|DEALING WITH CHINA|
February 26, 1999
MARGARET WARNER: For more now, we get four views. Retired Ambassador John Holdridge accompanied President Nixon on his first trip to China in 1972, and took the number-two job at the U.S. Liaison Office in Beijing the following year. He was Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs during the Reagan administration. Michel Oksenberg was Senior National Security Staffer for East Asia and Pacific Affairs during the Carter administration. He is now a senior fellow at the Asia-Pacific Research Center at Stanford University. Ronald Montaperto is a senior fellow at the Institute for National Strategic Studies at National Defense University. He has been advising the Pentagon on Chinese military issues. And Chinese-born Xiao Qiang is executive director of the nonprofit organization, Human Rights in China. We invited the Chinese embassy to participate, but it declined.
|A tougher line.|
MARGARET WARNER: Welcome, gentlemen. Mr. Oksenberg, are you surprised at this tougher line that the Chinese leadership has taken, particularly on civil rights in the last few months? How do you explain it?
MICHEL OKSENBERG, Stanford University: Well, I believe that the Chinese leaders are worried about increasing instability in China brought on by economic problems at home and by 1999, being the tenth anniversary of several events in China that did have uprisings and dissent, not the least of which is the tenth anniversary of the tragic June 4, 1989 events. But, in addition, there are other elements within China that are at work here, and I'm particularly concerned, as well, by China's seeming increasing impatience with developments in Taiwan. So I'm not surprised by what has happened, but I certainly am concerned about it. I think that we're on the verge, unless things are carefully managed, of a serious downward spiral in Sino-American relations.
MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Xiao, how do you explain what's happened since President Clinton was there, again particularly in the human rights area?
XIAO QIANG, Human Rights in China: Well, as far as the political repression is concerned, it has been continued over the last decades and including last year, the whole year. But what we saw after President Clinton left China was that the -- after the Chinese president, Jiang Zemin, got to summit with U.S. leaders, they got what they want. And then they just disregarded any international opinion to express the rising demand of Chinese people for political change within the country.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you agree with what Mr. Oksenberg said, too, that because the economic growth has slowed, they're worried about unrest on that score and that these upcoming anniversaries are of concern?
XIAO QIANG: True. And also, the increasing unemployment in China and many other issues. But I think the fear is real, but their solution is wrong because they are suppressing the civil society in China, and that by doing that, only creates a further potential instability for the society.
MARGARET WARNER: What's your analysis, Ambassador, of what's going on in China right now on this front?
JOHN HOLDRIDGE, Former Deputy Chief of Mission, China: I take the position that both my colleague across the table and Michel Oksenberg had to say. I do believe that the economic situation is deteriorating in China to the point where they have to be worried about it indeed. Zhu Rongji has been given the job of trying to move the Chinese economy back into the right direction.
MARGARET WARNER: You're talking about the prime minister
JOHN HOLDRIDGE: The prime minister, yes, the one who will be here in April.
MARGARET WARNER: In April.
JOHN HOLDRIDGE: So consequently, I think that they're concerned about unemployment and the possibility of unrest. Remembering what Mao Tse Tung said, "a single spark can start a prairie fire," the leadership keeps this in mind. And when things are tough at home, they are even tougher to make sure that everything is peaceful under heaven. There's this old Chinese saying, [speaking Chinese] meaning "all is peaceful under heaven" -- and they believe firmly that they cannot progress economically and politically even unless they maintain a stable environment domestically.
MARGARET WARNER: And Mr. Oksenberg, do you think the fear is well-founded; that is, that a spark could ignite something?
MICHEL OKSENBERG: I think that the leaders of China now are living in a state of excessive fear. They have been remarkably successful over the past ten years in improving the quality of life of most of the people. They do have some severe problems, not the least of which is growing corruption and growing corruption is breeding discontent among the populace. But you don't deal with that problem by suppressing the people; you deal with it by dealing with problems of corruption.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Mr. Montaperto, let's turn to another area in this downward spiral that Mr. Oksenberg talked, about and that is this military build-up, this in missile build-up that the Pentagon report just issued this week outlined, doubling the number of missiles pointed at Taiwan in just a few years. What do you think's going on there?
