The Coming Conflict with China.


RICHARD BERNSTEIN AND ROSS H. MUNRO, The Coming Conflict with China (New York: Knopf, 1997), 245 pp. $23.00 cloth (ISBN 0-679-45463-2).

Journalists Richard Bernstein and Ross H. Munro have written an important book about the U.S. relationship with China. Some who study China take the position that the nation is not necessarily our enemy and should not instinctively be perceived or treated as such. Bernstein and Munro provide a strong case for refining, if not reversing, that view. At the least, they demonstrate that key Chinese officials view the United States as their nation's chief adversary and even "enemy"--a fact that is not insignificant.

Especially notable is what the authors say about the Clinton presidency. Some scholars have been very critical of President Clinton's handling of international affairs. Fred Greenstein's 1994 remark that Clinton's approach to foreign policy was "sometimes indecisive" and his worldview "inconsistent"(1) was kind compared to early assessments such as that of columnist Charles Krauthammer, who described the president's conduct of foreign affairs as "inept" and "disgraceful."(2) Such unfavorable assessments have continued throughout the Clinton presidency.(3)

When it comes to being tough on President Clinton in foreign policy, the authors of this book are no exception. In two separate interviews with the Pittsburgh media, one of the writers, Munro, was quite candid about what he perceived as the primary problem in current U.S.-China relations: President Clinton's credibility problem. Munro referred to this as "the biggest problem in the bilateral relationship--Clinton's lack of credibility and the Chinese leadership's contempt for him.... They have no respect for Bill Clinton."(4)

That specific denouncement of the president is not featured in this book. However, the authors imply the point via a stinging indictment of the president and his administration. While the authors are tough on the Clinton team, they are not partisan.

A primary source of their criticism is one familiar to China watchers: in 1992, presidential candidate Clinton blasted President Bush's support of most-favored nation (MFN) trading status for China, saying as president he would "absolutely" end MFN if human rights abuses did not improve. The governor vowed to use trade as a weapon to force China to improve human rights and move toward democracy. To demonstrate his early seriousness, as president he signed a May 1993 executive order...

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