andrew nathan
He is professor of political science at Columbia University and chair of the Advisory Committee, Human Rights Watch/Asia. Nathan is the author or co-author of several books on China, most recently, The Great Wall and the Empty Fortress: China's Search for Security.

interview
q:  Should there have been preconditions on this November 1997 summit with China's president Jiang Zemin?

nathan:  I believe that the United States has given away too much in holding this summit when there's no visible progress in the human rights area. It doesn't necessarily mean that it has to be in the form of preconditions. There are various ways to do it, but it looks now as if we're going to have the summit without any significant progress at all, on what should be at least an important issue for the United States' human rights.

q:  Where on the agenda will things like Tibet and human rights in China be?

a:  It looks as though the two presidents will have a number of small advances to announce in the area of arms control trade and other things. But as I can foresee at this point, which is about a month before the summit, there seems to be no progress brewing in the area of human rights including Tibet. I would anticipate that it will be on the agenda in the form of mentions by the American side of American concerns, but not in a practical sense of output, of progress or results from the Summit.

q:  I presume you are saying our China human rights policy is a failure. Why?

a:  Our human rights policy toward China was quite successful for a number of years in the early 90s, when the Chinese believed that human rights was a real issue for the United States, that the United States was willing to push.

After President Clinton delinked human rights from MFN, the Chinese got-concluded- our human rights policy was essentially rhetoric. For that reason, we haven't seen any achievements in that area since then.

q:  In an interview with Henry Kissinger, he said he applauds President Clinton for his courage in reversing his policy, what's your response?

a:  What you report Kissinger as saying relates, presumably, to the delinking of MFN from human rights. I have a couple of thoughts about that. It didn't really take courage to delink it, because at the time the delinking took place, the policy of linkage had not produced any results.

In other words, Clinton had no choice. He had failed to achieve anything with that policy and he had to delink it, courageous or not courageous; that was the only thing to do at that stage. But, what he failed to do was to replace MFN linkage with any other signs to the Chinese that this was serious issue for the United States.

q:  So when Kissinger says that, in fact, linking kept us not only from making any progress on human rights fronts, but any progress on any front, so the policy was a failure. How does one respond to that?

a:  I'm not saying that we should continue to link. The fact is, we cannot continue to link Most Favored Nation privileges with human rights, for the reason that that linkage hasn't got enough support in the American political system to be credible.

But, during the period when the linkage existed and had enough support in the Congress, in particular, to be plausible, it did produce achievements. The Chinese moved quite a bit in the human rights area, in terms of releasing prisoners, in terms of engaging an international dialog and things like that.

q:  Is trade, and fear of losing trade opportunities, driving our non-human rights policy?

a:  Trade is part of it, but a broader thing is the rise of China and the need to engage with China, which is fine, And, to find ways of dealing on a range of issues.

I think the weakness of our human rights policy is linked to a fallacy, which the Chinese government has promoted, which is that if you press us on human rights, we won't engage with you on a variety of other issues. So, I think what's driving the administration policy is the sense that China is a rising power; it's a future great power with influence across a host of issues, worldwide and in the region--arms control, Korea, trade, environment, etc. We've got to engage with China.

Then comes the fallacious thought that, in order to have that engagement, human rights has to be sacrificed because it irritates the leaders in Beijing. That's the piece of the argument that I don't agree with.

q:  Where should human rights be on the agenda of issues we have with China?

a:  Human rights needs to be high on the agenda for two very different reasons. One is the moral reason. These abuses are taking place and it is incumbent upon us and others who know about it to object.

The other one is, however, an interest of realism, which is that what we face is a challenge of integrating China into a world order. That is, one that is governed by rules and principles. In fact, we are doing pretty well in moving them that way with regard to trade issues and proliferation issues.

It's important that we keep the pressure on for the Chinese to move in that way with regard to human rights law. Theirs is an international law of human rights, which the Chinese are violating in a number of areas. They are also, in a number of ways, violating their own constitution and laws.

So, to have a healthy role for China in the world in the 21st century, it means that this is a government that needs to be a government of law, like other peace-loving, reliable governments around the world.

q:  China's abuses in Tibet -- how does that relate to what should be our largerconcerns about our China?

a:  The long-term goal of American policy (and here, I agree with other commentators and mainstream analysts and the government), the long term goal of our China policy should be to have a stable China within a stable region. Human rights abuses are at the heart of instability in various parts of China. Parts like Tibet, for example, where the Chinese government is pursuing a policy of trying to tamp down opposition and dissatisfaction in Tibet, which is a policy that is going to produce instability as long as it continues, in my opinion.

