I’m sorry I could not attend the party at your Embassy in Washington last Monday, welcoming you to your new post as ambassador to our government. You arrived at a most interesting time, I must say, given the diplomatic frictions arising from the accident near Hainan Island.
The deputy chief of mission, my friend Liu Xiaoming, may have told you that — while I appreciated your point of view as well as any American student of China’s history and political economy — I thought it would be a grave mistake to hold on to the aircrew going into Easter weekend. Even I would have to consider them being held as “hostages,” I told him, and you would lose an advocate.
Of course, I was very happy to see them released, for “humanitarian reasons,” as your foreign ministry put it. My congratulations went out immediately to President George Bush and his foreign policy team, especially Secretary of State Colin Powell.
The purpose of this memo, Mr. Ambassador, is to assure you that I believe you now have a great opportunity to work with our government in developing the kind of relationship President Clinton suggested early in his first term, that of a “strategic partnership.”
My friend Bob Novak, the political columnist, did attend your welcoming party, and reported yesterday that you actually declared your belief that we already have reached that kind of status and should not be considered “competitors.” He called it a “misconception” on your part the notion that “the bilateral relationship can be restored to what it was when the U.S. surveillance plane went down.” Mr. Novak said he could “find no serious American student of China policy who believes that.”
Perhaps because I am more of an optimist than others, Mr. Ambassador, but I believe we can quickly restore the status quo ante, because to tell you the truth it wasn’t that good three weeks ago, when the planes went down. We were on our way toward becoming “strategic partners” a decade ago and even today believe that is the kind of relationship to which we can and must work. So I was glad to see that it is in your frame of mind.
What Bob Novak is picking up from members of Congress in both parties is a reaction to the fact that the episode ended as it did, with President Bush “kowtowing” to Beijing, at least in the minds of the “anti-China coalition” in the United States. The first thing you will have to get used to, I think, is that there is an “anti-China coalition” here, where there was none so-identified at the beginning of the Clinton administration in 1993.
Our friendly relationship was at a peak during the administration of George Bush the elder. That’s because he had lived in Beijing in the 1970s when he was the U.S. special representative at a time your country was first emerging from its unhappy experiment with a totally controlled political economy. He knows how far you have come. I did not travel to China until 1983, but by late September 1977 I could see and write of the likelihood that you would soon be moving toward a market economy that eventually would resemble Taiwan’s, permitting a political accommodation satisfactory to you both.
I’m not going to blame the Clinton administration for the troubles that have caused our political leaders to think of China as a “competitor” at best and an “adversary” or even “enemy” at worst. Indeed, while our relationship with your country has deteriorated in these years, your relationship with Taiwan has proceeded exactly as I had forecast in 1977. The commercial linkages you have developed with the Taiwan business community today are far beyond anything Henry Kissinger says he could have imagined when he helped President Nixon open the door to China.
Our “anti-China coalition” does not like the secret to get out that Beijing is now far more eager to further open commercial, business and political contacts with Taiwan than the Taiwan government seems prepared to accept. That’s something with which the Bush administration would be glad to help, I think, because the more it is publicized, the less likely it will be for our Congress to think we must arm Taiwan to the teeth and prepare ourselves for a war with the PRC.
The concept of a “strategic partner” always implied, to me, that the United States would be able to count on China to help keep the peace in Asia. It remains my belief, as a student of China, that your people have no interest in challenging the U.S. by becoming a superpower yourselves.
When you supported the international alliance against Saddam Hussein in the Gulf War and when you assisted in nudging North Korea to its diplomatic opening with Seoul, you did make it easy for Americans to think maybe a strategic partnership was possible. That is harder to see now, because there was an accumulation of foreign-policy errors made by the Clinton team in recent years, not necessarily with direct regard to China, but in other parts of the world — in the Balkans, in Iraq, in the Sudan, in Russia. In each instance, I found myself in stark disagreement with my government and it was no surprise to me that your government and many others also were dismayed at our behavior. The fact that you made your position known, though, opened the way for those American opinion leaders who are hostile toward you to form a coalition with political clout.
It has not helped either that you have kept your currency tied tightly to the deflating dollar, as I’ve tried to make clear to your embassy. Your rural population especially has been crushed by falling farm prices, and when the people suffer now, they look to religion or even “cults,” as you call them, for emotional and spiritual relief. When you then crack down, you feed the hostility of our anti-China coalition here, who do not take kindly to you pointing out that the U.S. has two million people in our prisons.
The United States knows it must somehow manage the world, as it is the only superpower, but the Clinton administration did not do a very good job of figuring out how that might be done. I think we are going to make greater headway in that regard in the Bush administration, perhaps learning from the errors of the last eight years. The Bush team is as good as it can possibly get, I believe — with Mr. Cheney, Mr. Powell and Mr. Rumsfeld, a thoroughly seasoned crew. And when it comes to China, I am comforted that our young
President also can call his father for helpful hints. There is nobody in his Cabinet, as seasoned as they are, who knows the people of China as well as the old man in Kennebunkport. I’m confident they will manage well our political economy and thus help yours regain its health. A strategic partnership is a worthy goal.