It's remarkable, isn't it? How did it come about?
It is. Twenty-five years ago, you could have got all the China experts in the
Western world together, and they wouldn't have predicted that, 25 years later,
you'd be hearing that.
How have they done this remarkable transformation?
First of all, they've done what is the sensible thing to do, and that is
unleash the basic entrepreneurial character of the Chinese people, taken the
restrictions off the Chinese people to behave in economically rational ways
that Chinese all over the world know how to behave. That's I think certainly
the first thing.
The second thing that accounts for this success is that they have opened up
their economy to the penetration of foreign knowledge in a way that the Soviet
Union never did. Every year, in the United States, there are about 50-plus
thousand Chinese students and scholars in research institutes in the United
States. That 50,000 is many more people in one year than the Soviet Union sent
scholars and students in the entire 70-plus-year history of the Soviet Union.
So the second factor here is not only the Chinese people, but their willingness
to open up intellectually in a way the Soviet Union never did.
The third thing is that they've created an environment that is attractive,
relatively speaking, for foreign investment. That involves a number of things.
But basically they've allowed American and Japanese and western European firms
to come in under relatively favorable circumstances, and China has such a big
untapped market that it's a great lure for world capitalism. The final reason I
believe that China's been so successful is that it has overseas Chinese --
Chinese in Southeast Asia, in North America, in Canada, in Europe. These are
among the most successful entrepreneurs and businesspeople on the face of the
earth. And they are investing in China.
Do you believe that their economic growth is going to lead to a more
pluralistic society? And is it inevitably going to lead to a democracy?
In history, you rarely use the word inevitable, and I certainly wouldn't. ... I
think history -- in Asia, in particular, but longer world history -- suggests
that when countries develop economically, people become more educated. As
countries develop economically, they develop a middle class. And educated
people with property tend to want to have a say in the government they have.
They tend to want to articulate their interests, which means they begin to want
political parties or they want associations to express their views.
So I think the best bet we have for moving China in a more humanely governed
pluralistic direction is the best that economic growth will lead to political
liberalization, but that's not inevitable. Germany in the 1930s was a
relatively advanced capitalist society with a middle class, and it went off the
rails. So did Mussolini's Europe. Yugoslavia has gone off the rails. So it's
not inevitable. But over the long run, it's likely. And it's certainly the best
And ask yourself the opposite question -- if we don't support China's attempt
to enter the world and have a middle class and become richer, does that mean
we're opposed to it? And then what do we think the reaction of a nationalistic
Chinese people will be to the perceived attempt of the West to keep them down?
I think that is a sure formula for conflict. There's no certainty here, but I'm
all in favor of putting your bets on the best bet.
But a Foreign Ministry person we spoke to said, "The Americans are
completely wrong if they think they can manipulate us and that there's going to
be some sort of Western democracy here."
Of course, he's the spokesman for China, and that's an important thing to take
into account. But on the other hand, you would have to explain to me why one of
the more enduring aspects of political campaigns in China has been the campaign
against what is called peaceful evolution. And what [is] peaceful evolution but
the belief in the West that, if we engage with China, involve it in the world,
it grows economically, its people become more educated, it will of course
In fact, I think they have abandoned communism as an ideology. But they do face
a problem and that is, if you don't believe in communism, why do you have a
Communist Party? So they are hesitant to abandon it, even though the emperor
has no clothes and everybody knows it; they don't know how to deal with the
consequences of acknowledging that publicly. But I think in the not-distant
future, we're going to see more significant political change in China.
Are there more freedoms today than there have been?
Oh, it's night and day. The first time I went to China was in 1976. ... People
would get on the other side of the street so they couldn't have a conversation
with a Westerner, so they wouldn't be seen even conversing with a Westerner,
because they knew the security police would be debriefing them shortly after
Now you can engage in conversations with Chinese about a broad range of
political topics. They are very critical of their leaders, very critical of
economic and social policies. When I first went to China, people couldn't even
live where they wanted. Families were split apart, children were sent to the
countryside. Now people are travelling. Chinese are major tourists to Southeast
Asia now. They go all over the world on leisure trips and so on, and so we're
seeing a much freer China.
