|END TO A STANDOFF|
April 11, 2001
After an 11 day standoff, China and the U.S. find a diplomatic solution to end the dispute over a U.S. spy plane.
LEHRER: Now some reaction to what happened today from two former ambassadors
to China and two U.S. Senators. The Senators are Republican Jon Kyl of
Arizona and Democrat Chris Dodd of Connecticut; the ambassadors are James
Lilley, who served in Beijing for President Bush, and James Sasser, who
was there for President Clinton.
Ambassador Sasser, was this a fair and honorable ending for the United States?
JAMES SASSER: I think it was. The Chinese were really holding all the cards here. They had our crew and, of course, they have our airplane. And I think we reached an equitable solution to the problem.
JIM LEHRER: Ambassador Lilley?
JAMES LILLEY: Well, I agree with Senator Sasser. I think it was well done, and I think we came out of it with our honor intact and our 24 crewmen out, and that's very important.
JIM LEHRER: Is our honor intact, Senator Kyl?
SEN. JON KYL: I think so. I think the President handled this very well and under the circumstances did exactly the right thing. We do have the crew back; that's the most important thing in the short run.
|Behind the decision|
JIM LEHRER: Senator Dodd?
SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD: Well, there's some unanimity here. I think the administration did a great job. My compliments to them - getting these 24 Americans home was great news today. Obviously there are still some unanswered questions that will have to be resolved, but this worked out very well, and I think that there was such unanimity in people in politics, in Congress, for instance, except for some extreme voices. There was a strong backing for every step the administration took, and I thought they handled it very well.
JIM LEHRER: Ambassador Sasser, what's your analysis of why China finally agreed to do what it did today?
JAMES SASSER: I think time was running out for them. The administration had gone as far as they were going to go; I think the Chinese realized that. Also, Chinese public opinion I think was starting to die down somewhat. My view is that the Chinese military did not want to relinquish this crew, but the Foreign Ministry won out at the end, the Chinese foreign ministry. And I think President Jiang and others probably made their views known that it was time to end it.
JIM LEHRER: How you would analyze that, ambassador?
JAMES LILLEY: Well, I think that the military in China didn't manage this particularly well. I think they come out as the villains of this piece, not because they're necessary the hard-liners, but because they misinformed their political leadership on what happened.
JIM LEHRER: You mean, what happened in the air?
JAMES LILLEY: In the air, right. They made the report up the line, I'm told by reliable people, that our plane turned and deliberately hit their plane and killed their pilot. And this went to the top to President Jiang Zemin who then demands the apology. I think the military put him in a very tough position. As time went on, the Chinese knew perfectly well that scenario didn't happen. And they had to work themselves out of it.
And the apology, as Secretary Powell says, is not in order because we didn't cause this thing, they did. So I think that he, President Bush, handled it very well. He was firm; he was civil; he was polite and he finally got them out. He had to be firm on the first day, April 2, because he had to assure the American people was supporting them and getting the 24 people out. Then he goes into the regrets, and he calculates his language very well to do this.
JIM LEHRER: Ambassador Sasser explain to us, because it's all turned out to be words, that's all, nothing has changed hands except words in the last 11 days. Why were these words so important? Help us understand that.
JAMES SASSER: Well Jim, I think that's what diplomacy is all about, trying to work out some sort of compromise, some kind of solution, that both sides can live with. And that's really what we've been about. I think we have been arguing somewhat about semantics here for a number of days and finally reached a point where there was agreement, and both sides and particularly the Chinese, I think, thought they came out of it with their face in tact.
JIM LEHRER: Should they feel that way?
JAMES SASSER: You're asking me that question?
JIM LEHRER: Yes, sir.
JAMES SASSER: Yes, I think they should. They have gotten an expression of regret, a statement of sorrow from us. And I think they can bill that to the Chinese public as close to an apology, if not an apology. And, of course, I think Ambassador Lilly is right. The Chinese military in this particular instance did not take responsibility for what happened. They told the leadership that it was the fault of the American aircraft, just as I think Chinese intelligence told the leadership when we bombed their embassy in Belgrade that we did it on purpose; it was preplanned, and that we were totally responsible for it.
|Chinese played by different rules|
JIM LEHRER: Well, let me ask you a question about that. You were the United States ambassador when we bombed the Belgrade embassy and there was such a public uprising. At one time, you couldn't come out of the embassy. It was very violent. Why the difference in reactions among the Chinese public?
