A Two-Pronged Approach to China
Senator Fred Thompson (R-TN)
February 16, 2001
Many experts are now focusing on China's future. The optimists point out that with the advent of the Internet, modern telecommunications and free trade, China will become more free and open. Pessimists, on the other hand, remind us that China is an emerging power, and that emerging powers more often than not try to change the realities of the world around them.
An unsettling Chinese white paper on national defense released last November characterized the United States as a global menace and a threat to peace. And a Defense Department report on China's military power, which was delivered to Congress last year, said that China's leaders have been discussing ways to counter U.S. power, including accelerating their military modernization, pursuing strategic cooperation with Russia, and increasing China's weapons proliferation activities abroad.
No one is sure how China will evolve, but we do know that we must try to engage China in trade, hope for democratic change, and remain firm on our policies, priorities, and interests. Unfortunately, over the last eight years, when it came to Chinese military money going to the Democratic National Committee, China's theft of the designs of our most sophisticated nuclear warheads, or Beijing's threats against Taiwan, the Clinton Administration's response was usually inadequate. And in each case, a timid U.S. response led to a more assertive China.
President Bush is correct when he says that China is neither our enemy nor our strategic partner; China is clearly our competitor. While we are troubled by their proliferation record, regional assertiveness, and threatening statements toward the United States and our friends in Asia, we can be encouraged by the Chinese people's desire for greater political freedom, individual rights, and reform.
Like many, I believe that increased trade and engagement may help open up China in the long run and give the Chinese people the means to bring about political, social, and economic reform. But, at the same time, I believe we must be clear and consistent about our commitment to universal principles such as human rights and religious freedom and our desire to advance the rule of law and democracy.
The United States must also welcome China into the World Trade Organization, for its participation is important to our long term economic growth and China's long term political reform. While doing so, we must demand that Beijing stick to its agreements, abide by the rules of the WTO, and support Taiwan's entry into the WTO at the same time.
The U.S. walks a delicate tightrope as it balances national security, foreign policy and trade with China. Free trade and open markets are essential to continued prosperity, and promoting our values abroad are also important, but our national security cannot be sacrificed for the promise of future profits. Nowhere is this choice between trade and security more difficult, or more important, than in the area of China's continued proliferation activities, including its diversion of sensitive, commercially-available "dual-use" technologies.
We must be clear to the Chinese that the U.S. will not tolerate the continued transfer of dangerous items to rogue states and others, or for China's own military modernization efforts. After all, at a time when China is being invited to become a member in good standing of the global trading community, is it asking too much for a fellow permanent member of the U.N. Security Council to obey international rules and norms with regard to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and other technology? For example, the Bush Administration has recently confronted the Chinese about the sale of fiber-optic cables to Iraq in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions. Administration officials point out that the fiber-optic cables provided by the Chinese would link Iraqi anti-aircraft systems and endanger U.S. and British pilots enforcing no-fly zones over Iraq.
Next, the United States should deploy as soon as technologically possible a robust, multi- tiered missile defense system that will protect us against ballistic missiles from rogue states like North Korea. Beijing is deeply concerned that a NMD will nullify its own plan and could even lead to missile defenses for Taiwan. Nonetheless, the bottom line is that the United States must act in its national interests to protect our country.
Finally, the United States needs to dedicate more resources and attention to bolstering our intelligence capabilities; tightening security at our national labs, facilities, and federal agencies; and strengthening our export controls. And we must ensure that our armed forces are the best trained and equipped in the world and that they are able to meet the new, technically sophisticated threats that are emerging.
It goes without saying that we do not want a shaky relationship with a country as important as China to degenerate further. It is equally obvious that turning a blind eye toward activity that is harmful to our interests has not improved our relationship with China. We must demonstrate strength as well as restraint to them and the rest of the world. We cannot afford to take one approach without the other.
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