The area that there hasn't been progress is certainly treatment of dissidents,
and certainly the ability to articulate the desire for a competitive political
system. But the average life both materially, socially, and I would say
politically of the Chinese is infinitely better than that China I saw in
But don't they face potential for an incredible instability? They seem to
have so many problems.
If you look at all of the factors of instability in China, you can get very
alarmed very soon. And, indeed, China's leaders are very alarmed. In fact, they
justify some of their repressive political measures precisely because of what
they call "the factors of instability." Those factors of instability include a
financial and banking system that is basically bankrupt -- the bad loans out
are greater than the real net reserves of the banking system.
They face literally perhaps between 80 million to 100-plus million people that
are moving from the countryside on a kind of temporary contract labor into the
Chinese cities. They are afraid of large numbers of urban unemployed that are
getting put out of business and non-competitive state enterprises. So they've
got urban unemployed, rural unemployed coming into the cities, unsound
financial system, and general resentment against a regime that has, in the
past, grotesquely mismanaged things.
So the sources of discontent in China are great, but Americans, it seems to me,
make a mistake in one regard. There are also some things that tend to work
towards the regime being able to exert some control over all this. The first
thing is that the Chinese people have been through a lot in the years since
1949, including a famine where 20 million to 30 million people died in the
early 1960s; a cultural revolution that went on into a decade, and the national
suicide rate of China went up in that period. Nobody in China wants that kind
of chaos again, so there is a kind of a constituency for law and order.
At the same time, many people are unhappy with the regime. And the other big
thing the Chinese government has going for it is, while there are many poor
people in China, and great inequalities -- maybe mounting inequalities in China
-- never in the history of the world have so many people been lifted from
poverty so rapidly. President Clinton, in one of his last speeches, said that
200 million people in China were lifted from absolute poverty from 1978 to
about 1999. So the achievements are huge. The problems are huge. And that's why
people like me are interested in studying China.
President Bush is going to his first meeting with the Chinese leader. He's going to
the economic trade conference in Shanghai. But at the same time, he's got this war on
terrorism. What will he be asking?
The World Trade Center and the Pentagon [attacks] has transformed this president into
a president that is leading a very large-scale, long-term conflict. And now I
would predict the focus is going to be rather quite different. It's going to be
trying to get as much support from this economically dynamic and important
region of the world for, essentially, our war aims, whatever they prove to be.
So there's going to be the opportunity that hasn't existed in our relations
with China to weld some strategic military cooperation. Since the Soviet Union
went away and the Tianamen incident, the Americans haven't really been in a
mood to deal with the Chinese on the military level. It is well possible,
depending on the Chinese receptivity, that we could at least find ways to
cooperate now in the security area. If that proves to be true, I would project
that we will have better relations with China.
Will they be asking for things from us?
I think the Chinese, like every country, when they give something to the United
States or any other country, they ask for things in return. The Chinese have
many things they would like from the United States. They would like us to
remove some of the sanctions that we still have on in place stemming from 1989
and the Tianamen incident. We've recently, in recent weeks, imposed sanctions
on for technology transfers to Pakistan, so I'm sure there's that they would
like us to reduce weapon sales to Taiwan. They would like us to reduce what
they perceive to be our support of the Dali Lama.
But I think if they are too strident in demanding these things, they will
produce a counter-reaction in the United States. And indeed, some of these
demands, like reducing weapon sales to Taiwan, are things that no
administration can agree to, both because the administrations themselves
wouldn't agree to it, and they know the inevitable congressional backlash would
So in the world of real politics, what if the Chinese ask for something if
they're going to join in Bush's war against terrorism?
Sure. I think this isn't peculiar to the Chinese either. I think almost
everybody we bring into the coalition is going to ask for something. But
certainly the Chinese are already giving hints. Their Foreign Ministry
spokesman already gave hints at this early date that China, of course, has
certain dissatisfactions with past American policy -- in particular, our
support of weapon sales to Taiwan -- but also what they would call support of
separatists, in which they include the Dali Lama. So I think they would like to
see not only the U.S. diminish its support for those forces, but would also
like to see us do away with some of the sanctions, some of which we just
imposed about a month before President Bush went to China.
