Do you think the leadership created the anti-American feeling or do you
think there was an anti-American feeling within the country of China?
I think first of all, there is a general love-hate relationship between China
and America. But it's much more dominated by positive feelings these days.
And the leadership is very anxious to develop good ties with the United States,
and to promote a friendly relations and good economic relations.
I don't think there were bunches of right wing generals in China that
provoked this so that they could bash America. It was something that came at a
very inconvenient time for both the Bush administration and for China. And
both sides had to deal with this. Dealing with their domestic political
Do you think however, that the Chinese military leadership used
this--perhaps to show that America could be a threat? Therefore, they would
need to modernize their weapons?
Well, I think this is probably one of the many incidents over the years, that
the Chinese military has used to show the leadership they need more resources.
The Chinese military budget historically is very low. And they have a very old
fashioned army. They don't have the kind of global military capacities that
the United States and at one point the Soviet Union had. And they are now
trying to very rapidly modernise their military so that they can stand up and
not be a joke.
This spy plane incident happened at a very early stage, in the Bush
administration. were they trying to work out what his policies would be?
I think it was for the Chinese, a bit of a test case. They were very worried
which direction was the Bush administration going to go. On the one side is
Bush's father. He was the U.S. representative here. And he was in favor of
engagement - not being too tough or too intrusive on human rights, these kind
On the other hand you have a large new group within the Republican Party who
are rather hottish about China. See it as a future strategic competitor or
enemy. Why not try to put the screws on China in certain ways. And it has
never been clear which side is gonna run out in Bush's mind. Or in this
administration. So this really happened before this administration had kind of
Do they not know how the policy is going to go?
I don't think anyone knows. If you watch what's happening in the
administration, Secretary of State Powell has sounded not very different from
a recruitment official. You know, they have to seek friendship with China.
While at the same time, each country will protect its vital interest. You get
some statements out of the Pentagon, where China is a future competitor or
rival, strategically; their military is growing, and we have to prepare for
that day. Issues like strategic missile defence can be handled in a way that
ignores Chinese interest.
So when Bush first goes to China as president the end of October 2001, do
you think that he has really worked out his policy? And do you think the
Chinese are gonna be content with what they discover?
I can't predict what he is going to do. Every word is gonna be watched very
carefully in Beijing. This is much more important to China than it may seem to
Americans. The relationship with the United States is the number one foreign
policy issue, right now, for the Chinese government I think. And - and they are
very anxious to find a way to have smoother relations and put the negative
things a little bit to the side if they can.
What are these issues?
The Chinese leadership is far more preoccupied with their domestic situation.
And economic progress than they are with foreign policy ventures. Taiwan is the
big thorny issue in the middle of this. They can't give up Taiwan. That's
sort of central to their national identity, their political identity. But,
they don't want that to blow up in their faces either. They need Western
technology, investment. They want to become a partner in the advanced nations
of the world. And they can't do that if they are in a cold war with the United
States. So, from their point of view, they are putting up with quite a bit of
questionable criticism and intrusion on things like their human rights
policies. Or other domestic issues. They are willing to live with some of that
if we can have overall friendly relations.
Now, with Taiwan, at the end of the day, it really depends on what the
Taiwan people and Taiwan government decide for their future. If they ever
claim independence, how do you think China would react?
I think if they just outright declared independence there is no question that
China would have a military action and it could cause quite a conflagration. I
mean the United States is not formally committed to defending Taiwan. But
certainly if it comes under attack from China the United States will take very
serious action. And who knows what the consequences will be? To some degree
both the United States and China are a hostage to what the Taiwanese people
But on the other hand, both sides have a great deal of leverage and the
Taiwanese people, whatever their true beliefs might be if they were
unencumbered by the threat of mainland China next to them, so far they have
been pretty pragmatic. Even when they elected a president last year whose
party theoretically was dedicated to independence. He very quickly
back-tracked to sort of a central position in Taiwan. If they can just
preserve the status quo, preserve in a way their ambiguous status and see how
things developed, they probably can live with that. And, in fact, I think the
Chinese can live with that too.
What the Chinese are most afraid of is a real movement toward independence.
Which they have to stop. They have to continually warn Taiwan - and the United
States - that "hey, don't push us too far. Or we will be forced to react
militarily." That doesn't mean they want to invade Taiwan. They have a short
timetable. The number one principle--if you are a Chinese leader--is not that
you have to regain Taiwan in the next five years. It's that you can't lose
Why do they worry about a small island, like this?
It's their unfinished civil war. It just looms very large in the in the
history and mythology of the People's Republic of China. They fought a civil
war with this nationalist government. They essentially defeated them. The
nationalists escaped to an island which they consider an integral part of
China. And then, because of American support and other intervening factors,
they never finished. And I think especially for the military, this is the main
reason for being. Is to prevent Taiwanese independence and some day retake
Taiwan. ... I think preventing Taiwanese independence is sort of a core
principle of politics here. And no politician could go against that. ...
When you look at China today, what do you see in terms of freedom?
