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Nixon on U.S. China Policy

July 09, 1989

It is with some puzzlement that I finished reading former President Nixon's article on China, "China Policy: Revulsion Real, Reprisal Wrong" (Opinion, June 25).

Like most Chinese, I have admired Nixon's farsightedness and courage in his historical decision to re-establish relations with China. But that farsightedness seems to be absent from Nixon's latest analysis of the situation in China and his proposed solution. Indeed, Nixon seems to create more confusion than clarity in his argument about the effect or lack of effect of any strong American reaction to the crisis in China. For on one hand, Nixon claims that any strong and punitive policies would have no effect whatsoever on China's hard-line leadership; on the other hand, he stresses that one fundamental goal of U.S. policy toward China should be to influence its leadership to get the economic reforms back on the track and to go forward with peaceful political reforms.

But how can America influence a Chinese leadership that is beyond any influence? Well, Nixon suggested that we try "private channels." Didn't President Bush try unsuccessfully to invite dissident Fang Lizhi to a private dinner party? Didn't he also try to call Deng Xiaoping on a private line to plead with him to stop the massacre in Beijing, but could not get through because Deng was busy barking out shoot-to-kill orders to his generals on the same private line? Haven't Americans had enough "private channels" in the Iran-Contra diplomacy?

Moreover, as Nixon has rightly suggested, a strong and stable China is as vital as ever to the security interests of the United States. But the question remains, "Is there such a China now?" Or if so, how long will such a China be while its present regime is still bent on bloody repression and ruthless reprisals against the pro-democracy students and workers? What happened in Beijing and other major Chinese cities in the past few weeks has proven to the world and the people of China as well that a stable and strong China cannot be achieved and maintained by economic success alone. It is possible only through more political openness and genuine commitment to democracy.

Undoubtedly, Nixon's argument raises questions concerning the foundation of American foreign policy. Should American policy toward China be totally based on the geopolitical interests of China to the United States, as Nixon has suggested? Or should it be grounded in the very ideals on which this great nation was created? These are difficult questions. But one fatal flaw of the geopolitical interests oriented policies adopted by the previous Administrations is that they have cultivated an illusion among the Chinese leadership that China is geopolitically too important for the United States not to accept its abuses of human rights and other political excesses.

In addition, if China is to modernize, a farsighted American policy toward China should include more than anything else a concern and steady measures for the cause of democracy in China. Contrary to Nixon's perception, such a policy is really politically hard and emotionally trying, but in the long run it is in complete congruence to the interests of both the Chinese and American people.

XUN LIU

Fountain Valley

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