So the Chinese have a laundry list of things they would like us to do. If they
are smart -- and I believe they are -- they will recognize that if they are
cooperative with us, of course we will try to improve the general environment
with them. If they get too strident in their demands and there are some demands
the U.S. can't capitulate to -- and I would say weapon sales to Taiwan is among
those -- but the Chinese need to be subtle. This is an opportunity on their
part to improve relations and the general climate in which Americans make
How could China help President Bush and his war against terrorism?
The Chinese are particularly adept at operating at two levels. My guess is that
their cooperation with the United States will be significant, but much of that
cooperation they will not wish to make public. There's a good precedent for
this in the early 1980s. The United States and China cooperated in their
support of the Muslim forces fighting the Soviet Union that invaded
Afghanistan. And the Taliban that rules at least the bulk of Afghanistan was
one of the supporters, forces we were supporting together, China and the United
States. That cooperation took the form of the U.S. buying Chinese weapons,
providing mules to haul them through Pakistan into Afghanistan. It was quite
intimate cooperation in the pursuit of guerrilla war to sap the strength of the
Soviet Union. ...
We also cooperated with missile monitoring systems in western China when we
were concerned about Soviet testing of missiles. We had cooperative relations
with Chinese intelligence in that area. The world, for the most part, was
unaware of these forms of activity. ... So it is at least possible, though not
inevitable, that the United States and China will be cooperating in ways that
are significant to the U.S. government, but of which the American people are
not fully informed.
But something like a third of the Chinese population is Muslim. Surely if
they're seen to be fighting or helping the Americans wage a war against
Muslims, then that could be problems for them
China, of course, faces a problem. It is surrounded by lots of countries with
which, at times, it has had uncomfortable relations -- none more uncomfortable
at the current time than its relations with the Central Asian Muslims. In fact,
the Taliban forces in Afghanistan are transferring money and some
know-how and maybe some personnel to Muslims in western China in the Xinjiang
The Chinese have tried to deal with this problem through a combination of
crushing those forces in China through rather ruthless means, and trying to be
minimally cooperative with the Iraqis or the Iranians or the Taliban so that
they will not have the incentive to support those forces in China. So it will
be tough on the insurgents in China and will try and mollify those countries
around its periphery, so they don't have the incentive to unleash these forces
The degree to which China is seen as cooperating with these -- what Americans
consider to be "pariah states" -- means we will not consider China to be
cooperating with us. So China is torn between this impulse to take the heat off
it by cooperating with these regimes, and its fear that it won't be successful,
and its fear that the Americans will see them as cooperating with regimes with
which the Americans are at war. So China's in a very difficult position.
President Bush sees this in terms of black and white -- "You're for
terrorism or you're against it." What is China's position?
The Chinese have to speak for themselves. But I think they have a more
complicated view of the world. I would just simply say that, not only do the
Chinese have a more complicated view of the world, but our friends, the Saudi
Arabians, do as well. And they have contributed funds trying to buy, if not
friendship, at least acquiescence of some of these terrorist forces themselves.
So if the Americans are looking in the world, and particularly the world of the
Middle East for black and white, we're not necessarily going to find a lot of
people that share our Manichean view.
But are they going to find China saying, "Oh, war against terrorism... Sure,
we'll join you?"
The Chinese will be basically supportive, because I think they're basically
afraid of these same forces. But you have to realize that the Chinese are
already talking, not only about terrorism; they're linking terrorism and
separatism. And separatism in China means Taiwan wanting to be independent.
Separatism in China means Tibet wants to be independent, and separatism in
China means the Muslims want to break away into some central Muslim state. The
Chinese would like the United States to sign on against not only terrorism, but
separatism. And, of course, the United States is not going to sign onto a
proposition that's against Taiwan or against the Dali Lama. So the Chinese are
trying to get us to sign onto a broad agenda that's consistent with their
agenda, and we want to keep it a little more narrow on this strict issue of
terrorism, defined as Muslim terrorism.
How can America be friendly with a country which is friendly with so many of
America's enemies -- Iran, Iraq, Milosevic, even Pakistan, when they were
selling nuclear material? How can that be?
First of all, our relations with China have been, and will remain for the
foreseeable future to be mixed, to be a complex combination of cooperation and
contention. So the first thing is, don't ever expect a kind of nirvana of
peaceful, cooperative productive U.S.-China relations. I can't see that.
