FEBRUARY 25, 1997
In China, ten thousand people attended a funeral service for Deng Xiaoping, the country's late paramount leader. For a look at the career of the man who has been described as the architect of modern China, Jim Lehrer is joined by Zbigniew Brzezinski, former National Security Advisor to President Carter, and Winston Lord, former Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs.
A RealAudio version of this NewsHour segment is available.
February 19, 1997:
A panel of China watchers looks at the life of the man who changed the face of modern China.
February 19, 1997:
An ITN background report on the life of Deng Xiaoping.
January 28, 1997:
A report on the already shaky handover of Hong Kong to China.
December 17, 1997:
A report on the 10 day tour to the U.S. by the Chinese defense minister.
November 26, 1996:
Out-going Secretary of State Warren Christopher discusses the U.S./China relationship and other elements of America's foreign policy.
November 25, 1996:
President Clinton is extending his hand to China's leadership, despite its notorious human rights record. A panel discusses the merits of the president's decision.
May 17, 1996:
The Secretary of State discusses U.S.-China relations.
Browse the Online NewsHour's coverage of Asia.
IAN WILLIAMS, ITN: In the Great Hall of the People ten thousand of China's Communist Party elite stood silently and somberly, bowing before the ashes of Deng Xiaoping. At the same time, across China, billions of citizens paused briefly to commemorate the passing of a man who's economic reforms changed the face of the country. For three minutes, sirens and horns were sounded nationwide. Work was stopped in factories and offices. People gathered around televisions, while in Beijing, the memorial was broadcast live on giant screens and public panoys. In the Great Hall Deng's hand-picked successor, President Jiang Zemin, fought back tears as he read the eulogy for the paramount leader.
PRESIDENT JIANG ZEMIN, China: (speaking through interpreter) The Chinese people love, thank, mourn for, and cherish the memory of Comrade Deng Xiaoping.
IAN WILLIAMS: In a lengthy almost State of the Union address, Jiang said China must continue the economic reforms started by Deng and maintain an open door to the outside world. He said reform was the only way to achieve modernization.
PRESIDENT JIANG ZEMIN: (speaking through interpreter) We must continue under the guidance of Comrade Deng Xiaoping to follow the road of reform and socialist modernization.
IAN WILLIAMS: But politically, he took a hard line, defending the leadership of the Communist Party, the core of the country, the crux, he called it. On Taiwan, he said the island would be recovered by China, and he went out of his way to praise the People's Liberation Army whose leadership has again pledged loyalty to him. Tiananmen Square had been closed during the memorial, but before and after groups of ordinary citizens had entered the square to make their own gestures of mourning. But these were uninvited guests, and their unofficial gestures were clearly not welcome, the anxious authorities quickly moving them on.
Across China, mourning was mostly official and restrained, though in Szechuan, the southern boom town most closely identified with Deng's reforms, large numbers of young entrepreneurs who benefitted most, were unabashed in their display of emotion. And in the village of Deng's birth, in the heart of Szechuan Province, there was not attempt to limit the large numbers who traveled from across the country to pay homage.
As China prepares to face the post Deng era, there was a reminder tonight of one looming crisis facing the new leadership. Two bombs rocking the city of Urumqi and the rest of Xinjiang Province, Northwest China, where there's been resentment among the ethnic Muslim majority at Beijing's rule. With the funeral over, so ends six days official mourning for the man who transformed this country. Mourning that was largely stage-managed by a government determined to prevent any unofficial public displays of grief, and from Deng's chosen successor, Jiang Zemin, a powerful commitment to continue Deng's economic reforms, but an equally strong vow to maintain the tight political grip of the Communist Party.
JIM LEHRER: Now two American views of Deng and China. Zbigniew Brzezinski was President Carter's national security adviser at the time China and the United States established full diplomatic relations. He's now a counselor at the Center for Strategic & International Studies and Professor at the Nitze School of Advanced International Studies in Washington. Winston Lord has been involved in China policy at different posts in the Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Bush, and Clinton administrations. He was ambassador to Beijing from 1985 to ‘89, and just finished four years as Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs. Gentlemen, first, let's begin with the personal side of Deng Xiaoping. Dr. Brzezinski, when did you first meet him?
ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI, Former National Security Adviser: I met him first in 1978 when I went to China on a presidential mission to explore the possibility of establishing a normal diplomatic relationship with the People's Republic of China. I wasn't really supposed to have met him because he was the head of the government. I was the national security adviser to the President, so by protocol, I wasn't supposed to, but we did have a meeting--three and a half hour meeting--in the course of which we agreed that we would initiate the secret negotiating process that led subsequently to normalization. And that evening he took me to dinner to some sort of a pavilion on the lake near the Forbidden City. Winston probably knows where that is, what it's called. And in the course of that dinner, he very wistfully said to me that he's already in his 70's, he's not sure if he'll live long enough to visit the United States. And I said I thought he would, and that since he was so hospitable to me, that perhaps when he came to the United States, he would come to dinner to my house, which, in fact, he did six months later.
