Alexander's Column

Vital Interests

Mark Alexander · Apr. 20, 2001

After eight years of the Clinton administration’s policy of “constructive engagement” – “appeasement” we should say – the recent attack upon and seizure of a U.S. Navy surveillance plane and crew clearly indicates that our relationship with Red China is hardly a “strategic partnership,” the Clintonian expression for the art of funding and arming the People’s Republic of China. “Constructive engagement” loosely translated into cutting trade agreements with the PRC, assuming that a tight embrace of financial and international linkages would expose Chinese citizens to U.S. “freedom values,” which would gradually and inexorably transform the PRC into a more democratic and peaceful nation.

This folly has been dashed.

Indeed, the PRC’s subversion of our nation’s vital interests has not abated with the promise of Permanent Normal Trade Relations and entry into the World Trade Organization. PNTR ended yearly congressional scrutiny of China’s activities and granted the PRC equivalent trading relations to those we share with free nations in this hemisphere and Europe. American policymakers, both Republican and Democrat, voted overwhelmingly to grant China PNTR despite mountains of evidence clearly illustrating the anti-U.S. positions and policies of the PRC. Like their historical counterparts from the 1930’s, American politicians refused to hear disturbing things that rumored the potential for war.

The Business Roundtable Group, a lobbying coalition of over 200 companies with major trading interests in China, pumped $85 million in soft money, PAC and individual contributions to lawmakers during the 1999-2000 election cycle.

As predicted by The Federalist, however, the Reds now enjoy enormous trade surpluses with the U.S., converting our hard currency into military hardware, which will eventually be used against us in a military action to retake Taiwan. (Last year alone the PRC trade surplus was $84 billion.)

Furthermore, during Clinton’s watch, the PRC acquired U.S. weapons technology via Department of Energy “wink and nod” espionage junkets and through licit and illicit purchases by front companies in Hong Kong and Singapore. Some of that technology is now showing up in ballistic missiles sold to “rogue states” such as North Korea, Iran, Iraq and Libya.

In a 1998 report to Congress on the ballistic missile threat, Donald Rumsfeld, now secretary of defense, noted, “This is not a distant threat. A new strategic environment now gives emerging ballistic missile powers the capacity to strike the U.S. within about five years of a decision to acquire such a capability.”

Sen. Fred Thompson, whose judiciary committee first uncovered the Red Chinese funding of Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign, commented: “On this point, it seems that the United States has spent the last eight years sending all the wrong messages about our principles, priorities and interests. [Clinton’s policies have been] woefully inadequate.”

And the PRC is not merely a dangerous weapons proliferator transforming itself on the global stage into a deadly adversary of the United States. China also continues its draconian suppression of free exercise of political dissent and religious faith within China. Peaceful advocates of a political party intended to compete with the Communists have been jailed. China made the top of the list of repressors in the most recent annual report from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. Christians are regularly arrested and subjected to all manner of abuse and human rights violations, including severe torture. Almost 10,000 followers of the mild spiritualist exercise movement Falun Gong have been sentenced to labor camps. Reliable estimates put the total at 60 million innocent Chinese citizens murdered since the Maoist revolution.

But for all the protestations that Red China would move toward democracy as a result of “strategic partnership” and “constructive engagement” through trade and cultural exchanges, what did Congress reasonably expect? Money contains no moral compass. And to pretend that it does is to erase morality and substitute a grinning devil in its place.

“China’s behavior has, if anything, only gotten worse with all this making nice,” notes Charles Colson. “What the appeasement model didn’t take into account was the reality of evil and the need to restrain it. Admittedly, a word like ‘evil,’ in this context is jarring – just as it was when President Reagan used it to describe the former Soviet Union.” But “evil” is the best descriptor.

Columnist Don Feder suggested the need for wholesale revisions in the U.S.-China relationship: “This administration is guaranteed to be an improvement over the last. But after almost a decade of a pandering to our greatest security threat [Red China], a whole new direction is needed. …Mr. Bush should offer an escalation of realism.”

A better U.S. stance toward Red China would be fashioned along the lines of the policies President Ronald Reagan adopted for dealing with the Soviet Union in the 1980’s. In particular, we must ensure that our democratic ally Taiwan has weapons sufficient for self-defense, and we must make clear that while we support a “one-China ” policy, we are firmly committed to making that conditional on democratic process for Chinese citizens in Taiwan – and in mainland China.

Former Congressman John LeBoutillier outlined the appropriate stance: “Our strategy should be to wage ideological war – not with the Chinese people, but with the Communist Chinese government. If we despise their attitudes and repression, you can imagine what the average Chinese citizen really thinks of them. We need to form an alliance – in spirit – with the average Chinese citizen against that brutal, antiquated, out-of-date, old, out-of-touch, Marxist-in-the-age-of-capitalism dictatorship.”

Much comment has been dedicated to the desirability of maintaining stability in China. But the only truly lasting stability – for China, as for everywhere else – lies in liberty. And we must not confuse the needs of the Communist Chinese government and their business partners with the needs of the Chinese people themselves. We’d do well to attend to a wise man who loves his homeland, Harry Wu, noted Chinese dissident, labor camp survivor and human rights advocate: “A healthy Chinese Communist Party is not the same thing as a healthy China.”