RICHARD NIXON can rest assured, wherever he is, that his China policy remains the official bipartisan position of the United States. After back-to-back visits to Beijing by Vice President Al Gore and Speaker Newt Gingrich, China bashers on the Democratic left and Republican right have been reminded that their urge to confront may be an outlet for emotions but it has not replaced the drive for engagement and closer ties that began when Mr. Nixon signed the Shanghai Communique a quarter-century ago.
While Mr. Gore's appearance was tactically convenient for a Communist regime eager for an exchange of presidential visits in the coming year, Mr. Gingrich's presence might have been psychologically more important. Starting with Mr. Nixon's affirmation that there can be only one China (and, by implication, that its capital is not in Taiwan), the Beijing leadership has tended to think Republicans belong to a party they can do business with.
Having observed the GOP's lurch to the right under Mr. Gingrich, the leadership wanted this notion to be re-affirmed. And the speaker complied as best he could, considering his need to appease conservatives accusing him of squishiness. Mr. Gingrich combined the "tough language on human rights and political reform" advocated by Mr. Nixon in his final book with his further admonition that "while we cannot yet be friends, we cannot afford to be enemies."
Thus, Mr. Gingrich said alleged Chinese attempts to influence the 1996 elections may have been the work of "renegades," not the government. Thus, he vowed the U.S. would defend Taiwan if it were attacked but accepted at face value Chinese assertions they would not do so. Thus, he told university students that economic freedom can survive only with political freedom while extolling evidence of prosperity and individual choice among his listeners.
This is not the first time Mr. Gingrich has endorsed the Nixon legacy on China. Though he did not invoke the name of the discredited former president, he has repeatedly resisted demands for an end to normal trading relations with the Beijing regime. All in all, the Gingrich visit was an essential part of reaffirming a sensible and realistic U.S. policy toward Beijing.
Pub Date: 4/01/97