dangerous straits
homeinterviewsexperts's analyseschronology
photo of bangzao
interviews: zhu bangzao

If there were one thing you would like to achieve when President Bush comes to China, what would that be?

In October, President Bush will come to Shanghai to attend the ninth APEC summit meeting and to meet with President Jiang Zemin. He will then move on to Beijing as part of his official visit to China. We believe this is an important event in Sino-U.S. relations, and is significant for the long-term development of the relationship between the two countries. ...

But practically, what actually does that mean? Is there one thing you would like to improve?

The two sides are making active preparations for the visit and the meetings. During the preparatory discussions, both sides will exchange views on what they want to achieve, and in which specific areas the leaders of our two countries hope to make progress during this visit. We'll have a full exchange of views.

So I haven't got any specific objectives to tell you yet, but I think both sides will work hard to push this visit forward. We hope a positive result will emerge from a successful visit.



Zhu Bangzao is a spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry. In this interview, he explains China's position on the "one China" principle and warns against U.S. interference in the matter. Zhu tells FRONTLINE that "Taiwanese independence is equal to war." Interview conducted early autumn 2001.

The early months of the Bush administration did not go particularly well between China and America. You had the spy plane incident. Looking back, do you think that America could have handled that incident much better? ...

I can certainly say that the incident has caused serious damage to bilateral relations. This is something that the Chinese side didn't want to see. However, due to the joint efforts of the two sides, there's been some improvement in Sino-U.S. relations recently. This has not come about easily. We hope both sides will cherish and sustain this improvement in relations.

But why were the two sides so belligerent in those very first few days after the incident? Why did it become almost a major crisis?

I think we should recognize that China and the United States both want to improve and develop their relationship, but there are some sensitive elements in the Sino-U.S. relationship, which will sometimes lead to certain disturbances. Over recent years, you know that both parties in the U.S., the Republicans and the Democrats, have both had the same policy towards developing and improving Sino-U.S. relations.

Since being elected, even the Bush administration has shown a positive attitude to the further development of bilateral relations. For instance, they have said that they recognize the importance of the relationship with China, that China should not be regarded as an enemy, that the U.S. should avoid hostility and further confrontations with China; and that they wish to see constructive relations between the two countries. We take all this very seriously.

On the other hand, frankly speaking, there are also differences of opinion between the two countries. The important question is how to handle these differences. No one should take a tough attitude just because these differences create problems. That will not contribute to the solution of the problems.

Taiwanese independence is equal to war. That's why the United States should not support this movement; should not support independence for Taiwan. Basically, I think what we should focus on are the major common interests between the two countries, which are important and wide-ranging, for instance, to safeguard peace and stability in the Asian Pacific region and to improve world economic development and prosperity. Also, we both want a better environment and less pollution. We both want to fight against transnational crimes, etc. In those areas, we have important common interests, and we should cooperate further in those fields. ...

Recently you must have noticed the frequent exchange of high-level visits between the two countries. President Jiang talked with President Bush over the phone, and also the American secretary of state recently made a visit to China. It has just been announced that Mr. Tang, our foreign minister, is going to visit the United States. So the exchange of high-level visits has increased.

At the same time, relations in trade and other areas are improving. We have also had much more consultation on international issues. These are all good developments, and we should encourage them.

But there are problems, too, like Taiwan non-cooperation -- the fact that the United States has violated its commitments, exerted pressure on us, and damaged China's interests. We are strongly against all of this, and have made our views known very clearly. ...

There are clearly elements within the Bush administration, and certainly within Congress, who see China as the next great enemy for America. Is that a fair way to look at China today?

We think China is not an enemy of the United States, and neither is the United States an enemy of China. I said just now that the Bush administration has already stated clearly that China is not the enemy of the U.S., and this view was also expressed by the Secretary of State, Mr. Powell, during his recent visit to China.

Now, after the end of the Cold War, we should not need to look for enemies. Doing so could only damage the basic interests of our people and our two countries. It would be against the interests of the U.S. as well. ...

