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Editorial: Proposed Defense System Aimed Against China Threatens Diplomatic Relations

This story was written by Editorial Board, Harvard Crimson

Since the establishment of official diplomatic relations in 1979, the United States and the Peoples Republic of China have maintained a relatively stable relationship consisting of mutual engagement and careful dialogue. The benefits for both nations have been numerous, but some fear that this relationship constitutes complacency and weakness. For example, a committee chaired by former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz has argued that the American military should prepare for an all-out confrontation by constructing a new national missile defense system specifically targeted at China.

For Wolfowitz one of the chief architects of the invasion and occupation of Iraq this provocative plan is probably nothing extreme. Unfortunately, its also an idea that makes real the threat of nuclear war, economic devastation and global instability. Building a new national missile defense system would not only bankrupt the United States, but would also make the entire nation less safe. Instead, the United States should continue its current policy of engagement with Beijing but this does not mean that it needs to appease China on every issue of importance.

In contrast to the predictions of the Wolfowitz clique, East Asia has actually become one of the more politically stable regions of the world. The past three decades have seen the United States and China move closer and closer to consensus on a variety of major international issues, including the fight against terrorism, the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and the importance of free trade. A new national missile defense system would send an aggressive signal to the Chinese government and threaten to reverse all the diplomatic gains of the past three decades.

What makes the Wolfowitz proposal even more appalling is that it proposes a massive increase in military spending just as the nation is suffering through a financial crisis of historic proportions. Causing needless confrontation with China by building an incredibly expensive, untested, and provocative national missile shield would invite military aggression against important American allies such as Japan and South Korea. Needless to say, it is also likely that the recent thaw in cross-strait relations between Taiwan and China would be adversely affected as well.

This is not to say, however, that the United States government should give Beijing a blank check to conduct its affairs as it wishes. We are extremely concerned about several issues where further Sino-American cooperation and reform from Beijing can help to ease international tensions and improve the lives of millions of people. We acknowledge, as Washingtons critics often point out, that American foreign policy is not perfect, but we believe that a healthy respect for the national interest can coexist with a policy of engagement and progress in the future.

In particular, we are concerned about the lack of democracy and transparency in Chinas nascent civil society. Recently, we were devastated by reports that infant formula tainted by melanine was responsible for the poisoning of thousands of Chinese infants, and that candy contaminated by the same chemical had reached American shores. We urge policymakers on both sides of the Pacific to better regulate and police the trade agreements that govern Chinese imports into the United States.

Beijings foreign policy priorities should also be scrutinized. We are especially concerned by its continued foreign aid to the oppressive military regime in Myanmar, which has shot its own people on the streets and refused to allow legitimately elected leaders to take office. Chinas refusal to put real pressure on the autocratic North Korean government by stopping fuel oil shipments, for example is also a major cause for worry. Finlly, Chinas policy towards the former Soviet republics of Central Asia, which are important oil and gas exporters are of particular concern. The United States should make it clear that any attempt by China to gain regional hegemony over these states whether it be through Beijings own initiatives or through the Shanghai Cooperation Organization would be unacceptable.

Decades from now, as historians examine the foreign policy legacies of the second Bush administration, they are not likely to be impressed. In the last few months of his tenure, we encourage our President to pursue a course of moderation and sensibility toward China that earned his father such high marks on foreign policy.

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