U.S. Relations with China
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MARGARET WARNER: And for more on Mr. Bush’s visit, and U.S.-China relations in the post 9/11 world, we turn to: Kurt Campbell, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asia and the Pacific during the Clinton Administration; James Mann, The Los Angeles Times Bureau Chief in Beijing in the mid-1980s, and author of About Face: A History of America’s Curious Relationship with China from Nixon to Clinton; and Professor David Shambaugh, director of the China Policy Program at George Washington University. Welcome, gentlemen.
Beginning with you, Kurt Campbell, we saw President Bush today on two occasions at least make a point of thanking China for its help in the war in terror. Did September 11th create the basis or lay the foundation for a new relationship between this Bush Administration and China?
KURT CAMPELL, Former Department of Defense Official: I don’t think it set a stage for a profoundly different relationship in terms of positive momentum. I do think, however, that at least in the short term it removed the almost inevitable sense that we were getting to feel in Washington that the United States and China were headed for an immediate problem in which both countries would probably be at odds in the future. If you look at the… sort of the dynamics of the meeting in Beijing and if you sort of stick with the… an Olympic motif, what’s striking between the two leaders is they really skated a very conservative program on the ice. There’s really no triple-axels. They were really trying to get in and get out without doing too much damage publicly I think.
MARGARET WARNER: You’re referring — for instance on both Taiwan and human rights, which have been real flash points, is that what you’re talking about? It was kind of boilerplate. Neither of them had much tough talk.
KURT CAMPBELL: Very careful. If you compare it with other visits in the past, you know, the Clinton era, a lot of new big initiatives. There was very little of that. I think there were some interesting and important strains. The Chinese did not talk about the potential for using force against Taiwan. That’s potentially significant. And the President was actually quite forceful mentioning the Taiwan Relations Act. I think there is a little bit of hope that there will be some modest cooperation in the wake of September 11th. But there hasn’t been the kind of seizing of opportunity to completely reshape the relationship between the two countries. I think that’s unrealistic. Also just one last thing, not very much mil-to-mil contact will come out of this.
MARGARET WARNER: Military to military.
KURT CAMPBELL: Yeah.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. David Shambaugh, your view of this post 9/11 relationship. How different is it?
DAVID SHAMBAUGH, George Washington University: Margaret it’s obviously improved considerably since September for the reasons that your set-up package indicated. The Chinese from the get-go have really been a part of the coalition. But I would point out that I think the improvement, in fact, began before September 11th. It began really in the aftermath of the EP-3 incident last spring and it began because President Bush himself and Secretary Powell decided that China really needed to be engaged, that China was an important country to the United States on a whole range of issues. And they set in process in the spring and throughout the summer a series of steps that built the momentum so that when in fact September 11th happened, the relationship had improved to the point where they could build on that capital.
MARGARET WARNER: But let me just ask you, if you think back to, for instance, the war in Kosovo or — and the conflicts in Yugoslavia where China really made, first of all, was very critical publicly, tried to make trouble at the U.N., yet this time when the U.S. was ready to take military action, China cooperated. Why?
DAVID SHAMBAUGH: I think, Margaret, that China’s – we’re maybe seeing the effects of kind of a deep introspection that China has had over the last year or two. From the time the Bush Administration entered office they really began to send a number of signals that they wanted a stable, harmonious relationship with the United States, and the kind of testiness that we used to see, as you’ve indicated, during Kosovo and other such instances has really not been present. They realize that the United States is the key to a number of goals for them: To economic growth, to the solution of the Taiwan problem, and to their national security. So they need a stable relationship with the U.S., and I think the Americans have come more or less to the same conclusion.
MARGARET WARNER: Jim Mann, your view of this?
JIM MANN, Journalist/Author: I agree with what David said about what China wants. I think I disagree a little bit about how much this summit or even September 11 have changed Sino-American relations. Actually if you look at this press conference, what’s striking even now, after all this talk of dramatic changes, is how the two sides are almost talking past each other in ways even compared to other past summits. So you have Jiang Zemin saying, well, he’s been assured of certain things from the United States on Taiwan, and President Bush doesn’t repeat those. He gives a completely different phrasing. And President Bush says he hopes for things from China on missiles, and Jiang doesn’t say anything about that. Speculation… and this is really my speculation. It looks to me as though the Bush Administration went into this summit trying to get some agreements on… further agreements on missile proliferation.
MARGARET WARNER: Certainly all the White House officials signaled that very strongly.
JIM MANN: Absolutely. And it looks to me as though China said, “Fine, we’d like some new language about Taiwan” and they didn’t get it, and both sides backed off. As a further sign of this– it’s a funny thing– at the end of the day today, China’s official news service, Xinhua, had to put out a correction. They put out their version of what Jiang Zemin said, which was that he had gotten assurances from President Bush that he would oppose independence for Taiwan, which would be different language. He didn’t get… Jiang didn’t actually say this, but they seemed to be prepared for this. So it looks… there were some signs that there were some back- and-forth right up to the last minute on Taiwan.
MARGARET WARNER: So Kurt Campbell also, how did you interpret the fact that one reporter said to the President, you know, what do you most want– I’m paraphrasing here– from China right now on the help on the war on terrorism? Instead of saying we’d like them to stop selling missile technology to Iran, he said we’d like them to help us get a dialogue going with North Korea, and then Jiang chimed in and indicated he might. How did you read that when, in fact, going into this, U.S. officials quite openly told reporters traveling with them this is what they wanted– they wanted something on this weapons proliferation?
KURT CAMPBELL: I think Jim’s got the right analysis here. And I think this is an attempt to sort of pivot on the fly.
