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Go Ahead--Blame China

Premier Zhu says he will present a truer picture of his country on his upcoming U.S. visit.

April 04, 1999|WANG JISI | Wang Jisi is director of the Institute of American Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing. He teaches at the Central (Communist) Party School. This commentary is from Global Viewpoints

BEIJING — Enough is enough. It is time for the China-bashing barrage from U.S. media and political circles to yield to a more balanced view.

Repressing political dissension at home, stealing nuclear secrets from American labs, destroying Tibetan culture, threatening Taiwan with missiles--these are just a few of the charges hurled against Beijing. There seems nothing but evil under the Communist reign. Were China in disorder, it must be caused by the misrule of the Communists. If, instead, its economy continues to bypass the Asian financial turbulence and thrive, then "Red China" is becoming a weapons-building menace. China is always cursed, one way or another.

Official response to this unfriendly wind is measured. The Chinese media counterattack targets "anti-China fallacies," not the Clinton administration. Thanks to Beijing's unperturbed policy toward Washington, China-U.S. relations aren't in great danger. Recently, Premier Zhu Rongji brushed off the "Chinese espionage" allegations, saying he would present a true picture of China in a visit to the U.S., scheduled to begin Tuesday.

Knowledgeable policy analysts understand that the accusations, especially the recent "security leak" tales, are aimed as much at President Clinton as at China. In the post-Monica world, "catching China red-handed" might make a good case for harassing a White House that pursues a policy of engaging China.

The anti-China drumbeat, however, has a poisonous side effect. It brings shame on the U.S. as a benign and responsible world power. It alienates Americans from people in China, including future leaders and young, liberal-minded intellectuals who read Thomas Jefferson and watch Hollywood movies. Average citizens in China don't take the time to try to comprehend the American political game. Even if they did, they would fail to understand why China's desired admission to the World Trade Organization should be held hostage for political purposes. It's also difficult to explain why last year's devastating floods went largely unnoticed in the U.S., or why China's painstaking efforts to stabilize its currency aren't appreciated.

The average Chinese might conclude that the U.S. dislikes China and seeks to obstruct its rise as a nation and a civilization. Chinese leaders have few reasons to cultivate anti-Western feelings, but the West's anti-China words and deeds are having that effect. The more unreasonable and arrogant demands are likely to backfire. As Joseph Nye, dean of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, remarked, "If you see China as an enemy, it will become an enemy."

Politics aside, the issue is what the real nature of China is. For too long, its image has suffered from the simplistic depiction of an assertive state in conflict with a frustrated society. A truer picture is that it is a rapidly changing polity with diversifying interests and an array of difficulties. Not despite but because of a Chinese leadership that carries on reforms, it is irreversibly moving toward a market economy and democratization.

To be sure, problems abound, from rampant corruption to moral decay, from drug abuse to ecological degradation--and above all, poverty and unemployment. However, none of these problems can be solved by just attacking the government. Rather, the objective should be building humane and effective governance under the rule of law, to which Zhu's government is strongly committed.

There is a reservoir of expertise in the U.S.--China scholars, businessmen and retired officials, as well as thousands of non-activist Chinese students. They should impart a better understanding of China. The general public needs more sober assessments. Sensational stories or cheap comments, given by those whose knowledge is limited, should be discredited, especially when they reflect their own political agenda.

A better understanding, of course, is not everything. Specific issues between the two countries should be addressed. "Building a global financial system for the 21st century," as advocated by President Clinton in his State of the Union address, may be a top priority. China's long-waited accession to WTO may be another. Nonproliferation, environmental protection and technological cooperation are important to both countries.

As to the more sensitive issues like human rights, there are established channels for nonconfrontational discussions. No other people know better than the Chinese themselves how to deal with different opinions. Friendly advice is therefore more attentively received than patronizing admonition.

A new Cold War between China and the U.S. can be avoided if they work together to keep the momentum set up by President Jiang Zemin and Clinton in the last two years. Now Premier Zhu, one of the ablest and most respected leaders China has ever had, is ready to reach out his hand. It is up to the Americans to seize the opportunity.

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