July 23, 1999
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And now we turn to two China watchers for more on some of the points raised in that interview which I did earlier today with Hong Kong's chief executive. Michael Oksenberg is senior fellow at the Asia Pacific Research Center at Stanford University. He was a senior staff member for Asian affairs at the National Security Council during the Carter administration. And David Brown is associate director of the Asia Studies Department at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International studies. From 1986 to 1989 he oversaw U.S.-Taiwan relations at the State Department. Michael Oksenberg, let's start with Taiwan. You heard Mr. Tung say this could be a very serious situation. Do you agree?
MICHEL OKSENBERG: It certainly has that potential and was already beginning to be so. I was very struck by the chief executive's remarks that the Hong Kong model suggests that deep problems can be worked out. In that sense what happened in Hong Kong has more general validity. How do you work things out through dialogue, through discussion? But Taiwan, primarily, I think due to their own internal political situation, has altered the framework within which the two places, Taipei and Beijing, could try to work out relations between them.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Explain that. Explain what was said exactly.
MICHEL OKSENBERG: Yes. Well, let's go to the background. Until early 1992, Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, and Beijing said that each was the government of all of China. Then in 1992, Taiwan said, "no, we're no longer the government of all of China, but there is still one China that has two equal political entities." Now they've changed the formula, and they say, "no, we are two separate states and we will only deal with China , the mainland, on the basis of being its equal as a state." That's tantamount to declaring independence.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Even though they have backed off a little bit of some of that, you still think that this is a potentially serious situation?
MICHEL OKSENBERG: Yes, it is because it comes close to saying, "we are independent. We no longer accept the notion that today there is one China. Maybe at some point in the future there will be one. Today is not that. It's not the case." And China has made very clear that under those circumstances, it is prepared to go to war. This is very serious because for the United States, we're in the middle of it.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Okay. We're going to come back to the U.S. Mr. Brown, how do you see this? Do you have anything to add just on this question of whether this is serious and why?
DAVID BROWN: I certainly agree with what Mike has said. What President Li has done is to challenge the basis on which discussions across the Taiwan straits have been conducted and also the basis upon which American policy has rested.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Okay. So, expand on the implications for U.S. policy.
DAVID BROWN: Well, U.S. policy has been to try and persuade Taiwan and Beijing to work their relationships out peacefully. By taking a stance that is saying that the relations have to be conceived as those between states rather than between two parts of a China, Li is doing just as Mike has said: Challenging something that is very fundamental to Beijing and which Beijing could easily see as a threat to the prospect of eventual reunification.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Which then, Mr. Brown, puts the U.S. in a very difficult position?
DAVID BROWN: Yes.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Explain that.
DAVID BROWN: We have been for 50 years the primary political support for the regime in Taiwan. We have a Taiwan Relations Act, which you mentioned at the beginning of your program, which obligates the U.S. Government to take any threats to Taiwan's security seriously. It's very much in the American interest to see good relations across the Taiwan straits and to promote dialogue, and Li has done something which has, contrary to American interest, raised tensions and at least temporarily, I think, created some barriers to the kind of dialogue which we in Washington and the United States want to promote.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Michael Oksenberg, why do you think this is happening now? Why is this happening in Taiwan?
MICHEL OKSENBERG: Four reasons. First, as I stated Taiwan domestic politics, presidential election is in the offing. It's going to be a three-corner race. Li Deng Hua's preferred candidate is now in third place by public opinion; they're going to have to eat into the support of number two, who is a Taiwan independence-oriented person. And I think Li is trying to capture the initiative on behalf of his anointed successor. Second major reason, the highest emissary from China was scheduled to go Taiwan in September, October, for very serious talks. I think that this is an indication that the Taiwan wants to either a alter the basis on which those talks would go forward or don't want to have them. Third, Taiwan erroneously believes that when Sino-American relations are strained they have more room for maneuver. And, fourth I think Li Deng Hua, as he approaches the end of his era of rule, wants to leave some kind of a political legacy.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: David Brown, is it coming at a particularly bad time for China?
DAVID BROWN: China has many problems -- economic; they've got social -- significant social instability which is why they're concerned-- the regime in Beijing is concerned about the Falun Gong. And so, yes, this is a difficult time, not exceptionally so, I don't believe.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Michael?
MICHEL OKSENBERG: Well, I think it is a very difficult time. The leaders confront almost an overloaded agenda indeed. I sometimes think -- wonder how the Jiang Xemin, the president of China, gets out of bed in the morning. Right now, Taiwan is an issue for him, as we've discussed. Economic difficulties, dealing with the legacy of the Belgrade bombing and dealing with the problems of his relationship with the U.S., World Trade Organization issues. And now he's dealing with problems of social challenge in some respects -- to some of the fundamental assumptions about the rule of the state.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: How serious do you think that challenge is from the Falun Gong group?
MICHEL OKSENBERG: It's too early to judge. It's a subtle challenge but it's very important to note. In Chinese history, there have been movements that have spread like wildfire at a time when the populous decides that perhaps their rulers have lost the way, "way" being here very important translated in the Chinese as the "dow" the way. And in Chinese there's an old saying when in dealing with strategies of how one deals with opponents that of the 36 strategies, withdrawal is best. This is a group that, in effect, is withdrawing from social engagement through physical exercise, meditation, self-cultivation -- in effect is saying there is something wrong with the external world in which we live: Too materialistic. Our spiritual yearnings are not being met. And for a state that is based on social engagement , in effect, this passivity is of the most profound challenge -- in some respects more profound than the democratization movement itself if it catches fire.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mr. Brown, do you agree with that?
DAVID BROWN: Yes, I think this is also a reflection of the fact that in the past decade, there has been a tremendous revival in China of interest in religion, interest sparked by the fact that they have lost any sense of values coming from Marxism, from a revolutionary land that the Chinese had in the early '50s. And in the more open environment in which religion has been possible, a lot of groups have grown up. And this is one which clearly the leader -- the Communist party leadership in Beijing sees as threatening for a number of reasons. One, it's got a lot of members within the party hierarchy and the security services itself. Two, it's got unusual -- or not unusual but from Beijing's perspective contacts with outside groups which is worrisome to them. And, third, it's able to organize large numbers of people for peaceful demonstrations right in the heart of Beijing. This is something which goes beyond what the leaders in Beijing are willing to permit at this time.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mr. Brown, finally in the time we have left, given everything we've been talking about and going back to Mr. Tung's point, the chief executive of Hong Kong's point, that he thinks Hong Kong is a model for dealing with the Taiwan problem, what do you think about that?
DAVID BROWN: Hong Kong has worked out much better than people had expected under one country, two systems. But beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The people in Taiwan do not see beauty in this formula. They think Taiwan's situation is very different from that of Hong Kong. It was not a colony. It has its own army. It's a state of some 22 million people, a successful democracy. And they don't see this formula as being attractive or adequate for their needs.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: All right. Thank you both very much for being with us.
DAVID BROWN: My pleasure.