Picking Our Friends More Carefully : Taiwan should be allowed to rejoin the community of nations, despite what China says.

Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican representing Orange County, is a senior member of the House Committee on International Relations.

In the 1950s, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev tried to conduct diplomatic negotiations at the United Nations by pounding his shoe on a table. That style of persuasion didn't work during the Cold War, and it should not work now. But that doesn't stop mainland China from trying.

On Tuesday, President Clinton will meet in New York with China's president, Jiang Zemin, to patch up strained relations between the two nations. The People's Republic of China, which rarely misses a chance to demand concessions from the United States, wants President Clinton to sign a "fourth communique" that further distances the United States from the democratic reformers on Taiwan while strengthening the ties between Washington and the Communists in Beijing.

Keeping a watchful eye for flying shoe leather, Clinton should refuse to sign such a communique. As the leader of the free world, he instead should seize the opportunity to define our nation's position as the world's remaining economic and military superpower. He should explain to President Jiang that Americans support democracy wherever it takes root.

Sixteen years ago, at the height of the compromising necessary to win the Cold War, the United States recognized Beijing as the official government in China and withdrew all formal recognition of Taiwan. One could argue that at the time, the move to normalize relations with China was in our national interest. American foreign policy was driven by the Cold War, and it was in our self-interest to perpetuate the split between China and the Soviet Union. America used China effectively to dismantle Soviet hegemony in southern Asia.

But in the past 16 years, geopolitics have changed dramatically and the United States stands as the dominant force in world politics. This security offers us a unique opportunity to promote our deepest held beliefs. To save ourselves the costly task of being the world's policeman, it is in our interest to support Taiwan's efforts to rejoin the community of nations as a peaceful, democratic ally.

Over the past decade, Taiwan has undergone a vast political transformation while continuing to fashion itself as an economic dynamo. Single-party rule has given way to a vibrant, multiparty democracy with free press and free elections. The economy has flourished under democratic rule and today Taiwan is America's sixth-largest trading partner. Consider that Taiwan has a population 60 times smaller than China's yet imports twice as many products made in the United States.

Times change, and today it is in America's interest to seek closer relations with Taiwan while pushing China to embrace fundamental reforms.

While Taiwan has adopted free markets, free trade and democracy, China has not. While Taiwan has emerged as a reliable ally, China continues to persecute citizens at home and bully nations abroad. Forced abortions are ongoing government policy. Thousands of Chinese languish in prisons for speaking against the government, for praying or for joining labor unions. Beijing operated the world's largest slave-labor camps to control dissidents and produce cheap goods for export. China also has conducted provocative military exercises in the Strait of Taiwan, sold offensive missiles to Pakistan and Iran and violated international nuclear arms agreements. While most of the world's nations disarm, China recently has doubled military spending on everything from sophisticated tanks to submarines and biological weapons.

The dichotomy between the behavior of Taiwan and China could not be more pronounced. Yet the world looks the other way while China violates international laws and complains when nations discuss Taiwan's legitimate rights.

Now China thinks that ranting and raving can win concessions from the United States and is pushing for a fourth communique distancing America from Taiwan.

Such behavior is as unacceptable for nations as it is for children. Threats and diplomatic blackmail should not push the United States toward warmer relations with China or selling out our Taiwanese friends. Until China resolves its human rights abuses and threats to other nations, it must continue to suffer the consequences.

U.S. officials will help China and Taiwan work out their future. But there should be no new communique, no further concessions or slights to Taiwan. The record of the government in Taipei speaks for itself. Appallingly, the same can be said of Beijing.

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