Last week, while many China experts inside and outside the Clinton administration were confidently predicting that China would not escalate the conflict with Taiwan, others warned that Beijing might well be contemplating an attack. This turned out to be correct.
The official U.S. posture of prostration before Beijing -- the China hands call it "engagement" -- would be merely pitiful, perhaps even amusing, were it not so dangerous. But the Clinton administration is now applying its strategy of appeasement to the brewing crisis over Taiwan, and the result may be to hasten the military conflict the administration is trying to avoid.
Since the beginning of 1997, Beijing and the man it appointed to be Hong Kong's chief executive, C. H. Tung, have been rewriting Hong Kong's laws to put new restrictions on political activity and free speech. The Hong Kong canary is already short of breath as the PRC coal mine closes in around it. By the time we wake up to find that political liberties have been extinguished, it will be too late.
No leader of either party has had the courage to tell the American people that preserving the current benevolent international environment may be less expensive than fighting the Cold War, but not that much less. We keep cashing in the same "peace dividend" over and over.
China's success in shaping American foreign policy through the American business community has been extraordinary. If the wealth created in the Chinese economic miracle sows seeds of future political pressures from a new entrepreneurial class, that same wealth also provides the Beijing government and its army with the muscle to rebuff internal and external pressures for political reform.
The Chinese leadership views the world today in much the same way Kaiser Wilhelm II did a century ago: The present world order serves the needs of the United States and its allies, which constructed it. And it is poorly suited to the needs of a Chinese dictatorship trying to maintain power at home and increase its clout abroad.