JAMES SASSER: Well, I think this was not as... not something that they could see as clearly. In other words, the embassy bombing, they showed the destroyed building on Chinese television; they showed the bodies being returned from Belgrade. I mean, they had evidence of what had occurred, and we clearly admitted that we were at fault, that it was an accident. But here they had no corpus delecti, so to speak, it was simply their word against ours; both the pilot and the aircraft were gone. And this was just not nearly as dramatic an incident.
JIM LEHRER: And, Ambassador Lilley, is it correct to say also that maybe the leadership of China decided they had too much to risk this time to agitate public to react?
JAMES LILLEY: I think absolutely. The carefully phrased "The long-term relationship will be damaged" - they knew it was coming up, the vote on the Olympics in July; permanent normal trading relationships in June; WTO negotiations finishing in May and June; these are very important issues to them, and if the atmosphere is poisoned, it's very hard to do this. But let me make just one point, and I think Ambassador Sasser might agree with this - I was surrounded too with Chinese - with AK47's after Tiananmen - and we know what it's like to be hemmed in. But after you go through one of these traumas with China, the pattern has been relations improve. I mean, after we had the Belgrade bombing, accidental bombing, we signed a WTO within five months. After we had the crisis in March '96, within two years, we had summit meetings with the President and their President. You could go through this through the years, and you'll see there's sort of a downturn and then it starts to get better. I hope that happens this time. I hope we get on to WTO, and TNTR, positive elements.
JIM LEHRER: Senator Kyl, how do you read the aftermath of this in terms of the relationship between the United States and China?
SEN. JON KYL: Well, it's too early to tell actually. In the first place we do have those issues that the Congress is going to have to deal with, with respect to WTO. The Chinese have wanted to play by a different set of rules that other countries have agreed to adhere to, and so China itself has been the reason for the delay in joining the WTO, but we will have to grant them another year to do that. The other issue that arises, which is of great importance to Taiwan, is whether or not we will sell Taiwan defensive military equipment that as requested from us. And it seems to me that those who argue that there is no connection between China's belligerency against the United States and 24 crewmen on the one hand and its belligerency to Taiwan have it wrong. China has not agreed to play by the same rules that all other countries most of the countries have agreed to play by. And, as a result, I think Taiwan has reason to be concerned and the United States, therefore, bolstered by this most recent incident, has reason to sell the equipment that Taiwan has asked for.
JIM LEHRER: You used word bolster. Why does this incident bolster that position?
SEN. JON KYL: It demonstrates that the Chinese leadership is very capable of belligerent activity that's all out of bounds with the normal behavior of countries. If you ask what other country might hold American crewmen for 11 days under circumstances like this you might think of North Korea, Libya, Iran, Iraq, China. That's not a very good group of nations to be joined with. And, therefore, it seems to me that the Taiwanese have a point when they say, look, we cannot trust China to handle this matter with us in a peaceful way, and, therefore, we would like to buy this defensive armament from the United States.
|How will Congress react?|
JIM LEHRER: Senator Dodd, do you read is the same way?
SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD: Well, a little differently, I think. There's been a debate over the last couple of years as to what the relationship ought to be and there are those who argue that the relationship with China ought to be one of strategic competition. The word "competition" I'm told by experts in China, translates into rivalry and which automatically creates this hostile adversarial relationship. I think the bilateral relationship with China is going to be the most important bilateral relationship we have in the 21st century, and we've got to learn how to work with it - very different countries, very different cultures, very complicated nation with whom we have very diverse relationships already. And it seems to me that we ought to be talking more about the goal of strategic cooperation, rather than talking about competition, strategic competition.
Now, we're not there yet in terms of cooperation, but that ought to be what we're working towards. And so the issues that have been mentioned will come up. The vote in June - or prior to June is certainly an important issue, and, as John Kyl has said, the issue of military sales to Taiwan - every President since Jimmy Carter have supported modernizing Taiwan's military defenses. We ought to look at that opportunity as an element to inject more stability in that relationship, rather than promoting greater adversary between ourselves and China and Taiwan. We can play an important role here and I don't want to see us contributing more to the hostility between our two nations, but, rather, looking to ways to increase stability.
