Over the course of this summer, American-Chinese relations passed, not for the first time, from (relative) calm to crisis to (relative) calm again. By early September, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) had apparently ended a series of missile tests that were intended to intimidate Taiwan, and had uttered some soothing words about its new military installations near the Philippines. Harry Wu, the human-rights activist, had been returned to the United States. Despite much commotion over Chinese manners, Hillary Clinton had indeed led the American delegation to the United Nations World Conference on Women in Beijing. And, most importantly, there was talk of an early summit meeting between Bill Clinton and the Chinese president, Jiang Zemin. For the moment, things seemed to be returning to normal.
But whether the immediate crisis recedes or not, the problems it exposed are no closer to solution; indeed, they are steadily worsening, and dealing with them will require more than atmospherics, improved diplomacy, and a summit meeting, or even two. In particular, American policy toward China remains frozen in a two-decades-old model that is increasingly irrelevant to the situation of today, and may become dangerously so in the future.
About the Author
Arthur Waldron is the Lauder professor of international relations at the University of Pennsylvania and vice president of the International Assessment and Strategy Center in Washington, D.C.