Other campus: Unlocking the door

By Tufts Daily

(U-WIRE) MEDFORD, Mass. – Though the Bush administration returned from China on Nov. 21, it will have to wait until way past Christmas to begin opening presents from the Chinese. America’s reform wish list in China is long, detailed and highly contested. For there to be any hope of accomplishment, it is important the desires of the administration must not be expressed as demands, but as wishes. This week’s visit, for the most part, was a step in the right direction.

The Chinese have a consistent track record of being slow reformers. It took months of U.S.-based agitation before the Yuan was revalued – at an unexpected moment – by a small amount. Former President Deng Xiaoping’s promise to hold elections at the national level was another example – with elections still stuck in small villages after a decade, they still seem a long way off.

The Chinese are no longer (and have not been for a long time) awed into submission by the United States’ power. Because of this, it is necessary to consistently and firmly reiterate the United States’ desires for reform. Human rights, international trade, religious freedom and intellectual property rights dominated the discussions, though little success was achieved on any front.

The administration was able to meet its low expectations for the trip. It promised no major breakthroughs and received none. There were several token gifts – including a very tentative agreement to purchase $4 billion of planes from Boeing – but little else. Officials have been emphasizing the opportunities the trip providing for face-to-face contact between President Bush and the current Chinese President, Hu Jintao. It was smart thinking from an administration that is increasingly shrewd in their interactions with this rising superpower.

President Bush, however, made one major gaffe during the trip: he went to church. Religion has always underlined the President’s agenda, but its appearance in China was inappropriate. By attending Mass at the state-sanctioned Gangwashi Church, Bush managed to offend both the host and his own nation. Chinese officials, who still closely monitor religion, were irate. Many Americans are disappointed with the president’s choice of a “puppet” government church, instead of supporting the millions of Chinese who worship at the risk of persecution in unauthorized churches.

Attending a Christian church sends a poor message of American superiority toward the Chinese. Though it may demonstrate respect for religious freedom, it shows that the United States only accepts change on its own terms. China has been making progress toward increased religious freedom, including the recent Regulations on Religious Affairs Declaration, but it serves no purpose for the president to flaunt a delicate issue in a series of meetings designed to foster ongoing Sino-American relations.

The president – in a precarious domestic position – should have kept the conversation tightly focused on the economy. It is here that sizable gains can be achieved.

The United States has already shown it can broker deals with China over textiles quotas, and it is time to apply these to intellectual property rights and labor standards.

It is only through ongoing negotiations and patience that the United States achieves results with China. The autocratic government of the world’s largest state prizes stability above all else. If the president tries to veer from emphasizing slow and steady reform, his may find his policy in the same place he was after a press conference in Beijing: behind a locked door.