Will the Chinese be asking for anything?
Every country that's coming to this coalition is not coming to it with a blank
check. Everybody wants something. ... China clearly sees this as an opportunity
to move the United States more in its camp, and more away from Taiwan. That
would be a big change, if it happened, because of course, President Bush
indicated in the spring a tilt toward Taiwan. That was made to satisfy part of
his own party. He had to back off from that a little bit. This may require him
to back off from it a good deal.
Remember, Bush came to office with the world worrying that he was a
unilateralist, that he was really not interested in building coalitions, that
he wasn't terribly interested in working through the U.N. There was great
suspicion of the IMF and the World Bank, all of these other institutions. The
Chinese were particularly worried about this. This incident has forced him to
be a multilateralist, to work within much broader frameworks. ...
What was happening in the White House during the early stages of the EP-3
Well, we now [see] the EP-3 incident as the first mini-crisis of the Bush
administration, and in some ways a dry run for the events that began on
September 11th. What was fascinating was the administration for the first time
had to operate in a vacuum of information. They knew that a collision had
taken place. They knew from the radio transmissions back from their own crew
that the EP-3 had landed, apparently safely, on Chinese territory. Then
Secretary of State Colin Powell began to make calls to his counterparts in
China, and no one would call back for three or four days. They had a complete
absence of any real response. This left them mystified.
The result was that the president came out initially, with some very hot
comments in the Rose Garden. He basically demanded they return, said the time
for action was now. He was unclear about what would happen to China, if in
fact, they didn't respond.
When you talk to administration officials now about what was going on, when
they reconstructed events, they have a theory. Whether it's right or wrong, we
may not know for years. Their theory goes like this: that initially all of the
information about the EP-3 was contained within the Chinese military. The
Chinese military believed that they may be able to make good use of this
internally in their own struggles within China about how did to deal with the
United States, and who should succeed Jiang Zemin. So the initial story that
the military put out was that their tiny little fighter jet was hit by this big
American plane. The rest of the Chinese government appeared to buy this
argument because they didn't really have any evidence to the contrary. As I
said, this is just a theory.
By the time they began to discover that, in fact, it's just as likely that the
small very mobile fighter jet hit the American plane, by getting in too close,
they were already committed to this story that the fault lay on the side of the
United States. Then it became an issue of face. How do you design an apology
that would be acceptable to the United States, which did not believe it was at
fault, and which still did not require the Chinese leadership to back off of
this story? It took more than a week for Secretary of State Powell and others
to put together wording that would enable the Chinese to portray there's an
apology from the United States, and would enable the United States to say all
we did was say that we regret that this incident happened. Which certainly we
What was the split in thinking in the White House, during this EP-3
incident? Were there tensions?
There were tensions in the Cabinet, but in many ways they were just reflective
of the context, which was a much broader tension within the Republican Party
about how to deal with China. This is a tension that has never really been
resolved in the Bush administration, and remains to this day. That's what makes
the trip to China, such a tricky diplomatic challenge.
Here's the fundamental tension. The Republican Party, throughout the 1990's
became bifurcated [into] two different camps. One was a very business oriented
camp. In some ways you could call it the Boeing camp. The camp where business
executives, who wanted to increase American trade with China, saw [China] as
the greatest market in Asia, and perhaps the greatest market anywhere in the
world. [They] wanted an American policy that was designed to be, tough-minded
militarily, but fundamentally open to the embrace of China into a capitalist
Now there's a second element to the Republican Party here, and that is a
containment crowd, a group that believes that the portion of the administration
and the Republican Party that wants closer economic ties, is naive about the
growing military threat from China. This group saw in the EP-3 incident the
confirmation of all that they had been saying for many years -- which is, "They
want to trade with us, but boy, when it gets to a real moment, an incident,
their initial instinct is not to do what they should do, which was say this was
an accident, and turn the crew over." This group is based mostly in the
Pentagon, but your hear [it] in the White House, and, and in places in the
State Department. [They] basically wanted the president to come out and take a
very tough line, to make it clear to the Chinese in their first interchange
that this administration would be very tough-minded on security issues.
President Bush has split the difference. You frequently hear President Bush
pick up wording that President Clinton used -- that the more we trade with
China, the more we have interchange with China, the more we get the Internet
into China, the more likely it is that the control of the Communist Party over
the Chinese society will weaken. So he is offering that, and yet at the same
time, it was President Bush, who during the campaign, charged that the Clinton
and Gore White House, had been naïve about the build-up of the Chinese
threat. So he is trying to straddle the two positions. No president in history,
his father included, has ever managed to get away with that, because sooner or
later, you have to declare yourself on one side of that argument in Washington,
or another. I suspect that a lot of how that argument turns out, will depend on
how China reacts in the fight against terrorism.
