Over the past three decades, the
People’s Republic of China has taken remarkable strides
toward economic liberalization. As the autocratic stronghold on the
economy has steadily relaxed, privatization and the proliferation
of open markets have spawned an entrepreneurial middle class and
planted the seeds of what may become the world’s largest
capitalist economy. The Bush administration has recognized the new
face of China for what it is: a lucrative, low-wage-induced export
market and an untapped cache for foreign direct investment.
Accordingly, earlier in his term, the President showed no
reluctance in protracting the Clinton administration’s
campaign to institutionalize these trends by pressuring China to
accede to a framework of Permanent Normal Trade Relations within
the World Trade Organization. However, although securing normal
trade relations with China brought a predictable wealth of
political and economic dividends to the United States, few foresaw
the costs that would accompany China’s new found clout as a
global economic kingpin. Unexpectedly, the Bush
administration’s infatuation with China’s goldmine of
cheap labor has clouded its judgment about foundational concepts of
strategic diplomacy — allowing for the modification and
neglect of bedrock U.S. foreign policy positions.

Sam Singer

While it requires an agonizing wince to admit, the recent
neoconservative outcry over the abandonment of Taiwan has not been
completely erroneous. Indeed, as of late, the Bush administration
has shirked from the U.S.’s time-honored role as a protector
and champion of Taiwan’s political sovereignty. On more than
one occasion over the last two years, Bush has explicitly endorsed
the mainland’s “One China” policy — an
unprecedented deviation from the State Department’s
conventional approach to cross-strait relations. Deserting Taipei
is not only reckless, but also unnecessary.

Nonetheless, for some inexplicable reason, the Bush
administration has allowed China’s recent rightward economic
tilt to elevate Beijing’s footing in negotiations over
Taiwanese independence. The President has gratuitously pandered to
Chinese regional aspirations under the misconception that if he
doesn’t, the country’s free enterprise train will
reverse course. Fortunately, Chinese economic liberalization can no
longer function as a carrot to be dangled over the heads of
investment-hungry foreigners. At this point, Chinese leadership is
simply incapable of applying the brakes to the nation’s
rapidly snowballing force of market liberalization. By effectively
galvanizing a new commercial class of capitalists and entrepreneurs
while simultaneously failing to grant the populace complementary
political liberties, Beijing’s one-party dominion has staked
its legitimacy on a perpetually booming economy. Thus, a closer
reading of internal Chinese politics would make it abundantly clear
that China can no longer use the retreat from liberalization as
leverage against the West; Ironically, the Communist Party is
actually dependent on further market reforms to ensure its
rectitude. As a case in point, despite the central
government’s recent refusal to allow democratic elections in
Hong Kong and the subsequent fury of protest, President Hu Jintao
emerged unscathed by catering to Hong Kong’s business leaders
— appointing capitalist friendly headship to the city’s
legislature and governing council.

With China on an inexorable path toward further liberalization,
the Bush administration is presented with a rare opportunity. The
recent re-election of Taiwan’s pro-independent President Chen
Shui-bain gives the U.S. a window to resuscitate a faltering
strategic alliance. China has threatened to go to war over
Taiwanese secession, but if the U.S. supplemented China’s
self-imposed global economic interdependence with a resolute
declaration to defend Taiwan in its pursuit of independence,
Chinese pre-emptive military action would equate to political
suicide. Straying from a five decade-strong political alliance for
reasons of economic imperative would be difficult enough to
justify, but given China’s impotent bargaining power, Bush
has no excuse not to stand by an old friend.

Singer can be reached at
“mailto:singers@umich.edu”>singers@umich.edu.

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