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Is This Cold War II?
As China's Zhu Rongji prepares for a high-profile visit to the U.S., the two nations find they have depressingly little to talk about

Zhu Rongji has devised an unusual itinerary for his high-profile, high-pressure visit to the United States this week. Starting in Los Angeles--and including a visit to Hollywood mecca Universal Studios--Zhu then goes to Washington for the usual red carpet and speeches, returns a few thousand kilometers to Denver, does an about-face to Chicago, and then zigs and zags to New York and Boston. The Chinese have been using maps since the 3rd century B.C. so it's unlikely Zhu has a faulty atlas. Perhaps he sees the utility of being a moving target. Sino-U.S. relations have become so stridently fractious that China's powerful Premier may not want to sit still in a shooting gallery crowded with would-be pot-shot artists: conservative lawmakers outraged over allegations of Chinese high-tech spying, liberals howling about human rights abuses, trade negotiators demanding more open Chinese markets, the pro-Taiwan lobby, supporters of Tibet.

That troubled waters are swirling around the "constructive strategic partnership" between the U.S. and China--the highly elastic term that both sides use to describe the relationship--is undeniable. Two weeks ago, Washington sponsored a United Nations resolution condemning China's human rights record, infuriating Beijing. Representative Christopher Cox, chairman of a legislative committee investigating China's impact on U.S. national security, is sitting on a 700-page report that asserts a "concerted effort" by China to get U.S. missile, rocketry and nuclear secrets. (He's ready to make it public, though the White House may not be. "Since they control the timing," Cox tells Time, "I'd imagine it wouldn't be during [Zhu's] visit." White House officials counter that experts are going over the report line by line.) Tough negotiations are being held on China's application to join the World Trade Organization (WTO), and some in Washington are megaphoning the need for Taiwan, which China claims as its own territory, to be included in any Star Wars-type defense shield that the U.S. designs in Asia. If that weren't enough, China has condemned the U.S.-led bombing of Yugoslavia. "The politics of the bilateral relationship," says a senior Clinton Administration official, "are clearly in a tough period."

Back in China, the flak emanating from inside the Beltway is inspiring return fire. Until late last week, there was a somber, down-to-the-wire debate in Beijing's highest circles over whether Zhu should call off the trip. Reflecting the concern, the China Daily warned last week: "An outbreak of anti-China nonsense orchestrated by the U.S. media and politicians is still going on in Washington, which may put already strained Sino-U.S. ties in further danger." The rhetoric is heating up as well in Chinese think tanks that tend to be relatively forgiving toward America. "In the United States, it has become the fashion to slander China," says Zhang Yebai, senior fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences' American Studies Institute. "The situation there is in some ways like China's Cultural Revolution. U.S. scholars who have a better understanding of China do not dare to speak up."

Is the "constructive strategic partnership" becoming destructive and dangerous? The stakes couldn't be higher. No geopolitical relationship is more important for the 21st century than that between today's sole superpower and the rapidly modernizing nation of 1.3 billion people. But when Zhu got an earful on human rights from U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in Beijing last month, his response was sharp. "I told her: 'I'm 10 years older than you,'" Zhu later related to the press. "When I took part in the movement for democracy, freedom and human rights against the Kuomintang at the risk of my life, you were still in junior high school." Pulling rank, morally and chronologically, on Madeleine Albright: Is this a healthy relationship?

PAGE 1  |  2  |  3


April 12, 1999

Two-Way Street
Beijing is getting fed up with U.S. carping

Madman or Messiah?
China's Prime Minister has always skated the thin line between success and disgrace

Line of Fire
Beijing would do well to admit its wrongs

China Button

This edition's table of contents | TIME Asia home



U.S. secretary of state says China should be 'tolerant'

Philippine government denies Estrada's claim to presidency

Faith, madness, magic mix at sacred Hindu festival

Land mine explosion kills 11 Sri Lankan soldiers

Japan claims StarLink found in U.S. corn sample

Thai party announces first coalition partner


COVER: President Joseph Estrada gives in to the chanting crowds on the streets of Manila and agrees to make room for his Vice President

THAILAND: Twin teenage warriors turn themselves in to Bangkok officials

CHINA: Despite official vilification, hip Chinese dig Lamaist culture

PHOTO ESSAY: Estrada Calls Snap Election

WEB-ONLY INTERVIEW: Jimmy Lai on feeling lucky -- and why he's committed to the island state


COVER: The DoCoMo generation - Japan's leading mobile phone company goes global

Bandwidth Boom: Racing to wire - how underseas cable systems may yet fall short

TAIWAN: Party intrigues add to Chen Shui-bian's woes

JAPAN: Japan's ruling party crushes a rebel at a cost

SINGAPORE: Singaporeans need to have more babies. But success breeds selfishness

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