Can you tell me the background to how he made his quite firm statement about
Well, there are a couple of theories about this. The first theory is it was
quite deliberate that he stepped in to say we will defend Taiwan robustly.
The second theory, which I have come over time to believe, is that, in fact, he
had been given two messages to deliver in these interviews that he offered. The
first message was we stand behind Taiwan, they are a great democracy. The
second message was that the Taiwanese needed to know that they can't provoke
China, that they cannot create a crisis, and then expect us to come to their
aid. And he forgot the second part.
On the day that he first offered these interviews, we were travelling. We were
down in New Orleans, and then he was moving on to a fundraiser and ultimately
going to his ranch in Texas. The national security adviser sought me out. I was
travelling with the president that day. We gathered in the kitchen of a hotel
where this giant fundraiser was going on, and she basically laid out the full
answer without ever saying what the president meant to say was. I did this on
the record. And she did this in order to make it clear, that our fundamental
position toward Taiwan had not changed.
Now, the Taiwanese didn't read it that way. And of course, shortly thereafter
the president had to go make a decision about what kind of arms to send to
Taiwan, in our annual discussion over arms sales. Here again he split the
difference. He agreed to sell them a very sophisticated array of arms, but did
not give them what they wanted most, which were Aegis class destroyers. That
could give them a full air cover view of China. This was something that would
have provoked China of course to respond with more naval might than currently
This decision on the Aegis has been postponed. Is it likely to be put off
Well, it could be because it has an advantage. Here is the advantage. First of
all, building these takes time. So, even if the president made the decision in
the given moment, he could rescind it at any given moment by saying, "We are
going to build these but not deliver them." Secondly, similar destroyers are
currently being built for American forces. He could always if he decided to,
divert those to Taiwan and tell the Pentagon it would have to wait a little
longer to get its own. Thirdly, it keeps the Taiwanese on a string. It's a way
of containing their own rhetoric, making sure they don't talk too much about
independence, making sure that they don't say anything terribly inflammatory.
Because he can say, "Well, we can offer these, we can also take them away."
How important is the World Trade Organization for China?
I think that this is critically important, both economically and politically.
Remember it started as an economic endeavor to make sure that China was
enmeshed in the world economy, and that's in its rules, because China has had a
very closed economy from the perspective of the industrialized countries.
[China's] entering the WTO would require almost no sacrifices on the part of
the United States or other industrialized nations, but it would, over time,
require China to open itself up to banking, to securities, to autos -- every
single major market in which the United States and other nations are big
However, to the Chinese it was critical that they do this on their own
schedule, because every time you open those markets, you create an internal
risk of great displacement and upheaval. You have to close down steel
factories. You have to make your own auto industry competitive on a world
scale. They are not ready for that. So what they wanted to negotiate was a nice
slow, gradual opening of their markets.
Now they have that schedule in place, and President Bush arrives with the
agreement finished, with China just on the verge of entering the WTO. It gives
them something to celebrate that took fourteen years for these two countries to
come together on. Now, execution is going to be difficult and tense, because of
course, once the agreement is in place, there will be forces within China, that
want to slow down the opening of their markets, while enjoying the benefits of
being in the world market place. That's going to be a continuing source of
Is there a danger that over the next months and years of the Bush
administration, that the differences within the cabinet are going to cause real
There is that big danger, and it exists on several fronts. First of all, we
don't know who is gonna win in the Chinese succession, [whether it will be] the
reform crowd ... or whether the military will begin to get more hard-liners in
place, who would over time begin to change the tone.
Secondly, we don't know how the battle on terrorism is going to work out. At
various times we know the Chinese have been shipping parts for missiles -- in
some cases maybe potential nuclear technology -- to Iran, to Pakistan. If that
continues, then its completely unclear, how the U.S.-China relationship will
turn on the terrorism issue.
Thirdly, we don't know whether the trade relationship is about to blossom or
whether there will be enormous frustrations that will come up out of the
slowness in China to actually come to terms with the meanings of the WTO
In the next year or two, the president's team is going to have to work where it
stands on this. Every president in the United States who has come to power
since Richard Nixon, has faced this problem. Bill Clinton came in saying that
he would no longer embrace the butchers of Beijing. And what do you know? He
became, over time, the greatest proponent of economic integration with China of
any president in history. President Clinton articulated probably more clearly
than any president had, what an interest we have in economic engagement,
engagement over the Internet, and political engagement with China. I suspect
that President Bush will ultimately come out to the same place. But doing so is
going to require really tamping down a lot of forces within his own
home + introduction + interviews + experts' analyses
chronology & map + readings & links + discussion + teacher's guide
frontline + pbs online + wgbh
web site copyright 1995-2014
WGBH educational foundation
chinese army photo ©afp/corbis