to allow its people religious freedom, and its suppression of Tibetan culture. But many members of Congress, conservatives and liberals alike, were appalled by Beijing's abuses, and no administration in Washington could evade the issue.

In March 2007 the Department of State's human rights report referred to the People's Republic as one of the world's most systematic violators of human rights. In June President Bush, visiting Prague, met with Rebiya Kadeer, a Uigher dissident recently released from a Chinese prison. In October he met with the Dalai Lama, who was in Washington to receive the Congressional Gold Medal. Congress too issued a report critical of China's human rights record. In February 2008 a senior State Department official met with the Dalai Lama and criticized Chinese policy toward Tibet. On each of these occasions Chinese spokesmen protested, but as the Chinese ambassador to the United States conceded, leaders in Beijing had little hope of persuading Americans to stop interfering in what they, like Kissinger, righteously called their internal affairs.

Anti-Chinese riots in Tibet early in 2008 led to condemnations in the Western media of China's role there. On this occasion it was evident that the Tibetan demonstrators had lost patience with the peaceful efforts of the Dalai Lama to achieve independence for his country, committed acts of violence against Chinese in Lhasa, and provoked a forceful response from the local Chinese authorities. An apparently spontaneous outburst of anti-Western, intensely nationalistic demonstrations ensued across China. Few Chinese questioned their government's contention that Tibetan society was feudal and barbaric and that China was bringing civilization and economic development to the region. Many were outraged by what appeared to be Western bias in favor of Tibet -- disregard for Tibetan provocations and gratuitous criticism of China. The Dalai Lama was embarrassed by the violent actions of his erstwhile followers, and the Chinese government blamed him and attacked him with relentlessly crude propaganda.

Tibet's plight was quickly forgotten when a severe earthquake, killing tens of thousands, hit Sichuan province in May. The Chinese people gained the world's sympathy as they grappled with this disaster, and their government won applause for its rapid response to the tragedy, which contrasted favorably with the nearly simultaneous refusal of the Burmese government to help many thousands of its people savaged by storms and flooding.

In the United States the primary focus of the media in mid-2008 was the upcoming presidential election. The travails of the American economy, teetering on a recession with mounting unemployment and a threat of inflation, were uppermost in the minds of the people, and the continuing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were also troubling. Some Americans worried about North Korea's nuclear weapons and Iran's nuclear program, but policy toward China was not a major issue before the election was over. Only in August when all eyes were focused on the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, was China center stage.

For the Chinese government, the opportunity to host the Olympics enabled it to demonstrate to the world the country's new wealth, status, and national pride, which it considered a vindication of its policies over the past quarter century. It spent billions of dollars to prepare Beijing, importing great architects from all over the globe to construct world-class buildings. Pictures of the "Bird's Nest" and the "Water Cube," the principal stadium and the structure for aquatic events, respectively, appeared constantly on television and in magazines and newspapers across the world. It made extraordinary efforts to reduce pollution in the city, moving factories, restricting traffic, and sending away workers whose physical appearance did not meet the standard of modernity party leaders wished to display. The opening of the games -- a truly impressive display unmatched by any city that had ever hosted the games before -- was spectacular. And Chinese athletes performed magnificently, winning more gold medals than those of any other country.

On the other hand, the Chinese government made only cosmetic efforts to comply with its promise to the Olympic Committee to improve its human rights performance and to allow complete freedom to the foreign press. It spent extraordinary sums of money to enhance security in Beijing, to suppress dissent. Cameras were set up throughout the city. The police and military presence increased enormously, and potential Chinese demonstrators were detained well before the games began. Out-of-town petitioners seeking redress of grievances against officials in their native towns and villages were prevented from entering the city and either returned home quickly or were held by police if they penetrated the first layer of security. When the foreign reporters and photographers arrived, they found their movements restricted and their access to sensitive Internet sites blocked. Responding to criticism the government announced the establishment of zones in three parks where protesters might assemble -- but licensed no one to assemble in them and detained most people who applied. The protest zones thus remained empty during all the athletic events. A few foreign protesters, advocates for causes such as freedom of religion or freedom for Tibet, attempted to unfurl banners near the site of the games or in Tiananmen Square but were quickly stopped by the police and deported. Contrary to the hopes of the Olympic Committee and of men and women of goodwill throughout the world, the Chinese government became more rather than less repressive as it hosted athletes and dignitaries from around the world, including the American president, George W. Bush.

