For China, the potential flash points are Hong Kong and Taiwan. I take seriously the Chinese leaders' expressed commitment to Hong Kong's autonomy, above all, because it is so overwhelmingly in their self-interest. Even with the best of intentions, there are, however, some intangibles that can only be tested by the passage of time: a) How will Chinese officials daily react to a more open system? b) Will the authorities and the opponents of the new institutions muster the self-restraint needed to operate Hong Kong's autonomous system without resorting to violence? c) Will Taiwan see the practice of autonomy in Hong Kong as a challenge or as an opportunity?
On these issues, the United States can play a helpful role so long as it proceeds with some sensitivity. China has been told insistently by both administration officials and members of Congress that major breaches of the agreement will have a disastrous impact on U.S. public opinion. The point has been made.
All sides have an interest in maintaining and reaffirming the principles of the Shanghai communique. The United States must stick to the spirit of the one-China policy; China must understand that America is serious about our interest in a peaceful solution; and Taiwan must recognize that America's interest in a peaceful solution does not give Taiwan license to rekindle the Chinese civil war.
The forthcoming exchange of visits between Presidents Bill Clinton and Jiang Zemin must not be treated as public-relations exercises. Sino-American relations will either improve dramatically or decline dramatically.
Unless carefully and thoughtfully prepared, these meetings could, in the present atmosphere, backfire. Expectations must be realistic on both sides. And domestic pressure groups must temper their often valid concerns with an equal concern for the possibly unintended consequences of their actions. For what is at stake may be the prospects of peace in the next century.