Cementing a Relationship
Although America's relations with China are as comfortable as they've been in decades, President George W. Bush will have plenty to discuss with his counterpart, Hu Jintao. Yet the first thing he'll want to do is take stock of Hu himself—much as Bush searched for friendship in Vladimir Putin's eyes at their first meeting, in Ljubljana in 2001. Hu still hasn't visited the United States since assuming the presidency in 2003, and remains as enigmatic to Americans as he does to his own people. He has made three trips to Eastern and Western Europe and members of the ruling Politburo Standing Committee have made six more. China is clearly trying to exploit strains between Europe and the U.S., and has voiced its own gripes with the U.S. as well. Shortly before the election, China's most important foreign-policy mandarin, retired former Foreign Minister Qian Qichen, publicly criticized the "Bush Doctrine" for its "cocksureness and arrogance" and its quick resort to force.
Bush will meet with Hu at the APEC summit in Chile this month. The meeting will dwell on economics, a bone of contention between Washington and Beijing that Bush will have to address. China enjoyed a trade surplus with the U.S. of nearly $99 billion through August, and American industrial lobbies accuse China's low-cost labor force of stealing American jobs. Trade conflicts could strike early, as quotas on China's textile exports will end on Dec. 31. While Beijing is looking forward to selling more silks and underwear, the U.S. still enjoys "surge-protection" clauses that let it restrict imports from China. "We will be highly vigilant for new forms of protectionism," warns Sun Zhenyu, China's ambassador to the World Trade Organization.
Yet Bush will need China's cooperation. Both the U.S. and China want to block North Korea from developing nuclear weapons, and China has been instrumental in keeping North Korea at six-party talks aimed at ending the country's nuclear weapons program. Beijing and Washington share a deep unease at moves by Taiwan's President, Chen Shui-bian, which they see as steering his island toward independence. Washington would like Taiwan and China to resume negotiations, but, for now, that seems unlikely. America will therefore have to continue its policy of "strategic ambiguity," which does not define the circumstances under which the U.S. would defend Taiwan against Chinese force.
The greatest gift Hu Jintao could give to Bush would be political reform in China. That would enable America's leader to embrace Hu as a moral equal and prevent human-rights abuses in China from roiling the relationship. A bit of political goodwill would also work wonders during the rough spots that inevitably crop up between the U.S. and China—such as America's bombing of China's embassy in Belgrade in 1999 and the deadly collision of American and Chinese military airplanes in 2001. But such reforms seem unlikely, at least in the short term. Hu has shown no interest in weakening the Communist Party's control over China's society, and recently described Western-style democracy as a "blind alley" down which China would not walk.
No End of Trouble
The U.S. President's North Korea crisis will likely look worse than the one George W. Bush faced when he first came to office. More than two years have passed since Washington confronted Pyongyang with evidence indicating that it was secretly working on a new nuclear weapons program. Since then, North Korea has pulled out of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, kicked out inspectors from the watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency, and boasted openly about refashioning used reactor fuel into bombs. Today, with perhaps as many as eight nuclear devices in the North Korean arsenal, the clock is ticking—the U.S. has said it cannot tolerate a nuclear-tipped North Korea, but it has failed to shut down the bomb factories. At some point the U.S. Administration will have to consider stronger medicine—sanctions, an economic blockade, even a military strike. Says Choi Jin Wook, a North Korea expert at the Korea Institute for National Unification: "Tensions will inevitably escalate."