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In China, an Evolving Effort to Establish a Place on World Stage

May 29, 2008 at 6:15 PM EST
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The devastating quake in China and the government's response and transparency seem to have altered views both inside and outside the country. Margaret Warner speaks with Assistant Foreign Minister He Yafei about the changes within China.
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TRANSCRIPT

MARGARET WARNER: Minister He Yafei, thank you for being with us.

HE YAFEI, China’s Assistant Foreign Minister: It’s a pleasure to be with you.

MARGARET WARNER: And my condolences on the tragedy of the Sichuan quake.

HE YAFEI: Thank you very much. This disaster happened about two weeks ago. And now the whole nation, of course, is fully mobilized.

MARGARET WARNER: It appears that there’s been an interesting and unusual reaction from the world to China and from China to the world generated by this quake. Do you agree?

HE YAFEI: Yes. Yes, I think the humane nature, it’s in the human nature to side with the victims. And, of course, people are seeing, are witnessing the whole nation, as I said, is united.

And, again, we’re — China is grateful, of course, to the assistance that is pouring in from countries all over the world, including the United States.

MARGARET WARNER: What I’m referring to, though, is — for instance, 30 years ago, the Chinese government wouldn’t even admit there was a quake. This time you were very open about it and both to foreign and domestic media. Why the change? And what conclusion have you drawn from the reaction that it has engendered?

HE YAFEI: Well, we are open. And we certainly welcome, you know, relief assistance, relief aid from other countries. And we believe, as I told you before the interview, that now we are in the world facing lots of challenges.

Natural disasters are one of them. Other things, like terrorism, you know, infectious diseases, all these challenges are what we call nontraditional security threats. No single nation can handle it and needs collective efforts.

Symbiosis with other nations

He Yafei
Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs
The relationship between China and the world has changed fundamentally or historically.

MARGARET WARNER: But this is a change for China. China used to regard, used to resist any kind of foreign engagement, certainly on the ground in China's borders. What explains the change?

HE YAFEI: The relationship between China and the world has changed fundamentally or historically. There is a historical change to that, meaning that China cannot develop itself without it getting involved with the world or without the support of international community.

And the international community, its peace, stability of the world cannot be achieved without the participation and contribution of China. So, naturally, there is an openness. You cannot close your doors anymore.

MARGARET WARNER: Do you think part of the reason the world has reacted and seen China in a new way as a result of this is because you've allowed open foreign media coverage in the region and people could see for themselves?

HE YAFEI: You can see, you know, China is open to media. Of course, any journalist, foreign or domestic, has to abide by Chinese laws and regulations from what you can see, reporting on the natural disaster now, it happened in Sichuan. There were virtually no limitations. People are free to report what they like to report.

MARGARET WARNER: One of the new regulations, as you call it, has been for the past several months that the foreign media is free to leave Beijing and go almost anywhere in the country without getting prior approval. Now, that expires in the middle of October after the Olympic Games. Is that going to be maintained?

HE YAFEI: Of course we will study the issue very carefully. And as I said, that fundamentally speaking we are open. Chinese society is open to journalists from abroad.

As to how we will continue the regulation, in what specific way, I believe relevant departments are still thinking about it. And very soon, very soon the rule will come out. And I think it will be in the direction of more opening, not closing the door.

Tibet poses unique challenge

He Yafei
Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs
We have taken measures to restore the social order in Tibet. The life in Tibet is returning to normal.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, one place foreign journalists cannot go still is Tibet. Is that going to change?

HE YAFEI: Tibet is special case. Even before that regulation, there was -- because of special place, where there's difficult -- there are some rules, specific rules concerning the traveling, even for tourists. So it will continue. It will continue. Talking about Tibet, you know what had happened in March.

MARGARET WARNER: I'm sorry. I'm sorry. But what will continue?

HE YAFEI: Some specific rules about the permission to go into Tibet will continue to apply for the time being. But, as you say, you know, tourism is being restored gradually in Tibet after the violent crimes happened in March. We have taken measures to restore the social order in Tibet. The life in Tibet is returning to normal, to normalcy.