In the fall of 2008 the presidential election returned to the forefront of public interest in the United States. The Chinese, generally uneasy about any change of administration in Washington, preferring to deal with the devil they knew, waited patiently for the outcome. Little progress was made on any of the bilateral issues that divided China and the United States. Bush, a remarkably unpopular president, had limited influence and little political capital. The Chinese would wait for the next administration, but, unfortunately, so would the North Koreans. Only the moderation of tensions in the Taiwan Strait moved apace without the Americans. But even the issue of Taiwan's status could easily flare up, as when the Bush administration announced a major arms sale to Taiwan in October, triggering an angry Chinese response including cancellation of high-level military-to-military talks and ship visits to Chinese ports. In all, however, the Chinese -- and Americans responsible for policy toward China -- were relieved to find both presidential campaigns focused on other issues.

The electoral victory of Barack Obama in November delighted much of the world but not Chinese leaders. Quite apart from the Chinese disdain for blacks, whether African or African American, the government of the People's Republic has persistently favored continuity in Washington. Given its dependence on export trade to sustain China's economic growth, it is especially suspicious of presumably pro-labor Democrats. The Chinese Communist Party tolerates no free unions at home, no nongovernmental workers organizations. It is fearful that American workers, fighting to keep their jobs, will succeed in using their influence with the new Democratic-controlled government to gain protectionist policies. It anticipates increased pressure to stop manipulating its currency. Beijing also continues to suspect Democrats, not least Hillary Clinton, the new secretary of state, of being too closely allied with human rights activists.

In speeches delivered in Washington in December 2008, both the Chinese ambassador and the Chinese State Council's principal spokesman on foreign affairs spoke warmly of the mutually beneficial relationship that existed between China and the United States and of the importance to China of maintaining course. But they both laid down markers for the incoming administration: stay away from China's "core" interests in Taiwan and Tibet -- and avoid protectionism.

The Chinese probably have little to worry about. The new president has never demonstrated much interest in policy toward China and has more pressing foreign as well as domestic issues to confront. Neither he nor Hillary Clinton has ever questioned the value of the policy of engaging China; neither has any ties to Taiwan. Both are certain to criticize China's human rights performance -- which regressed in 2008 -- but both have surrounded themselves with "realist" advisers who can be expected to give priority to strategic and economic issues. Barring extraordinary circumstances, such as a PLA attack on Taiwan, a concerted offensive against American space satellites, or some other major effort to disrupt American strategic communications, the Chinese will find the continuity they crave in Washington's policies.

Many years ago, in the conclusion of his classic study of the Far Eastern policy of the United States, A. Whitney Griswold remarked that the Far East was still as remote, "relatively," from the United States in 1938 as it had been in the era of sail. No one would make that claim at the beginning of the twenty-first century. East Asia has become an inescapable part of the American present -- and of the American future. Retreat from the tremendous involvement on the Asian mainland occasioned by the war in Vietnam was inevitable, but a retreat to indifference toward Asia proved impossible. In addition to the rise of the strongest Chinese state in the American experience, the United States had to adjust to the economic power of Japan, the burgeoning economic power of Korea, Taiwan, and the countries comprising ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations), and, in the late 1990s, the Asian financial crisis. Asian culture, most obviously food and art, permeates the culture of the United States. Asian Americans constitute a new intellectual elite in American society and have become increasingly active politically. Large numbers of recent Asian immigrants strengthen the links that bind the United States to those lands across the Pacific. In an era when businesspeople, scholars, and strategists are focusing on the "Pacific rim," American statesmen can no longer be mere "Atlanticists."

In the early years of the twenty-first century, two major issues continue to divide China and the United States. The first is clearly ideological: Americans will never again trust a communist dictatorship that denies basic freedoms to its own people. The second, Taiwan, became ideological when democracy emerged on the island. American leaders speak in good faith when they declare again and again that they can -- and will -- accept any solution acceptable to both the people of Taiwan and those of the mainland, any peaceful resolution of their differences. But after Taiwan became a functioning democracy controlled by the majority Taiwanese, it was evident that they were highly unlikely ever to accept Beijing's rule. On the other hand, there was no reason to doubt Beijing's continued determination to prevent Taiwan from being accepted as an independent nation by the international community. Trying to discourage Taipei from acting provocatively, Washington prefers to remain ambiguous as to how it would respond if war broke out between Taiwan and the People's Republic. There appears to be a consensus among American leaders, however, that the United States would be obliged to come to the defense of Taiwan in the event of an unprovoked attack.

