FOR 11 DAYS in the late fall of 1993, a group of senior Chinese policymakers gathered behind closed doors in the Jingxi Hotel in Beijing. They had come together to lay out a long-term military and foreign-affairs strategy for China; among the participants were high-ranking officials from the Communist Party (including its powerful Central Committee) and the People's Liberation Army.
A detailed report on the group's consensus was subsequently leaked to the Hong Kong journal Cheng Ming. It began: "Whom does the Communist Party of China regard as its international archenemy? It is the United States."
The report went on to charge that a key goal of US foreign policy was "to control and sanction China" into bending toward the West; to subsidize "hostile forces both inside and outside Chinese territory" in order to "stir up turbulence"; to punish China with economic sanctions while whipping up regional fears of a Chinese threat; and "to manipulate Japan and South Korea" into following America's anti-China strategy.
This was, to repeat, in late 1993 -- nearly a year into the Clinton administration, well after the president had conspicuously retreated from his campaign attack on George Bush for "coddling tyrants" and agreed to renew China's most-favored-nation trade status. Before long, Clinton would be explicitly de-linking trade from human rights and embarking on a policy of "engagement" with China that would elevate business considerations above all others.
But Beijing's view of the United States would not soften. In mid-1996, China Can Say No would become a runaway Chinese best-seller. Its thesis: America is China's implacable enemy and must be fought diplomatically, economically, politically, and culturally. Books are not published in China unless the Communist rulers want them published; this one even included an introduction by Chai Zemin, China's first ambassador to the United States.
In short, no one should have been astonished at the riots that raged outside US government offices in China last month following the unintended bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. Beijing's dictators have been feeding and nurturing anti-American hostility for years. The surprise was not that the government fanned the fires of public hysteria -- it repeatedly asserted that the embassy tragedy was no mistake and that NATO's Kosovo operation is a vicious campaign of American aggression -- but that it turned off the violence after only four days.
What was on display in China last month was no aberration. The government that bused demonstrators to the US embassy in Beijing so that they could hurl rocks and Molotov cocktails through its windows is unchanged in any important respect from the government that sent the tanks and machine guns into Tiananmen Square 10 years ago this week.
Yes, there are more computers in China today than there were in 1989. There are more cellular phones and tabloid newspapers, more Michael Jordan T-shirts and Nike sneakers. But there is not more freedom. There is less.
In the spring of 1989, millions, literally millions, of Chinese took to the streets -- men and women, old and young, from every walk of life, in Beijing and 80 other cities -- to plead for democracy and an end to repression. It was a moment of hope and courage unparalleled in China's long history; it ended in screams and blood and mass murder.
In the decade since then, China's Communist tyrants have strangled every attempt to revive the movement for liberty and reform. Every known democracy activist of 1989 has been killed, imprisoned, or exiled. Political dissidents continue to be rounded up, convicted in sham trials, and thrown behind bars. Many have been tortured.
Bill Clinton, like George Bush before him, has embraced the fiction that trade leads to democracy, that the more we "engage" the Chinese with business deals and summit meetings, the freer and friendlier China will become. Clinton has taken this Sino-appeasement to depths even Bush didn't plumb -- inviting the Chinese general who presided over the Tiananmen slaughter to the White House, for example, and approving the sale to China of missile-guidance technology.
It hasn't worked. Appeasing totalitarians never does. Ten years after Tiananmen, the junta in Beijing remains a deadly threat to Chinese citizens who denounce Communist rule, to devout Christians who refuse to worship in state-approved churches, to the free people of Taiwan who refuse to bow to Chinese hegemony. Ten years after Tiananmen, Tibetan monks and nuns are still beaten and jailed, the laogai slave labor camps still operate, and women are still subjected to forced abortions and sterilization. Ten years after Tiananmen, China has missiles targeted at the United States and has spies employed in stealing America's nuclear secrets.
Some engagements are better off broken. The Bush-Clinton China engagement is one of them. To whom, after all, do we owe our loyalty? The dictators of Beijing, who treat America as an "international archenemy?" Or the men and women of the Chinese nation, who once filled the streets in a plea for democracy -- but who know they would be killed if they tried it today?
(Jeff Jacoby is a columnist for The Boston Globe).
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