Editor’s Scratchpad

Friday, May 4, 2001

A case of

Presidents from Richard Nixon through Bill Clinton adopted a policy toward China called "strategic ambiguity" to keep the Chinese guessing about what the United States would do if Beijing ordered a military attack on Taiwan, the island over which Beijing claims sovereignty.

Some China watchers, including this one, have come to believe that "strategic ambiguity" should be replaced by "strategic clarity" in which the national interests of the United States in Asia would be defined to prevent the Chinese from miscalculating as did the Japanese when they attacked Pearl Harbor or the North Koreans when they invaded South Korea.

President Bush's administration, however, appears to have opted for neither. Earlier this week, the Pentagon said all U.S. military contacts with China would be suspended because Sino-U.S. relations have become testy recently. Within a few hours, however, the suspension was withdrawn by the White House, which said each contract would be reviewed case-by-case.

Call it "strategic confusion."

--Richard Halloran

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