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Budding U.S.-China Ties Have Asia Leaders in Knots

Diplomacy: Perception that Clinton is elevating Beijing ahead of longtime allies unsettles region.


TOKYO — Even as President Clinton spoke optimistically Tuesday about someday bringing the Chinese into the world trading regime, Asian leaders from New Delhi to Taipei to Tokyo were reacting with deepening anxiety and in some quarters, embittered outrage to what they see as his unabashed, passionate embrace of China.

Most Asian officials, with the notable exception of the Indians and Taiwanese, welcome at least publicly the prospect of smoother U.S. relations with China and the regional stability that is expected to ensue. Still, the perception that America is engaged in a subtle rearrangement of its Asian relationships, putting China atop the VIP list ahead of traditional allies Japan and Taiwan, has sent shock waves through the region.

Reaction in Taiwan on Tuesday was swift and sharp to Clinton's unprecedented public declaration in Shanghai of what are called the "three noes"--that the United States would not support the independence of Taiwan, the creation of two Chinas or Taiwan's admission to the United Nations.

"It's wrong, morally and politically, for Clinton to collude with the Communist dictatorship to restrict the future of a democratic country, Taiwan," said Parris H. Chang, a legislator with the Democratic Progressive Party, which supports Taiwanese independence. "Beijing is trying to manipulate the United States to isolate Taiwan diplomatically. That Clinton has fallen into that kind of trap is unfortunate. . . . U.S. policy toward Taiwan is on a slippery slope. More and more, the United States is making concessions to China without any return."

Taiwanese officials said they were not surprised by Clinton's announcement, since the "three noes" policy has been stated publicly by lower-level U.S. officials for eight months and Taipei had been briefed by Washington before Clinton began his trip to China. Still, questions of Taiwanese sovereignty and destiny "are not subject to discussion by third parties," government spokesman C. J. Chen said.

Heavily dependent on the United States for weapons and political protection, Taiwan has little recourse if America chooses to "feed Beijing" instead of the island that China considers a rebel province, said China expert Orville Schell, dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at UC Berkeley. The Clinton administration's attitude appears to be that "Taiwan is sacrifice-able," he said in an interview in Beijing. "There's not much they [Taiwan] can do or will do."

The Japanese government, which for a long time has neither felt the warmth from nor seen the huge turnout of U.S. dignitaries that has been amassed for the president's nine-day Chinese swing, has been determinedly restrained and diplomatic as Clinton and Treasury Secretary Robert E. Rubin criticized Japan's economic policies to audiences in China--a developing nation with an economy one-seventh the size of Japan's that remains dependent on Tokyo's capital, trade and aid for its modernization efforts.

But the Indian government and media erupted with anger at what they saw as the hypocrisy of Saturday's joint U.S.-Chinese declaration condemning recent nuclear weapons tests by India and Pakistan and promising to work together to discourage a nuclear arms race in South Asia.

Just hours after Clinton and Chinese President Jiang Zemin signed the statement in Beijing, the Indian Foreign Ministry denounced it as reflecting "the hegemonistic mentality of a bygone era."

India, which fought a war with China in 1962, specifically cited a Chinese nuclear threat to its national security in justifying its five nuclear weapons tests in May.

U.S. intelligence officials also believe that China gave Pakistan missiles that are capable of carrying nuclear warheads to India--and there are suspicions that staunch ally China may also have helped Pakistan with nuclear technology that enabled Islamabad to conduct its own retaliatory atomic bomb tests two weeks after India's.

But the United States also gave Pakistan hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. military aid in the 1980s, when as a key Cold War ally it helped drive the Soviet Union out of neighboring Afghanistan.

"It is most ironic that two countries that have directly and indirectly contributed to the unabated proliferation of nuclear weapons and delivery systems in our neighborhood are now presuming to prescribe norms for nonproliferation," India's Foreign Ministry said.

India's press portrayed the U.S.-Chinese rapprochement as an emerging alliance between a new friend and an old enemy, neither of whom has the moral authority to hector India. "New Delhi does not have to take orders from an emerging alliance of those who have done the most to make the world an unsafe place," proclaimed an editorial Tuesday in the widely read daily the Indian Express.

A prominent New Delhi businessman observed that "there is almost a sense of betrayal. The U.S. talks about constructive engagement, but when it comes to India, it's beginning to feel more like destructive engagement."

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