HONG KONG — The summit meeting at Crawford between Chinese President Jiang Zemin and U.S. President George W. Bush should usher in a period of relative stability in Chinese-American relations. While unexpected developments — such as the air collision last year off the Chinese coast — cannot be ruled out, it is likely that they will be handled in such a way as to avert a new crisis.

China was eager to ensure that everything went well, since it was Jiang’s last official visit to the United States before he steps down to make way for younger leaders. Among the steps taken to ensure the meeting’s success were the promulgation of regulations regarding the control of dual-use biological agents and chemicals, the extension of temporary biotech import rules to allow the continued importation of gene-modified soybeans from the United States and the release of Ngawang Sangdrol, the longest serving female political prisoner in Tibet.

In a background briefing for the press days before the meeting, American officials said issues that the U.S. would bring up are the “traditional” ones of “nonproliferation (of weapons of mass destruction), human rights, trade,” while the Chinese side would bring up Taiwan. In addition, of course, Iraq and North Korea were also on the agenda.

While Taiwan, human rights and trade will no doubt continue to generate differences between the two sides, it is likely that nonproliferation will become more manageable as an issue, because China has recently taken steps to control the export of sensitive, dual-use materials and technology.

In August, while Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage was visiting, China promulgated regulations governing export controls on missiles and missile-related items and technologies, a move greatly welcomed by the U.S. This month, China followed up with regulations on the control of dual-use biological agents as well as certain chemicals and related equipment and technologies.

Thus, together with regulations on the control of nuclear dual-use items and technologies promulgated in 1998, China finally has in place measures to control the export of materials and technology that could lead to the proliferation of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons as well as their delivery systems.

While the timing of the promulgation of these regulations was no doubt connected with Jiang’s visit to the U.S., the seriousness with which China has handled these measures suggests that Beijing is finally convinced that nonproliferation is not only in America’s interest, but in China’s interest as well.

In fact, in a speech in Texas the day before the summit, Jiang put cooperation with the U.S. to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction at the top of the list of things that need to be done, followed by maintaining peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and in South Asia and the Middle East.

Vice Foreign Minister Wang Guangya, in a long article published in the People’s Daily on Oct. 16, set out China’s position on the issues of nonproliferation. He wrote: “China knows full well its international responsibility on the nonproliferation issue. China has long adopted strict measures both on the management of sensitive items and technologies at home and on export control, and it has constantly improved such measures in light of the changing situation.”

If so, why is it that the U.S. has, time and again, accused China of violating nonproliferation agreements?

Wang provides an answer. “For a rather long period in the past, China followed a central planning system with its economy dominated by state-owned enterprises, and the state relied mainly on administrative measures in import and export management,” he said, adding that such administrative measures were “effective under the then-historical conditions.”

But with the country moving toward a market system, administrative measures no longer worked. “With the deepening of reform and China’s opening up,” Wang wrote, “tremendous changes have taken place in the domestic economy and foreign trade. The original management model is becoming less effective in meeting the requirements of the current situation, and needs to be transformed into a system based on legal means.”

If we read between the lines, Wang seems to be saying that the central government found that its writs were not being faithfully carried out across the country, especially by organizations that had been told to become profit-makers — virtually every unit. Companies with a military connection, or possibly even research organizations, were not obeying orders disseminated by Beijing.

Of course, having laws and regulations in place doesn’t necessarily mean that there will be no future incidents, but it does mean that the central government is in a better position to control and, if necessary, punish violators of these regulations. The earnestness of the Chinese efforts suggests that nonproliferation issues will no longer be the problem they were in the past. Jiang’s successor should, to that extent at least, find the U.S.-China relationship more manageable.

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