Neither of these issues is susceptible to American-imposed solutions. Chinese leaders will carry out political reforms if and when reforms serve their purposes. Optimists point to the village elections of the late 1990s and see movement, however glacial, toward democracy. Others see evidence of genuine interest in the rule of law and developments in China that suggest the possibility of an independent legal system in the near future. Still others have been impressed by Beijing's tolerance of democratic institutions in Hong Kong after the territory's reversion to Chinese rule in 1997. On the other hand, it is absolutely clear that China's communists are determined to control the flow of information to their people and that they will not permit the organization of an opposition party. Frequent arrests of Internet operators and would-be party organizers demonstrate the limits of their tolerance. Americans can and will provide support for elections, for the rule of law, and for the people of Hong Kong, but their influence will be marginal at best.

More frightening is the division over Taiwan. Nothing Americans can say or do is likely to persuade China to surrender its claim to sovereignty over the island. Everything the United States does to support the Taipei regime, including the arms sales required by the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979, serves as an irritant and allows Beijing to justify steps it takes around the world that run counter to American interests. In 1999 it was apparent that China was stationing scores of missiles across the Strait from Taiwan, and American intelligence officers estimated that there likely would be hundreds of missiles aimed at Taiwan from the Chinese side over the next several years. In response, Taipei's friends in the United States lobbied for the island to be included in a theater missile defense (TMD) program the American government was exploring for protection of its forces and friends against possible North Korean missile attacks. Few analysts outside of the Pentagon and the defense industry thought such an antiballistic missile defense was feasible, and fewer still imagined it could prevent Beijing from devastating Taiwan, but the Chinese were infuriated by the possibility of Washington making TMD available to Taipei. American officials were displeased by the evident intent of China to step up its intimidation of the islanders. The impasse continued. Continued high-level talks between American and China leaders reduced the likelihood of a confrontation between their countries, but both Taipei and Beijing are capable of provoking a new crisis at any moment.

Given the realities of China's new role in the world, it is apparent that Americans are going to have to do what they do least well: learn to live with uncertainties and unresolved issues. They will have to keep talking to people they do not like and accept the fact that those people will continue to do things that Americans find intolerable. They will have to recognize that although their country entered the twenty-first century as the most powerful nation in the world, it will not be able to control the actions of other peoples. In due course, they may even understand the need for engagement with China.

As I write in the summer of 2009, it is clear that that the power of the United States relative to China has declined strikingly over the last decade. While the Chinese economy grew at an exceptionally rapid rate, the American economy stalled and, triggering in 2008 the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, slid into recession. Globalization, the growing interdependence of national economies, guaranteed that much of the rest of the world would also be hurt badly by conditions in the United States. Practicing state capitalism, China was less exposed to the vagaries of the market, but it could not escape the worldwide downturn. American consumers were the principal purchasers of Chinese exports, and a large percentage of China's trillions of dollars in foreign reserves were in U.S. Treasury bonds. The Chinese might take some pleasure in the failures of the American system, but they too would suffer from them. As the Nobel Prize--winning economist Paul Krugman quipped, the United States had achieved a balance of trade with China: the Chinese ship Americans poisoned toys and seafood, and Americans pay them with fraudulent bonds.

Similarly, American influence in the world, having peaked in the "unipolar moment" of the late 1990s, is probably at its lowest level since the 1930s. The administration of George W. Bush succeeded where the propagandists employed by Hitler, Stalin, and Mao failed: it made the United States a pariah, largely as a result of its invasion of Iraq, its approval of torture in violation of the Geneva Convention, the symbolism of the Guantanamo prison complex, and the appalling photographs of the mistreatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib. International public opinion polls recorded widespread unhappiness with the United States, even among its allies -- and a broad consensus that Washington posed a greater threat to the world than did Beijing.

There can be no doubt as to the importance of the United States getting its economy back on track and regaining the moral leadership it won at great cost during World War II and the cold war. As the largest debtor nation, it can no longer use its largesse to aid old friends and gain new ones. Indeed, many of its actions internationally are constrained by the fact that it has to borrow money from China, now the leading creditor nation, and other governments that do not share American values and goals. Regaining respect for the United States will not be easy, and it will not happen quickly -- and certainly not without practicing some of the humility that George W. Bush urged in his 2000 presidential campaign.

A long time ago, before the Opium War, China was able to dictate the terms of its contact with the United States and most of the rest of the world. For better or worse, the rise of Chinese power in the early years of the twenty-first century, coincident with America's decline, suggests that China will, more often than not, be calling the tune for the foreseeable future. Simply stated, Washington has little leverage with the men in Beijing. American leaders' best hope for good relations with China requires focusing on common interests, such as nuclear nonproliferation, suppression of criminal activity, especially the drug trade, environmental problems, the search for alternative sources of energy, and efforts to minimize the dangers from terrorists.

