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Smoke clears over China's U.S. strategy

Beijing is hoping its cooperation with the U.S. will win it concessions over Taiwan  

By Willy Wo-Lap Lam
Senior China Analyst

(CNN) -- After two weeks of uncertainties and posturing, Beijing's strategy regarding the United States and its war against terrorism has become clearer.

President Jiang Zemin, who is personally handling the crisis, hopes Beijing could exploit the situation to gain ground on Taiwan, further mend fences with the U.S., and boost his own standing in domestic Chinese politics.

Firstly, in return for its acquiescence in the US-led coalition's impending action against the Taliban, Beijing hopes it can win concessions from Washington on the Taiwan front.

This is despite the denial by the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Zhu Bangzao, that there is a quid pro quo in Beijing's support for America's anti-terrorist crusade.

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That much of Beijing's focus is on Taiwan is clear from the talks that Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan conducted with Secretary of State Colin Powell and President George W. Bush in Washington last week.

During his tete-a-tete with Powell, Tang took time to repeat China's "principled stand" on the Taiwan issue.

The official Xinhua news agency quoted Tang as expressing "the hope that the U.S. side will handle well the Taiwan question from a strategic high point and with a long-term perspective."

Xinhua quoted Powell as saying that Washington understood the "importance and sensitivity of the Taiwan question."

Powell also reiterated America's "one China principle" and its willingness to abide by the three Sino-U.S. joint communiqués.

While talking to the press, Tang again denied Beijing had attached conditions to its support for Washington's war on terrorism.

However, a Chinese source in Beijing said the Jiang administration had taken note of the fact that Washington had given Pakistan and India generous rewards -- including the lifting of sanctions and the roll-back of loans -- in return for their cooperation.

He said Jiang would dwell on the Taiwan question during his discussions with Bush in Shanghai next month.

The three nos

The source said the Chinese leader hoped Bush could be goaded toward a position on Taiwan that was close to that adopted by his predecessor Bill Clinton in 1998.

During that visit, Clinton acknowledged the "three nos" policy on Taiwan: no to Taiwan independence; no to "one China, one Taiwan"; and no to Taiwan joining global bodies that require statehood for membership.

"The bargain struck between Jiang and Clinton in 1998 was that Washington would give some ground on Taiwan in return for Beijing's acquiescence in America's domination in different parts of the world," the source said.

"The crisis over terrorism -- and Washington's need for Chinese cooperation -- has given Jiang hope that he can secure a similar deal with Bush."

Moroever, it is important to note that Beijing has up to now refused to endorse military action against the Taliban.

What Tang and other cadres have agreed to is cooperating with the U.S. on the global fight against terrorism in general.

Chinese officials have made little secret of the fact that they have lumped together fighting terrorism on the one hand, and curbing separatist movements in Xinjiang, Tibet and Taiwan on the other.

Diplomats including the Foreign Ministry's Zhu have indicated while Beijing's is ready to help the U.S. combat terrorism, they would also appreciate Washington's "support and understanding" of China's fight against terrorism and separatism in the three regions.

This is despite that among pro-independence elements in the three places, only a minority of separatists in Xinjiang could be accused of perpetrating or condoning violent acts against Beijing.

Five point consensus

However, while officials in China and the U.S. are still sorting out differences on the definition of terrorism -- and the appropriate actions to be taken -- Jiang has already attained something concrete in this new phase of Chinese-American interaction.

Tang and Powell arrived at a five-point consensus during their meeting.

Four of the five points had to do with consolidating bilateral ties rather than countering terrorism: preparation for the Jiang-Bush mini-summit; regular exchanges of high-level diplomats; joint efforts against AIDS; and resumption of talks on human rights.

For Jiang, who heads the Communist party's Leading Group on Foreign Affairs, improved Sino-U.S. ties carry with them a special personal bonus.

A vital part of the legacy of the 75-year-old cadre, who is retiring next year, is ameliorated relations with the U.S.

And Jiang has invested a lot of resources on preparations for the October summit with Bush, which will symbolize Sino-U.S. friendship -- and consolidate his status as a top-notch international elder statesman.

A no-show by Bush at the APEC conference in Shanghai would also rob Jiang of perhaps his last chance of playing host to a glamorous global event.

Informed sources in Beijing said among the first questions that Jiang asked his senior aides when they met in emergency session moments after the World Trade Center was hit was: "Can Bush still come to China?"

And the main purpose of Tang's trip to Washington was to secure an ironclad promise from the White House that Bush would keep his China date.

Pro-U.S. regime

There is, however, a downside to Beijing's acquiescence in NATO's impending war effort.

Beijing's main worry is that Washington will not just destroy terrorist bases in Afghanistan but set up a pro-U.S. regime in Kabul.

Moreover, the U.S. or NATO might be stationing troops or maintaining military facilities in countries north of Afghanistan such as Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan for a long period.

Jiang and company have also seen disturbing signs that Pakistan, Beijing's long-time ally, may be tilting toward Washington.

A key mission of Vice-Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who visited Islamabad last week, was securing a reassurance from the administration of General Pervez Musharraf that rapprochement with the U.S. would not come at the expense of friendship with China.

"Many Chinese tacticians think China would be badly exposed if major countries to its west and southwest -- India, Pakistan and Afghanistan -- were to come under the U.S. umbrella," said an Asian diplomat in Hong Kong.

"Having made such a huge investment on its relations with Pakistan, Beijing does not want the Muslim country to go back to pre-1998 days, when Islamabad had a cozy relationship with the U.S."

After all, Beijing is obsessed with the conspiracy theory that Washington is trying to "encircle and contain" China through former alliances with its neighbors.

Costly confrontation

The only consolation for Beijing on this front may be the perception that American power may be on the wane for two reasons.

In the coming year or so, the U.S. could be bogged down with a costly confrontation with the Islam world. And its economy will also be hurt.

One of China's top America watchers, Wang Yizhou, predicted last week that factors such as a weakening economy might "gradually affect the superpower status of the U.S."

At the same time, Beijing is pulling out the stops to suck up funds that may be leaving the U.S. and Europe in the wake of the terrorist crisis.

Anthony Neoh, principal adviser to the China Securities Regulatory Commission, was quoted by the semi-official Hong Kong China News Agency as saying global investments in the U.S. amounted to some US$6 trillion.

"If 10% of this were to leave the U.S., this would amount to US$600 billion," Neoh said, adding that a proportion of this might be heading China's way.


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