Leave China Alone
George Szamuely
New York Press


It is not surprising that the presidential candidates are already outdoing one another with bluster about the Chinese. What is surprising is our irritation with the Chinese for taking a dim view of this. Two years ago Richard Bernstein wrote a book called The Coming Conflict with China, which now seems to be coming true. The only thing Bernstein got wrong was who would start the conflict. In fact the Chinese has not acted aggressively or made threats – indeed, neither Bernstein nor anyone else has said they have. What he and the presidential candidates do instead is trot out a familiar list of complaints – human rights abuses, Tibet, software piracy, missile transfers – somehow hoping they add up to something warlike.

It has been a long time since the Chinese have waged war against anyone. As a matter of fact, it is hard to think of another power that has shown comparable restraint when its national sovereignty was at stake. For example, even though they insisted that the British possession of Hong Kong was illegal, they waited patiently until the expiration of the 99-year lease before taking it over, and have for the most part respected their promise to allow Hong Kong its own self-government. Even regarding Taiwan, the Chinese have been mild. They have not made any attempt to interfere in the island's affairs. On the contrary, they have been begging the Taiwanese to invest more on the mainland. As inducement they even offered to let the Taiwanese establish their own banks and their own schools. They were ready to issue Taiwanese businessmen with a Chinese passport to go together with their Taiwanese one. All they wanted in return was recognition of their ultimate sovereignty over Taiwan.

It is the Chinese who have every reason to fear the encroachments of foreign powers. Memories of the nineteenth and twentieth century carve-up of China into economic zones run for the benefit of western investors still rankle. Despite Mao's savagery he is still admired for ending China's dependency on foreigners. China' suspicions about the United States today are not unwarranted, particularly on the issue of "human rights." Today's imperialism, as the bombing and military occupation of Yugoslavia showed, comes in the guise of "humanitarian intervention." In July, President Lee Teng-hui of Taiwan told a German journalist that relations between China and Taiwan would henceforth be on a "state to state basis." The Chinese knew this was no slip of the tongue. A few days earlier NATO had detached Kosovo from Serbia. The ostensible reason proffered was the supposed abuse of Albanian "human rights." What was the United States' response to Lee's remark? "We don't support Taiwan independence," lisped the State Department's Jamie Rubin. Fine. But, Rubin continued, "we consider any effort to determine the future of Taiwan by other than peaceful means a threat to the peace and security to the Western Pacific area and of grave concern to the United States." So Taiwan could declare independence and if China used force, as any power is entitled to do when its sovereignty is challenged, the United States was ready to go to war. This is the same game the US was playing in Yugoslavia. "We do not support independence for Kosovo," intoned the harridan of Foggy Bottom last October. On the other hand, unless the Serbs "immediately end all military and police operations in Kosovo," they will be bombed. Today the KLA runs Kosovo. The Chinese are right to be concerned. Yugoslavia's forced disintegration could be in store for them as well.

A few weeks after Lee's comments, the United States and Japan signed an agreement to begin research on an antimissile defense system, known as theater missile defense (TMD). TMD is supposed to protect the US and its allies from incoming ballistic missiles flying within a 1800-mile radius by detecting them with satellites and destroying them in flight with missiles. Who is being protected from what here? The US says that the purpose of the system is to protect US servicemen stationed in Asia. But why would someone attack soldiers with missiles after the Kosovo fiasco? After being attacked with missiles steadily for almost three months, the Yugoslav army suffered virtually no damage. And who is to do this missile lobbing in Asia? Will it really be that mother of rogue states – North Korea? Yes!, cry the lavishly-funded foreign policy wonks in unison. But North Korea is extremely poor – it is only just beginning to recover from several years of famine. They can't target anything with any accuracy. And what would North Korea get out of lobbing one missile or even two missiles? Since their point of origin would immediately be known, retaliation would be swift and devastating. In any case, if North Korea really is the threat, why has South Korea already opted out of the TMD scheme?

There is another reason why the "North Korea" explanation sounds implausible. The TMD project goes together with new US-Japanese Security Guidelines. According to these, Japan will provide logistical support for US military operations. This is new. For more than 50 years, at American insistence, Japan was committed to pacifism – as required by Article IX of their Constitution. Suddenly this has changed. Why? The Soviet Union – a far more formidable adversary than North Korea – was not threatening enough to cause any change in Japanese policy. And suddenly the North Korean peril is so dire that Japan must immediately step into the breach. The Chinese do not buy this. They are sure that this US-Japan military partnership is directed at them. The United States has already succeeded in exerting its hegemony over Europe by playing on Europe's innumerable ethnic conflicts. Now the United States is out to do the same in Asia. The goal is to break up the region's greatest power. Chinese suspicions were hardly assuaged when little Jamie Rubin recently announced that "we don't preclude the possible sale of theater missile defenses to Taiwan in the future." TMD would thus serve as a shield behind which Taiwan could make its bid for independence.

No wonder the Chinese were so upset about the bombing of Serbia! They must have recalled the way Yugoslavia disintegrated with the active encouragement of foreign powers. The west has the same incentive to do so to China. They have made huge capital investments in China and fear for its safety. In the past, foreign investors found it much easier to deal with separate provinces or treaty ports in China. Would it not be in their interest to sponsor secessionist movements and dissolve China into the innumerable little statelets that now litter Southeastern Europe? These provinces could then become "safe havens" for international capital. Foreign investment could pour in unhindered; wages could be as low as possible; health and safety standards could be minimal; and profits, unlike the case today, would be easily repatriated.

How do you sponsor separatism? Just ask the Serbs. Since 1996 the Chinese have been fighting Moslem Uighur separatists in Xinjiang province in the West. They are also fighting an independence movement in Tibet. The Chinese have seen how easily Americans can switch from supporting Islam (in Bosnia) to supporting its repression (in Turkey). Therefore, when a State Department twerp like Assistant Secretary of State Harold Koh voiced his concern recently that "In Tibet and Xinjiang, the government…moved to suppress religious manifestations that advocate independence or any expression of 'separatism,'" the Chinese suspected something fishy. What country in the world does not suppress "manifestations" – whatever they may be – that advocate "independence or any expression of 'separatism'"? Will the Uighurs of Xinjiang become tomorrow's Albanians – oppressed victims as American clients? And what role will America's new Central Asian ally – Uzbekistan – play in all of this?

Tibet is already something of an obsession in the United States. Buddhism became fashionable some years ago, and today Hollywood is happy to churn out anti-Chinese twaddle. To be sure, Chinese Communist treatment of Tibetan culture was brutal but it was probably no worse than Communist treatment of Chinese culture as a whole. But Tibet has never existed as an independent state. Even during the years of the foreign encroachments upon China, the Europeans never questioned China's sovereignty over Tibet.

This, however, could change soon. There is only one way China can avoid the fate of Yugoslavia. It has to stop Taiwan's drift towards independence. Threats alone will have no effect. Already the US is putting it about that empty bluster is all the Chinese are capable of. China has to show its readiness to use force now. If they wait, Taiwan will slip away. Xinjiang, Tibet and other provinces will not be far behind. Once again US policies are creating the conditions for an unnecessary war.

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