Jewish World Review June 2, 1999 /18 Sivan 5759
(JWR) ---- (http://www.jewishworldreview.com)
Only a few weeks ago, it seemed, the presidents were toasting each other in their respective capitals. That image has been rudely displaced by the sight of the American ambassador in Beijing forlornly looking out broken windows as mobs burned the U.S. flag. This would not have happened without the active encouragement of the government. It supplied the gasoline and the match to blow up genuine Chinese anger and sorrow. It was just like old times in the cold war, with the leadership using the state-controlled news media to stir popular fury. The press has not reported U.S. apologies for the Belgrade bombing, nor has it run stories on the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. The hostilities there have been presented as an example of the imperialistic West trying to humiliate the ancient empire just as it emerges as a world power, a status it thinks is its due.
History of distrust. The deep emotions aroused by Kosovo show the limits of personal diplomacy. The hotline intended to improve president-to-president communication became, paradoxically, a symbol of distrust as President Jiang refused for a week to take a call from an apologetic Clinton. The Chinese have a historic fear of foreign devils, a legacy of 150 years of exploitation by colonial powers. The mob attacks revealed not only the depth of China's xenophobia but also the willingness of Chinese leaders to use orchestrated hostilities against the United States as considered policies of their government. What does this say about their true colors?
It may be that the decline of the Soviet Union as a threat has transformed the relationship between China and the United States. We had a shared interest in facing down the Soviets. Without it, perhaps we lack either the common interests or the values to establish a bond durable enough to survive the geopolitical shocks of the modern worldthe thefts of nuclear secrets, the interference in the U.S. election, the strain provoked by China's human-rights abuses of its own citizens.
Yet we have to deal with this ancient civilization of 1.2 billion people, possessing the world's seventh-largest economy, nuclear weapons, and a U.N. Security Council veto. China has made important gestures to the community of nations by taking steps to expand personal freedoms and open itself to the outside world, decentralizing economic planning, working with the United States in closing down military exports to Iran and Pakistan, and adhering to the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and the Chemical Weapons Convention. But their ingrained suspicion of foreigners makes the Chinese part adversary and part ally.
With the collapse of communist ideology, the regime's legitimacy has relied on economic growth, prestige abroad, and the occasional use of brute force to maintain the party's monopoly on political power. But with exports, direct foreign investment, and international capital declining for the first time in two decades, the leadership can no longer count on improved living standards to muffle internal dissent. The Chinese are facing the highest levels of unemployment since their 1960s depression. If that happens, it could renew the alliance of urban workers and radical students that played such a large part in Tiananmen Square in 1989. Even the smallest spark could inflame a Chinese public increasingly outraged by widespread cronyism and bribery.
New questions must now be raised about China's international role. Its economic difficulties, and its tendency to use foreigners as scapegoats to divert domestic discontent, have become central to a reassessment of whether our relations with the Middle Kingdom in the 21st century can escape a bang bigger than today's
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