March 7, 1996
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Now for some analysis of the tensions between China and Taiwan and China and the U.S. we turn to two China watchers. Jim Mann is a foreign policy columnist for the "Los Angeles Times." He was their Beijing correspondent from 1984 to 1987, and Yasheng Huang is a Chinese national and assistant professor of political science at the University of Michigan. He joins us tonight from Ann Arbor. Mr. Huang, starting with you, why are the Chinese conducting these tests off Taiwan?
YASHENG HUANG: Well, there are several reasons. One of the more long-term reasons is that China takes its territorial sovereignty, integrity--as a renegade province, and now Taiwan seems to be embarking upon a path towards formal and legal independence, and China is extremely concerned about that particular development.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Because China wants reunification of the two Chinas.
YASHENG HUANG: Well, I should say that China's immediate objective is not to achieve reunification, but to prevent Taiwan from becoming independent, and there's a difference between the two.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: But hasn't President Lee said repeatedly he wants reunification, Mr. Mann?
JIM MANN: That's right. It's simply not true that President Lee advocates independence. China keeps claiming that he does, but, in fact, he and his party are still committed to reunification. It's not the same as the old days of Chiang Kai-shek, where they say we want to retake the mainland, but they say they do favor reunification eventually over the long-term. At the moment, that's not good enough for China.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Why not? I mean, what seems to be the problem?
JIM MANN: Well, because people in--because Taiwan has been looking for what it calls greater diplomatic space and so it has been pushing the envelope, so to speak. President Lee has traveled through Southeast Asia, and the thing that really set off the Chinese government was his trip to the United States last year.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: When President Clinton allowed him to come to Cornell to--for a reunion of his class?
JIM MANN: Exactly, last year.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Because he attended Cornell. Do you see it that way, Mr. Huang? Is that the reason why there's problems, China just doesn't believe, China doesn't believe Mr.--President Lee?
YASHENG HUANG: I think China doesn't believe President Lee Teng-Hui's rhetoric. And if you compare his rhetoric with his actions--and there is a difference between the two--President Lee Teng-Hui has been trying to do things--the stature of, of Taiwan, not in an economic way but also in a political sense. He tried to join the United Nations by giving $1 billion. Of course, he came to the United States to pay a visit to Cornell University, and I should emphasize here that only the people in the media view that visit as a private and personal visit. The U.S. Congress doesn't view it as a private and personal visit. China doesn't view it as a private and personal visit. I don't think Taiwan viewed it as a private and personal visit. There was a very explicit effort on the part of President Lee Teng-Hui to increase the stature of Taiwan in the international community.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Mr. Mann, there have been other tests that China has conducted off Taiwan, but these are like real close to the island. One is just 15 miles away from, from the island. Why so close this time? I mean, do you risk a hot confrontation here at all?
JIM MANN: Well, the last missile tests were about 100, a little over 100 miles away. That's right. This is much closer than before. It depends how much you want to read into, into China's purpose, but this goes to Taiwan's, to two big ports, so that it creates worries about shipping.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: In effect, it'll be a blockade during the course of these maneuvers.
JIM MANN: Yeah, depending on what ships can do, yeah, it could be. And then if--then there may be a political purpose as well. Kaohsiung, in particular, is one of the places in Taiwan where the, the independence movement is strong, and to come back again to China's purpose, I do think that one of the main purposes in all this was to undercut the independence movement. That's not President Lee Teng-Hui and his party, but the opposition party, which actually does favor formal independence.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: And how will this sort of show of force do that?
JIM MANN: Well, I think it's succeeding on that. It is succeeding in undercutting the independence movement. It's now almost forgotten, but a year ago now, before President Lee's visit here, the independence movement seemed to be gaining in strength. And these--what's happened since, meaning President Lee's visit, and China's reaction, has really undercut the independence movement, has created sympathy within Taiwan for President Lee.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Mr. Huang, do you see the potential for a hot confrontation, I mean, a war between--I mean, this whole thing igniting, umm, a heated confrontation between the two?
