12 Nov, 1997    ·   28

Giri Deshingkar analyses the outcome of US-China Summit of 1997 in the United States

Indian commentators have drawn two broad conclusions about Chinese President Jiang Zemin?s recent state visit to the United States .



1.                   The US is greedy to grab the China market and will not let any moral scruples such as violation of human rights, suppression of political dissent (as was demonstrated in the Tiananmen square in 1988) stand in the way.


2.                   The US consistently ignores India . The high publicity given to President Jiang?s visit is angrily contrasted with the Indian Prime Minister I. K. Gujral?s unnoticed visit to the US . There is also the Indian grievance that the US has chosen to overlook Chinese nuclear help to Pakistan , which is of great concern to India .


Whatever the merit in both these conclusions, as a potential great power, India needs to take a more distant, long term and strategic view of US-China relations.



US motives



The reasons why President Jiang was received with such pomp went far beyond the trade opportunities China offered to US corporations. When former President Nixon went to China in 1972 despite the lack of diplomatic relations, it was not to open up the China market. And during Mr. Clinton?s first term the China market was waiting for a break-through and yet Clinton remained hostile to China . Today, while corporate America is eyeing multi-billion dollar orders, the US trade unions are uniformly opposed to imports from China . What made the Clinton administration invite Jiang, despite opposition from the US Congress, the Republican Party, the media pundits, human rights groups and lately, Hollywood stars, is a sober appreciation of China?s political importance in the post-Cold War Asia-Pacific.



Without a sustainable political understanding with China , which can sail through all the ups and downs caused by US domestic passions, stability in the Asia-Pacific region in the 21st century can neither be achieved nor maintained. It would be wrong to analyze the Clinton-Jiang summit primarily in terms of specific give-and-take bargains.



Chinese motives



In deciding to visit the US , despite the anticipated hostile demonstrations that would dog Jiang wherever he went, China had its own compulsions. Except for a brief period during the 1970?s, US-China relations have always remained troubled. The two Presidents had already met four times since 1993, but they did not have the opportunity nor were they prepared for addressing themselves to outstanding issues between their two countries across the board.



How, for example, did the US propose to resolve the contradictions between the three joint US-China communiqués which recognized only One China and the Taiwan Relations Act, which almost committed the US to defend Taiwan in case China decided to use force? What would be the geographical scope of the new defence guidelines arrived at between the US and Japan ? What role did Japan occupy in US thinking about Asia-Pacific security? How far was the US prepared to "separate the [bilateral] differences" i.e., not mix up issues of (liberal) democracy political dissent, human rights, arms transfers, Tibet, Taiwan and deal with each independently?



Summit achievements



Mr. Jiang and Mr. Clinton had 90 minutes of informal talk on the eve of their official meeting, another hour of one-on-one meeting after the official visit began and yet another 4 minutes together with their cabinet colleagues. They thrashed out many of these issues directly between them. The result was a mixed bag. On human rights, the US side acknowledged some improvement in China but expressed its disagreement bluntly. Mr. Jiang, however, stood firm. Surprisingly, the Chinese side seems to have caved in when it came to "nuclear co-operation" with and the transfer of advanced conventional missiles to Iran . Clinton extracted an "assurance" from Jiang that China would "address concerns" on both. Why China agreed to give such assurances when, in other contexts, it had undertaken not to provide technology and expertise to unsafeguarded nuclear facilities anywhere and when Iran has been a signatory to the NPT, remains a mystery. The absence of any reference to China-Pakistan nuclear co-operation probably means that the White House, if not the CIA, has concluded that such co-operation no longer exists. And as far as transfer of missiles is concerned, the US side seems satisfied with Chinese export controls.



It may be under intense Chinese pressure that the US once again reaffirmed the three US-China communiqués and the "One China" policy without any reference to the Taiwan Relations Act or the defence of Taiwan . President Clinton did speak about supporting China?s "peaceful unification" with Taiwan and President Jiang frankly refused to rule out the use of force but only in the event of foreign instigation for Taiwanese independence.



The US has concluded that global problems e.g., terrorism, narco-traffic, nuclear proliferation, environmental degradation, global warming, arms control, crime etc. need global solutions. China must be an important partner in working out global solutions. The just concluded US-China summit was primarily about that. Bilateral problems were more difficult to tackle. Some, like US arms supplies to Taiwan were not mentioned in any open document. But this was not a one-off affair. President Clinton is to pay an official visit to China next spring and the dialogue will continue, not only at the presidential level but also at cabinet and sub-cabinet levels on political, economic, cultural and military issues.



Prickly India



In this dialogue, if the Indians think that India?s interests have been neglected, the short answer is that India should directly speak to China on the issue of China-Pakistan nuclear collaboration. But India seems reluctant to do so. The one lesson for India from the recent US-China summit is that India and China must address the outstanding issues directly and transparently, even at the risk of strong initial disagreement.