Washington Tells China
To Back Off Or Risk Cold War
By David Rennie in Beijing
and Ben Fenton in Washington
CHINA'S attempt to whip up anti-American emotions over the bombing of its Belgrade embassy elicited warnings of a new Cold War in Washington yesterday as Beijing accused exiled dissidents of supporting the missile strike.
Attempts by the Clinton administration to cool China's outrage over the bombing were being countered in Washington by a growing lobby insisting that the White House should get tough with Beijing. Senior
members of Congress said that for the President to have apologised five times for the
incident was more than enough and China was acting like a spoilt child.
Beijing's determination to keep up the anti-West propaganda over a 10-day-old incident has been puzzling analysts in both capitals. Western businessmen in China say that in conversations with economic ministry officials and Chinese colleagues, they are reassured that Beijing's stance is "merely for domestic consumption".
China-based analysts are reluctant to
accept American talk of a new Cold War, or immediate dangers to Western security
as a result of Beijing's rhetoric. They point to the resumption of contacts at the highest level. President Clinton has spoken by telephone to President Jiang Zemin, who had refused his calls immediately after the strike. The Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, spoke to his opposite number, Tang Jiaxuan, on Saturday, after being made to wait
for some days.
Meanwhile in America, reports about the long-term and damaging efforts of Chinese spies to secure the secrets of the West's nuclear armoury have stoked fires of impatience with what is seen as an overreaction by Beijing to the embassy bombing.
When Li Zhaoxing, China's ambassador to the United States, appeared on television on Sunday to answer questions about subjects ranging from the bombing of the embassy to his country's appalling human rights record, all of his replies were turned to centre on what he called the "atrocity" perpetrated against the embassy. It was a throwback to Cold War rhetoric that took even normally pro-Chinese commentators by surprise.
Later, Senator John McCain, a candidate for the Republican nomination in the 2000 presidential election, said that China was "trying to stick a thumb in our eye" over the bombing. He said: "They have got to start showing some maturity here and right now, otherwise we are going to end up in confrontation which is in the interests of neither country."
The spate of espionage stories seems to have been leaked by figures within the Republican Party or the Pentagon who see it in the long-term interests of America to have one big enemy.
Rear Admiral Eugene Carroll, of the Centre for Defence Information, an independent think-tank, said: "There is a demonisation of China going on here. I'm not sure who is doing it, but these leaks are orchestrated to show China as the yellow peril again. I do not believe that this is either a good idea in the long term nor is it going to help us reach a proper resolution of the situation in Kosovo."
In Beijing, analysts caution that while the West need not feel immediately threatened by seething nationalism, China's regional security inspires more concern. China has several outstanding aggressive claims within its region, ranging from Taiwan to almost all of the South China Sea.
Beijing has several times stepped back from the brink of direct confrontation with the United States, which has acted as the
post-Second World War guarantor of peace for allies such as South Korea, Japan, Taiwan and the Philippines.
While Chinese police have ended orchestrated protests outside the American and British embassies in Beijing, they continue to make their diplomats feel uneasy. At the weekend they warned that demonstrators were heading for the diplomatic quarter, causing embassy staff to drag themselves to work, only to find a false alarm.
Western embassies are now trying to determine whether the twin themes of domestic nationalism and overseas pragmatism are two elements of a single negotiating ploy, or signs of two competing factions at the highest levels. One Western official said: "There are signs that the policy of engagement with the outside world is under pressure, but we just don't know."
Sino-American relations are set to be
further soured this week, as the much-leaked US congressional report on transfers of sensitive technology to China is published. Even as China fiercely denies stealing any
nuclear secrets from America, regional security experts said that China's People's Liberation Army will be pressing for further modernisation of its ageing, limited-range missiles, plans and naval ships.