CHARLES KRAUSE: Less than a year ago China conducted military exercises in the Straits of Taiwan. It was an attempt to stop presidential elections on the island, which Beijing considers to be an integral part of China. In response, the United States sent two aircraft carriers to demonstrate a continuing U.S. commitment to peace and stability in the region.
The incident was perhaps as close as the U.S. and China had come to armed conflict in nearly three decades and raised troubling questions. Was the confrontation a relic of past hostilities, or was it the harbinger of new troubles between the United States and the China that's rapidly growing richer and more assertive than Asia and the Pacific. However such questions are answered, the United States has given China an unusual amount of high level attention in recent weeks as the Clinton administration presses its policy of engagement with Beijing. Secretary of State Albright was there briefly in February just two days after the deaths of China's paramount leader, Deng Xiaoping. It was interpreted as a sign of the importance the Chinese attached to her visit that the trip was not canceled because of national mourning.
Then at the end of March Vice President Gore visited Beijing. His trip was to pave the way for an exchange of presidential visits later this year and next. But the diplomatic purpose was largely overshadowed by continuing questions from reporters and from the Chinese, themselves, over alleged Chinese efforts to buy influence in Washington through illegal campaign contributions to the President and several members of Congress.
The Chinese have vehemently denied the allegations, while the President says he wasn't told of evidence to that effect gathered by the FBI. The Vice President's departure was followed by the arrival of House Speaker Gingrich, who had his own round of talks with top level Chinese officials. Unlike Gore, Gingrich boldly reasserted American support for Taiwan, but he also backed the administration's policy of active engagement with China. As these trips suggest, the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the old Soviet Union have made China an even more central focus of U.S. foreign policy. And its growing economic and military power, coupled with China's new assertiveness are the subject of numerous articles in foreign policy journals and at least one new book.
It's titled The Coming Conflict with China, and was written by two journalists, Ross Monroe, formerly of the Toronto Globe and Mail and New York Times correspondent Richard Bernstein. Both reported from Beijing earlier in their careers. The central thesis, as the title suggests, is that China is likely to emerge as a threat to U.S. power and interests in Asia early in the next century.