‘Integrating China into world will make it responsible power’


Felix Soh and Derwin Pereira report on the region’s hot topic – security challenges


INTEGRATING China into the international community would make Beijing a responsible power and give it a stake in ensuring the region’s peace and stability, Defence Minister Yeo Ning Hong said yesterday.

“If China is isolated and believes it is frustrated in its economic growth by other powers, acting independently or in a conspiracy, it is much more likely to lash out and to create mischief for others,” Dr Yeo said at the 2nd Asia-Pacific Defence Conference yesterday.

He said that China was well on the way to economic reform and modernisation, and it was clear that Beijing wanted a peaceful and stable environment to concentrate on economic growth.

The United States could encourage this development and forestall the possibility of Beijing being a belligerent power, he added. It could set an example of how the West could deal with Beijing.

He said that recent US actions to engage China on the political level and a decision to give guidance on economic reforms were important steps which would encourage China’s integration into the global economic system.

Dr Yeo’s remarks were echoed by a former US government official.

Mr James Lilley, a former US Assistant Secretary of Defence for International Security, said that there was a need for constructive engagement with China on a broad front – economic, political and cultural.

Speaking on America’s role in the region’s security, he said that the US had to re-examine its dialogue with China on issues such as human rights and democracy.

The US, he added, had ignored Asian sensitivities on such matters.

“Linking MFN to human rights, borne of US domestic pressure, misguided idealism, poor tactics and double standards, havelanded us in a great big mess.

“It is mismesh. It is sanctimonious utterances, pious warnings, bluster and posture.”

Washington has made China’s most-favoured-nation trading status conditional on significant progress in human rights, despite stern objections from Beijing.

He said that the Clinton administration’s “strident public approach” to human rights in China was ineffective compared to the “low-key” approach of President George Bush.

“Do we have the right to punish and to demand change?” he asked in a robust and spirited manner.

The US had also ignored Asia’s political and economic progress.

“Where is the evolution of democracy in China? Is it in allowing American radio broadcasts to enter China or is it in bettering the lot of the average Chinese by feeding him, clothing him, sheltering him and allowing him to move freely in his own country.

“Is the single secret vote more important to him than feeding his single child?”

Mr Lilley said that while there were indeed human-rights abuses in China, Beijing was taking steps to improve its record.

Workers’ rights were beginning to be protected through legislation. The introduction of a new identification-card system also allowed greater mobility for the Chinese.

“China is moving towards a more open society through its own ways and characteristics, obviously not in response to crude pressure from the outside,” he pointed out.


A three-pronged approach to US policy towards China and Asia on human rights and democracy was recommended by Mr James Lilley:

* Continuing contructive engagement on a broad front – economic, political and cultural.
* Any serious humanrights problem should be dealt multilaterally, not unilaterally, to be effective.
* Support for democracies should focus on existing democratic countries.

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