Mon, Jan 24, 2000 - Page 8 News List

Clinton's final State of the Union

By Stephen J. Yates

On Jan. 27, Bill Clinton will deliver the final State of the Union Address of his presidency. It will be his last opportunity to set forth a comprehensive policy agenda and attempt to establish a legacy beyond his impeachment and Alan Greenspan's economy. One of the few policy areas left for Clinton to make a lasting mark is US-China relations.

Under Clinton's leadership, US relations with China have been on a dizzying zig-zag course from treating China's leaders as "dictators" and "butchers" to envisioning them as "constructive strategic partners." Clinton's lack of vision is matched by his lack of judgement when faced with the challenges of China's military modernization, belligerence towards Taiwan and jealous control over its people's private lives.

Clinton has ceded the position of strength in this bilateral relationship to China, the militarily, economically and morally weaker partner, by courting a partnership with Beijing instead of deterring aggression and defending demo-cracy. Clinton's lust for partnership with Beijing unfortunately has come at the expense of traditional allies like Japan, Korea and Taiwan who are already free, prosperous and peaceful.

With a WTO deal with China in hand, the President now needs Congress to back it up by extending normal trade relations status to China on a permanent basis. Thus Clinton will certainly have to address the several congressional concerns that stand in his way. With this in mind, I offer the following suggestions for what he should and should not do in his address.

One of the first things he should do is praise Taiwan's democracy. Taiwan will hold its second direct presidential election on March 18. Clinton should recognize the importance of this development of democracy in a Chinese society and praise Taiwan for its progress. Failure to do so will undermine efforts to promote democracy throughout greater China.

He should put China in its place. China has an impressive history and great potential. But it is not yet clear whether its economic and military potential will benefit or harm US interests in Asia and beyond. China is still a rising power, not a great power and should be treated as such. Traditional allies remain mili-tarily, economically and politically more important to the US than is China.

Clinton should make protecting American security the top priority in relations with China. Congressional oversight investigations have produced compelling evidence of the cost to American security of the Clinton administration' over all mentality. Clinton has an opportunity to set his priorities strait by placing national security first in dealing with China.

He needs to explain why China's WTO membership serves US interests. By first turning away a trade deal with China last April and then celebrating the conclusion of a similar pact in November, Clinton created a high degree of skepticism about the merits of the agreement. The burden is now on him to make the case explaining why China's WTO membership serves US interests, and how this bilateral trade agreement will deliver on its promises.

Clinton should also describe how the US will protect American security and promote freedom in China after Beijing receives permanent normal trade relations status.

Permanent extension of China's normal trade status will do away with the debate over its annual extension. He should explain how legitimate security and human rights concerns will be effectively addressed absent this congressional forum.

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