Zhu Plays U.S. Fiddle

From the May 1999 Trumpet Print Edition

The U.S. seems to be having a lot of trouble these days distinguishing between its friends and enemies.

Wasn’t it just weeks ago that we were deluged with front-page stories of alleged Chinese nuclear espionage at Los Alamos? Isn’t the U.S. at loggerheads with China over its uneasy relations with Taiwan? Didn’t we recently hear allegations about Chinese involvement in an alleged campaign-funding scandal? Are we still concerned about human rights abuses? And what about, most recently, China’s strong condemnation of U.S.-led nato air strikes against Yugoslavia? Chinese media portray U.S. President Clinton as a “Hitler-like figure leading a ruthless NATO,” and praise Milosevic as a “people’s hero.” Are these our friends?

You would think so, based on the “success” of Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji’s recent U.S. visit. Zhu, reportedly apprehensive about coming to the U.S. during a time of heightened Sino-U.S. tensions, needed not worry. Americans found him witty and charming; they were impressed by his willingness to make “surprising” trade concessions, touched by his affection for the Denver Broncos, and, perhaps above all, believing. As Zhu stated, “It is important that you see the strategic nature of our relationship. We are not your enemy. We are your trustworthy friend.”

Business leaders were obviously impressed. Many of them scrambled to pressure the White House into quickly accepting the proposed concessions and finalizing a deal. This didn’t happen by the end of Zhu’s trip, but he still left with a smile, billions of dollars worth of potential deals and the promise of strong American support for Chinese entry into the World Trade Organization.

Zhu hardly left his comfort zone. He silenced allegations of espionage by saying that Chinese President Jiang Zemin and military leaders “said they knew nothing about this.” He defended China’s refusal to rule out the use of military force against Taiwan with obscure comparisons with Abraham Lincoln, describing how Lincoln won the American Civil War because he “resorted to the use of force and fought a war…maintaining the unity of the United States.”

The United States has proven that it can play well the role of accommodating host, but one wonders at the ease with which it has compromised its own principles and has shown itself capable of being lulled by the sweet tune of cash flow. As the New York Times reported April 15, 1999, “Where others see United States-China relations revolving around issues like human rights, strategic cooperation and political reform, Zhu sees the two countries getting along so long as trade between them flourishes.” It seems U.S. leaders have not yet thought to ask: What happens after that?