I think everything that you have ever heard about China is true. It's freer
than it's ever been, economically. People in their daily social life, they do
what they want, say what they want. On the other hand, in the political arena,
in publications, it's perhaps not totalitarian, but it's an authoritarian
state. It does censor the news, the media. Very thoroughly. Anyone who
tries to start an organization or a publication that's not sanctified by the
communist party is subject to arrest. The police can send anyone to a labor
camp for three years without a trial. Virtually at their whim. People who
want to practice religions that are not part of the government sanctioned
religious scripts - are subject to arrest at any time, or harassment. So they
are very severe human rights violations going on.
They affect a relatively small number of people, compared to the 1.3 billion
Chinese. But they do involve principles that are so fundamental that they in a
way affect everyone. I mean, if the press is controlled, this affects the
information available to all 1.3 billion people. And ultimately it affects the
ability to stop corruption. If there were a free press, one man couldn't bribe
several hundred officials in the south- as one did recently and has now, fled
to Canada. And make billions of dollars through smuggling. The many people
knew about this but the local communist party did not allows the press to write
So those Americans who say Amercia can't do business with China--are they
Well, I think it's a country that we can do business with, very cooly. And in
fact when it comes to formal agreements and international agreements, the
Chinese record is pretty good I think most diplomats would say.
It is a country with an uncertain future. It is a country with many aspects
that--in terms of American values--we don't find very attractive. And I think
that many American scholars and diplomats and other experts believe that the
issue of human rights is not just a moral one but is central to the future of
China and to a more prosperous society. The communist party's answer is that -
"hey, without us the country will fall apart, so we need to keep this
repression indefinitely while we gradually reform and move toward a more open
society. And first, let's just make more money. That's our priority."
I think there are many Westerners who feel that the pressure is building up
within this rather cluttered system. Unless in this fast paced information age
they allow more free information, then they [will] fall behind and end up with
the very kinds of conflicts they are trying to avoid.
Well, some people believe that with this enormous economic kick, with
economic improvement, that there are inevitably going to be political changes.
Do you see signs of this happening?
Well, there are some signs of change and other signs that nothing is changing.
And I think that in the long run, certainly if they create a large middle class
and a capitalist economy, it seems inevitable there will be new interest
groups. And new ways of political expression and with the internet and so on,
more ways for people to get information and express it.
But that's the long run. In the next five, ten years, I don't think it's
automatic at all that there's going to be progress toward democracy here. The
leadership said very clearly the communist party must retain its monopoly on
political power; that's the basis of our country's stability and its economic
development, and that will not change. And they back that up with the police
For example, over the last three years--a time during which they have
negotiated their entry into the World Trade Organization--which you would say
is a liberalizing influence--during that very same period censorship here has
actually grown worse. And scholars might have written something three years
ago and had it published. Today, if they write that, either it will not get
published, or if it is, they might get questioned by the police.
So the one woman who wrote a book [Editor's Note: Dr. He Qinglian, author of
The Pitfalls of China's Development] about the problems of corruption and the
economic change occurring here, that [book] was a few years ago praised by some of
the top leaders. And then this summer, she had to flee the country because the
police were about to arrest her for the same writing. So I think on the one
hand the economic opening will bring more outside influences and in a way more
chaos to the country which is not a bad thing in some ways. But the leadership
is very worried about that. And so they are right now trying to sort of batten
down the hatches and prepare for this onslaught of influences and try to keep
in control. So that means there may actually be more human rights violations
in the first five years after they join WTO, than there were before.
What kind of freedoms, opportunities do the ordinary people today?
Well, compared to twenty years ago, the average person now has the freedom to
quit their job and find another job. If they have money, they can go rent or
buy a house. People are even buying cars now. It's fantastic for the small
minority that can afford that. But there is a legacy from the past that really
is quite repressive toward the majority of the population. There is a system
of residence controls. If you are lucky enough to be born in a city - and
registered as a city dweller--it's easier for you to get into university. You
are in the city, you can work at all the large companies and government
agencies in the cities. If you are registered as a rural person, there are
very severe restrictions on where you can live and work. And to my mind this
is actually the biggest human rights problem in China today. You have a
majority of this population of 1.3 billion, that are, by law, second class
What if the people can't move?
If you live in a rural area or small town you cannot just pick up and move to
Beijing or Shanghai and get a job and work legally. Now, there are tens of
millions who go illegally. But they are treated very much like, say, illegal
Mexicans immigrants in the United States. They are an underground economy.
They are subject to police harassment. There's a whole vast system of
detention centres just for illegal migrants. Where they send them to the
sanctuary, then send them back home. Make them pay for the train ride and pay
for their food.
These are people who are starting with nothing on their home farm. You know,
there are many families here who have less than one fifth of an acre of land.
And they can't live off that. So some members of the family go to the city,
and they might work for fifty or sixty dollars a month. Doing the dirty work
of society. You know, cleaning the garbage. Being maids so on and so forth.
