Bush’s mainland China policy on right track: U.S. scholar

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Chris Cockel,The China Post, Washington D.C.

Thanks to the decisive actions and statements of the administration of President George W. Bush within his first six months in office, the relationship between the United States, Taiwan and mainland China can now be characterized as one based on “strategic clarity,” according to a renowned American scholar.

Unlike under the administration of President Bill Clinton, when a situation of “strategic ambiguity” existed, now “the Chinese know where we stand better than they have in a long time,” said Ross H. Munro, director of Asian studies at the Center for Security Studies, consultant to the U.S. government and co-author of the controversial book “The Coming Conflict with China.” The Bush administration is on the “right track” and should “continue what it’s doing, at least in the short term,” said Munro, who describes himself as an optimist about U.S.-mainland China relations.

“I’m comfortable with the state of U.S.-China relations,” Munro said. “There is a chance for more trust.”

Speaking at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington on Wednesday, Munro commended the Bush administration for taking a strategic approach to the relationship, the importance of which the Clinton administration could never have appreciated. While Asia in general was confronted with a more assertive U.S. administration in early 2001, President Bush’s stance toward Taiwan, by pledging to do “whatever it takes” to defend the island, signaled the most dramatic change from Beijing’s perspective.

Additionally, prior to September 11, Bush’s closer relationship with India, and more recently his cozy relationship with President Putin of Russia and the presence of U.S. troops in Central Asia have concerned Beijing. In the immediate aftermath of September 11, Chinese President Jiang Zemin, attempting to rein in what he perceived as U.S. imperialism, tried and failed to undermine Washington’s eagerness to retaliate without United Nations consent. Since this failure, Beijing has adopted a more cautious and conciliatory approach toward the United States, Munro said, adding that this is a “tactical” move designed by China to “hide” its abilities and to “bide its time.” Given a more cautious Beijing, Munro ruled out any immediate military threat to Taiwan. “I think we may have some breathing space,” he said.

While expressing satisfaction with the current U.S. approach toward China, Washington should still do more to pressure Beijing on nonproliferation, relations with so-called rogue states and its World Trade Organization compliance, Munro said. Questioned on the importance of ideology in the U.S.-China relationship, Munro stated that aside from having no ideology, Beijing also lacks social vision or agenda and merely seeks power and wealth. With relations between Washington and Taipei said to be at a two-decade high, James J. Przystup, a professor at the National Defense University in Washington and former advisor to President George H.W. Bush, emphasized the importance of the island’s transition to democracy. Specifically, he said, Presidents Chiang Ching-kuo and Lee Tung-hui were “master strategists” in realizing that “democracy was more important than any weapons system.”