RONALD MONTAPERTO, National Defense University: I think the Chinese are trying to do all that they can to limit Taiwan's options. I sense a new urgency in the way the Chinese think and talk about Taiwan these days. A year ago they were -- their line was that, "we have plenty of time, we can wait. We are concerned about the separatist thinking. We're concerned about the development of independence thinking, but as long as we can get that under control, we can wait a long time before we actually come to terms with the Taiwanese." Now, it's very very different and one gets with a sense of urgency that one did not sense before. I've asked some Chinese friends about that and I'll say, "well, why?" And they say, "well, you know, Jiang Zemin, the president, he wants his turn at greatness and I think this would be the year when Macau finally rejoins Chinese and I think it would be very much in Jiang's interest, given the sense of history, to kind of bring that to a close." In a more practical sense I think the Chinese are deeply, deeply concerned about the growth of feeling of a desire for independence in Taiwan. These missiles remind the Chinese that any action along those lines is extremely risky and so on, remind the Taiwanese that such an action would be extremely risky. It's essentially political, I think.
MARGARET WARNER: Ambassador, do you find this build-up alarming? Is this something is it something the U.S. should be concerned about?
JOHN HOLDRIDGE: Certainly we should be concerned about it, and we should be watching it very closely. I for one don't feel I'm really qualified to comment too much on it because so much of it is highly classified. I'm no longer -- have any access to classified documents, and I feel that it's imperative for me to form an opinion, I have to see more than the snippets that appear in the newspapers. And I think -
MARGARET WARNER: You haven't seen this Pentagon document?
JOHN HOLDRIDGE: I have not seen the Pentagon document, and possibly the Pentagon should release more of what it has. But I understand there are whole sections of this particular report which are still classified and are not being released.
MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Oksenberg, what's your view of this Pentagon report and this military build-up that they've outlined?
MICHEL OKSENBERG: I, as Ambassador Holdridge, do not have security clearances, but it seems to me that the evidence, which has been released, coupled with China's own statements that they -- their leaders are making, underscore the point that Ron Montaperto has made; namely, that it seems China has accelerated its schedule to for improving its military posture vis-à-vis Taiwan. That is a serious matter. It could lead to an arms race in the Western Pacific because the United States bears the responsibility for maintaining peace and stability in the region, and that includes of course our commitment to the people on Taiwan. If the people on Taiwan do not alter their status, if they live in peace in their current position, we will have to respond to what the Chinese seek to do.
MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Xiang, I know this isn't your expertise, but do you have a view on why the Chinese is investing so much in the military -
XIAO QIANG: Well, there's one -
MARGARET WARNER: -- in the build-up at this point?
XIAO QIANG: One aspect from the political point of view that the Chinese communist party already lost its ideology legitimacy, which is -
MARGARET WARNER: Lost that?
XIAO QIANG: Right. They're not communists, let's face it. They're pursuing capitalism and an authoritarian regime.
JOHN HOLDRIDGE: With Chinese characteristics.
XIAO QIANG: That's true. And then they need something to give them a moral and political legitimacy, which is at this stage nationalism. And any creating an outside enemy, such as Taiwan, is the cheapest way to build up this kind of support within the country, especially when there's a lot of potential crisis ahead of them.
MARGARET WARNER: So, Mr. Montaperto, do you agree with Mr. Oksenberg that we could see some sort of an arms race between China and the U.S. in that region? I mean, we've been reading for years that China has really got a very weak and substandard military.
RONALD MONTAPERTO: Well, I don't think we have to worry about an arms race in the true sense of that term. What I think we are likely to see in the Taiwan strait is what you might say a mini arms race. I am very concerned about the impact of these missile deployments in the Taiwan strait, and with due respect to my colleagues, I think even if we work with the figures that we see in the open press, there is cause for concern because the deployment of these missiles severely limit Taiwan's options for defense and so on and so forth. Taiwan is secure in the main because it has a qualitative advantage over China and because of its connection with the United States. Chinese military modernization is slowly eroding that. These missile deployments, we've already seen what missiles can do to Taiwan -- back in March, 1996 -- they increased that pressure. They also forced the United States to begin to emerge more closely as a factor in Taiwan's defense.
MARGARET WARNER: Including perhaps including it in a missile-defense system?
RONALD MONTAPERTO: Exactly. Exactly. So in that sense, I quite agree that there could be something like an arms race.
|Blocking the satellite sale.|
MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Oksenberg, I'm trying to cover a lot of ground here, but what about now the U.S. Government's or the Clinton administration's decision to block this satellite sale, which also happened or was disclosed this week? Do you think that the administration had reason to -- this was supposedly a communications satellite, but the administration seems to have come to the conclusion it could be used for military purposes. What's your view on that?