We're always going to have a complex mix of compatible interests and
conflictional interests. And really, if you think about it, how could it be
different? We have a far different history, far different political system. The
Chinese have an aggrieved experience with the West and the United States --
lots of resentment. And China is still a very poor country.
So I think we have to sort of get off this notion that its going to be easy to
deal with the Chinese -- it's not. And the Chinese, incidentally, don't think
it's easy to deal with us. But be that as it may, we have important interests
with the Chinese, and we have to manage this relationship so we can get the
maximally productive relationship, the most help we need on the most urgent
problems. And we're going to have to subordinate some of other aggrievances.
The atrocity of the World Trade and Pentagon bombings -- how's that changed
relations between America and China?
It certainly depends on how the Chinese respond. If the Chinese respond
cooperatively and are perceived by Americans to be cooperating in a significant
way -- certainly ... they will not do everything America might like -- but if
they're seen to be basically positive, this represents a chance to improve
U.S.-China relations that hasn't existed since the fall of the Soviet Union in
1991, and indeed since 1989, with the Tianamen massacre.
Since 1991 and 1989, China and the United States have not really been able to
cooperate very significantly in the security area. If we are cooperating in the
security area, this tends to be an area of cooperation that is so important to
the United States that we tend to not clutter the agenda of bilateral relations
with lots of other secondary issues; issues that are very important in this
country, but nonetheless are not of the same magnitude and urgency of the
security concerns. If the Chinese play their cards right and are cooperative,
we could see better relations.
And what do you think President Bush will be saying to them? What will he
He is going, in effect, as a war president. My guess is that he is going to see
his primary job now to use this opportunity to meet with regional leaders of
the major economies, welcome them in some way into cooperative posture in the
coalition he's building to deal with this problem. So in a subtle way, he's
going to try to use an economic meeting to serve security objectives.
Surely, does China have an interest in helping him?
I think, in many regards. First of all, the United States' relationship with
China is of absolutely economic centrality to China. We are China's number two
trade partner. We are China's biggest source of foreign direct investment after
the Chinese diaspora -- overseas Chinese and in the world. Probably millions
now in China are employed in American factories or employed in domestic
factories for exports to the United States. China already has a huge
unemployment problem. China has 54,000 students and scholars studying in the
best American universities. We are very important to the Chinese. I think they
recognize that, and they will see it in their interests to be cooperative, to
There are limitations on their cooperation. ... China itself has been in its
own vision, victimized by, let us say, Central Asian ... Muslim terrorism. Bus
22 in Beijing was blown up by what the Chinese assert was fundamentalist
terrorists. And they face what they call separatists in the western province of
[the] autonomous region of China called Xinjiang.
So they not only have their economic interest overlapping with us. They've also
been subject to -- not the same magnitude, but nonetheless the source -- of
what they would call terrorism and separatism in the same region. So they have
some incentives to cooperate.
How important is the economy at the moment? How important is that in the
relationship with China?
It's potentially very important. First of all, China, unknown to many
Americans, is our fourth-largest trade partner. There are certainly probably
300,000, 400,000, 500,000 American jobs that are directly dependent to exports
to China, and there are some of our most competitive high tech sector.
Obviously, given the state of our own economy, we don't need more unemployment.
But China's economic importance -- particularly to the United States, but the
global economy -- hasn't been recognized in another way, and that is
inter-dependence. Let me just give you a fact that I think is just
demonstrative of a larger reality. Eighty-seven percent of the motherboards of
computers in the world are made in Taiwan. And of that 87 percent of the brains
of a computer, the motherboards made in Taiwan, 50 percent are now made in the
PRC, and that industry is even moving more rapidly towards the PRC. So in
certain key areas, China's component manufacturing is absolutely key to a
strategic global industry.
So whether you look at it narrowly, or in terms of jobs, China is essential.
Also, China is the most rapidly growing major economy in the world today. And
heaven knows, with Japan lagging and Europe's economy stagnating and the
Americans hovering near a recession, the world needs all the center of growth
that it can get. So I think we are going to recognize that we have a very great
interest in China's prosperity.
And is that important to President Bush?
