China does not change leaders every four years. In regards to the US, it offers a consistent political line and one not based on ideology. Conversely, US policy changes from president to president. So, one day before the US presidential vote we ask,: what will US policy be?
China has much to gain if President George W. Bush were to be re-elected. But things could be quite different should Senator John Kerry get the nod tomorrow.
Facts say that in order to obtain Beijing's support for the war on terror, the US looked the other way on China's human rights issues.
Furthermore, the US benefited from a Chinese non-hostile attitude in regards to the US-led Iraq War and Beijing's proactive role in the difficult negotiation with North Korea.
Under the Bush administra-tion, the Washington-Beijing axis has gained quite a lot of momentum and it has never been stronger. A reality confirmed by Bush's opposition to a unilateral change in Taiwan's status quo, at the end of last year, and the recent comments made by Secretary of State Colin Powell.
When it comes to China, US political analysts are split. Some favor a policy of "constructive engagement, leaning towards a strategic partnership," while others see Beijing as the "inevitable adversary and eventual enemy" destined to shake the current balance of power.
The latter consider the Taiwan issue and the various trade problems the first warning signs. The same analysts envisage a sequence of events wherein, in the not too distant future, China's growth will upset the relative equilibrium in Northeast Asia and Beijing will gain a hegemonic position throughout eastern and Southeast Asia.
Noteworthy, in the area, Bei-
jing has committed itself to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a collective security agreement that includes Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Such a security pact has no precedent in China's foreign policy.
Regardless of spheres of influence, what worries some analysts most is that, over the last fifteen years, China's GDP has grown at an annual rate of around 9 percent. Such an impressive growth, coupled with improved technology, has supported a double digit military budget. Experts have predicted that, within 10 to 20 years, China will be able to deploy and sustain military force well beyond its borders.
So, while it is undoubted that China is closing the gap with the US, in Washington and beyond the two-fold question remains the same: Will it be a peaceful Chinese ascendancy (within the current balance of power) or will Beijing's economic and technological growth lead to a desire for a continental hegemony? Andwhat will the US answer be?
The first scenario would require a "liberal approach" and an overall strengthening of US-China cooperation. Such an option would be conducive to an opening of the Chinese regime. The second scenario would require a "realistic approach" and a containment policy -- similar to that applied to the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Such an approach would be based on the US alliances with those Asian countries historically wary of Beijing.
However, whatever the path, one thing is certain, the US-China relationship needs to be handled with care especially because East Asia presents specific problems: the area's economic growth -- the world's fastest -- implies a heighten competition for natural resources and the China-Taiwan and the North Korean's issue are potential serious contentions.