If you are not the enemy, or a future enemy, why does America have surveillance planes going up and down your border? Surely, isn't that the action of someone who regards you as a future enemy?

I think you should address that question to the United States. I think that the U.S. should match its actions to its words. ... We have always opposed surveillance flights by the United States off the shores of China. We have made that quite clear. We are consistent and clear-cut about it. That has always been our policy, and it will never change. ...

During the election campaign, President Bush made it absolutely clear on television that he would do everything he could to defend Taiwan. What is China's view about that?

The Taiwan question is a sensitive and important issue at the center of Sino-U.S. relations. The United States has made solemn commitments to China on various occasions, and that is the foundation for the extension of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

For instance, there are the three joint communiques between China and the U.S., in which the U.S. has made an undertaking that they will follow the principle of "one China." In the past, various U.S. administrations have made undertakings on the Taiwan issue on many occasions. Therefore, I think what the United States should do is stick to the policy of "one China," keep to their undertakings under the three joint communiqués, and keep their other promises on the Taiwan issue, rather than violating those promises.

We've noticed the reports of remarks made by President Bush and the U.S. government, but we have also noticed that there are people in the United States opposed to these remarks, because these kind of remarks do not match up with U.S. policy.

Taiwan is Chinese territory, and the Taiwan issue belongs to the internal affairs of China. No foreign country should interfere in the Taiwan question. The United States has made many promises to China on the Taiwan issue, and they should honor their words, rather than undermining the commitments they've made.

Generally speaking, we are optimistic about the future of Sino-U.S. relations, because we have common interests, and developing bilateral relations is in the interests of the U.S. itself. So we are optimistic about it. ... Only if the U.S. can deal with this issue properly will we see the further development of bilateral relations. Otherwise, the Sino-U.S. relationship will always be to be troubled and harmed.

But don't you see that you could make your relations with America so much better if you gave up your announcement that would use military force to take Taiwan if they ever declared independence? Why do you not renounce your use of force? Because that will do more than any single thing to improve relations with America.

I know there are people in the United States who use China's failure to renounce the use of force against Taiwan as an excuse for the U.S. to support Taiwan and sell arms to Taiwan. But their arguments cannot hold water.

Can I just say that that gives the impression to the Americans that China is a bully? It is a threatening power. It's is a communist power which is threatening a small, tiny island. That, for an American, is a very disturbing prospect.

Your impression, if you will permit me to say so, is totally wrong. It suggests that the United States is very keen on a peaceful solution to the Taiwan issue, while mainland China wants to use military force. I think this is a misunderstanding which gives a totally wrong impression.

Actually, no one in the world is more eager than China to find a peaceful solution to the Taiwan question. We have always advocated peaceful reunification on the principle of "one China, two systems." Even after the tremendous changes last year in Taiwan, we still advocate this principle, and hope to try our best to seek a peaceful solution to the Taiwan question. This is our basic principle and it has remained unchanged.

It is just because we want to solve the Taiwan question peacefully that we cannot give up the use of force. If we give up the use of force, that will only make a peaceful solution impossible. For instance, if the Taiwan separatists declare Taiwan independent, then how do we react? ...

Furthermore, it's entirely China's own internal affair if we deploy military equipment on our own soil. The purpose of such action is to safeguard China's security, to defend its territorial integrity and uphold the country's peace and stability. This is quite understandable.

However, U.S. arms sales to Taiwan are quite another matter. They totally violate the promises made by the United States. We know that under the August 17 communiqué, there are clear provisions in this regard, in which the U.S. undertakes that it does not seek a long-term policy of arms sales to Taiwan. The U.S. government also undertook not to increase its arms sales to Taiwan, either in quantity or in quality, based on the levels of recent years since the establishment of diplomatic relations. That should lead to a gradual reduction in sales over a period of time, which would eventually solve the problem entirely.