It seems to me, the lesson of history is that if you want to have a stable political order, you need to respect human rights, allow people's grievances to come out and deal with them.

q:  What about foreign affairs experts who argue -- "Talk softly about human rights and don't embarrass China; don't make them lose face." Explain that to me.

a:  People who believe that we should speak softly about abuses, for example in Tibet, probably don't disagree with what I said about the instability that is generated by human rights abuses. Rather, they go through kind of a two-step argument.

The first step is that the Chinese leadership doesn't see it that way--Some people think that the Chinese leadership doesn't see it that way. They think that the Chinese leadership believes that repression is the way to stability. Whether they agree with that or not, they feel that you have to respect the rights of the Chinese leadership to sort of run their country they way they want to. And that, when you challenge their right to run their country the way they want to, they get defensive and then it's hard to negotiate on other issues.

My problem with that line of thinking is that when we disagree with the Chinese on market opening, on world trade organization, on arms proliferation, or on a host of other issues, we're not shy about just putting it on the table. "We disagree. This is why we think you are going down the wrong road." Why shouldn't we say the same thing just as clearly and forcefully with regard to human rights issues?

q:  What's the mainstream view of how we should deal with Chinese human rights? What's the problem with that right now?

a:  The mainstream view of how should deal with Chinese human rights violations is that we need to avoid making it an irritant in our relationship, because that's going to interfere with other issues.

The place where I disagree with that is that view really accepts what the Chinese leadership is telling us. It's like sitting down in a negotiation with somebody over some property, and the other party says, "The car is negotiable, but not the house." Then you tell your lawyer, "Don't ask him about the house, because he only wants to talk about the car."

I think this is the house, or at least it's an important part of the house, and it's an issue that we believe in or if it is, we should talk about it. The agenda itself should not be controlled by one side or the other saying, "This issue irritates me and I won't talk about it."

q:  Is that exactly what is happening? Is China successfully dictating the terms of the agenda now?

a:  The Chinese government--I admire their professionalism in negotiations and in foreign policy. When the Chinese government thought they couldn't convince us to move human rights off the table, they talked about it. When they felt that it was a soft issue for the United States, then they tried to move it off the table. I would do that too, if I were negotiating with you over something.

q:  If you could talk to Clinton on the eve of the summit, what would you tell him?

a:  Of course, the summit is now a fixed thing. Earlier on, if I had been able to speak to the President before the planning had gotten this far, I would have said, "Don't hold the Summit with prominent political dissidents in jail."

Now that summit is going ahead, I doubt that Weyjing Chung will have been released from jail before the summit, and I kind of doubt that he will be released even after the summit.

With the summit really taking place despite my earlier advice, my advice to the President would be to press very, very hard to try to convey to the Chinese leadership that it is intolerable that innocent people are not only imprisoned for long terms, but are being very badly mistreated in prison. Certain issues like this, I would think should be at least, an irritant on the American side of the relationship than on the Chinese side.

q:  You talked about what we called the "Clinton U-Turn." President Clinton began his administration very forcibly linking issues of trade and human rights. What happened?

a:  The main thing that happened was that the American business community mobilized itself to prevent what they were afraid would be the interference of the human rights issue with business in China. They had reason to be afraid of that, because most favored nation was on the chopping block and that would have interfered with trade, especially with Chinese imports to the United States.

Besides that, I think the American public got tired of the human rights issue in China. It's been quite a long time, progress is being made on other fronts, and here, not too much progress and, in the American system, it's hard to keep any issue on the front burner for along time.

q:  What is the consequence or President Clinton separating trade issues and human rights? What's happened?

a:  When the president separated trade and human rights issues, he didn't replace trade with any other way of letting the Chinese know that this is an important issue. As a result, the American piece of progress in human rights in China has disappeared. That progress has slowed.

q:  When President Clinton separated trade issues from human rights issues in our dealing with China--did it signal that, in some sense, America lost its moral footing in dealing with China on this issue?

a:  That's not quite the way that I want to put it, but when Clinton delinked human rights from trade, it signaled to the Chinese that the human rights issue was not that important in United States policy any more. And, that other issues, trade and a variety of other issues that we have with the Chinese, were going to receive priority in American policy and that the Chinese didn't have to worry about anything other than jawboning from the U.S. government on human rights issues.

q:  How did you feel about that? This is candidate who campaigned on President Bush coddling dictators in Beijing.

a:  Well, when Clinton delinked trade from human rights, I understand that it was a political necessity. I was not that shocked by it. What I was really disappointed by was that the human rights issues then, essentially, disappeared in every respect except rhetoric from American policy. There was nothing to replace MFN as a sign or signal to the Chinese that this is an important.