MARGARET WARNER: So why wouldn't you want foreign journalists in there to report that?

HE YAFEI: Well, you have seen reporting from foreign journalists, several groups having organized. For the time being, the conditions are not there, are not right.

Basically, you know, the things will be better, will be getting better. In the past, because of the March incident, there are security issues and other issues. And it will be open pretty soon, I believe.

MARGARET WARNER: One thing that happened this week while I've been here is that the U.S.-China or China-U.S. human rights dialogue resumed. What do you expect to come out of that?

I understand that the Americans raised concerns that, in fact, there have been tighter restrictions imposed on dissidents here in advance of the games.

HE YAFEI: It's not true. It's not true. The dialogue, the latest round of human rights dialogue was a success. It's pretty open discussion, pretty open discussion.

They also discuss several single cases. But, you know, China being a society or a country based on rule of law, we do not welcome interference in our internal affairs. And a legal issue has to be addressed by our judicial authority.

Talks with the Dalai Lama

He Yafei
Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs
As far as we know, Dalai Lama certainly is or his people certainly engaged in separatist activities, especially what had happened in March, last March in Tibet. Lots of people died because of the riots, because of violence.

MARGARET WARNER: Partly, I believe, at U.S. urging -- or at least coincidentally with U.S. urging -- China did resume its dialogue with the Dalai Lama, talks, I guess with the representatives.

And my question is: Does your government still regard him as a splittist, I think you referred to him as, who is absolutely bent on Tibetan independence, even though he says he isn't? And is that your view of him?

HE YAFEI: You cannot judge a person only by what he says. You have to look very carefully at what he does.

As far as we know, Dalai Lama certainly is or his people certainly engaged in separatist activities, especially what had happened in March, last March in Tibet. Lots of people died because of the riots, because of violence.

Still, my government on the Central Committee of CPC exercised great restraint and patience. And we initiated -- at his request, of course, we agreed to have another round of dialogue. Another round of talks is scheduled soon, is going to happen soon. So dialogue is continuing.

MARGARET WARNER: Is China running the risk that he might be replaced by some of the more you might call extreme elements in the Tibetan movement who really are openly for independence?

HE YAFEI: Well, that question I cannot answer. You have to ask him to what extent he controls his own people.

MARGARET WARNER: But I mean, if China doesn't -- no, but I mean, if China doesn't really engage with him, could this be counterproductive?

HE YAFEI: We are engaged with him, at least with his private representative. The talks being held is between responsible persons or leaders of China's certain departments with the private representative of Dalai Lama.

And we appealed to him. We ask him that he should stop, first of all, planning and inciting violence in Tibet and, if possible, not to disrupt or sabotage the Olympics, and a few other things.

If he can really show with his action what he says in public, that will certainly be, you know, paving the way for a better dialogue, especially for the next round.

A friendship campaign

He Yafei
Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs
[T]here are lots of attention on China and lots of interest in China, as China expands its economic relationship with almost all countries.

MARGARET WARNER: Finally, I've been struck, being here about a week, 10 days, of what a hub of activity Beijing is between itself and its neighbors. You've had the South Korean president here. You've had the head of the new Taiwanese ruling party. You've had talks involving the six-party talks over North Korea's nuclear program.

Is this new for China?

HE YAFEI: It has been happening for the last, I would say, 10 years or so, because China's relationship with the world has changed. And there are lots of attention on China and lots of interest in China, as China expands its economic relationship with almost all countries.

I think this is a good thing for China to understand the world better and for the world to understand China better, as my president said.

For instance, between China and the United States, there were lots of dialogue, consultations. President Bush often pick up the phone and call the president, President Hu Jintao.

And, certainly, it is not in the interests of China and not in the interest of the United States to engage, for the two countries to move in a direction of confrontation. Cooperation is our future; it will certainly be better for our children.

MARGARET WARNER: Minister He Yafei, thank you so much.

HE YAFEI: Thank you very much. Thank you.