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China: American Allies Apprehensive About Their Future In The Light Of Clinton's Visit

  • Bruce Pannier

Prague, 26 June 1998 (RFE/RL) -- As U.S. President Bill Clinton begins his official visit to China, he has more to worry about than Chinese dissidents, human rights activists and skeptical Congressmen and Senators back in America. While most countries in the world hail the Clinton visit and the possibility it could defuse what tension exists between the two nations, America's allies, such as Japan and Taiwan, are concerned their ties to the U.S. are about to be put on the back burner. And China's neighbor to the north, Russia, must surely sense that there will soon not even be echoes of the calls made by the Russian and Chinese Presidents last year to bring bilateral trade between those two countries to $20 billion annually by the year 2000.

Japanese newspapers were full of foreboding reports in May concerning Clinton's trip. Asahi Shimbun, in mid-May, questioned the decision to by-pass Japan en route to-and-from China, and later that month noted that the trip is "unprecedentedly long."

Mainichi Shimbun wrote on 18 May that, if Clinton considers Japan an ally, he should stop off in Japan "even for several hours" to discuss the results of his trip with Japanese officials. That same paper also slammed Clinton's decision to stop off at Pearl Harbor on his return trip, claiming the move was "full of provocation" for Japan, though the same source approved of Clinton's decision not to include Nanking in his itinerary.

Fears have been raised that any U.S.-China partnership for the 21st century is created at the expense of U.S.-Japanese relations. Chunichi Shimbun pointed out barely one week ago that Clinton has referred to China as a "strategic partner," and that such wording is "usually reserved" for allies.

Taiwan is also wondering what Clinton's China visit might yield.

Several demonstrations are scheduled to be held outside the Taipei office of the American Institute in Taiwan, the closest thing to an embassy the U.S. has in Taiwan. Most of those demonstrating are from Taiwanese groups, which want full independence from mainland China.

Independence for Taiwan is not U.S. policy, and the most that can be hoped for is that Clinton will pressure Beijing officials to expand dialogue with Taiwan, and show patience in calls for the island to unify with mainland China.

Taiwan's Central News Agency quotes the Vice Chairman of the Mainland Affairs Council, Lin Chong-pin, as saying, while he welcomes better relations between the U.S. and mainland China, he expects the U.S. will be developing "parallel ties with Taipei."

Russian press, so far, have not commented much on the Clinton visit, but "Kommersant daily" wrote June 25 that "experts forecast a break-through in economic relations between the USA and PRC." Should that prove to be true, Russia will be a certain loser. Great hopes for the Russian economy have been placed in trade with China. Despite the promise by Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Chinese President Jiang Zemin in April 1997 to raise annual bilateral trade to $20 billion by the year 2000, figures for the first quarter of 1998 indicated trade did not even reach the level of the first quarter of 1997.

Conversely, U.S.-Chinese trade was up by in the first four months of 1998, with Chinese exports rising by 20 percent and imports from the U.S. by eight percent. Russian companies lost out in the bidding to supply China's mammoth Three Gorges dam project, though the visit by Jiang to Moscow in April 1997 was seen as giving Russian companies an inside track in the bidding. On the other hand, Jiang's trip to the U.S. last October resulted in more than $4 billion in contracts being signed.

The Clinton trip may accomplish much in improving relations between "the largest developing nation and the largest developed nation," as the Chinese press is fond of noting recently. However, some repair work will need to be done in relations with friends - old and new in the region - following the visit.