MARGARET WARNER: Another Olympic analogy.
KURT CAMPBELL: Yes. It’s clear that frankly China has enormous influence with North Korea. So that’s an important recognition on our part, to appreciate that China’s role is absolutely clear. I think Jiang Zemin’s sort of general, “of course we’re all in favor of dialogue” is an interesting rejoinder. I thought what was potentially even more interesting was the exchange on Iraq, where I would have thought in the session that Jiang Zemin would have been a little bit firmer about the desire for dialogue and diplomacy as opposed to just a general statement about sort of the benevolence of peace.
MARGARET WARNER: Remind us now how that went, because it was a reporter who asked, was it not, “how do you feel about ‘axis and evil,’” and what did Jiang say?
KURT CAMPBELL: I think he said, “we value peace above all else,” which is an interesting point. But I think in the past, we’ve heard much firmer language from China discouraging the United States from contemplating unilateral or aggressive actions against Iraq.
MARGARET WARNER: David Shambaugh, let’s go back to this weapons proliferation issue. Why is it that China doesn’t want to stop selling this stuff to, say, Iran and to Pakistan and, I gather, in the past to North Korea?
DAVID SHAMBAUGH: Well, the agreement that you were just discussing is actually an agreement to implement an agreement that was reached at the end of the Clinton Administration.
MARGARET WARNER: Right, but has never been implemented, I gather.
DAVID SHAMBAUGH: That’s right. It was agreed in November 2000, and has yet to be implemented. China is supposed to promulgate a detailed export control list, which they have not complied with, and China is certainly supposed to cut off transfer not just of whole missiles, but missile components, of which they have continued, apparently. And the real sticking point apparently is that China believes that those sales that were in the pipeline at the time of the agreement in November 2000 should continue to go through to Iran and to Pakistan. The Americans obviously have a different interpretation that there should be none. But China has not lived up to its side, and the Americans are not going to license American satellites to be launched on Chinese rockets until the Chinese meet their own terms. So this seems to be the sticking point.
MARGARET WARNER: But that means, Jim Mann, that China certainly doesn’t take it half so seriously. In the context of the war on terrorism I guess, I would have thought that this weapons proliferation issue would have been more important.
JIM MANN: Well, you’re raising a very good point.
MARGARET WARNER: Or is it?
JIM MANN: The Bush Administration has linked weapons proliferation to the war on terrorism, obviously, in the State of the Union, among many other things, but China hasn’t; that’s right. To China, this is an old issue. In fact, you know, three previous Presidents have tried to get agreements on weapons proliferation. Margaret, going way back, you and I once covered a trip by Secretary of State Baker to China where the whole issue was weapons proliferation. We couldn’t leave until they got it. I think they got something and that wasn’t lived up to. So this has been going on for a long time.
MARGARET WARNER: Staying with you, Jim Mann, how does China feel about the broadening of the war on terror? All the steps they did to help really had to do with phase one, the war in Afghanistan. Now the President is starting about the “axis of evil.” You have the expansion of American power right in China’s neighborhood. How does China feel about that?
JIM MANN: I think they’re very uncomfortable about that. The official… there have been some press commentaries very critical of it. Officials like Jiang haven’t really talked about it in public. But no, first of all, North Korea is its neighbor. It’s not as though it’s comfortable with North Korea but it’s its neighbor.
MARGARET WARNER: It’s a neighbor it knows.
JIM MANN: Right. It’s got long-standing relationships with Iran and Iraq also. So all the way around, the whole “axis of evil” speech didn’t sit well with China, I’m sure.
KURT CAMPBELL: Just on that, what I think is also interesting is that there are probably substantial elements within the U.S. Government that would have liked very much to have added a fourth country to the “axis of evil”: China. And, you know, when you look at some of the things that are specifically mentioned in the speech about concerns about proliferation, clearly China has been historically a more vexing and a more difficult problem than North Korea. In fact, North Korea, if anything, has indicated a desire to deal on some of these issues. We may not really want to interact with them, but China has been much more difficult. In fact, as Jim and David both indicated, we haven’t been able to make a deal stick with these guys. And so I think this summit is inconclusive at best. I think the atmospherics– a tremendous number of flowers, lots of nice music– but I think both leaders had a very strong desire to be able to say, “wow, thank God that’s over.”
DAVID SHAMBAUGH: Could I just enter this discussion, Margaret?
MARGARET WARNER: Please.
DAVID SHAMBAUGH: It’s inconclusive at best, and I agree with Kurt’s observations, but there are two silver linings, if you will. One is that we went in with rather modest expectations. If you look at the history of U.S.-China summits, and Jim Mann has written a superb book on this. Frequently we’ve gone in with exaggerated expectations that have not been met, and both sides enter into a period of recrimination and fallout. We went in with modest expectations this time. I think that’s important. Secondly, the President has gone to China, and by going to China, he establishes the process or framework, if you will, for dealing with all these various vexing problems. We’re not going to solve those problems overnight, but there are many people in his administration who didn’t even want to deal with China, called it “strategic competitor” and other terms. So I think that we have a framework and we have lowered expectations, and to my mind that’s a good thing.
MARGARET WARNER: And Jim Mann, then also connecting these two points– the fact is the Bush Administration recognizes that they can’t lump China in with the axis of evil, that China is very different than North Korea in terms of U.S. interests.
JIM MANN: This is the second… yeah.
MARGARET WARNER: That a double standard is….
JIM MANN: This is the second administration… remember, the Clinton Administration came up with a definition of rogue states. Then when you asked them to define rogue states, they had trouble defining it and why were certain countries different from others, including China? So this has been a problem for a long time, yeah.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Thank you all three very much.