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Originally published Wednesday, October 25, 2006 at 12:00 AM

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Tom Plate / Syndicated columnist

China keeps wary eye on Pelosi

You may have noticed that a lot of news in the media these days is little more than what might be termed "olds. " A perfect example: the...

LOS ANGELES — You may have noticed that a lot of news in the media these days is little more than what might be termed "olds." A perfect example: the endless rivulet of speculation about whether Hillary Clinton, the wife of the previous U.S. president and currently the high-profile junior senator from New York, is running or not running to become the second Clinton president.

Boring, overdone — olds.

However, there is real news featuring a prominent female member of the Democratic Party who is in fact ready to catapult into real big-time power, but her first name is Nancy, not Hillary; and her last name is Pelosi, not Clinton.

If you have never heard of Nancy Pelosi, the fighting congresswoman from San Francisco, you soon will, probably around the morning after Election Day. Then, we predict, the people of the United States will have handed the Democratic Party majority control of the House of Representatives mainly in fury, disappointment and/or disgust over the unnecessary and chaotic Iraq war.

This expected Election Day mandate will upgrade the current House minority leader, Pelosi, into the seat of House majority leader and the first female in American history to hold this position. Very quickly, this strong-willed Californian grandmother is slated to become the single-most-powerful woman on the American political landscape.

Since 1987, Madam Pelosi has represented the 8th District in San Francisco, enabling her to scurry up the jungle ladder of Congress via sustained focus, hard work and a meticulous competence for details. The 8th District takes in famed tourist sites like Golden Gate Park, Fisherman's Wharf and Chinatown.

Politically, she is no knee-jerk leftist, and offers a wide range of nuanced views. One of the most interesting is her long-held perspective on China. She is rarely amused by Beijing, generally unforgiving and thoroughly skeptical in ways that link her directly to the human-rights wing of the Democratic Party.

Unlike fellow San Franciscan Dianne Feinstein, who has been California's senior representative in the U.S. Senate since 1992, Pelosi does not take a relaxed attitude toward China's intentions to execute its much-proclaimed "peaceful rise."

In a long conversation with her some years ago, I was struck by her firmly held view that China should get no free ride from the West simply because of its many problems, its titanic population and its tortured historic background. For sure, she argues, nothing can justify its many human-rights violations.

Although such views are scarcely unique to Pelosi and can be found in many places (especially in Japan and Taiwan), I remember being deeply impressed by the strength of her convictions and the depth of her thoughtfulness, without feeling that she was simply ventilating rather than listening.

Personally, I think and of course devoutly pray that the course of history on the mainland will someday show that her hard heart and tough mind on the matter of China was wholly unwarranted and needlessly negative. But be there anyone so sure about China's destiny, one way or the other, and I will show you a narrow fool on a silly, cocksure errand.

Pelosi's rise to power might also provide a higher platform in the nation's capital for others who harbor doubts about Beijing and President Hu Jintao. Indeed, if the Democrats also prevail in the Senate — improbable but far from impossible — then Beijing may soon rue the day that it did not do all that it possibly could for the Republican Bush administration in its travails with Iraq, Iran and, especially, North Korea.

The human-rights wing of the Democratic Party, which includes the Free Tibet faction, is as antagonistic to Beijing as is the evangelical, God-loving right wing of the Republican Party. Both factions, if in power, spell trouble for China. Trouble for China in the bilateral Washington-Beijing relationship can create relationship troubles in the rest of Asia as well.

What's needed in the Sino-U.S. coupling is neither the extremes in the yin nor the yang. Somewhere in the nice sensible middle ground resides an American policy toward China that might appease both sides.

Pelosi's probable rise to the near-pinnacle of the American political establishment may not necessarily mean a sudden lurch to the extreme of anti-Beijing-ism. But it will mean that China's lapses — real or perceived — will receive new, intense and sometimes even partisan scrutiny on Capitol Hill.

In a sense, then, because of Pelosi's long-held views, China could turn out to be one of the losers on Nov. 7.

UCLA professor Tom Plate, a member of the Pacific Council on International Policy, is a veteran U.S. journalist.

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