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Deng's successors see U.S.-China relations differently


Leaders wary of West

February 22, 1997
Web posted at: 10:40 a.m. EST (1540 GMT)

In this story:

From Correspondent Andrea Koppel

BEIJING (CNN) -- A major difference between deceased Chinese paramount leader Deng Xiaoping and his successors comes down to their dealings with the West.

It took two old revolutionaries -- Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping -- to improve relations between the United States and China. In 1979, after decades of tension, Deng Xiaoping visited the United States to celebrate the normalization of relations.

In contrast, Chinese President Jiang Zemin has never been to Washington and has encouraged the normalization of relations with China's former enemy -- Russia.

Chinese leaders have Russian leanings

"A good majority of Chinese leadership today were trained in the Soviet Union in the 1950s," China analyst David Shambaugh explains.

"They are fluent Russian speakers. They have a perspective on Russia that the previous generation, Mao and even Deng Xiaoping, did not have. Mao and Deng were much more suspicious of Russia. This generation is suspicious of the West."

Analysts point to the events that led to the June 1989 military crackdown on students demonstrating for democracy in Tiananmen Square as having a major influence on Deng's successors. Jiang came to power following the massacre, and it was during this time that U.S.-China relations took a turn for the worse.

U.S. seen as trying to contain China?

In the years since, as Deng's health declined, consistent U.S. criticism of China's record on human rights, its trade practices and weapons sales have only increased the perception, particularly among China's top military brass, that the United States is out to contain China.

And because Jiang's future survival is dependent on the support of the military, he has tailored his policies to reflect an emphasis on nationalism and protecting Chinese sovereignty.

"With Deng not around, the military probably has more of an impact when it speaks than it would have had when Deng was around," analyst Doug Paal says.

"When it comes to sensitive issues like Taiwan or the South China Sea or other territorial disputes, you'll hear more from the military on those."

Chinese stress more nationalism

A case in point is the Taiwan crisis last March. Analysts say one reason China staged several rounds of military maneuvers and missile tests off the coast of Taiwan was that the hard-line military insisted on it.

The last thing Jiang could afford was to appear to be letting Taiwan, which China considers a renegade province, slip away.

In effect, China's foreign policy had entered a post-Deng era long before he died. For that reason, there shouldn't be a dramatic difference in China's immediate future dealings with the rest of the world.

The trend seems to be headed toward more nationalism, strengthened ties with Asian neighbors and wariness toward the West -- particularly the United States.


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