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Toward a New Foreign Policy.

The Bush administration should carefully reconsider its policy on NMD and TMD. Of the two, TMD is more threatening to the Chinese. Recent statements by Chinese officials reiterate their opposition to NMD but indicate a willingness to negotiate over NMD deployment. The Bush administration should take advantage of this cooperative diplomacy to build mutual understanding of each country's security concerns. The administration's missile defense policy should be flexible enough to take into account Chinese (and Russian) concerns about the impact of NMD. In the past, China has demonstrated a relatively positive attitude toward arms agreements in which it has been a negotiating partner. But when it believes that Washington is imposing its own policies through such agreements, Beijing has been less cooperative. Pressuring Beijing to accept NMD may be counterproductive; China may retaliate by building more ICBMs and by selling sensitive technology to other countries.

The U.S. must seriously reconsider its plans to extend TMD to Taiwan and should explore alternative ways of enhancing Taiwan's security. A less threatening way to improve Taiwan's defense against missile attacks would be to modernize and improve the survivability of Taiwan's C4I (command, control, communication, computer, and information) capabilities. The use of more advanced technology and the hardening of existing antimissile sites would limit the impact of a Chinese missile attack while avoiding the difficult diplomatic and security issues raised by TMD.

Rather than being driven by ideological concerns or emotional political reactions, arms sales to Taiwan should be based on carefully considered military criteria. Unfortunately, support for the sale of Aegis destroyers has more to do with anti-China and pro-Taiwan sentiment than with the actual defense benefits of these controversial ships. A better balance needs to be struck between considering Chinese sensibilities and honoring commitments to meet Taiwan's legitimate defense needs under the Taiwan Relations Act.

With respect to cross-strait tensions, the U.S. should not commit itself to one course of action in advance of any crisis. In the event of a confrontation between China and Taiwan, Washington will have adequate time to examine its options, given Chinas modest military capacity and the delayed impact of a possible Chinese blockade of Taiwan. It must also be remembered that Taiwan is capable of defending itself in the short run, perhaps even in the long run.

When dealing with Beijing, Washington must also evaluate the multitude of U.S. national interests and security concerns in Asia. America's China policy should be driven neither by developments in Taiwanese domestic politics nor by ideological debate within the United States. The new administration should carefully develop a good pool of advisers on China who can anticipate Beijing's reaction to new U.S. policies. Most importantly, the U.S. should consult closely with Japan, South Korea, and ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) in developing a balanced China policy. Many Asian countries have misgivings about Chinese military spending, but they also wish to see a constructive relationship between China and the United States.

Adopting a strategy of containing China would be a mistake. China is not a dissatisfied rising power that wants to use force to reshape Asia. It is a relatively satisfied power that wants to be respected and consulted about issues that concern it. Consulting with China as a regional power and showing concerns for Chinese sensibilities are not the same as appeasement. Respect and consultation help avoid misperceptions and unnecessary confrontation. The U.S. and China do not always have the same security goals, nor should they. It is important, however, for each to take the other's concerns into consideration. The U.S. should avoid bullying tactics or dictating to the Chinese. These are usually counterproductive and will likely encourage Beijing to increase military spending and develop military ties with other countries to the long-term detriment of the United States. The Russians and Chinese are by no means in an anti-U.S. alliance, but their increasing cooperation is a reaction to what they see as a high-handed and aggressive U.S. foreign policy.

Military exchanges will not resolve all differences between the U.S. and China on security issues, but they do provide an important means of communication. These and other confidence building measures should be retained as part of the new administration's overall China policy.

Key Recommendations

* The United States needs to be more aware of how its activities are perceived by the Chinese and must avoid treating China with disrespect.

* Washington should maintain exchanges between Chinese and U.S. armed forces and should support other confidence building measures.

* Washington must maintain a better balance of relations with all Asian nations and not let concerns over Taiwan outweigh other interests.

Thomas Bickford <> teaches at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, specializing in Chinese politics and Asian security issues.
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Author:Bickford, Thomas
Publication:Foreign Policy in Focus
Date:Apr 30, 2001
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