Why Are We Unloved?
Until China comes clean on past horrors, it won't win the respect it craves
By SIN-MING SHAW
Americans will find much to like in Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji when he visits the United States this week. Zhu is a well-educated, down-to-earth person with a sharp sense of humor. He knows intimately the irrationality of the communist system: in 1957 he was "sent down" to the countryside for questioning the sensibility of Mao's economic targets. Zhu is the opposite of the arrogant, ignorant fool of a leader one so often meets in China. Yet, he is unlikely to find the respect he desires.
On the surface only three big issues divide the U.S. and China: trade, Taiwan and human rights. As always, the trade conflict will surely be resolved, however imperfectly. Despite frustration over China's allegedly unfair trading practices, quintessential American brands like Coke and Microsoft are now as much a part of Chinese daily life as they are American. And there is one U.S. export that doesn't show up in the trade balance: an American university degree. It is rare now to find children of Chinese leaders without one. What is the price tag of a friendly mind if it belongs to a future Chinese premier?
On the question of Taiwan, no sane person on either side of the Taiwan Strait believes war is even remotely probable. The Strait is the supply route for Japan's energy needs. Interrupting that flow would drag down the world's second-largest economy, pulling the rest of Asia into a black hole, a prospect nobody will tolerate. Taiwan is also an extension of Silicon Valley, supplying a huge share of the world's computer components. Every advanced nation needs to keep its computers humming, just as world manufacturing needs uninterrupted oil supplies. In addition, Premier Zhu must recognize that Taiwan represents something dear to the American psyche: a people who have freely chosen how they should live and be governed. The U.S. isn't likely to look the other way if Beijing moves on Taiwan. And if there were an invasion, Taiwan would become China's Vietnam, for the locals wouldn't welcome Beijing.
So the only issue that truly divides China and the U.S. is human rights. Beijing can reasonably claim that respect for human rights in China has never been better. Economic freedom, the foundation of all liberties, is visible across the land. On that basis alone, Beijing feels it should have its back patted, not kicked. It is also true that the U.S. is less demanding of certain allies that lack a credible human rights record.
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