JIM LEHRER: And what was he like to be around?
DR. ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: Extremely quick, very sharp, occasionally very aggressive. He could push you very hard, but occasionally also very witty. For example, in my house just to tease him a little bit, I said to him, the President of the United States had a lot of difficulty normalizing relations with the Communist China, referring to the opposition congress, and to twit him a little bit, since he was obviously not a democratic leader, I said to him, "Did you have any difficulties in normalizing relations with us?" And just like that, he responded by saying, "Well, of course, of course, there was a great deal of opposition in the Province of Taiwan."
JIM LEHRER: Well, Winston Lord, take us through your relationship with him, and on the personal side. We'll get to the official stuff in a minute, but just your dealings with him, what you thought of the man, what he was like to deal with.
WINSTON LORD, Former Ambassador, China: (New York) My first meeting was in 1974, when he headed a delegation to the United Nations, and my last meeting was in 1989, when President Bush visited China. I think in between I probably sat in on more meetings with him than any other American. He was four foot ten, but he dominated the room. His feet barely touched the floor. He was a chain smoker. He used the spittoon freely. He was very skillful in his meetings. What he would do at the outset when the press was still there, would get off a few pithy one-liners to dominate the international media, to get the themes across he wanted to make sure the world heard, then in a meeting he would draw out his interlocutor first, and then with seeming casualness, segue into two or three topics that he was determined to make points on. He would stick to the long view with breast strokes sometimes like Mao Tse Tung, with longer discourses, sometimes like Jo Un Li. He would sketch the main contours of Chinese policy, whether it was toward us, toward Taiwan, toward Russia, toward domestic reforms, and leave the details to his subordinates. He was very much in favor of strong U.S.-Chinese relations, often talked about the Russian and Japanese threats, and he was determined to strengthen that relationship.
JIM LEHRER: Did he--
WINSTON LORD: He was usually the good cop in these meetings, and the tougher meetings would take place with his subordinates.
JIM LEHRER: Did he speak in monologue form, in tirade form, in dialogue form? How did he communicate?
WINSTON LORD: He was very straightforward. He didn't use elusive symbols and allegories like Mao, and he didn't have the elegance of Jo Un Li. He was very practical. He could be self-deprecating about himself and about China, which of course reflected the fact that he had serene confidence in both.
JIM LEHRER: Dr. Brzezinski, was--what was your experience in terms of figuring out what the man meant at any given--was he direct?
DR. ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: I thought he was very direct. He had a clear concept of what he wanted to accomplish. He had a strategic view. He felt that at that stage in Chinese history a solid relationship with the United States was in China's interest. He felt that there was a Soviet threat, and that China was vulnerable to that threat. He also felt that the relationship with the United States would give China greater freedom of action. For example, when he came to the United States on his visit, he told the President in the privacy of the Oval Office that within six weeks of that day the Chinese would launch what he called a lesson, in other words, an invasion of Vietnam, because he felt that with the new relationship with the United States they were gaining thereby the freedom of action. Beyond that, I felt he was very pragmatic when it comes to socioeconomic change. Already in the late 70's he initiated the great reforms in the countryside which created a base.
JIM LEHRER: Now, what drove him to do that? What was your feeling why he did that, just out of the goodness of his heart, or--
DR. ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: No. I think just common sense, realization that the Maoist policies, which are very dogmatic, very ideological, had failed, and had condemned China to protracted poverty, and a great deal of human suffering. And he realized that if he unleashed the potential of the Chinese peasantry, he could provide a very solid base for the subsequent industrialization and modernization of China, and that incidentally, stood in sharp contrast with what Gorbachev tried to do in the Soviet Union and failed.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Lord, what did you think drove Deng Xiaoping to do what he did?
WINSTON LORD: First, I agree with Zbig. He'd seen the failed policies of the 50's and 60's, and he was determined to unleash the power of the Chinese people. Secondly, he wanted to maintain Communist Party control. And he realized the only way he could do that was to better the lives of the Chinese people, and he was very pragmatic, as Zbig has said.
JIM LEHRER: Change Communism; just don't change the name, in other words?
WINSTON LORD: That's right. He was, of course, very politically repressive. He's going to have a mixed legacy.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah.
WINSTON LORD: Zbig has already touched on some of the positive aspects. He's bettered the lives of a quarter of the world's population. He opened up to the outside world and got China out of the isolation and chaos of the culture revolution, and he greatly strengthened U.S.-Chinese relations. On the negative side of course, he was politically always very repressive. He was Mao's point man on the anti-Vitis campaign in the late 50's, after the democracy wall got him--helped to get him in power in the late 70's, he shut it down in ‘79. He dumped two of his successors as being too liberal politically, and of course, he was the architect of the Tiananmen Square massacre.