MICHEL OKSENBERG: The key issue here is whether similar technology can be purchased elsewhere, particularly in Western Europe. And there's room evidently for honest disagreement on this particular issue. I think it's possible that, in some respects, the administration is responding to pressures from the congress to a forthcoming report from the Cox Committee concerning Chinese extensive espionage activities in the United States, and that requires an element of caution on the part of the administration. But I'd like to point out that, on this particular matter, there is a dual nature because of the issue. As China develops, as it becomes more open to the world, it will acquire improved telecommunications, and that facilitates the dissemination of information within the country, presumably, therefore, leading to a more open and democratic society. But at precisely the same time as China acquires these technologies, it will acquire greater capacity to use those technologies for military purposes. That is why a whole set of issues now confront us on how we deal with China's rise in world affairs, whether we welcome that rise, whether we participate in it in a constructive engagement, as the Clinton administration has been pursuing, but at the same time, when our interests are clearly at stake, responding very, very firmly and toughly. And I think that's the message we're trying to send on this restriction of missile technology and launching matters.
MARGARET WARNER: Ron Montaperto, do you think it was the right decision or politically driven?
RONALD MONTAPERTO: I think it was -- certainly it was politically driven, but I think it was also the right decision.
MARGARET WARNER: Because?
RONALD MONTAPERTO: I think we have to accept the fact that our future relationship is, in my mind at least, extremely ambiguous. Professor Oksenberg has listed and I think has framed the problem for us very, very nicely. And there is an issue -- we have got to balance the cost of sort of short-term benefit in the economic sector against a potential longer term difficulty that might arise as a result of China's military capabilities being -- receiving an impetus because of things that they receive from us in this stage. And I think it's not an easy decision to make, but I do think it was the right one.
MARGARET WARNER: So what do you think, Mr. Xiao - what kind of leverage -- does the U.S. really have much leverage over these troubling developments or the developments that seem troubling to the U.S. Government? I mean is there much the United States can do, or is the U.S. pretty irrelevant?
XIAO QIANG: There is a lot of things the U.S. Government can do. For example, to introduce a resolution concerning our China human rights situation at the coming annual meeting in Geneva of the United Nations Human Rights Commission; that's one thing President Clinton promised to do in 1995. And given the situation in China now, the last few months, the United States Government should do that at this multilateral human rights body. Let me put things a little bit more in perspective. China is such a huge country, has its own momentum to change, and ultimately it is a force within China to make those transitions towards a more open society. However, never, ever underestimate the United States foreign policy, its influence to China, and to other parts of the world. And that's also part of the of the responsibility the United States Government should take. President Clinton just said, "Sooner or later, China will change." Yes, but a right U.S. China policy can help it change sooner and smoother and peaceful.
MARGARET WARNER: What should -
JOHN HOLDRIDGE: I don't take quite an alarmist view of the deployment of the missiles as some people might. I'm aware that there are three joint communiqués which form the basis of the United States-China relationship, and each one of them, either directly or by appended letters, calls for the maintenance of a peaceful environment in the way that China tries to retrieve its relationship with Taiwan. And the Chinese know full well that if they violate the tenets, which we've established in these three joint communiqués, then everything is off. We're back to where we were, square one, before the Kissinger trip in 1971, and I think this would be a serious setback, which the Chinese don't want. They do not wish to go back to the beginning, and there were three joint communiqués. They keep telling us all the time that we should enforce them, but now it's up to the Chinese to live up then to them, as well.
MARGARET WARNER: Briefly, because we're almost out of time, Mr. Montaperto, what's your view on how much influence we have and what posture Madeleine Albright, Secretary of State Albright should take next week when she goes to Beijing?
RONALD MONTAPERTO: We don't have a lot of influence. I guess I think that, given the totality of things, we need to pull back a little bit, engagement is sound, but I think we need to - but the Chinese need to understand that there are costs involved with this kind of behavior and I think we need to respond with that in mind.
MARGARET WARNER: And, Professor Oksenberg, what's your view of that two-part question?
MICHEL OKSENBERG: Short-term influence, not great. Long-term influence, enormous.
MARGARET WARNER: And the posture that Secretary of State Albright should take when she goes to Beijing with all these things object table?
MICHEL OKSENBERG: Well, I think she's going to have to be fairly tough with the Chinese and recognize that, when the premier, Zhu Rongji, visits the United States, he's going to face some intense questioning. He can't limit his discussions here to the economic. I do think that we're going to have to take the human rights issue back to Geneva; the pressure on Madeleine Albright to have wide-ranging discussions but tough discussions is considerable.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Well, thank you all four gentlemen very much.