Pundits and the media have described US President George W. Bush's recent visit to China as somewhat of a disappointment.
Beijing and Washington failed to resolve their differences over the missile proliferation issue -- instead of reconfirming the "three no's" as former president Bill Clinton did during his 1998 visit, Bush reiterated the US obligations to Taiwan under the Taiwan Relations Act. The two countries also remained apart on issues ranging from human rights and religious freedom, to how to deal with the so-called "axis of evil" states. Indeed, it would appear that no substantive progress was made during the trip.
But Bush's scorecard may actually be better than has been acknowledged, in at least four respects. First, one should evaluate Bush's visit against the general state of Sino-US relations rather than solely based on what was accomplished during the visit. In this regard, the very fact that Bush went to China a second time in four months is significant. Clinton did not go to China until his sixth year in office.
Bush's visit must also be set against a backdrop of the early debacles in bilateral relations during his administration -- the midair collision of a US EP-3
surveillance plane with a Chinese fighter and last April, the admin-istration's approval of the largest arms sale to Taiwan in years and Bush's controversial "whatever it takes" statement regarding US obligations to the defense of Taiwan. In short, the visit shows that Bush is serious in rebuilding a "candid, constructive and cooperative" relationship with China, a far cry from the campaign rhetoric of viewing China as a "strategic competitor."
Second, Bush went to China to seek Beijing's continued commitment to anti-terrorism and its help in dealing with Pyongyang. He apparently got both even though the two countries have yet to work out tactical details. There was agreement on setting up an FBI office in Beijing to enhance bilateral cooperation in law enforcement and intelligence sharing. In addition, the two sides also signed a number of agreements, including one on collaborating on HIV and AIDS research and treatment.
Third, the trip has laid the foundation for regular bilateral consultation at various levels and through different channels. Both Chinese President Jiang Zemin (江澤民) and Vice-President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) will visit the US in the coming months and Commerce Secretary Don Evans will soon visit Beijing.
There is also indication that the military-to-military exchanges, which have been suspended since the Bush administration came into office last year, may be resumed, including the annual bilateral Defense Consultation Talks, which were held four times during the Clinton administration. Other security and arms control consultations may also follow. China's top arms control negotiator is in Washington this week for talks with US officials.
And finally, the visit provided an opportunity for Bush to convey directly to the Chinese public what he sees as core American values -- freedom, democracy and rule of law. Given at Tsinghua University in the presence of Hu, Jiang's heir apparent, Bush sought to dispel what he considers to be misperception of US power and responsibility in the world, much as he admonished his hosts to follow the US example to build a better China.