In a pattern superficially reminiscent of Henry Kissinger’s trips to China, National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft has made at least two secret visits to Beijing since the June massacre, and perhaps more.
The White House, when forced to confirm at least one secret trip in July, said Scowcroft’s mission then was only to underscore U.S. concerns about the bloody crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators. But in his latest trip, Scowcroft appeared in Beijing bearing tidings of Sino-American friendship.
Ostensibly, Washington’s rapprochement with China is intended to bring Beijing out of its angry isolation, strengthen the hand of “moderates” within the Chinese leadership, find areas of mutual agreement on regional conflicts in Asia and preempt any Sino-Soviet reconciliation. In reality, the rapprochement serves to confirm the belief of the Chinese hard-liners responsible for the Tian An Men Square killings that they can get away with murder.
The belief that the United States could gain significant concessions from the Chinese leadership is self-deceiving for a number of reasons.
Continuing purges within the Communist Party ranks have left no moderates in positions of real authority. The shots are called by the hard-liners who gambled that the United States would ultimately return to China with open arms to protect investments and sustain major weapons contracts. Hard-liners also gambled that a threat to increase ties with Moscow would also send the Americans back. Their hunches paid off.
But what could the Bush Administration hope to achieve? No American administration has been able to get the Chinese to sign the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, or to forswear its support for the genocidal Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, or to renounce the use of force against Taiwan or other states, or to withdraw claims to regional dominance. The Chinese have reneged on previous pledges not to sell missiles to the Middle East.
Physicist and human rights activist Fang Lizhi may be allowed to leave the U.S. Embassy, where he has been trapped for months, and take exile in a third country. Yet this action would be meaningless without an easing of represssion against thousands of other nameless pro-democracy activists.
At the same time that the United States dangles World Bank loans and other developmental assistance over China’s head in a vain attempt to pressure a leadership that was willing to turn its tanks against its own people, the Bush Administration intends to sell more than a half-billion dollars in military technology to upgrade China’s fighter jets and the war-making capability of its nuclear submarines. This weaponry could be used against Taiwan or other Asian states. Tuesday evening, Bush approved the sale of communications satellites to Beijing and removed restrictions on Export-Import Bank financing of U.S. business activities with China, all but erasing economic sanctions imposed in June.
The weapons contracts were made during the Ronald Reagan Administration, when the United States wanted to use China to counter the Soviet Union. Now, however, the Soviets no longer represent as great a threat to either Europe or Asia.
The Chinese hard-liners think that Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s reforms show weakness: In Tian An Men Square and in the nationwide repression that followed, they proved themselves willing to kill rather than accept similar reforms.
If the Bush Administration wanted to make contact with Beijing in an attempt to prod the leadership toward easing China’s largely self-imposed isolation, it should have been done through lower-level diplomatic channels. The presence of high-level American officials in the Chinese capital only serves to prop up the hard-liners against the pro-democracy movement.
To deal from a position of strength, the Administration should have consulted first with its allies and Moscow. The Bush actions reek of appeasement, not strength. There is no guarantee that the present Chinese leadership will cease its suppression of democratic dissent. Nor is there any guarantee that Beijing will halt missile and arms sales abroad, or drop its claim to Taiwan, a claim that Deng allegedly repeated in a speech to the Politburo before his recent resignation as head of China’s military commission.
There is still time for the Bush Administration to change course. Washington should begin to cooperate with Moscow and the Western nations in Asia, just as they have started to do in Europe. Only in that way can the nonviolent revolutionary democratic changes occuring in the Soviet Bloc begin to sweep China as well.