U.S. and China -- Friends and Foes

Can two countries be foes and friends at the same time? This question will bedevil U.S.-China relations for years to come, however Congress votes on renewing Most Favored Nation (MFN) status for China this summer.Not since the China lobby heyday of the 1950's has hostility towards China been so intense as it is now. The old anti-Communists are still out there, eagerly waiting for the day Chinese Communism collapses. Joining them are a growing number of American intellectuals, many of them New Leftists who in the 1960s adulated Mao's China.Much bigger in numbers are union members who fear China's growing industrial exports are destroying their jobs. But the China opponents with the biggest clout now come from the religious right. Like their missionary forebears, they view China as a heathen force persecuting the faithful that must be overcome so God's plan for the world can be fulfilled.All this anger adds up to a lot of pressure on Congress to deny renewal. Yet at the same time never before has China had so many American friends, ranging from the highest leadership to ordinary people.Farmers like China because it is one of American agriculture's best foreign customers. Big and small companies are flocking to China to get in on its boom. Motorola wants the Chinese to send up 65 satellites to give them a virtual monopoly on cellular phone communication from the North to the South Pole. American consumers snap up Chinese products -- campaigns to boycott made-in-China labels notwithstanding -- while growing numbers of tourists find themselves welcomed as Americans, and not just for their money.An even better friend of China is the Pentagon. Recently Joint Chiefs Chairman General John Shalikashvili visited China and told his hosts China offers no threat to the United States. The U.S. and Chinese Navies are visiting each other's ports. And in his recent book, "The Next War," former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger listed five possible foes for the U.S.: Japan, Russia, North Korea, Iran and Mexico. China was noticeably missing from the list.If Congress votes down MFN President Clinton certainly will use executive privilege to extend it for another year. But the harm will be done. As Kenneth Courtis, president of the Deutsche Bank Asia Group, recently said, "U.S.-China relations are in for rough days ahead."In 1972, when Nixon visited China, a lot of Chinese hoped that Sino-American relations would eventually go from foe through partner to friend. So long as the Republicans held the presidency China's leaders felt the relationship oscillated between partner and friend. And despite the China-bashing and frictions over Taiwan during the first Clinton administration, Beijing still believed the partnership was intact.But after Clinton's re-election, the Chinese leaders suddenly found themselves facing an America pursuing two diametrically opposed policies at the same time. One policy aims at China's disintegration. The other views China as business partner and ally helping ward off dangerous foes.While Washington seems increasingly divided on China policy, Beijing appears to have come up with a new stance towards the U.S. That stance can be summarized as: whether relations be good or bad, always let the U.S. make the first move.This stance, based on the Taoist principle of "the hard and the soft," means that if the U.S. treats China as a partner or a friend, China will respond positively. But if MFN is not renewed, or if Washington seeks to damage China in other ways -- for example, by intruding in mainland-Taiwan relations -- China will retaliate. The strategy is to ride with the first blow and then wait for the opportune moment to strike back.Even if the U.S. and China should come to blows, chances are that the Pentagon won't stop cooperating with China. And even if MFN is ended, U.S. businesses will likely continue doing business with China.What Washington may not fully appreciate is China's willingness to respond disproportionately to anti-Chinese measures -- and the depth of Beijing's confidence that it can get away with retaliating because of splits in the U.S. over China policy.

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