JIM LEHRER: Well, what about Senator Kyl's point how this incident, the spy plane incident, and their holding our personnel for 11 days could influence these policies decisions?
SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD: Well, I think it will to some degree. I guess the good news is we weren't in session for these two weeks. I suspect, had we been in session, there might have been resolutions offered, amendments offered to bills - and in the heat of the moment. I suspect that because this has ended today and we've got ten days before we come back, that things are apt to calm down a bit, and that we have an opportunity here, as Ambassador Lilley and I think Ambassador Sasser pointed out that after these kind of crises, we have seen relationships actually improve a bit.
I think that's because there's been an intense involvement - one of the things I hope would happen here is that the Bush administration - which handled this situation very well in my view - and Secretary Powell and our ambassador deserve great credit - is that we need to become really engaged here. We need to really work at this relationship. And my hope would be that members of Congress would keep that in mind over the next several months and not try to contribute to the hard-line elements in China that I suspect are not terribly happy about the moderates gaining ground, politically inside China. We don't want to be unwittingly supporting the hard-line military elements who would try to in some future incident - to cause a further breach in our relationship.
JIM LEHRER: Senator Kyl, Senator Dodd disagrees with you.
SEN. JON KYL: Well, not totally. I think he and I both agree that there are opportunities here to improve the relationship, which we want to do. But the question is on what terms. When the Chinese ambassador asks, why are you Americans so concerned about one life when we complain about the fact that an American citizen has been wrongfully arrested in China - but why are you so concerned about these human rights issues -- I think we have to explain to him there is a reason to that, that we believe in the rule of law and we believe in the dignity of human beings and it's hard for us to do business with a nation that tramples on those rights, and as a result, we expect some reciprocity. If we're going to have the kind of normal relationship that's we would with other nations in the world, then there are certain norms of behavior that have to attach to that, and that would include, among other things, not holding hostage 11 servicemen who didn't intend to land on that island but were forced to do so.
|A learning opportunity?|
JIM LEHRER: Ambassador Sasser, do you see a potential silver lining? You heard what the two Senators said and what Ambassador Lilly said - that sometimes after these difficult engagements, good things happen. How do you see it?
JAMES SASSER: Well, I think that's true, and you could almost track Sino-U.S. relations by the seasons. The winter and spring are always the difficult times. But the summer and the fall relations always seem to improve. I don't know why that is, but it is the case, and I think what we may see here is both sides have taken each other's measure. I think the Bush administration has learned something through this episode with the Chinese, and I think next time they might handle things a little differently, maybe with a little more expertise, although they did, I think, a good job with this one.
I think the Chinese have learned something about the Bush administration as well. They're feeling each other out, and I think we may move forward from this point. It depends on what happens in China, whether or not the Chinese propaganda machine keeps beating up on the United States. It also depends on whether or not, I think, the Bush administration is resentful and angry over how this has turned out and how the Chinese handled it.
JIM LEHRER: So, Ambassador Lilley, a little close engagement could be a good thing. We don't know yet.
JAMES LILLEY: Yeah, well, I think one of the outgrowths is starting these military talks on the 18th of April, and they'll focus on each little version of the incident and that'll be rather a sterile exchange. But then they're going to get into things that really count.
JIM LEHRER: Like surveillance flights themselves.
JAMES LILLEY: Surveillance flights, but we're not going to stop them, but rules of engagement-- the plane stays 500 feet away. Immediate notification to Defense Secretary-- to Defense Secretary or Secretary of State - immediate. Hot line goes "bang." Or confidence building measures that you get out of this. If you begin to pull the Chinese into this and really sit down and talk realistically, the reason we have missile defense is because of your missile deployments on the Fujin Coast and all along there; the reason we have these flights to monitor you is because you may be doing underground tests; we don't know where your submarines are; this is - this is really considered a threat to all of your neighbors, and they're very concerned about it; let's talk about it; let's talk about this thing and get it down and begin to really do what we've done to the Russians, get rules of engagement, begin mutual force reductions, this sort of thing.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Well, Ambassadors, Senators, thank you all four very much.