September 23, 2002 | Commentary on Asia
ED092302: Why Jiang Should Worry
As Chinese President Jiang Zemin prepares for his long-awaited Oct.
25 summit at the Bush family ranch in Crawford, Texas, he must be
scratching his head over the new document his America hands have
just brought him. Last Friday U.S. President George W. Bush
submitted to Congress a tough but articulate "National Security
Strategy of the United States of America," a policy paper which has
major implications for U.S.-China relations.
While American media attention has inevitably focused upon its
elaboration on the Bush administration's post-Sept. 11 doctrine of
preemptive strikes against terrorists and rogue states, Mr. Jiang
and his aides will be more interested in other parts of the 35-page
document espousing what they are sure to see as a new American
strategy directed against Beijing. They will have read that Mr.
Bush's National Security Council spent "months" crafting its
language, which officials told the New York Times was "both a
maturation and explanation" of the president's vision of American
power. Mr. Bush is said to have "edited the document
That is why Mr. Jiang has so much cause to be concerned. He
arrives at Crawford under tremendous pressure from his own
Politburo Standing Committee, several members of whom have
reportedly called on Mr. Jiang to retire sooner rather than later.
On Nov. 8, the Chinese Communist Party will convene its 16th Party
Congress to decide the leadership succession, and Mr. Jiang has
been touting his deft handling of Sino-U.S. relations over the past
decade as grounds for him to stay on in these uncertain
No doubt Mr. Jiang had hoped to use the Crawford summit to bolster
his position by offering Chinese acquiescence in an American
military invasion of Iraq in exchange for concessions from
Washington over Taiwan. But the National Security Strategy strongly
suggests the Bush administration has no intention of allowing any
such haggling at the Crawford Summit.
From the very beginning of the White House document, America's
policy aims and strategic goals are laid out as "political
freedom," "peaceful relations with other states and respect for
human dignity." The nation's challenge is the struggle of
"destructive totalitarian visions versus freedom and equality." The
mission: to "defeat these threats to our nation, allies and
In case anyone -- especially the Chinese -- are in any doubt as to
just who America's "friends" might be, page three of the strategy
document notes that America has witnessed "democratic processes
take hold among our friends in Taiwan." Taiwan, in fact, is the
first foreign country named in the document. Later on, in a section
on economic growth, the document gives the Bush administration a
self-congratulatory pat on the back for clearing the way for "the
accession of China and a democratic Taiwan" to the World Trade
To the uninitiated, this may seem an anodyne formula, but it is a
term now creeping into the Bush administration's foreign policy
lexicon. At Mr. Bush's Aug. 13 economic forum at Baylor University
in Texas, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick made a point of
referring to "democratic Taiwan" on two separate occasions. This
did not go unnoticed in Beijing, and China will be watching
anxiously to see if "democratic Taiwan" becomes the Bush
administration's new name for the island.
This, in itself, is enough to cause pathological hyperventilation
among some Chinese leaders. But the White House strategy document
doesn't stop there. It also devotes a full page to explaining the
U.S. strategy for dealing with "rogue states" involved in the
proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery
systems. This too will annoy the Chinese because, aside from
Taiwan, the biggest point of friction between Washington and
Beijing has been American anger at China's proliferation of
chemical weapons-related equipment to Iran, and missile parts to
Libya, Syria and Pakistan. Three times since last September, the
U.S. State Department has sanctioned Chinese individuals, firms and
government-owned entities for violations of nonproliferation
The Chinese had hoped that their adoption of an "export control
law" last month would ease tensions with the U.S. Indeed, tensions
did abate somewhat during Deputy Secretary of State Richard
Armitage's visit to Beijing, and China's subsequent Dutch-uncle
warnings to Iraq's foreign minister about Baghdad's bad behavior.
But Mr. Armitage's ambivalent stance in Beijing on Taiwanese
independence (he said the U.S. does not support it, but does not
necessarily oppose it) left his Chinese hosts unsettled.
Beijing is also likely to see other unwelcome hidden messages --
whether real or imagined -- elsewhere in the strategy document. For
instance, it warns that "for rogue states, these weapons are tools
of intimidation and military aggression against their neighbors"
intended to "blackmail the United States and our allies to prevent
us from deterring or repelling the aggressive behavior of rogue
To readers in Beijing, this has an uncomfortably familiar ring. In
December 1995, according to the New York Times, Chinese General
Xiong Guangkai told a former U.S. assistant defense secretary that
China could act militarily against Taiwan without fear because U.S.
leaders "care more about Los Angeles than they do about Taiwan," an
apparent indirect threat to use nuclear weapons against the U.S. if
it ever came to Taiwan's defense. When Mr. Bush's strategy declares
"our forces will be strong enough to dissuade potential adversaries
from pursuing a military buildup in hopes of surpassing or equaling
the power of the United States," the Chinese leadership must surely
sense that the president is talking directly to them.
The Chinese will also note that the U.S. strategy welcomes "the
emergence of a strong, peaceful, and prosperous China -- but
insists that "the democratic development of China is crucial to
that future." For years, Beijing has glowered suspiciously at
Washington's putative strategy of promoting a "peaceful evolution"
of China to a democracy from a totalitarian dictatorship. And for
years Beijing has assumed that Americans had a hand in fomenting
the pro-democracy demonstrations at Tiananmen Square in 1989. The
strategy document will further feed those anxieties.
Now they see Washington as warning them yet again that their
pursuit of "advanced military capabilities" threatens others in the
Asia-Pacific region. Taiwan, needless to say, is the one most
threatened. And the strategy paper forthrightly states there are
"profound disagreements" between Washington and Beijing: "our
commitment to the self-defense of Taiwan under the Taiwan Relations
Act is one" (human rights is another, proliferation is a
None of this -- not a word -- is calculated to soothe Mr. Jiang's
sensibilities prior to the Crawford summit. On the contrary, it
will send a message, whether intended or not, that President Bush
is not in the mood to bargain at Crawford. Mr. Jiang is likely to
be particularly stung by these subtle but painful barbs because
they will undermine his reputation in the Politburo as an adroit
handler of relations with America. Judging from this document, he
now risks returning home from the summit diminished in stature and
in a weaker position to face the dogfight at the Communist Party
Congress the following week. This may ease the transfer of power to
a new generation of leaders in Beijing. And while it may puzzle Mr.
Jiang, others will find it perfectly understandable.
J. Tkacik, Jr., a research fellow at the
Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., is a retired officer in
the U.S. foreign service who served in Beijing, Guangzhou, Hong
Kong and Taipei.
Originally appeared in the Asian Wall Street Journal.