Admiral to Aid Rocky U.S.-China Relationship

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President Clinton has decided to send a message to an upset Beijing and a cranky Congress that he wants to be both engaged and tough with China. To replace James Sasser, the retiring U.S. ambassador to China, Clinton plans to nominate retired admiral Joseph Prueher, the former head of all U.S. forces in the Pacific. (Sasser, prominent in recent days during riots outside the Beijing embassy, has wanted to step down for some time.) "This is a clear signal to China that we want to get closer in an age of growing security concerns," says TIME diplomatic correspondent Doug Waller. At the same time, says TIME White House correspondent Jay Branegan, "it is a wise move to pitch a military guy to Congress, to acknowledge its legitimate concerns over security lapses and technology transfers to China."

What China has long wanted from the U.S. -- nuclear secrets and trade advantages aside -- is respect and an ambassador with the stature to prove it. The nomination of Prueher, a four-star admiral once responsible for protecting U.S. interests in Chinaís sphere of influence, goes a long way toward satifying that yearning, says Waller. It also satisfies the Pentagonís desires to develop a closer working relationship with the Chinese, part of the general U.S. policy of engaging the Chinese into a mesh of stable security, political and economic arrangements. But in addition to policy concerns, there's also a very practical reason for picking Admiral Prueher: "Military officers donít usually have problems getting confirmed from a respectful Congress," says Waller. With many members itching to air their grievances over the administrationís China policies -- and eager to do so at a confirmation hearing -- proposing to place a Navy man at the helm in Beijing should keep a tide of carping at bay.