Top Stories from the Editorial/Opinion pages of the International Herald Tribune, 
Wednesday, October 22, 1997 

Notice How Being Firm With Beijing Helps China to Change

By Gerald Segal International Herald Tribune 
HONG KONG - China's tolerant approach to retaining Hong Kong's cosmopolitan openness is testament to the virtues of Western vigilance. 

 The implications for the meeting in Washington next week between Presidents Jiang Zemin and Bill Clinton are clear. China can be constructively engaged, but only when the West takes a firm view of how to change Chinese behavior. 

 The recently concluded congress of the Chinese Communist Party provided conclusive evidence of how Western strategy works and how China pretends it does not. 

 The heart of Western strategy is to entice China to evolve peacefully into a more open society and capitalist economy. When Mr. Jiang's report to the congress made much of the fact that China was at ''the primary stage of socialism,'' China was in reality admitting the virtues of its capitalism. 

 Linguistic somersaults were also evident when Mr. Jiang defined the socialist ''public sector'' as including the collectively owned part of joint-stock companies. When shareholding is described as socialism, there is no limit to how capitalist China can become. 

 Pragmatism underlies these ideological acrobatics. Mr. Jiang told the congress: ''The task we are undertaking is a new one. Marx did not speak of it, our predecessors did not do it, other socialist countries have not done it. We can only study as we act, to find our way through practice.'' 

 Such pragmatism will lay the basis for eventual political reform, even though the immediate results of the congress can be seen as a step back from political liberalism. 

 The elevation of Li Peng, a conservative, and the defeat of Qiao Shi, a reformer, were an attempt to pretend that political reform can be pushed off for some time. The reality will be very different. As the rest of East Asia has shown, economic openness eventually requires political openness. 

 There was some political reform at the congress. The armed forces lost their one uniformed presence on the powerful Standing Committee of the Politburo, and in general the military was given a lower profile. Civilianizing of government in China bodes well for the peaceful settlement of disputes with neighbors and suggests a maturing political system. 

 The hardest part for the West in managing a China that changes while pretending not to is in keeping up the pressure. So long as the Chinese foolishly believe that time is on their side, they will have time to become more open and capitalist. 

 China is a weak power, and if the West keeps its cool China will be unable to grow unless it allows itself to be reshaped. 

 China needs access to Western markets more than the West needs access to Chinese markets. Remaining steadfast over the terms for joining the World Trade Organization will ensure that China enters only when it is ready to play by the rules. 

 Those rules on openness and interdependence will reshape China. Just as East Asia's economic crisis shows that there are no Asian solutions to Asian crises, so there is no point in letting China believe that it can buck markets or rewrite rules. 

 On military issues, the same conclusions apply. Beijing can bully its neighbors only so long as they lack external support. Even with aircraft carriers, China would be no match for Western powers using advanced communications and computerized information processing. 

 A firm but patient Western strategy that includes incentives for good Chinese behavior on arms control and in refraining from intimidating neighbors can help ensure a less fraught relationship with Beijing. 

 A major cause of current Southeast Asian woes was increasing competition from lower-wage industries in China assisted by an undervalued Chinese currency. Mr. Jiang, not George Soros, damaged the competitiveness of Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. 

 Several more years of inter-Asian competition will make clear to East Asians that they need to rethink their opposition to Western demands for setting strict rules in dealing with China. East Asians have a vested interest in tying Beijing to the liberalizing rules of the WTO. 

Teaching China that it cannot throw its weight around is also achieved by denying Beijing the ability to set the agenda in the South China Sea or the Taiwan Strait. As this reality dawns more fully in East Asia, the West will find it easier to get support in the region for a policy of firmness toward China. 

 The writer is director of studies at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London and director of Britain's Pacific Asia Program. He contributed this comment to the International Herald Tribune.