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China’s Economy Has Evolved, but Has Its Government?

December 10, 2010 at 6:06 PM EDT
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On a day that put China's human rights record back in the spotlight, Judy Woodruff speaks with Susan Shirk of the University of California's Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation and Gordon Chang, an author and columnist for Forbes.com, about China's boycott of the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony and its foreign policy.
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TRANSCRIPT

JIM LEHRER: More now on China, on this day when a jailed Chinese dissident was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in absentia. China had warned of diplomatic consequences for countries that sent representatives to the ceremony in Oslo.

Judy Woodruff has our story.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And for that, we’re joined by Susan Shirk. She’s a former deputy assistant secretary of state responsible for China policy in the Clinton administration. She is now the director of the University of California’s Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation. And Gordon Chang, he’s an author and columnist for Forbes.com. He lived in China and Hong Kong for 20 years, and he worked as a lawyer for American and international firms.

Thanks to you both for being with us.

Susan Shirk, to you first. What sort of thinking do you understand there to be inside the Chinese government that would lead to the sort of harsh reaction they have had to the Liu Xiaobo Nobel Prize award?

SUSAN SHIRK, director, University of California’s Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation: It’s all about domestic politics in China, specifically about politics at the very top reaches of power of the Chinese Communist Party.

In recent years, the internal security police and the propaganda department and the military have become very powerful interests within with the Chinese Communist Party. The security police and the propaganda department lead this charge, this campaign against Liu Xiaobo.

The second factor in domestic politics is that the campaign for power has begun in China. In two years, there will be the 18th Party Congress. There will be a major leadership transition. And the campaign has already begun, two years before the actual turnover of power.

And the people who are competing for power believe that these hawkish stances towards the West, especially the United States, are ways for them to win points.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Gordon Chang, what would you add to that? Is that what you see going on there?

GORDON CHANG, author/columnist: I think that it certainly is, because, in this run-up to the leadership transition that Susan talks about, it’s very difficult for leaders to compromise on anything, especially when Hu Jintao is known to be a hard-liner against the United States, for instance.

People say that China has changed and gotten more hostile recently. I think that this is an inherent part of the regime. And so essentially what we are seeing is, this regime is starting to show its tail, as the Chinese would say. The fox is showing its tail. And, basically, it’s sort of reasserting itself.

And I think this is a very dangerous trend.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But, Susan Shirk, it sounded as if you were saying — you said, over the last few years, the security division, the security police and the propaganda committee have — have gained more power. So, you see this as a new development?

SUSAN SHIRK: I do. I think that, up until quite recently, Chinese foreign policy was actually quite cooperative and flexible and responsible. And especially in the last year or 18 months or so, it’s really changed. And I think many of us who have worked very hard to build a stable relationship between the United States and China are really quite concerned about what is driving this change.

And I, for one, see it as domestically driven by the nature of Chinese political system.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, what do you see as behind it?

SUSAN SHIRK: Well, I do think it’s this campaign for power at the 18th Party Congress.

I see it as the result of the fact that the interest groups that have the greatest stake in a peaceful relationship between China and the United States do not really have that much voice in foreign policy.

And, previously, we had stronger leadership in China. We had a Mao Zedong. We a Deng Xiaoping, even a Jiang Zemin. When there was a lot of noise and a lot of nationalist pressure, he had — he understood that it would really be suicidal, from the standpoint of China’s national interests, to try to get into a cold war with the United States.

And I — I don’t agree with Gordon that Hu Jintao is anti-Western or anti-American, but I do think he’s pretty weak, and he hasn’t been able to discipline these groups within the party.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Gordon Chang, do you see these kinds of divisions existing now inside the Chinese…

GORDON CHANG: Yes, the…

JUDY WOODRUFF: Go ahead.

GORDON CHANG: Yes, I think those divisions do exist, but it’s really inherent to the nature of the regime.

You know, Deng Xiaoping said we should bide time until we can strengthen ourselves. And now China has strengthened itself. And that is why we see a much more hostile, much more belligerent regime. This is just inherent in the nature of the political system. And so, yes, it’s a new development, but it is not something that we should be surprised about.

And I actually don’t think that Chinese foreign policy really has actually been constructive, because, all along, they have been proliferating nuclear weapons technology. They have been backing North Korea to the hilt. And they have been engaging in cyber-warfare against the United States. This is not a sign of a constructive member of the international community.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Gordon Chang, so, all the business development, the economic opening to the rest of the world, you don’t see that as a material change in Chinese thinking?

GORDON CHANG: Well, it’s a material change in China, in the Chinese people certainly. We see a much more modern, much more up-to-date and certainly the most dynamic society on Earth.

But what is really interesting is that the Chinese government has changed remarkably little over three decades of this economic transformation. And I think that is because the nature of the political system really is just the same.

And so essentially what we have got is a government now is sort of reasserting itself. As Deng Xiaoping said, you know, you can do what you want when you are stronger.

Now they are stronger.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Susan Shirk, the Obama administration came into office talking about the importance of cooperation with China. They looked to several areas.

How has that gone? And I ask you this, as there is just a news bulletin moving on the wires just early this evening talking about bilateral military talks between Chinese and U.S. officials. And they quote a U.S. official as saying, these were candid, frank and productive exchanges on areas of disagreement.

Do you — anything to add to that? Does that tell you anything?

SUSAN SHIRK: Well, that doesn’t tell us much, except there were a lot of differences. And that’s no surprise. Especially, the mil-to-mil, military-to-military part of the relationship has always been the thinnest and the less — least well-developed.

But Hu Jintao is coming to visit the United States this January. And he’s going to want to have that be a successful visit. He’s not going to want to have it blow up in his face. So, I am watching to see whether or not the Chinese leadership can recalibrate some of these policy — I would call them policy mistakes they have made, about turning the Liu Xiaobo Nobel Prize into a big international crusade against the West, which obviously has failed internationally, taking North Korea’s side in all of these confrontations on the Korean Peninsula, the South China Sea.

So, let’s see if they recalibrate, which is what, of course, I’m hoping for.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Gordon Chang, what are your expectations for U.S.-China relations in the near term?

GORDON CHANG: Well, I don’t see that they are going to get any better. We have all of these disagreements. They’re fundamental. And it’s — you just can’t paper them over, after four decades of trying to work cooperatively with the Chinese government.

So, I agree with Susan that Hu Jintao wants to have a successful visit in January. But, you know, at this point, we have got some really important issues that we need to deal with. And if we don’t deal with them, if we try to paper them over, as we have in the past, we’re just going to kick these problems down the road, when they are only going to get worse.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Gordon Chang, Susan Shirk, we thank you both.

SUSAN SHIRK: Thank you.