MARGARET WARNER: For that, we turn to two men who have dealt extensively with China. Henry Kissinger was secretary of state for Presidents Nixon and Ford. And as President Nixon's national security adviser, he laid the groundwork for the first diplomatic opening to communist China 30 years ago. He is now president of Kissinger Associates, a consulting firm that has done business in China. And Zbigniew Brzezinski; he was President Carter's national security adviser when the U.S. first established full diplomatic relations with China. He's now a counselor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Welcome to you both.
Dr. Kissinger, your reaction to what you just heard from the Chinese ambassador.
HENRY KISSINGER: I think it was basically a conciliatory statement. I don't believe that he actually made the release of the... of the airmen conditional on an American apology. He kept tying it to the investigation being conducted so that the Chinese can at any moment say the investigation is completed and they no longer require the presence of the Americans, whom he also refused to describe as prisoners. So I believe that it may be possible to separate... it probably is possible to separate the issue of the apology from the issue of the release of the airmen. On the issue of who is at fault, I think, (a) I do not believe we should apologize. Secondly, I think we could propose some sort of a fact-finding mechanism which would enable both sides to say that the issue is being studied as to who flew into whom and thereby defer the issue.
MARGARET WARNER: Dr. Brzezinski, what did you hear in that interview in terms of the Chinese position?
ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: I heard a desire to maintain a stable and, on balance, a positive relationship with the United States. I heard some desire for us to express an apology, which I think is the Chinese quest for moral, political self-satisfaction. I also sensed, although he didn't say that, that in a way both sides unnecessarily have dug themselves into positions, which perhaps could have been avoided. When the incident first broke, the first public reaction from the United States was a statement by some senior military figure that the plane is sovereign American property, which must not be touched. It's not true under international law once that plane was on Chinese soil. And the president made a public statement, which was calm and balanced but which still contained a demand for the release of the crew and of the plane. Under those circumstances those in China who want to dig in their heels and who want to make an issue of it and who may even want to humiliate us had an argument, and given their historic sensitivity to foreign concessions, foreign imperialism, I see how they might have dug themselves in.
So now the task is to get out of that situation, and I agree with Henry. I think that the U.S. should propose basically two things: One, some sort of a joint commission to investigate what really happened, because I do not think the ambassador's version is actually accurate -- and we can go into that if you wish. And, secondly perhaps, send someone like Henry who is respected in China, send him to China and engage in discussions with China precisely for the purpose of quickly resolving this without some humiliating apology but in a spirit that conforms to our shared interest in an important relationship that should be sustained.
MARGARET WARNER: Dr. Kissinger, would you volunteer for the job?
HENRY KISSINGER: I don't think it needs an outsider to go to China; if the administration wants to send somebody to China, they have enough people that the Chinese will also respect. I believe that what Secretary Powell said today, regretting the loss of Chinese life and the loss of the aircraft, has to serve as the equivalent of the apology that the Chinese demand.
MARGARET WARNER: Let me interrupt you right there and just ask you two things. One, why are the Chinese insisting on the apology? What's your view of that? And secondly, explain to viewers why not apologize? What would be the harm to the United States in saying we're sorry?
HENRY KISSINGER: To say we are sorry, we can say we are sorry for the loss of the Chinese airplane and for the... we are sorry for the loss of life that has been caused. The spy planes are not a pleasant thing for the target of this spy plane. But when you operate in international waters and if it is a fact -- which I believe it is -- that we operated in international waters, it is the legitimate right of the United States to do that. It is also the legitimate right of the Chinese to shadow these planes, and what we have here is an accident that two planes in close proximity, one of them veered into the other, and whoever did the veering should be determined by some sort of factual investigation. For the Chinese, the issue of sovereignty is something that is tied to 150 years of feeling discriminated against by colonialists. And then there was the recent incident, the recent -- a few years ago -- where the Chinese embassy in Belgrade was bombed.
So the Chinese are extremely sensitive to any impression that their territory can be violated or that their property can be attacked, and that they do not respond. I believe also that within China, there are elements who feel that firm, strong responses are necessary. From our point of view, we should not put ourselves into a position where internationally it can be said that the United States did something that was illegal or improper in flying the airplane. And, therefore, if a form of words can be found that expresses regret over the damage that was done to the Chinese but does not allege that the United States' action in itself was improper, I think that is something that we can do. But we should not say that the presence of the plane itself was illegal or illegitimate.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you agree with that, Dr. Brzezinski, that it would be all right to apologize for the loss of life, as long as the U.S. didn't take.... accept blame?
HENRY KISSINGER: Not apologize but express regret.
