Relations with China must stress cooperation, not fear

Two Chinese warships are in Everett because relations have improved so much over the past year. It is another of the good times in U.S.-China relations. Memories of the 1999 U.S. bombing of China’s embassy in Yugoslavia have faded. China rode out the election of a new president in Taiwan without completely losing its cool.

For the moment, everything is fine. And friendship is being celebrated, both among professional military personnel on the docks of Everett as well as by diplomats in Beijing and Washington, D.C.

How long will the picture stay so cheery? The past quarter century of generally good ties between two great nations argues for optimism. But there is also reason for caution.

The Chinese regime remains authoritarian, sometimes brutally so. In May, the liberal New Republic magazine aptly described Beijing as "an insular, paranoid government filled with resentment toward the West and entitlement toward its neighbors." Paranoid? Any discussion with Chinese foreign ministry officials emphasizes that there have been mistakes made in dealings between our two countries. All the mistakes, however, have been made by — America.

While nationalism may have lost its allure in much of the world, it’s booming in China. As the inheritor of a great civilization, China has a legitimate desire to see itself as a leading world power. And the history of China’s mistreatment by Western powers in the 19th and early 20th centuries remains a legitimate cause for resentment. But, with few ways to rally the public around the ruling Communist Party, Chinese leaders find it convenient at times to stir the flames of nationalism.

Still, the United States has little reason — other than its own political playing with emotions — to regard China as a serious threat, at least for the present. China is not in the same class as this country, militarily or economically. And despite the embarrassing behavior of the U.S. government in the Wen Ho Lee nuclear technology case, China does not appear intent on serious military rivalry.

Indeed, there are good reasons for the United States and China to cooperate and maintain productive relations. There is a history of deep respect between the two nations that, at least on the level of public opinion, seems strong enough to survive inevitable ups and downs in diplomatic relations. In many ways, our national interests, in Asia and globally, line up well. We both want peace on the Korean Peninsula, which lies next to China. Most importantly, both countries have an overriding interest in the prosperity and opportunities for progress that only peace can offer.

While China has disputes with a number of its neighbors, none is more important to China than Taiwan, which it regards as a renegade province. It’s a surprisingly emotional issue. Just before the inauguration of Taiwan’s new president in May, a lunch between visiting American journalists and a deputy mayor of Shanghai turned tense. The city official, the father of a pre-teen boy, suggested heatedly that war might be preferable to the dishonor of allowing Taiwan to make any declaration of independence.

Taiwan, with its impressive development as a democracy, deserves American support, including enough weapons for Beijing to know that peace is the only plausible route to reunification. Oddly, though, the road to peaceful reunification may run right through Hong Kong, which returned to Chinese control just three years ago. Chinese officials point to the maintenance of freedom and the promotion of democracy in Hong Kong as ways to show Taiwan what it could expect under reunification.

Even Beijing’s most intelligent critics tend to agree. Martin Lee, a great human rights advocate and one of Hong Kong’s elected legislators, sees hope for preservation of Hong Kong’s freedoms in Beijing’s need to impress Taiwan. He is optimistic, moreover, that China and Taiwan can address their questions peacefully.

If that’s the case, a strong United States and a growing China ought to be able to continue dealing with each other reasonably well in the years ahead. Caution and strength, however, will be vital ingredients in maintaining America’s security and ability to deal peacefully with China.


FROM Talkback

WHERE Story LIKE ‘../Stories/00/9/18/12962955.cfm’

AND Dateverified LIKE ‘verified’

ORDER BY Dateposted

Talk back

Talk to us

More in Opinion

Biden's Fiddle, President Joe R. Biden, Debit Ceiling, Federal Debt Limit, suspend, Speaker Kevin McCarthy, U.S. House, U.S. Senate, economic catastrophe, default, compromise bill, bipartisan vote
Editorial cartoons for Saturday, June 3

A sketchy look at the news of the day.… Continue reading

Lummi Tribal members Ellie Kinley, left, and Raynell Morris, president and vice president of the non-profit Sacred Lands Conservancy known as Sacred Sea, lead a prayer for the repatriation of southern resident orca Sk’aliCh’elh-tenaut — who has lived and performed at the Miami Seaquarium for over 50 years — to her home waters of the Salish Sea at a gathering Sunday, March 20, 2022, at the sacred site of Cherry Point in Whatcom County, Wash.

The Bellingham Herald
Editorial: What it will require to bring Tokitae home

Bringing home the last capitve orca requires expanded efforts to restore the killer whales’ habitat.

Comment: What capital gains tax’s court win means for so many

The state Supreme Court’s decision makes the state’s taxes more fair and provides revenue to aid many.

Comment: State’s high court ignores precedent in writing its rules

In seeking to end ‘systemic racial injustice,’ court’s justices ignore constitutional constraints.

Comment: Public safety lost ground in this year’s Legislature

Legislation that would have better addressed racism’s effects on communities was not adopted by lawmakers.

Kathy Solberg. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Forum: Confronting our loneliness to build a Common Good

Familiar themes in a 32-year-old article provoke thoughts about how we can cultivate relationships.

Forum: Government needs to get out of the way of business

Regulations and high taxes are preventing business from providing the goods and services we need.

Editorial cartoons for Friday, June 2

A sketchy look at the news of the day.… Continue reading

A map of the I-5/SR 529 Interchange project on Tuesday, May 23, 2023 in Marysville, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Editorial: Set your muscle memory for work zone speed cameras

Starting next summer, not slowing down in highway work zones can result in a $500 fine.

Most Read