If there is a basis for optimism, it can be found in the fact that the existing international system, largely an American creation, has made China rich and powerful: it now has a stake in preserving it. China needs a benign international environment in which to continue its economic growth -- and that growth is essential if the Chinese Communist Party is to preserve its monopoly on power. Chinese leaders have been responsive to American arguments when persuaded they are being asked to conform to international norms rather than to serve American interests. China has been engaged actively in UN peacekeeping operations and has shown restraint in its exercise of veto power in the Security Council. It has won its current standing by behaving responsibly.

With the overwhelming exception of its posture toward Taiwan, which it considers a domestic affair, Chinese foreign policy has been flexible and pragmatic. The People's Republic shows no signs of aggressive intent toward anyone. Its leadership appears "risk-averse" and American military analysts discern no Chinese effort to develop force projection capabilities outside East Asia. The PLA air force and navy are at least a generation behind those of the United States, although they are likely to achieve parity with American forces in the western Pacific by 2015, leaving Taiwan without defense.

Of course, there are no indications that Washington and Beijing can resolve their differences over Taiwan. Nonetheless, if the Chinese remain eager to avoid conflict and willing to tolerate Taiwan's autonomy, and if Taiwan avoids steps toward formal independence, the issue should be manageable. The trend toward eventual integration of the two entities seems inexorable as their economies intermingle, intermarriage grows because hundreds of thousands of Taiwanese businessmen reside on the mainland, and tourism and direct air communications across the Strait increase.

Looking past the Taiwan issue, other reasons can be found for unease about the future of Chinese-American relations. Although the ideological hostility of the Maoist era and the immediate aftermath of the Tiananmen massacres hardly exists today outside the PLA in China and the far Right in the United States, it will continue to flare up. Political reform in China is not progressing. The growing middle class is content with things as they are. It has been co-opted and will not champion political reform, liberal democracy, or a multiparty system. Nor is there much evidence of increased respect for human rights among China's rulers. And whenever China persecutes Tibetans, Christians, or human rights activists, whenever the government suppresses civil society, Americans will respond angrily. American criticism of Chinese behavior will exacerbate already virulent nationalism, provoking rage at the audacity of those who would meddle in China's internal affairs. These incidents are unlikely to lead to conflict, but they are constant reminders of the difference in values between the two societies and reinforce China's determination to replace the United States as the world's dominant power -- and to balance the United States in the near term. Similarly, American leaders will see no choice but to resist China's growing military power. The United States will spare no effort to maintain air and naval superiority in the western Pacific and to strengthen its alliances in the region.

It should not be forgotten that China is still a poor country measured in per capita income. Its continued economic growth is challenged by enormous environmental problems. The World Health Organization estimates that air pollution in China causes 400,000 premature deaths annually. The country suffers from a serious shortage of water -- and much of what it has is toxic, unsuitable for industry or agriculture. In addition, there are serious demographic problems -- the familiar one of a rapidly aging population and the less common one of a grave shortage of women (118 men for every 100 women), caused by widespread abortion of female fetuses by families determined to have their one child be a boy. The distribution of the great wealth accumulated since Deng introduced his economic reforms is extraordinarily unequal, leaving huge numbers of Chinese poor and dissatisfied. The country is plagued by social tensions; thousands of demonstrations occur there every year because the people have little means of obtaining redress peacefully. And all these problems are aggravated by endemic corruption.

In brief, it is conceivable that the greatest danger posed by China is not its rising power but the possibility, however remote, that it will collapse.

Many years ago, Theodore Roosevelt declared that "it is to the advantage, and not to the disadvantage of other nations when any nation becomes stable and prosperous, able to keep the peace within its own borders, and strong enough not to invite aggression from without. We heartily hope for the progress of China, and so far as by peaceable and legitimate means we are able we will do our part toward furthering that progress." Today, much as in the time of Theodore Roosevelt, American leaders want -- and American interests require -- a peaceful, prosperous, open, responsible, and cooperative China. The chances of China realizing those hopes are reasonably good, given the extent of shared interests and what are likely to be the primarily domestic concerns of both nations in the near term. Americans who study and work on Chinese-American affairs would also like to see a democratic and friendly China. They are not likely to see either in the foreseeable future. And in the early years of the new millennium most Americans are not so sure that a strong China is in their nation's interest.


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