A Time For Truth About China

by Patrick J. Buchanan – April 5, 1999
Address to the Commonwealth Club
San Francisco, California

My subject today is U.S.-China relations on the eve of the visit of Mr. Zhu Rongji to the United States. In the decade that has elapsed since the last visit of a Chinese premier, much has transpired that is deeply troubling and, indeed, profoundly alarming.

Ten years ago, a frightened Chinese regime that had watched pro-Western demonstrators shake every Communist state in Europe decided it would not happen in China. Tanks were sent to disperse students in Tienanmen Square, for the crime of having demanded democratic reforms beneath a replica of the Statue of Liberty. We yet do not know how many perished in that massacre.

Seventeen years before that atrocity, I rode through that same square with President Nixon; I am one of ten surviving members of the 1972 U.S. delegation that opened up the People’s Republic. So, my experience with China goes back half a lifetime. And let me state for the record my view: America should not seek any conflict or confrontation with China, nor do we seek some Sino-American Cold War to replace the U.S.-Soviet Cold War. Nor did I oppose the rapprochement pursued by presidents Ford, Carter, Reagan, and Bush, asking only that it be done with eyes open — for the aging men who rule China today were all young apparatchiks in a Maoist regime that had as much blood on its hands as Hitler and Stalin.

President Clinton’s initial determination to reengage with China also seemed to me well worth the effort. Because Beijing controls twenty-two percent of the world’s population and possesses nuclear weapons, we cannot ignore China and we cannot isolate China. But our vision of the Asia-Pacific region is one of peace, prosperity, and independence for all nations, and we cannot embrace as a friend and partner a mighty and expansionist power that is openly hostile to the ideals of human dignity and freedom on which this nation was founded. As a Pacific power, we have interests in Asia we cannot permit to be imperiled, and friends and allies whom we cannot allow to be bullied or subjugated.

It is thus a time for truth about the Peoples Republic of China, and about the China policy of this White House. In a sentence, the Clinton policy of “constructive engagement” has degenerated into willful self-delusion and craven appeasement; and that policy is leading directly to a confrontation, and possible conflict, with China.

In the last decade, America has sought to mollify China. Since 1990, Beijing has been allowed to run up $274 billion in trade surpluses with the United States. Our trade concessions have given China the second largest hoard of hard currency in the world, $150 billion.

Last year alone, China rang up a $57 billion trade surplus with the United States, representing almost 100 percent of China’s economic growth. The U.S. has voted to provide Beijing with World Bank and Asian Development Bank loans that amount to foreign aid, and Beijing has been permitted to purchase America’s latest technology, including dozens of supercomputers.

Since 1990, moreover, America has reduced its strategic missile forces and cut conventional forces by the equivalent of the entire land, air, and sea forces that fought Desert Storm. Defense spending that consumed 6% of our GNP in the Reagan era now consumes only half that. Reagan’s 600-ship navy, which patrolled the China coast, has been cut almost in half.

Thus, the U.S. has not threatened China in this decade; the U.S. has sought to befriend China. But what have been the fruits of our “engagement”? Since Tienanmen Square in 1989:

  • China has provided missiles to Iran and nuclear technology to Pakistan.
  • Chinese naval forces have occupied Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands that sit astride Japan’s oil lifeline.
  • China has fired missiles toward Taiwan to intimidate its government and to disrupt free elections.
  • China has warned Japan against any deeper military cooperation with the United States, and warned us that any deployment of theater missile defense would be an unfriendly act, as would any missile defense of Japan or Taiwan.
  • China has launched the greatest military buildup in Asia since Japan in the 1930s, using hard currency from its U.S. trade to buy the latest in Russian anti-ship weaponry.
  • With the complicity, or laxity, of the White House, China has stolen U.S. satellite and missile technology, and the technology for the W88 miniaturized nuclear warhead, and targeted 13 of its first 18 ICBMs on the United States.
  • China has ignored our protests to pursue cultural genocide in Tibet and persecute Roman Catholics, Evangelical Christians, and political dissidents. This cruel regime forces abortions and sterilizations on married women for the crime of wanting to have a second child.

