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PERSPECTIVE ON CHINA : A Good Decision; Now the Hard Part : Now that MFN is set, we need to work with Beijing on vital strategic, economic and human-rights issues.

<i> Zbigniew Brzezinski was national-security adviser to President Jimmy Carter; Michel Oksenberg is president of the East-West Center in Honolulu. </i>

Our recent, extensive conversations with Chinese leaders convince us that President Clinton’s wise decision to continue most-favored-nation trading status for China while pressing for improvements in Beijing’s human-rights record through other channels creates the opportunity to broaden and deepen Sino-American relations.

Follow-through is essential, however, if the opportunity is to be realized. By itself, the decision will neither ameliorate human-rights violations by Chinese authorities nor elicit cooperation in the strategic or economic spheres.

China’s leaders, like many Asian leaders, doubt American resolve in the region. Some Chinese leaders suspect that the ultimate American objective is to destabilize and divide China; hence, as they see it, the Administration’s emphasis on human rights and Tibet.

To elicit Chinese cooperation on matters of serious concern to us in the strategic, economic and human-rights area requires five measures.

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* The United States must undertake intensified, broadly focused and regular dialogue with China’s leaders. In the 1970s and early 1980s, the strategic dialogue between Washington and Beijing enabled both sides to approach transitory issues from a shared conceptual framework concerning the dangers of Soviet expansionism. That essential facet of Sino-American relations has disappeared. It must be restored. Such dialogue, for example, is essential to elicit Chinese cooperation in dissuading North Korea from developing nuclear weapons.

There is another reason for expanding consultations, especially between the Department of Defense and the Chinese military, a powerful actor in domestic affairs. Beijing is in an era of succession politics, and high-level contacts will yield information and influence at a decisive stage in China’s evolution.

The strategic basis of Sino-American relations in the post-Cold War era is to be found in the intense interest of both Washington and Beijing in global and regional stability. Both China and the United States have crucial roles to play in the maintenance of stability in Korea. Both have important roles to play to ensure that all countries of the former Soviet Union emerge as truly independent and stable countries, and that the natural resources of Siberia and the Russian Far East be developed effectively and peacefully. Both have an interest in deterring an arms race in Asia and in maintaining the prosperity and stability of Taiwan and Hong Kong.

* The United States must now vigorously address such economic issues as protection of intellectual property rights in China and access to the service sector. While China has generally welcomed foreign direct investment, for example, it has protected its banks and insurance companies from foreign competition. It is reluctant to privatize its communication industries. Foreign involvement in these sectors would accrue not only to the outside world’s benefit; it would also accelerate the modernization of sectors crucial to China’s entire development.

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* The United States and China should accelerate the negotiations over China’s entry into the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade under terms that commit China to a firm, phased-in program to achieve full GATT standards. This is the path taken for Mexico’s entry into GATT. It is in everyone’s interest--including China’s--that it follow the same, rigorous procedures.

* The United States should vigorously expand cooperation with China in the areas of scholarly exchange, environmental issues, protection of endangered species, narcotics control, public health and population migration. Problems of the 21st Century will not be solved without China’s active participation.

* The President must persist in the human-rights area. But a confrontational approach will not work. Rather, the Administration must approach China with respect for its intellectual traditions and accomplishments. While continuing to press for release of specific individuals, the United States--and especially the private sector--should join hands with those Chinese who wish to develop their legal system, strengthen their parliaments, establish a police system under the rule of law, foster an independent judiciary and train professional journalists. In the long run, development of formal and transparent political institutions is the best way to enhance basic human rights in China.

Let there be no illusions. Sino-American relations remain fragile, and future political development is uncertain. China’s emergence onto the world scene involves a protracted and painful process. President Clinton has now set on a proper path. But patience, firmness and persistence will be needed if this increasingly significant relationship is to achieve its potential.

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