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CAMBRIDGE, England — So the U.S. presidential-election campaign is over and we will soon know who is the next “leader of the free world.” This time no one has alleged that any Chinese organization or individual has tried to affect the outcome. But why shouldn’t they? Analysts say that Texas Gov. George W. Bush’s statements imply that he wants to move away Clinton’s policy of constructive engagement to one more like earlier containment policies.

Given that “U.S.-led NATO,” as China calls it, now accepts that it has the right, even obligation, to interfere in the internal affairs of other sovereign states why shouldn’t the Chinese, or any other nation with an interest in the outcome, have a say about who should lead the United States? Americans have been covertly and overtly involving themselves in the choice of leaders and governing parties in other countries for a long time. Given that whoever leads the U.S. is more important to more people in more countries than the leader of, say Grenada, is to the citizens of the U.S., surely they should have a right to be involved in U.S. politics. Globalization should mean more than just spreading junk-food habits. Next time round, maybe we should organize a parallel election on the Internet.

But sauce for the goose is good for the gander and all that. As political developments in China will have a significant effect on all of us, especially our children and grandchildren, maybe we should have a say in Chinese politics as well, Hands up among all those who have doubts about Jiang Zemin’s performance as president of China. I thought so; quite a lot of you feel that way. And I am not surprised.

Was his outburst at the cheeky question from the Hong Kong reporter last week the reaction of a man in control? The sort of control we hope that someone with the capacity to start a third world war should have? And what about his visit to Japan, where his boorish behavior set relations between China and Japan back a long way? (So far back that Premier Zhu Rongji’s visit this year to smooth things over had little effect.) What about the language used to describe Taiwan’s leaders and the threats he makes and encourages? Or the repression of the Falun Gong and other social, religious and political organizations?

Even fellow members of the Politburo are beginning to go public with their differences with him. Zhu, in addition to his “let’s make up” visit to Tokyo, has made it known that he thinks the repression of the Falun Gong is a major tactical error. Even Li Peng went public with leaks about his views on Jiang’s proposal that in future the secretary of the Chinese Communist Party should also be the chairman of the National People’s Congress.

It is not just fellow Politburo members who are beginning to draw lines in the sand. The Central Committee last month refused to promote his candidate to membership of the committee, saying that such promotions were not on the official agenda. They said this immediately after promoting three candidates they approved.

Eyebrows were raised across China last December at the spectacle of the leader of the world’s largest communist party spending a fortune, of taxpayers’ money, to celebrate the 2000th anniversary of the birth of the founder of the church his party tries to suppress. One could go on.

The point is that lots of Chinese who have the opportunity to watch him more closely than we do are beginning to ask if their president is out to lunch.

And if he is? Should we worry? Yes we should. This is the man who authorized the White Paper that said that if Taiwan talks too long about so-called reunification with the mainland, then he will authorize a military solution. This is also the man who has spent tens of millions of dollars on a self-glorification campaign to get into the Chinese communist pantheon with Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping (Jiang’s own collected works are on the way).

Having been in power when Hong Kong and Macau were returned to the Motherland, his aim now is, apparently, to cement his place in history as the leader who also achieves the “return” of Taiwan. And as he seems to have realized that he may have some difficulty in getting another term as president, he has less than three years to do that. Recent events in Taiwan make that more unlikely now to result from a Taiwanese initiative.

In a worst-case scenario, let’s say that in a year or so, when more of the planes and military hardware China has bought from Russia have been delivered and a new generation of missiles are deployed, Jiang decides to go for broke to claim his place in history. What then? Maybe, just maybe, the U.S. would send aircraft carriers again and “defend” Taiwan — you know, the island Washington says is part of China, against invasion from, well, China. Is that scary or what?

Don’t you think that those with an interest in the outcome of such a war should have a voice in determining whether it takes place, and not just gung-ho Americans and nationalist Chinese? Maybe we should ask the United Nations to organize a global poll on whether it is time for Jiang to go; humanitarian intervention and all that.

It could help strengthen those responsible for the remarkable recent moves toward democratic processes in the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, and incidentally make the world a safer place for the rest of us.

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