To those who say that China’s internal policies are its own business, I say that, as Beijing treats its own defenseless citizens, so it defines its own character, and so it will treat us, if ever we permit our defenses to atrophy and decline. Mr. Clinton’s decision not to permit human rights outrages to interfere with trade has proven a shameful capitulation.

Americans are being true neither to themselves nor their heritage as the champions of freedom and decency if they engage in business-as-usual with tyrants who trample upon all that we profess to hold sacred. For Americans there must always be some things still greater in the hierarchy of values than the bottom line of a balance sheet. It is time to put country before commerce, and let America be America again.

Last year, President Clinton went to Beijing, proclaimed China to be our “strategic partner,” and returned to tell us that China had re-targeted its missiles away from the United States. And what has been China’s record since? According to the Department of State, China’s “human rights record deteriorated sharply last year.” Even Mr. Clinton now seeks to have China condemned by the UN Commission on Human Rights. Here is a bill of particulars on Beijing’s persecution agenda:

  • In Jiangxi province, 76-year-old Roman Catholic bishop Zeng Jingmu is serving three years in a labor camp for saying mass without permission.
  • In Shandong, police broke up a Protestant worship service and arrested most of the 61 worshipers; many are serving twelve-year prison sentences.
  • In Tibet, fourteen Buddhist nuns serving up to nine years had nine years added for recording pro-independence songs in prison.
  • Last fall, when dissidents tried to register a new democratic party, 30 organizers were arrested; the leaders are serving 13-year sentences.

A great power that is frightened of even peaceful challenges to its power and legitimacy is both unhealthy and dangerous. Also, China has steadily expanded to 200 the number of M-9 and M-11 missiles targeted on Taiwan, building to a force of 650, and has mock-test fired missiles at U.S. forces on Okinawa and in South Korea. How threatening are these missiles? A reading of “America’s Maginot Line” in December’s “Atlantic Monthly” is instructive.

“With forty-five missiles,” writes Paul Bracken, “China could virtually close Taiwan’s ports, airfields, waterworks and power plants, and destroy the oil-storage facilities of a nation that needs continual replenishment from the outside world.” China today is building the missile capacity to paralyze Taiwan. And because U.S. bases in Asia are naked to missile attack, those bases are becoming as much hostages against U.S. action as centers of U.S. power. Missile strikes against these “soft targets,” writes Bracken, could wreak havoc, destroy airfields, fuel dumps, and weapons and ammunition depots. Under missile fire, America’s bases in the Far East could be rendered useless.

What is China up to? The answer seems clear and ominous. In 1996, when the U.S. sent two carriers to the waters off Taiwan, China had between thirty and fifty missiles aimed at Taiwan and no air force capable of challenging our 7th Fleet. Thus, Beijing dissolved the crisis.

But China is now clearly preparing for another crisis to force Taiwan back to the “embrace of the Motherland,” and intends to use the threat of a missile blockade if Taiwan resists. If the U.S. 7th Fleet attempts to intervene, China intends to have the air, sea, and missile capacity to put at risk every U.S. warship and base between the Asian coast and Guam. This confrontation may still be a few years off, but China is clearly preparing for it; and if we do not act to prevent it, there is a near certainty it is coming.

This is where the unrequited appeasement of China has left the next President. In the words of Asian scholar Arthur Waldron of the University of Pennsylvania, “U.S. policy…has smoothed the road for an ultranationalist dictatorship in China — even as U.S. security failures have ensured that the dictatorship will have state-of-the-art weapons.”

The Clinton China policy is a demonstrable failure. Yet, the President refuses to see it, or concede it, and seems determined to retain his rosy view of what China is about. And in their failure to renounce Clinton’s China’s policy, Republicans, too, are embracing a series of myths about China.

The first myth is the Utopian belief that peace descends on the wings of trade. As long as we trade with China, it is said, we need never confront China. History, however, reveals this notion to be bunk. The bloodiest war of the 19th century was inside a free-trade zone, between the United States of America and the Confederate States of America. In the 1930s Japan’s best customers were China and the U.S.; Tokyo attacked both. During the Battle of Britain, Nazi Germany’s reliable supplier of grain and gasoline was Stalin’s USSR, upon whom Hitler turned as soon as the battle was over.