It seemed to me that it was not just a failure to communicate the importance of the issue to the Chinese, but it was a confusion in American policy itself over whether that issue is important or not. American policy began to take on an apologetic air, "We have this Congress; we have these lobbies; the press; the American people; moralism; idealogy, something which is forcing us to bring this issue. But, it's not really an important issue."

It seems to me this is what the administration has conveyed to the Chinese about human rights, since the delinking. The problem there is for the administration to think through, "Is this an important issue for us or not? I think it is." If so, why? Then, convey to not only the Chinese, but to the public here what this issue is about.

It's not just an issue about American values vs. the values of somebody else where you can have any set of values you want. It's really an issue about the kind of world we are going to live in with this other, very large, important country, in the next century.

q:  We've got strategic, national security issues--why is human rights important?

a:  It's true that we have strategic issues, trade issues and so forth with the Chinese. In a sense, why human rights is important, because you can't have a country that follows the world rules with regard to arms exports or with regard to trade and then breaks them when it comes to its own domestic legal system. You need a Chinese government that you can trust that when it signs agreements, it implements those agreements across the board.

For example, if they are going to have a legal system that doesn't work, that doesn't respect human rights, how is that legal system going to protect our trade interests, our intellectual property rights interests. How is that legal system going to make good on its guarantees not to export nuclear technology? A legal system is a thing as a whole. If it's rotten at the core, it's not going to do the other jobs that are important to us in these, what they call strategic interests that we have.

q:  In a concrete way, what we should do about human rights?

a:  Well, in general, I think our policy with China has been quite successful. This is a rising power. It's important that we integrate it into the world system. Fortunately, the world system today is one that we and our allies are largely defining. The Chinese, in large part, are moving toward complying with that system. Particularly visible in the area of cconomics

Why can't we do the same thing with human rights? This is not a new idea. It's not an American idea. Human rights is an idea that's been shaped on an international basis, since the end of World War II. For example, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which goes back to the late 1940's. The Chinese government at that time participated in shaping that.

Even the present Chinese government has participated in a lot of the international human rights institutions that exist, such as the International Human Rights Commission that meets in Geneva every year.

The task here is to move the Chinese toward compliance with that international human rights regime, just as we're moving them with regard to the other regimes that exist. The instruments that we have to do that with are not that many, to be sure. We can't just hold a club over the Chinese. We have lost the instrument of trade, if it ever really existed and maybe it shouldn't have been used.

We don't have that many things, but there are things to do. Actually telling them up front how important this is; conveying a vision to them of why it's important, itself is a very elementary step that we haven't done.

I also felt that holding a Summit, with all the protocol and pomp and legitimacy that goes with a Summit when human rights issues have not been addressed at all in any concrete way by the Chinese, was a mistake. I think that the Summit should have brought results, concrete results not just talk, not just dialogs, in that area.

There might be other concrete ways that we can pressure the Chinese with regard to human rights. Those have to do with the details of negotiations. The important thing is to convey to them, "This is not just rhetoric; it's not just American values. It's part of our vision of a safer world for everybody in the 21st century." Just as much as, let's say, globalization of bond markets is part of that vision. They're both part of the vision.

q:  When some China experts say, "We have to understand that the Chinese are not familiar with our moralistic, legalistic system. We have to be a bit more understanding that they have a different point of view. We just can' go badgering them and be talking about human rights all the time, in such a loud voice in the government." What is your view of that opinion?

a:  I say that the argument that the Chinese don't understand and we can't badger them is really two separate arguments, each one of which is wrong. That they don't understand it is not really true. They are building a legal system very successfully. They didn't use to understand things like intellectual property rights and now they do. They didn't used to understand FDA inspection of canned mushrooms. Now they understand those things. They actually understand human rights quite well. I think that's a little bit condescending, but to the extent that there's a gap to be closed; that can be closed.

The other part of it about "Don't irritate them," I think is really falling into the trap of a negotiation where the other guy says, "Don't irritate me," and then you don't bring up an issue that's important to you. It needn't be irritating, any more than their raising issues with us--say Taiwan--that are important to them, need to be irritating.

International politics is like that. You have disagreements. You have to bring them up. I you don't want to irritate people, you'd better get out of the kitchen of international affairs.

q:  Why is Tibet so sensitive an issue for China?

a:  Tibet is very sensitive for China because it is a key strategic area. It's a vast region that looms over the Chinese heartland, control over which is crucial to China to guarantee the security of China against other enemies.

