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China's Confounding Contradictions

This is the China that has learned well the lessons of the last Asian economic crisis and now insists on having strong institutions in place before it fully opens its economy and deregulates its financial system.

It is the China whose officials made clear this week that they are open to managing and limiting the growth in textile exports to the United States after the expiration of quotas later this year.

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And it is the China that is offering to reduce its massive trade surplus with the United States by purchasing all manner of high-tech capital equipment, if the United States would only ease Cold War-era restrictions on technology transfers.

But contrasted to this is the China that demands access to the most advanced U.S. technology before it has demonstrated the will, or the ability, to ensure that it is not stolen and copied.

It is the China that insists on managing its difficult economic transitions but seems unwilling to have other countries manage theirs.

It is the China that wants all the respect that comes with being a superpower, along with the concessions accorded a poor, developing country.

And it is the China that is quick to see in every clash of interests or critical comment a proof of some long-term U.S. strategy to keep China from taking its rightful place as a leading political, military and economic power.

The Chinese are absolutely right when they chastise Americans for misperceiving their country as a monolithic society with an all-powerful government that threatens our prosperity. The problem is, they misperceive us in just the same way. Until we untie that perceptual knot, the economic relationship will continue to be tense.


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