The “China market,” visions of which so intoxicate the Business Roundtable and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, is an enduring myth dating back to the turn of the century when Secretary of State John Hay proclaimed an Open Door in China. Big Business slavered over the prospect of 400 million new customers. And how did Big Business benefit? Where China accounted for 1% of U.S. trade in 1900, that figure soared to 2% by 1930, with most of that in tobacco sales and cigarettes. The truth: China has never been an important export market; we sell more to tiny Singapore.

Last year, less than two percent of our exports went to China, but China ran up huge trade surpluses with us in electrical equipment, heavy machinery, footwear, furniture, apparel, clothing, leather and plastics.

What were our big sellers to China, besides aircraft? Cotton, live animals, starches, fibers, meat, cereals, wood pulp, raw hides, skins, residues and waste from the food industries, oil seeds, animal and vegetable fat, and fertilizer. Isn’t that pretty much what the thirteen colonies sent to George III?

Let me repeat: the “China market” is a myth. Beijing tailors its trade policy to augment state power. It buys what it needs and cannot produce, such as Boeing planes, while stealing our technology to create its own airframe industry.

Now, I understand what China is doing; what I don’t understand is what America is doing. U.S. trade policy today is impossible to defend in terms of U.S. strategic interests. America imposes sanctions on democratic India for testing nuclear weapons to deter China, which has attacked India twice.

But when Beijing targets nuclear missiles on the United States, we call China our “strategic partner.” When generals in Haiti violate human rights, they get invaded, but when the Chinese Communists trample on the human rights of a billion people, they are rewarded with a $57 billion trade surplus. For the Administration, which has all its political capital wagered on the China card, there may be no turning back. But it is time for Congress to renounce a Clinton policy that is leading to confrontation, while it strengthens Beijing for that confrontation. What should be done?

  • Until China closes its concentration camps, stops coercive abortions, and ceases its persecution of Christians, Tibetans, and dissidents, Congress should suspend MFN and impose on all Chinese imports the same taxes China imposes on goods from the U.S.A.
  • Congress should vote to block the transfer of any new high-tech military technology to China’s regime.
  • Congress should demand that the U.S. veto new loans to China from the World Bank or Asian Development Bank, and reject the admission of China to the World Trade Organization, and work for the admission of Taiwan.
  • The Republican Party should declare its intent to shift the center of gravity of U.S. policy away from Asia’s dictators toward Asia’s democrats.
  • As America is an island nation and the Pacific is our frontier, we must restore the U.S. Navy to the preeminence it had under President Reagan. A decade of slashing defense for social programs, and of using the American military for social experiments by 1960s radicals, must come to an end.

Finally, the United States must assert that any decision to deploy purely defensive weapons, such as the theater missile defense (TMD), is not subject to China’s veto. And if Beijing does not halt its own missile buildup, we should interrupt normal trade. An embargo on China would hardly be felt by America; but it would bring an instant currency and economic collapse in China.

Let me repeat: No one wants a confrontation or conflict with China; but Beijing needs to be jolted into an awareness that threats against Taiwan or our friends in the Pacific, mean an end to U.S. economic engagement and a closing of the U.S. market. In the 6th century B.C., Chinese general Sun Tzu wrote, “The opportunity to defeat the enemy is provided by the enemy himself.” Today, China is dependent on U.S. trade and goodwill for loans, for yearly infusions of hard currency, and for virtually its entire economic growth.

In this relationship, today, the U.S. has the whip hand; we will not have it too much longer.

Now is the time to use our leverage to demonstrate forcefully the cost to Beijing of going down the road toward confrontation over Taiwan, so that, further down this road, it will not be necessary to use our military power — and put at risk our fleets, our forces in Asia, and our cities. General MacArthur said, half a century ago, that those who would appease China are “blind to history’s clear lesson;” there is no instance where appeasement has led to other than a “sham peace.”

We do not want a sham peace; we want real peace. But peace requires a clarity of vision and firmness of purpose woefully absent from our China policy since that awful June night when those tanks rolled through Tienanmen Square. A confrontation with China, or a conflict with China, I repeat, is avoidable; but this administration must stop turning a blind eye to China’s belligerent encroachments, or that confrontation will become inevitable.