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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, October 19, 2001

Bush faces delicate task in China gathering

In a column in The Advertiser today, experienced Asia hand Lloyd "Joe" Vasey outlines the prospects for a stronger and more trusting relationship between China and the United States.

President Bush's trip to Shanghai for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit will give him a chance to talk face-to-face with President Jiang Zemin.

China's support for the U.S. campaign against terrorism was appreciated and welcomed, and Bush will certainly say as much. It was the first time, apparently, that the current Chinese government has publicly endorsed U.S. military action.

In exchange for this support, Jiang is going to ask for something in return. And Bush should listen.

Little is gained by demonizing or isolating China. It is rapidly gaining influence in its part of the world, and the United States has little choice but to make China, in President Clinton's words, a "strategic partner."

But in our gratitude for China's support, we must be wary of going too far. For instance, China made a largely pro-forma comment about Taiwan in the context of international terrorism that was largely ignored.

There are other issues, however, where the Chinese government will press for advantage that must be handled carefully.

One of the most explosive is the struggle with ethnic Muslims — the Uighurs — in western China.

The central government has been on a long campaign to suppress the Uighur rights movement, going so far as imprisoning or executing those who push this agenda and even outlawing possession of the Quran.

The response, predictably enough, has been at times violent. There have been bombings and assassinations of Chinese officials.

So China can make an argument that this is another case involving Muslims and terrorism that should be included in the developing global "war."

But there is a fundamental difference. The vast majority of the Muslim minority in western China are secular and nationalist. They practice a relatively moderate form of Islam and are actually quite pro-American.

The United States has taken great pains to assure the world that its war is not with Muslims or the followers of Islam, but against terrorism and those who support it.

The best way to get that message across to moderate Muslims everywhere is to make it crystal clear the United States will not support the persecution or suppression of Muslims anywhere, including China.