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A nation must think before it acts.
President Bill Clinton’s first goal in dealing with China as he enters his second term must be simply to avoid trouble, but that will not be easy to do. For twenty years, a common interest in offsetting the Soviet Union gave stability to the U.S.-Chinese relationship; that common interest no longer exists. During the same period, moreover, China’s domestic policies were clearly liberalizing. Since 1989, however, the direction of Chinese politics has reversed. Against international trends, China is now moving toward renewed dictatorship. The result is a new and inherently difficult situation that will pose serious problems for any administration, regardless of the skill or lack thereof with which diplomacy is carried out.
The stakes are very high. China is a major power in Asia, intimately connected with its neighbors at every level from economics to security. Instability originating in China could spread and lead to disastrous consequences for the region. The number of potential flash points-external and internal-is substantial, and, as the March 1996 confrontation concerning Taiwan made clear, things can go wrong quickly and unexpectedly.
Here are eight points of advice for the Clinton administration…