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Friday, April 19, 2002

China puts growth before 'reunification'

HONG KONG -- The launching of the U.S. Congressional Taiwan Caucus on April 9, which already includes 85 members of the House of Representatives, is but the latest sign of Washington's moving inexorably closer to Taiwan, 30 years after the signing of the Shanghai communique. So far, China has shown remarkable restraint.

After U.S. President George W. Bush, in a speech at the State Department, welcomed "both countries" -- China and "the Republic of Taiwan" -- into the World Trade Organization, Beijing accepted Washington's explanation that it had made "an oral mistake" and returned to business as usual.

The Chinese, who are nothing if not pragmatic, realize that they live in a world dominated by the United States. They know that access to the American market as well as American capital and technology play a key role in their desire to become a powerful, modern country and, so for now at least, are prepared to put up with a considerable amount of provocation.

This doesn't mean that the Chinese are happy about the situation -- far from it. But with 5,000 years of history under their belt, they are prepared to be patient. After all, in another half century or so, China expects to reach its goal of being able to guarantee all 1.3 billion people in the country a decent standard of living.

Beijing has little choice but to accept the world as it is. It has no desire to return to the 1950s and '60s, when it lived in splendid isolation and when President Sukarno of Indonesia toyed with the idea of setting up an alternative world system by pitting "new emerging forces" against the "old established forces."

While Beijing occasionally still calls itself "New China," in reality it has become part of the international establishment; it doesn't have the luxury of picking up its marbles and refusing to play.

Moreover, Beijing believes that the world situation is not static. In fact, a recent article in the online edition of the official People's Daily described what it called "two major trends in today's world," one of which is economic globalization. The second trend, it said, is the gradual emergence of a multipolar world. "These two trends," the article said, "serve as the basic judgment for us to understand and analyze the evolution of the world situation."

The Cold War was not only a bipolar world, it said, "there also existed two market systems in the world, which had largely hindered the exchanges of worldwide economic activities." But with the end of the Cold War, "a global market system was formed," with economic activities of various countries expanding globally.

Similarly, after the Cold War, the U.S. became the only superpower in a unipolar world. However, the article said, over the past two decades, "it can be seen that the development trend tends toward balanced multiple poles."

The European Union, it said, had become one pole. Russia, which still retains its potential as a great power, can be seen as another pole. In Asia, Japan, South Korea and, of course, China are emerging as separate poles.

As the Chinese perceive the emergence of these various poles, American actions have "more and more obviously been contained and restrained by various factors and forces," in the words of the People's Daily article.

In a certain sense, the article said, "recognition of multipolarization by various countries reflects a kind of pursuit of the democratization of international relations."

The article conceded, however, that "a fairly long tortuous historical course" awaits the emergence of a multipolar world and "its developing form is in the process of evolution, waiting for further evolution."

Thus, for the time being, China is prepared to bide its time while doing what it can to foster a multipolar system. President Jiang Zemin, currently on a five-nation tour of Europe, Asia and Africa, stopped first in Germany, which, like China, is concerned about curbing what it sees as a growing tendency toward unilateralism by the U.S.

In Berlin, Jiang gave a speech in which he called for action to promote a multipolar world that he said would benefit all countries and peoples and "help to establish a just and rational new world political and economic order."

For the foreseeable future, China will have to continue on the road it has been traveling for the past two decades and more, laboriously building up its economy, gradually modernizing its society and upgrading its military -- and hope that, in the long run, Taiwan will want to return to the Chinese fold.

Frank Ching is a Hong Kong-based journalist and commentator.

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