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Beijing's search for partners poses risks
Paul Lin
10/23/2003

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Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao attended the ASEAN summit in Bali and signed a "Strategic Partnership for Peace and Prosperity" with leaders of the 10 ASEAN nations. It was the first time China has formed a strategic partnership with a regional organization. These countries did not dare refuse to sign such a pact, given China's economic clout.

Another way of building strategic partnerships is seen in the six-member Shanghai Cooperation Organization, whose mem-bers include Russia and Central Asian countries.

China is also building strategic partnerships with some EU countries. Last month, the European Commission released a China policy paper titled "Maturing Partnership: Shared Interests and Challenges in EU-China Rela-tions," which clearly states the intent to develop partnerships.

China's strategic partners also include Pakistan and Brazil. There are other countries -- such as North Korea, Myanmar and Cuba -- whose relations with China are perhaps even closer than those between strategic partners.

What is the purpose behind Beijing's quest for strategic part-nerships? We can see that China is first building regional hegemony in the name of "good neighborliness" and then competing with the US for global dominance. This is a remake of the old "Anti-Imperialist United Front." The purpose is to isolate its perceived enemies as much as possible. The US and Taiwan are China's major imaginary enemies. Japan and India are states that it must both "fight and join."

China has frequently attacked Japan in the name of opposing Japanese militarism. But it has also continuously pitted Japan against the US, in the same way as it has pitted Europe against the US. Constrained by anti-Japanese sentiment among its own public, China dares not make reckless moves. But the top leadership has been testing the waters.

India has border problems with China. Its archenemy Pakistan has very good relations with China. In tackling Pakistan, India also has to consider China. There-fore, New Dehli has been working toward a missile that can reach Beijing. China, however, has been making goodwill gestures toward New Dehli.

This may eventually isolate the US and Taiwan. When Bill Clinton was US president, Washington took the initiative to build a "constructive strategic partnership" with China, but Beijing tried to anesthetize the US and used it against Taiwan. The "constructiveness" won considerable praise until China was outraged by the 1999 bombing of its embassy in Belgrade by NATO planes.

China is the leader of the world's authoritarian countries. The US is the leader of the democratic camp. Ideological conflicts have created the US-China antagonism. Continual US criticism of China on human rights issues and export of high-tech weapons, as well as Beijing's dissemination of anti-US propaganda domestically, which has led to strong anti-US sentiments, indicate that this conflict is hard to reconcile.

China is at times extremely vicious toward the US and at other times low-key and humble. But these are merely strategic maneuvers to buy time until Bei-jing gains the upper hand.

Taiwan has always been a target that Beijing wants to take out. Any US hesitation will create an opportunity for China to use military force against Taiwan. Because the US shares the same ideals with Taiwan, and because both are top targets for Beijing, no lapse is permissible in their cooperation. They must also be on guard against China's ploys to pit one against the other.

To strengthen its own security and world peace, the US should counter China's strategic partnerships and help Taiwan development internationally. This would be conducive to stability and security in the Taiwan Strait.

*Paul Lin is a political commentator based in New York.


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