MARGARET WARNER: Excuse me…
ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: Imagine a situation in which you and I bump into each other in the street. And I say to you, I'm sorry -- or a situation in which we bump into each other in the street and you start yelling at me and say apologize, apologize, apologize. I wish what we had done when this first happened instead of doing what we did, I wish at that moment, for example, the secretary of state, had phoned the Chinese foreign minister and said to him, look, there has been an incident in the air. We don't know precisely what has happened. Let's appoint a joint commission to investigate, and I regret or I'm sorry to hear that your pilot was killed. It's very unfortunate. And our plane is landing on your soil. Please take good care of it and release it as soon as possible. I think the outcome might have been a little different than it is today. But being where we are, I think with the Chinese making such an issue out of the word "apology," it becomes very difficult for the United States to use that word and the Chinese have to realize that.
MARGARET WARNER: You raise an interesting point which is our understanding is Secretary of State Powell has not spoken with his counterpart in China and President Bush has not spoken with the president of China. If you were still the national security adviser or you were again today, would you be telling your president it's time to use that hot line, get on the phone?
ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: I think I would have recommended it and I said this a day ago. I would have recommended it immediately. That is to say, either the secretary of state phones his counterpart or even the president, given the sensitivity of this issue, phones President Jiang, who even prides himself in knowing a few words of English and who knows the president's father. I think a conversation early on at a high level would have relieved the situation. But being where we are, I think we both ought to move now, one, towards avoiding a stalemate in which they keep saying apologize and we keep saying release our people; and secondly towards some mechanism that makes it easier for both sides to accommodate. And if Henry doesn't want to go to China, then perhaps someone else could go, but I still think Henry would be superb. I think a joint commission is something that we need, and I think the Chinese need to show also some accommodation, for example, by releasing the crew. There's no need for them to detain them under a so-called investigation.
MARGARET WARNER: Dr. Kissinger, do you agree with that view?
HENRY KISSINGER: Well, I agree with....
MARGARET WARNER: I'm sorry. Let me sharpen that a little -- that it would have been better either at the beginning or even now for the U.S. government to have approached the Chinese government on a higher level, secretary of state or president?
HENRY KISSINGER: Well, I have the... I think it might have been useful at the very beginning to call the Chinese leaders, one of the Chinese leaders, before the situation became too public. That would have been a good move to make, but I also have the impression that the Chinese leaders are trying to keep this discussion at a low level and not to involve their president. And their president has gone on a 12-day trip to South America taking his chief foreign policy adviser, the vice premiere who handles it with him, from which I conclude that they believe that this crisis will be solved and they don't want to make it an issue between heads of state. The problem when heads of state talk to each other is when they disagree and deadlock, then you have a huge issue of national prestige involved.
On the whole, I believe that the administration has handled this responsibly and calmly. We might have avoided the word "demand." And I still believe that I detect in the statement of the ambassador a distinction between the investigation and the apology. They might continue to say there should be an apology and also say that the investigation has been completed and therefore the airmen can leave. The Chinese must recognize that detaining these airmen for any extended period may drive the situation into out-of-control of an administration which is clearly attempting to limit the damage.
MARGARET WARNER: What is the worst case scenario here, Dr. Brzezinski, if it isn't handled right by either side?
ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: First of all I want to be understood as not recommending that either the president or the secretary of state phone now. I think it should have been done. I think some of the other mechanisms that I have mentioned might be useful. What I'm concerned about is that the more belligerent elements in China dig in their heels, keep insisting that this was a U.S. fault and, for example, charge the pilot with negligent homicide or their legal equivalent of that. And on our side, that people in Congress begin to go berserk and, for example, do several things: One, pile weapons upon weapons for Taiwan, including those which are the most sensitive and would immediately aggravate the American-Chinese relationship. Secondly, the trade negotiations; the trade relationship will come up for a vote. There will be calls for using that as a form of sanction on the Chinese. I believe already Jim mentioned the question of the Olympics. So there's a whole series of acts we can undertake that would worsen the relationship and at stake is not only the American-Chinese relationship. It's also American-Japanese relationship because it would be affected; and more generally, stability in the Far East.
MARGARET WARNER: Brief final comment from you, Dr. Kissinger, the danger of this worst case scenario?
HENRY KISSINGER: I think there is this danger, but I believe that with responsible conduct on both sides, this issue can be ended and we shouldn't imagine that it will be driven out of control. I don't believe the Chinese will do the things which they can do, and I don't think we should do the things that have been threatened. The Chinese will not be able to extract a formal apology for the presence of the American plane, but they can... we can show understanding for the human and material suffering that has been caused, whoever is at fault it will be found to have been.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Thank you both very much.