To put it another way, if some other power 30 years from now--India, the U.S., Russia, Iran, Turkey--had dominating influence in Tibet. That would represent a tremendous threat to the Chinese.

Another reason why Tibet is important is because sovereignty, territorial integrity for the Chinese is an indivisible whole. If you let part of it go, how can you keep another part. Like Taiwan, for example. So, not only is Tibet important in itself, but each of these pieces, which is important in itself, like Taiwan, Tibet, Inner Mongolia is important to the Chinese because of the links that have among one and another in principle.

q:  In terms of establishing dominance over in Tibet and how that affects what's happening with human rights, what is China doing in Tibet? What do you see happening?

a:  Although I am not a specialist in the details of what China is doing in Tibet, it's clear that they are following a policy which combines repression--tight repression--of any kind of threat or dissidence with an effort to grow the region out of it's loyalty to the Dalai Lama. That is, to conduct economic growth and to hope that that will create social and cultural change which will just allow the Tibetans to evolve away from what the Chinese viewed a kind of old fashioned or feudal loyalty to an old superstitious kind of religion. So, it's a policy that mixes repression with economic growth and social change.

Another thing. An important part of the Chinese strategy is to out-wait the Dalai Lama. They view--and they may be right about this--that this Dalai Lama, this particular person, is crucial to the ability of the Tibetan people to threaten Chinese rule. The Dalai Lama is in his 60's; they can wait a long time.

When he passes away, they count on controlling the selection of the next Dalai Lama and getting somebody whom they can work with. At that point, the external threat, or the external base for a threat from Tibet will disappear. So, they think that time is on their side, there.

q:  How do the Chinese view Tibet?

They see Tibet as a backward region that had a brutal, feudal past that was not progressive. There's nothing progressive in the Tibetan tradition, in the eyes of the Chinese leadership today. Both the religion and the social customs were kind of barbarian.

The Chinese view their policy of growing Tibet out of this superstitious past as a benevolent policy. They see it as a two-sided thing. The repression is not benevolent, but necessary; the economic and social change, they view as benevolent.

They are hoping that, in the long run, the Tibetan people will become satisfied with what, to the Chinese, is a fairly privileged position as part of this large Chinese state. Few Chinese that I've met, this includes governmental people and private people, have any sympathy for the Tibetan notion of their own identity. They just don't see why that identity is an attractive one.

q:  Hollywood, which has always prized its place for being able to take outspoken positions, is very suddenly beginning to face China's politicizing trade issues.

So it seems just as America has decided to separate trade and human rights issues, China on the other hand, has learned to couple them together. How effectively are they doing that?

a:  The United States delinked trade from human rights, but the Chinese in the year since then, have started to occasionally make that linkage. They've told foreign companies, or in some cases whole countries, that some issue--whether it's human rights or Taiwan--is going to interfere with business in general or some particular project. Sometimes it's effective; sometimes it's less effective. In general, that's been rather effective, because the China market is a huge market.

In fact, in a certain sense, you could see the evolution of American human rights policy as a case of--you remember Spy/Counterspy. This was kind of linkage/counter linkage, where the U.S. said, "I'm linking human rights to trade." The Chinese said, "Well, if you are doing that, so am I." Meaning that, if you want to make that linkage, I'm going to punish your companies.

The U.S. backed off. So, the Chinese kind of turned linkage against us, there. Their market sort of trumped our human rights issue. It's an effective policy for the Chinese, in many cases.

q:  So what is the objective lesson--

a:  The way I see is that ....the Chinese market has grown, the Chinese leaders have learned to use that market clout, the attractiveness of their market in several areas of their international negotiations, including human rights. To bring it to bear against either countries as a whole, like us, or certain companies and to make that link and say, "If you want unimpeded access whether to trade or to invest, you have to deal with some other issue that concerns us.

q:  Have we lost a bit of our moral footing on this?

a:  .... I'm favorably impressed with the moral commitment of government officials to human rights, but where I see a problem and I feel disappointed is that they haven't put together the reasons, the intellectual or political reasons why human rights is an important part of our foreign policy on China. They haven't seen that the human rights part of Chinese behavior is linked to the other parts of Chinese behavior, which we are also concerned with.

Why they haven't made the point, even to themselves or to the American people that the rule of law, internationally, domestically is indivisible. That you can't have a regime which somehow, let's say, obeys trade rules but which at the same time violates the free speech rights of individuals in that country.

In other words, our officials have not placed human rights in what I think is its appropriate central position in constructing in China a government that we can live with peacefully and trade with and run the world together with successfully in the decades up ahead as China's power emerges.



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