By Dr. Parris Chang
Last March, Chinese Defense Minister Chi Haotian was embroiled in a dangerous showdown with the U.S. navy in the Taiwan Strait, but in December Chi received a red-carpet welcome in Washington complete with full military honors. As part of the price for improving relations with Beijing, President Clinton had to clink glasses with a man who epitomizes everything the U.S. dislikes about China: its suppression of human rights, threats against neighbors, and tendency to sell missile and nuclear weapons technology to rogue states.
Defense Minister Chi earned his stripes by brutally slaughtering the unarmed students and citizens of Beijing. During the June 4, 1989 massacre, Chi was chief of staff of the People's Liberation Army and supervised the military assault against pro-democracy protesters in Tiananmen square. More recently, in a dangerous attempt to intimidate Taiwan voters during the March presidential election, Chi helped direct a series of military exercises and missile test firings in the Taiwan Strait. However much President Clinton wants to maintain a dialog with top Chinese leaders like Jiang Zemin, the U.S. should not have extended a welcome to this "butcher of Beijing". General Chi's visit to Washington made a mockery of the United States' commitment to peace and human rights. Chi's statement in Washington that no civilians were killed in the Tainanmen crackdown was a slap in the face to all who died in Beijing that night.
Defense Minster Chi's remarks may have embarrassed his U.S. hosts, but his tour has given China's military a big public relations boost. China pushed hard to get Chi Haotian invited to Washington ever since U.S. Secretary of Defense William Perry visited China in 1994. Beijing places great importance on such visits, not because this invitation diplomacy will help resolve key differences between the U.S. and China, but because such trips boost China's inflated self-image as a great power.
Chi Haotian is a leading subscriber to the "U.S.-is-keeping-China-down" theory, the popular idea among Chinese leaders that the United States is fearful of China's growing economic and military clout and is thus trying to contain China by, among other unspeakable deeds, supporting democracy in Asia. Since becoming defense minister in 1993, Chi Haotian has helped develop China's militant anti-U.S. policy.
If the Clinton administration insists on stroking Chi's ego, they can at least send a clear message to the defense minister that China's military build-up threatens the peace and security of the Asia-Pacific region. Under Chi Haotian's leadership, China's military is rapidly expanding its blue-water navy and is shopping for an aircraft carrier designed to project power far beyond China's shores. Beijing also makes no secret that it now possesses inter-continental ballistic missiles capable of striking the United States. But at the same time, China protested the recent U.S. decision to sell Taiwan anti-aircraft Stinger missiles and is pressuring Clinton to cut off further weapons deals.
Unfortunately, by giving Chi Haotian a 19-gun salute in Washington, the Clinton administration sent China the wrong kind of message: that China can continue to bully its neighbors, indiscriminately sell weapons abroad, turn its the military on its own citizens and still win respect from the United States.
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