China Sends Mixed Messages

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With China foreign policy, it is as with the magician: always keep your eye on the other hand. An ASEAN meeting in Paris of Asia-Pacific powers concluded pleasantly last week with quick resolution of the membership status of China and Taiwan. The document accords Taiwan inferior membership in the group, upon which China had insisted, but analysts were nevertheless encouraged. "We thought we would fight like cats and dogs on the statement," said Carolina Hernandez, President of the Institute of Strategic and Development Studies at the University of the Philippines, "but there was agreement on the first draft in only three minutes." She credits successful diplomacy for the smoothing of Beijing feathers. "Perhaps because people (in the group) are no longer ganging up against the Chinese, they are less paranoid." But to the paranoiac always comes a threat, and China's other hand is a fist. In Hong Kong Thursday, pro-democracy activists rallied outside a conference hall that will tomorrow host China foreign minister Qian Qichen at a meeting to pick Hong Kong's first leader under Chinese rule, which begins July 1. "Qian needs to listen to Hong Kong people's views, not only the views of people who support China," said legislator Andrew Cheng of the Democrats, Hong Kong's biggest political party. So today, with apt timing, China dispensed a summary reminder to Hong Kong--and to the world--that it is neither responsive nor repentant. A heavily guarded Beijing court took just 10 minutes to reject the appeal of Wang Dan, the dissident sentenced to 11 years in prison for articles written in Hong Kong newspapers. As at Wang's secretive Oct. 30 trial, police kept foreign press away, confiscating tapes and briefly detaining a photographer. "I don't think they will relax on issues of democracy and human rights," sighs Hernandez. She predicts that relations with the tightly wrapped superpower-to-be will continue to require a Janus-like balance. "If we push China, they will be forced to be crazy," says Hernandez, "but at the same time, we cannot be too nice to them or they will think they can get away with murder."