JIM LEHRER: Now where did that come from? Where did that repression side of him come from?
WINSTON LORD: In the first place, you don't get to the top of the Chinese heap, Chinese Communist heap, I should say, by being a choir boy. So he was always tough, ruthless, long marcher, et cetera. Secondly, he was a Communist, and he didn't want to lose the Leninist--Leninist control. Thirdly, he would justify political control by his experiences. He saw the chaos of the 50's and the 60's, the culture revolution. He himself suffered and was locked up; his son was permanently crippled during that chaos; and on top of traditional Chinese fear of chaos, luan, were these personal experiences, so he felt that there had to be tight political control and that he could maintain allegiance of the people by bettering their economic life.
JIM LEHRER: Dr. Brzezinski, you mentioned that he felt there was some Chinese interests who have good relations with the United States. Did you get any glimpse in your meetings with him what his own personal attitude was about us toward us, the United States and the Americans?
DR. ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: Not really. For one thing, he didn't know the United States. He had never been in it. I don't know how much access he had to genuinely accurate information about the United States, and I suppose he filtered some of the information through the ideological prisms with which he viewed the world. But as I said earlier, he was pragmatic. I think he was impressed by American economic and technological strength. He knew that this was a country that was a pioneer in these areas, and that a relationship with the United States would help him and China accomplish that which he wished, namely rapid modernization and the acquisition of truly major international power. These objectives he sought.
WINSTON LORD: I agree with that. I would add to that--I'm sure Zbig would as well--his geopolitical incentives. He felt that the United States, the far barbarian, could help balance off the near barbarians like Russia and Japan, which he was always preoccupied with and which he talked about at great length with President Bush in my last meeting with him.
JIM LEHRER: But he saw us basically as barbarians?
WINSTON LORD: Well, yes. I mean, he wouldn't say that, and he'd be much more subtle than that, but he came against the background of 4,000 years of China being number one. I'm sure he foresaw China being number one again in the 21st century.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah. Dr. Brzezinski, what about the negative side that Winston Lord mentioned?
DR. ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: Well, I think it's important to remember that he was the product of several forces which predisposed him to act in this negative authoritarian fashion. First of all, he came from a China that was extremely poor, from the poor region of China at a time of great poverty and suffering in China. Then he was the product of the civil war, a protracted long civil war in China, lasted well over a decade. He was a product of the long march. Just consider what the long march was: 100,000 Chinese Communists set out and marched for a full year and covered on foot a distance equivalent from New York to San Francisco, and back, fighting all the way. Only 10,000 survived. After I left the White House, invited with my family in May to visit China, and my wife and my teenage children at the time and I re-traced part of the long march.
We're the first foreigners to have been given that permission. And when I visited him in Beijing after that, all he wanted to talk about was a long march. Were you there? Did you see this? Over there, I slept in the same bed with Mao Tse Tung. Here we fought across a certain river and a bridge. This was a living memory to him. I think all of that predisposed him to see things in terms of we and they, good and bad, and whoever disagreed tended to be, by definition, an enemy.
JIM LEHRER: So I know we only have a couple of minutes left--and I'm going to ask the question anyhow--just give us an overview, Winston Lord, about what you think now will happen in the short run, without Deng Xiaoping and China.
WINSTON LORD: Well, we like to say short run because we can be a little bit more confident about that than we can medium-term the next few years. In the short run Deng has been fading gradually, so the Chinese leadership and people have been psychologically and politically prepared for this event for several years. If he had died five or ten years ago, it would have been a political earthquake, so it would appear, and you can't be sure in that opaque society, it would appear that Jiang Zemin is well established, is first among equals. He was head of the Funeral Committee. He dominated the proceedings; he's got all the titles. Others defer to him, and in his meetings with President Clinton that I sat on the last few years, he's become more self-assured in each meeting, however, the jury is out after that, and the period after that, after all, Jiang Zemin is 70, as are most of his colleagues. What will happen the few years after that, what they do about political reform, whether it will catch up with economic reform, how they relate to the outside world, these are going to be key questions.
JIM LEHRER: A quick--
DR. ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: I think a major test is going to be how they handle the assimilation and absorption of Hong Kong. Hong Kong is going to be absorbed come July. It's going to take several years to digest it. If they do that well, it'll be an auger of China that's likely to be stable and very influential in the world. If they do it badly, they're going to be in trouble; we will be in trouble.
WINSTON LORD: I agree with that. I'd also keep your eye on the verdict on Tiananmen Square, whether that'll be reversed; I'm confident it will be at some point.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Thank you both very much.