YASHENG HUANG: No, I don't see a hot war breaking out in part because I agree with Mr. Mann that Taiwan has moderated its rhetoric and its behavior, the Chinese foreign minister has put out a statement saying that he views--this relationship with other countries. That shows that they realize the limits of their actions, but I worry about two things, though. One is the potential for mishap. As you have pointed out, that the target zones are extremely close to Taiwan, unlike the test last time. And last time, China fired six missiles, one of them actually strayed about 230 miles, so we are talking about a, a--at least there's the possibility of a missile going off its course and landing in Taiwan. That would be disastrous.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Let me just--on that point, let me ask you, Jim Mann, if something like that happens, I mean, members of Congress are now calling for the U.S. to take some action. The President hasn't committed to that yet, but what, what does the U.S. do in that case? I mean, what would be the response?
JIM MANN: Well, there are several different responses. First of all, the United States is legally obligated under the Taiwan Relations Act, if there's any military threat to Taiwan, to consult with Congress, and, and to take certain actions and the law is unclear to Taiwan's defense, so that, that's a legal obligation. Now, if one of these missiles were to hit Taiwan, I would think--a series of arms sales that the United States has held off on with Taiwan, that I would think it would then be under great pressure to go ahead with.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Yeah. Because the U.S. doesn't recognize Taiwan is the independent country.
JIM MANN: That's right.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: But it does provide arms to it.
JIM MANN: That's right.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Mm-hmm.
JIM MANN: That was the outcome of recognition, President Carter's recognition in 1979, and a whole series of--and China--
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Right. Well, well, if something happens, this is still in the realm of the hypothetical, but how are these attacks generally affecting U.S.-China relations?
JIM MANN: They are probably the most serious. There have been a whole series of issues dividing the United States and China. I would say this is the most serious of them because it affects overall security policies. The United States is worried not just about the impact on, on Taiwan, but on the rest of Asia, as well. Umm, it raises the question of whether, whether China is trying to intimidate the rest of Asia. So I would--
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Starting with Taiwan.
JIM MANN: Yes.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Mm-hmm.
JIM MANN: And, and so this goes beyond some of the series of other disputes.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Mr. Huang, you talked about the long-term and short-term reasons for this vis-a-vis Taiwan, but what is China trying to do vis-a-vis the United States, if it is trying to do anything vis-a-vis the United States?
YASHENG HUANG: I think the United States has a valuable lesson to learn from this, and I should remind your viewers of the fact that before the United States invited President Lee Teng-Hui to visit the United States, China and Taiwan were making great progress in terms of their improving their relationship on their own. They were having economic dialogues, and they were considering to escalate their economic dialogue to political dialogue, and President Lee Teng-Hui's visit to the United States, in effect, has suspended all these dialogues, and it has set back the relationship for many, many years. The long-term impact of this kind of missile test is that it's going to strengthen the argument in the United States that China poses a long-term threat to the security interests of the United States, and to the peace and stability in East Asia. It's going to strengthen the position of those who argue for a containment strategy of China. If that were to happen, that would be truly tragic.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Was China aware of that and just doesn't care?
YASHENG HUANG: No, China, I don't think China--China is not aware of the complexities of Washington politics, but China cares about the United States, but China clearly cares about its territorial sovereignty integrity much, much more. And this is the bottom line issue on which the leaders among themselves are not divided between hard line and moderate leaders, unlike other issues, which are political and economic reforms, the Chinese leaders are not divided on this issue.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Mm-hmm. There are other issues too. I mean, arm sales to Iran and Pakistan, a scathing human rights review of China's human rights abuses by the State Department--just overall, what does all this add up to in terms of U.S.-China relations in the future?
JIM MANN: Uh--
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Briefly.
JIM MANN: --they're not--obviously, relations are not good. I think that they're going to stay at this level of, of irritation and tension until two things happen: first, we get through these elections in Taiwan, the American Presidential elections, and most important of all, some long-term succession to a new leadership in China. That's one of the main factors on this. You get Chinese leaders competing to be tough.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Well, that's all the time we have. Thank you, gentlemen.