Budding U.S.-China Ties Have Asia Leaders in Knots


Even as President Clinton spoke optimistically Tuesday about someday bringing the Chinese into the world trading regime, Asian leaders from New Delhi to Taipei to Tokyo were reacting with deepening anxiety and in some quarters, embittered outrage to what they see as his unabashed, passionate embrace of China.

Most Asian officials, with the notable exception of the Indians and Taiwanese, welcome at least publicly the prospect of smoother U.S. relations with China and the regional stability that is expected to ensue. Still, the perception that America is engaged in a subtle rearrangement of its Asian relationships, putting China atop the VIP list ahead of traditional allies Japan and Taiwan, has sent shock waves through the region.

Reaction in Taiwan on Tuesday was swift and sharp to Clinton’s unprecedented public declaration in Shanghai of what are called the “three noes"--that the United States would not support the independence of Taiwan, the creation of two Chinas or Taiwan’s admission to the United Nations.

“It’s wrong, morally and politically, for Clinton to collude with the Communist dictatorship to restrict the future of a democratic country, Taiwan,” said Parris H. Chang, a legislator with the Democratic Progressive Party, which supports Taiwanese independence. “Beijing is trying to manipulate the United States to isolate Taiwan diplomatically. That Clinton has fallen into that kind of trap is unfortunate. . . . U.S. policy toward Taiwan is on a slippery slope. More and more, the United States is making concessions to China without any return.”


Taiwanese officials said they were not surprised by Clinton’s announcement, since the “three noes” policy has been stated publicly by lower-level U.S. officials for eight months and Taipei had been briefed by Washington before Clinton began his trip to China. Still, questions of Taiwanese sovereignty and destiny “are not subject to discussion by third parties,” government spokesman C. J. Chen said.

Heavily dependent on the United States for weapons and political protection, Taiwan has little recourse if America chooses to “feed Beijing” instead of the island that China considers a rebel province, said China expert Orville Schell, dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at UC Berkeley. The Clinton administration’s attitude appears to be that “Taiwan is sacrifice-able,” he said in an interview in Beijing. “There’s not much they [Taiwan] can do or will do.”

The Japanese government, which for a long time has neither felt the warmth from nor seen the huge turnout of U.S. dignitaries that has been amassed for the president’s nine-day Chinese swing, has been determinedly restrained and diplomatic as Clinton and Treasury Secretary Robert E. Rubin criticized Japan’s economic policies to audiences in China--a developing nation with an economy one-seventh the size of Japan’s that remains dependent on Tokyo’s capital, trade and aid for its modernization efforts.

But the Indian government and media erupted with anger at what they saw as the hypocrisy of Saturday’s joint U.S.-Chinese declaration condemning recent nuclear weapons tests by India and Pakistan and promising to work together to discourage a nuclear arms race in South Asia.


Just hours after Clinton and Chinese President Jiang Zemin signed the statement in Beijing, the Indian Foreign Ministry denounced it as reflecting “the hegemonistic mentality of a bygone era.”

India, which fought a war with China in 1962, specifically cited a Chinese nuclear threat to its national security in justifying its five nuclear weapons tests in May.

U.S. intelligence officials also believe that China gave Pakistan missiles that are capable of carrying nuclear warheads to India--and there are suspicions that staunch ally China may also have helped Pakistan with nuclear technology that enabled Islamabad to conduct its own retaliatory atomic bomb tests two weeks after India’s.

But the United States also gave Pakistan hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. military aid in the 1980s, when as a key Cold War ally it helped drive the Soviet Union out of neighboring Afghanistan.


“It is most ironic that two countries that have directly and indirectly contributed to the unabated proliferation of nuclear weapons and delivery systems in our neighborhood are now presuming to prescribe norms for nonproliferation,” India’s Foreign Ministry said.

India’s press portrayed the U.S.-Chinese rapprochement as an emerging alliance between a new friend and an old enemy, neither of whom has the moral authority to hector India. “New Delhi does not have to take orders from an emerging alliance of those who have done the most to make the world an unsafe place,” proclaimed an editorial Tuesday in the widely read daily the Indian Express.

A prominent New Delhi businessman observed that “there is almost a sense of betrayal. The U.S. talks about constructive engagement, but when it comes to India, it’s beginning to feel more like destructive engagement.”

There was a deafening, but expected, silence from Pakistan, which like India is now subject to U.S. economic sanctions because of its nuclear tests. The highly nationalistic Pakistani press has reported with little or no comment on the tour by Clinton, who offered upbeat remarks about the prospects of the Chinese joining the World Trade Organization but also cautioned that China needs to open its markets and meet commercial conditions before its privileges in the United States are made permanent.


In Japan, public and private reaction about the U.S.-Sino developments was more despondent than angry.

The influential Nikkei financial daily reported that “Japan, wedged between the United States and China, tends to feel victimized by both sides, with the United States engaging in ‘Japan-passing’ and China applying ‘pressure from the new Asian giant.’ ”

Newspapers and commentators warned against overemphasizing the coziness of the U.S.-China relationship but bemoaned Japan’s waning diplomatic and political clout as a result of what the Nikkei called “the economic fiasco.”

“China has succeeded in giving the impression of being an equal partner with America even in economic matters, as Japan’s clout in Asian economic matters is weakening,” the conservative Sankei daily complained. “There is bitterness [in the Japanese government] over the possibility that ‘Criticizing Japan’ could turn into ‘Sell Japan,”’ the paper said, meaning that international investors might feel encouraged to dump Japanese stocks and the ailing yen.


Foreign Ministry spokesman Sadaaki Numata insisted Tuesday that Japan will not develop a “psychological complex” over America’s warming relationship with China, since a stable trilateral relationship is in all three nations’ interest and friendship among them is “not a zero-sum game.”

“China and the U.S. are not allies in the sense that we [America and Japan] are allies” bound by the U.S.-Japan security treaty, Numata added.

But privately, a senior official and a well-informed private analyst both said Tuesday that Tokyo fears China may be trying to “drive a wedge” between the U.S. and Japan.

“Because they know that it is Jiang Zemin’s secret hope to have U.S.-Chinese relations prioritized over U.S.-Japan relations, there is worry,” the analyst said, adding that Jiang is known to have warned against the possibility of recurring Japanese militarism and so is seen as harboring animosity toward Japan.


Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is scheduled to arrive Friday in Tokyo to brief--and soothe--the Japanese, who were upset by Clinton’s decision not to stop in Japan on his way back to the U.S.

Efron reported from Tokyo, Chu from Beijing and Fineman from New Delhi. Times staff writers Tyler Marshall and Jim Mann in Shanghai also contributed to this report.

To hear Times correspondents’ audio reports from China on The Times’ Web site, go to:

* CHINA TRADE: President Clinton is hopeful about bringing China into the world’s trading system. A12