World & Nation

From the Archives: U.S. Easing Sanctions on China

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- Three months after the massacre of protesters in Beijing, the Bush Administration is gradually finding ways to ease or limit the impact of the moderate sanctions it has imposed on China.

Since June, the coordinated efforts by the United States, its European allies and Japan have succeeded in isolating China to a degree that its leaders could not have imagined before they ordered the June 3-4 assault on Tian An Men Square by the People’s Liberation Army.

Where once the heads of state of the world streamed to Beijing, these days even a visit by the president of the African nation of Burkina Faso is a rare and noteworthy event. U.S. officials now estimate that a decline in tourism will cost China about $1 billion in foreign exchange this year and that China will lose another $1 billion to $2 billion in foreign investment.

‘World Will Come Around’


Analysts here say that the Chinese leadership has decided to wait things out on the assumption that the international pressure eventually will slacken. “China’s overall reaction has been to take the position that the world will come around,” said Harry Harding, a China scholar at the Brookings Institution.

There are indications that the strategy is succeeding. The Bush Administration has already taken small steps to restore some ties with the Chinese leadership, and several more such changes may be coming in the next few weeks:

-- Although the United States and its allies forced the World Bank to suspend $780 million in loans to China last June, bank officials say privately that they believe the Bush Administration and the Europeans and Japanese will give the green light within the next month to proceed with some of these loans.

Baker Met Foreign Minister


-- President Bush ruled out any exchanges between U.S. officials and the Chinese government at the level of assistant secretary or higher. But in August, Secretary of State James A. Baker III met with Chinese Foreign Minister Qian Qichen in Paris, and sources say that the two men may talk again at the United Nations this month. Chinese Ambassador to the United States Han Xu had official meetings with Bush, Vice President Dan Quayle, Baker and National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft last month before ending his assignment in Washington.

-- Although the Bush Administration originally suspended all sales to China of goods or technology with military applications, the Administration has since begun to grant waivers clearing the way for a number of important items, such as commercial planes and satellites.

The U.S. ban on military sales “hasn’t done a thing really,” observed one Asian diplomat who keeps track of U.S. arms sales to China. “Virtually all of the military equipment they (U.S. officials) wanted to sell had either already gone or won’t be ready for several years. And they will grant special exceptions for the rest.”

Sought to Limit Change

The Bush Administration designed its response to the Tian An Men Square massacre to limit the extent of change in U.S. policy toward China. Indeed, in private, Administration officials express much less concern over the violence and political repression in China than over the reaction to those events by Congress and the American public.

One Administration official said recently that the “prevailing view” in the Bush White House is that American television gave a selective, unrepresentative portrait of events in China and that the significance of those events is being exaggerated. Such claims parallel closely the arguments made by the Chinese leadership itself since the massacre.

“Many, many more people were killed during the Cultural Revolution, at the time when President (Richard M.) Nixon went to China,” this U.S. official said.

Underlying the Bush Administration’s China policy is the belief that the army’s assault on Beijing represents a short-term aberration for China and that Chinese leaders such as President Yang Shangkun and Premier Li Peng will not be able to consolidate their control over the nation.


Factional Struggles Possible

“We don’t expect the current crowd to last more than two years,” said one senior U.S. policy-maker. Some of the leaders eventually could be replaced peacefully, he said, or there could be factional struggles within the top leadership in which one side or another resorts to force.

Because the Administration is hoping for changes for the better in the Chinese leadership, it has been trying to avoid any action against China that cannot be quickly undone. After the massacre last June, the Administration was careful to say that it was “suspending"--rather than permanently severing--military sales and high-level political contacts with China.

Congress will act in the next few weeks on legislation that would write the Bush Administration’s China sanctions, and possibly some additional measures, into law. A House-Senate conference committee will try to reconcile differences between bills passed separately by the two chambers.

The Bush Administration probably will go along with this legislation as long as it contains a broad waiver allowing the President to lift sanctions against China whenever he thinks it would be in the “national interest” to do so.

Assumptions May Prove False

But there are some indications that the assumptions on which Bush’s China policy is based--that the Chinese leadership will soon take a turn for the better--may be false. One Bush Administration official acknowledged that he is worried about what would happen if leaders such as Yang and Li consolidate their power and if there are further crackdowns and repression in China.

China recently recalled most of its ambassadors from around the world to Beijing for top-level meetings with leaders such as new Communist Party General Secretary Jiang Zemin. Shortly afterward, the official party-controlled Chinese press began to carry hints of a harder-line approach to foreign policy.


Some Chinese officials and newspapers began to resurrect the use of the term “imperialism” in talking about the West. They also emphasized old themes such as the fundamental “struggle” between socialism and capitalism.

“We should never turn a blind eye to the anti-communist and anti-socialist tide in the Western world, which has always existed and has risen daily in recent years,” said the official Chinese magazine Liaowang on July 31.

‘A Fond Dream’

" . . . The international bourgeoisie has never given up its attempt to eliminate socialism. . . . The socialist system is superior to the capitalist system. It is but a fond dream to predict that communism will thoroughly collapse in the end.”

Despite the Bush Administration’s effort to minimize the changes in U.S. policy toward China, U.S. officials acknowledge that the massacre at Tian An Men has had some lasting effects on ties between the two countries.

Over the last few years, senior U.S. military officials had carried out a series of visits and exchanges with top-level leaders of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army. In the wake of the army’s assault upon Tian An Men Square, these exchanges were suspended. Although some Pentagon officials are known to be eager to restore contacts with the army, Administration officials say this is unlikely to happen any time soon.

“I don’t want to sound apocalyptic, but you have to assume that the military relationship with the People’s Republic of China, for the foreseeable future, is defunct,” said one Administration official.

More generally, another U.S. official observed, the events in China last June and afterward have so seriously damaged China’s credibility that they have made it all but impossible for the Bush Administration to push any initiatives in Congress regarding China.

At various times in the last few years, members of Congress have expressed concern about China’s sales of arms and missiles in the Middle East, its help for Pakistan’s nuclear-weapons program, its policies toward Hong Kong and Taiwan and its strict enforcement of population control. Each time, U.S. officials have relied on the verbal assurances of Chinese leaders that the regime in Beijing had decent intentions and was not engaging in irresponsible behavior.

Now, this U.S. official observed, the political dynamics have changed. Relying on the words of Chinese officials will probably not work any more.

Each time the Bush Administration has moved to ease the impact of last June’s sanctions against China, U.S. officials have explained that their original actions were being interpreted more broadly than was originally intended.

Carefully Worded Sanctions

For example, after Baker met the Chinese foreign minister and he and other top Administration officials saw the outgoing Chinese ambassador, U.S. officials said that the sanctions announced last June had been carefully worded to cover only formal “exchanges” in which a leader of one nation visited another.

The Bush policy was not meant to ban all high-level contacts or meetings between the two nations, U.S. officials said then--although that was the way the policy was interpreted last June, and Bush Administration officials did little to dispel that impression at the time.

“Clearly, the sanctions against China were announced in very broad, general terms,” observed Harding of the Brookings Institution. “And the Bush Administration has chosen to interpret them loosely, rather than strictly.”

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