However, what the U.S. did in reality was not what it said. In recent years, U.S. arms sales to Taiwan have increased both in quality and in quantity. So this shows who is really to blame here. What the United States has done is interfered in China's internal affairs, undermined China's sovereignty, and most importantly, added further to serious tensions across the Taiwan Strait. At the same time, they have further increased the difficulty of achieving a peaceful resolution in Taiwan. In doing so, the United States hasn't only damaged China's interests; they have damaged their own interests, too.

Therefore, we hope that the United States will come to a better understanding of the sensitivity of the Taiwan issue, and the damage done by their arms sales. They should change their course, stop selling arms to Taiwan, and seek a proper solution to this issue. This will improve the chances of a peaceful resolution in Taiwan, and improve long-term Sino-U.S. relations.

But there is, in Taiwan, a strong movement towards independence. They have fought for democracy. If they do declare independence, what will China's response be?

Just to clarify that, it's true that there is a movement for independence on Taiwan island, but its not at all a strong trend. In Taiwan, there are more and more people who support the "one country, two systems" formula.

The key thing at the moment is that the leaders of the Taiwan government do not adequately recognize the "one China" principle. They deny the 1992 oral understanding between us, which states that the two sides of the Taiwan Strait should both use oral expression to maintain the principle of "one China."

Actually, if the Taiwan leader can acknowledge the "one China" principle, and recognize the 1992 consensus, then talks across the Taiwan Strait can be resumed immediately. However, if he's bent on having his own way, and denies the principle of "one China" -- or even goes as far as what you said and declares independence -- then our answer is very clear-cut. We will not allow it to happen.

The final solution of the Taiwan question and the ultimate reunification of the motherland is in the common interest of the people of China -- that is the 1.3 billion Chinese people, including those on Taiwan island. No force can stand in the way of this.

I understand. But just to clarify that... If the leadership in Taiwan declared independence, you say you could not let that happen. The Defense Department in America worries that if that did happen, your response would be to use the many missiles you have got along the coast opposite Taiwan, and that would be much more devastating than the bombardment of the islands that happened in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Is that the sort of response you would have?

I have made our stand quite clear: Taiwanese independence is equal to war. That's why the United States should not support this movement; should not support independence for Taiwan. We, the two sides, should make joint efforts to achieve a peaceful settlement of the Taiwan issue.

But what Americans can't understand is why you worry about Taiwan. It's a relatively small island. You have a huge territory with many potential problems. Why worry about a small island which is trading very well with you, and relations are OK? Why do you care about Taiwan?

... The Americans should change their habit of always seeing things in their own terms, and trying to impose their own views about how to solve this Taiwan issue. This is not right.

Why? Because China is a country with a fine history over 5,000 years or more. Its tradition has always stressed national unity. Taiwan has always been part of China's territory. It was only for a short period, at the end of nineteenth century after the Sino-Japanese War, that it was taken by Japan.

However, after the Second World War, Taiwan was returned to China. What happened after that was due to the civil war within China. As I mentioned just now, the 1.3 billion Chinese people want unification, and the majority of people in Taiwan also want unification. They support "one county, two systems." Under these circumstances, I don't understand why there are people in the United States who think that Taiwan should be separated from China. This is what I cannot understand. ...

I suspect that why the Americans are so interested in Taiwan, and many people say they should support Taiwan, is that Taiwan is a democracy. If only China could become a democracy, all our problems would be solved; but that America, with its history, could never not come to the support of a democratic country.

... Regarding democracy, both the United States and China have their own views on the question of democracy. We can only say that the system in Taiwan is more like that in the United States. But even in the so-called democratic countries -- the Western countries like the United States, Britain, France, Germany, and Japan -- is the democratic system the same in all those countries? They are not all the same.

It's the view of the United States that China is an undemocratic country, but that is only according to U.S. standards. In China, we think that we have our own style of democracy.

Taiwan is only a part of China, and it's not a separate country at all. We have a very clear policy of "one country, two systems." This means that after Taiwan and China have achieved unification, Taiwan can still maintain its present political and social systems, as well as its economic system and so on. So the United States has no reason whatever to worry about Taiwan's future.