And yet by law they are not allowed to put down roots in this new city. And
they are not allowed to hold higher jobs either. There is actually a set of
rules in Beijing--a migrant who goes through legal procedures and gets a permit
to temporarily work in Beijing, and live in Beijing, can hold menial jobs in a
hotel. But cannot be a hotel desk clerk. Even if you are well educated and you
have a temporary permit.
Now, the system is gradually loosening--especially the needs of high tech,
trained personnel, is causing the emergence of more and more loopholes, where
people with good training or a company who will sponsor them, can get
permission to move. But for you are average poorly educated, rural person, its
still very difficult.
Could you give me an example of the sort of job which these people who come
from the provinces would work at?
Well, here in Beijing there is a fantastic underground economy involved in
garbage recycling. One person did a study; there are something like eighty
thousand people, most men, but men and women, all of them illegal migrants.
Originating from the southern provinces like Sichuan. And in fact, a huge
number of them are just from one county in Sichuan. It's like relatives and
friends told each other about it. And a few of the original people have
formed these vast organizations. It's a very organized business. People go
out and collect garbage from city garbage dumps where the garbage is initially
put, and go through it. And some collect plastic bags, some collect plastic
bottles, some collect glass. There are others who go around to restaurants and
actually buy the left over food waste. And the left over grease, for oil.
And the food is then sold to pig farmers outside the city. The oil is use to
make soap at soap factories. There are centers around town where these
migrants ride on tricycles. Its all very primitive. They'll spend a day
collecting - whatever it is they collect--old pieces of wood. Or there are
some who collect rubber soles from old discarded shoes. And they'll ride with
hundreds of pounds on the back of their tricycles, and ride out to a particular
center. And sell it to a middle man, at a slight profit. And then that gets
sent on to a factory somewhere that recycles it.
And yet these 80,000 people--they are actually illegal?
Virtually all of them are here illegally. They are subject at any moment to
being arrested. Detained. Sent back home. Having their tricycles, which is
their only real possession, confiscated. They are treated pretty badly. They
are performing a great service for the city. But the government up till now,
has not done well to make it easier for rural people to live here. They don't
want to have vast slums which is what they are afraid of. They want to
protect - the job market for urban residents. And protect the price of
labour. If rural people were free to move into the cities, then the average
wasges would go down quite a bit. And I think the government is much more
afraid politically of unrest among the urban workers than they are of the
scattered rural population which they can control.
But when you have a rural population of what - eight hundred million? And
sweeping changes may happen as China joins the World Trade Organisation.
Isn't it sort of justifiable in a way to stop these millions coming into
Well, I think it is by Western standards a real violation of just personal
life style. According to where you are born, your opportunities are different.
I mean, it is even to the point there there's one national exam to get into
universities in China. If a student in Beijing scores, lets say five hundred
out of seven hundred he or she will get into a good university. A student in a
rural area has to score five hundred and fifty or five hundred and seventy five
to get into the same university. There is actual discrimination against rural
And I think there are a lot of rural people, who are beginning to get a sense
of their rights. They see American movies. They hear their leaders constantly
talking about Chinese laws and constitution and rule of law, and they are
starting to believe some of it....
So I think this has all got to change. And the economic pressure will be for
change too. Yes, I can understand that government doesn't want to have fifty
million migrants suddenly living in the outskirts of Beijing. But I think the
system is very rigid and inhumane right now.
This government was brought to power by the workers' revolution. They
called it a workers revolution. Do the workers have rights over here?
Well, this was founded as a workers' state. Workers and peasants are the
foundation of the socialist revolution. The workers have less and less power
over time. The traditional workers who are called masters of the nation are
being turned out into the street. They are being laid off. And there have been
a lot of protests. And the government is very worried about that. And as
capitalist development takes place and foreign investment, a lot of rural
people are becoming factory workers--unskilled workers, for very low wages.
Very poor conditions. Some call it sweat shop labour. And,the government
does not allow labor to organize, except through a communist party run union,
which sometimes helps to protect workers, other times, is under the sway of
local government officials who may be more interested in seeing a factory
prosper, so they can collect taxes. Or bribes or whatever. So the state of
worker rights is not great right now in China.
What freedoms or restrictions do you face as a journalist working here?
Well, foreign journalists in China don't face any actual censorship. We are
free to read what we can get our hands on. We are free to write what we want
to. What we believe. And we send it by e-mail to our headquarters, and it
gets printed with the help of our editors in New York. But we are very
restricted in our travel. We are not supposed to got to most areas of the
country and do any reporting without getting the permission of the local
government. And usually being accompanied by a government official. And it
makes it very difficult to get an honest answer from anyone. To get an honest
look at what's going on.
The other thing is that, many people, even in Beijing, for example, professors
who know a lot may feel a bit worried to be too frank with us. Sometimes people
just say, I can't do an interview with you. Or when they do they sort of
parrot the party line. Instead of what they really know is going on. Because
they are worried that if they speak too frankly they may get quoted in a
foreign newspaper and this will be used against them. It could cost them their
job. Or a promotion. Or in extreme cases could get people arrested even. So
I think the situation for journalism is more and more open over time. But
there still are some tough restrictions.
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