It could retain its own freedoms, its own democracy, its own free press?

Yes, it can. Before Hong Kong returned to China, many people in the U.S. and other Western countries said that China would not really carry out the "one country, two systems" policy. Now, every year since Hong Kong's return, the United States, E.U., and Great Britain have issued reports which acknowledge that China has implemented the policy in earnest in Hong Kong. There's a good example.

Macao has now returned to China, too, and I think people can recognize that we've kept our promises there, too. This policy is in China's interest, and the United States has no reason whatsoever to worry about it.

President Bush and many Americans think that every country has the right to defend itself if they are attacked. Therefore, what is the problem with a missile defense shield, which is clearly not aggressive, which is purely defensive, and is purely protecting America and its democratic allies?

Frankly speaking, we are opposed to the missile defense system advocated by the United States. You said that its a defensive system and why shouldn't they have it? Because we believe that the U.S. and Russia already possess the biggest nuclear arsenals in the world. The U.S. wants to have this so-called missile defense system, but actually it may not be only a question of defense; it could also become an element in their attacking capability.

The result is that this policy will create an unstable situation in the world balance of power. This could easily create a new arms race and bring a series of negative consequences. That's why we cannot agree with it, and why we are not in favor of the missile defense system.

The United States has alleged that, after the end of the Cold War, there is a new danger: this so-called missile threat. But are any of these so-called rogue states who are identified by the U.S. really capable of sending missiles directly at the United States? It's very doubtful. ...

Why is stopping a missile from hitting your country is an aggressive act? I don't think many people in America can see that.

Actually, I believe that the U.S. experts know the story well enough. The United States signed the ABM treaty with the old U.S.S.R., now the Russians. This ABM treaty was actually a foundation for the stability and the balance of world strategy.

If the United States is in possession of a large number of offensive weapons, and at the same time is in possession of a defense system, it simply means that the U.S. holds a much bigger offensive force than other countries. Is that a simple enough explanation? I think the U.S. experts and the Americans understand this very well.

So what will China do if President Bush decides, despite your views, to go ahead and deploy theatre and nuclear missile shields?

To ensure the safety of China's own sovereignty and territorial integrity, we must ensure that our nuclear arsenal is effective. We are opposed to the theater missile defense system, especially the fact that the U.S. wants to include Taiwan in the T.M.D. system. Our position on this is clear-cut.

Just to be clear, does that mean that if President Bush goes ahead, you will need more nuclear missiles?

China will not enter into an arms race, but we will ensure the effectiveness of our nuclear weapons. ...

A lot of people, who are your friends in America, believe that if they can work with China, if they can trade with China, economic developments will be such in China that you would inevitably become a democracy. Therefore, China will eventually be our close friend and ally. And yet in the interview, you've said we have our two separate systems. Does that mean there will never be democracy in China?

China is now developing a democratic and legal system with socialist characteristics. We are also undertaking the reform of the political system, which is the most important part of the reform. Now the Chinese people enjoy more democracy than at any time in Chinese history. However, this democracy is not what the West regards as the Western style of democracy. China should develop its own democracy in the light of China's national conditions.

China is ready to collaborate with the U.S. in all sorts of areas -- including, as you have said, trade and business -- to develop our ties with the United States, to seek further development and increase the prosperity of both our countries. But if they try to use these links as a method of changing us, then they will fail to achieve their purpose.

Different social systems and different kinds of democracy can live side by side with each other. We can learn from each other's good qualities and make up for each other's shortcomings. Our purpose is to seek to develop together, to improve on both sides, but not to try to change the other side. If we were all identical to each other, then the world would not be a very colorful place.

home + introduction + interviews + experts' analyses
chronology & map + readings & links + discussion + teacher's guide
tapes & transcripts + press reaction + credits + frontline privacy policy
frontline + pbs online + wgbh

web site copyright 1995-2014 WGBH educational foundation
chinese army photo ©afp/corbis

SUPPORT PROVIDED BY

FRONTLINE on

ShopPBS