I think its essential to President Bush. He remembers that his father won the
Gulf War, but in fact lost the election, largely because of what was perceived
to be a fading U.S. economy during his father's second run for a second term. I
think the son has learned the lessons of the father, and knows that in the end,
you can win a war and lose an election if you don't have a good economy.
So that's one reason to get on with China?
I think the president now has both strategic military reasons to try to have a
decent, productive relationship with China. He has economic reasons and,
frankly, we have great cultural reasons. Some of the most innovative
intelligent students in American universities today come from abroad, and many
of those come from China. So we have cultural reasons, economic reasons and
Does that suddenly mean that China is no longer a threat?
... You can't predict how China is going to behave in the future. But I think
what we can say for now, and for the next ten years is, all Chinese I'm
familiar with -- except a few modest interest groups -- are devoted to the
proposition that the Chinese first need to economically modernize. The
challenge to America is to make it clear to the Chinese people that the world
is supportive of them becoming more prosperous and having a more dignified
place in the world; that the United States does not stand in the way of that;
and create an environment that's going to create the incentives where the
Chinese want to play by the rules, where they feel like they're a member of the
The odds are very great that, if China is able to continue to move in the
direction it's going and that we are basically receptive to the aspirations of
the Chinese people... I think we'll always have difficulty in dealing with
China. But it need not be the kind of experience we faced with the rise of
Japan or Germany.
At the start of President Bush's administration, there was the crisis over
the U.S. surveillance plane. The tone seemed very belligerent. Why do you think
First of all, new American administrations always come in and feel bound and
determined to prove they're not the previous administration. They, in effect,
have to say, "We're not the same as Bill Clinton," and Bill Clinton came in and
said, "I'm not the same as George Bush One." So there's this compulsion to
differentiate yourself from your predecessor. That leads to policy reviews, and
it usually leads to an initial reflex to reject the policies of your
predecessor. And then, over time, you find, "Well, maybe my predecessor wasn't
quite as stupid or ignorant as I thought. Maybe there were some sound national
interest reasons that we had this policy."
That's the first thing that leads to this impulse to differentiate yourself.
But there are other things, and that is that this administration came and
believed that the Bush administration, that the Clinton administration had not
treated our allies -- in particular, Japan -- with sufficient dignity in the
past. And they came in and wanted to build our relations with our traditional
allies, rather than emphasizing China as such a central player in Asia.
And finally, I think they came in with their mindset that, as big countries
become great powers, they tend to want to exercise more power and influence in
the world; that rising powers are troublemakers. China is certainly a big
country. It was rising, and I think it was their basic view that China was
destined to be a troublemaker like Japan and Germany.
In fact, the situation is quite different in a number of respects. You have a
civilian elite now in China that's dedicated to economic development. China
still has tens of millions of people that are desperately poor. And when you
talk to China's leaders, that's what they would prefer to talk about -- how
they're moving their country ahead in economic terms. So I think they came in
with the wrong mindset, and I must say, I think the president had a clearer,
more constructive vision of China policy than many of his subordinates.
But at the beginning, they didn't even express regret for the death of a
Of course, you can go back in time. We bombed the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade
in 1999. We didn't handle the fact that Chinese had casualties there with great
skill and acumen, either. One reason I think the Chinese got so distressed that
we didn't acknowledge immediately the death of a Chinese pilot was that it was
exacerbated because we had made effectively the same mistake with the bombing
of the Chinese Embassy in 1999.
The basic Chinese mindset is that the United States now is an unchallenged
superpower, and has [assumed] a kind of global policeman role. That
basic perception makes them nervous about signing on to this coalition, no
matter how justified we may think it is, and no matter how much they recognize
that they face the same terrorist threat that we do.
There does seem to be an anti-American feeling in China?
The way I would put it, there's a deep ambivalence about Americans. Chinese
leaders send their sons and daughters in great numbers here to study. Many of
their sons and daughters are living long term in the United States, opening
businesses. I think there's great respect for American technological and
financial wizardry, great admiration. The Chinese characters for the United
States are the "Beautiful Country." The traditional name for San Francisco is
"Old Gold Mountain." There's this image of the United States as a beautiful,
powerful, clever nation and I think that's the dominant sentiment -- for the
United States, in a sense, to be a role model for China.
But when the Chinese define you as a teacher or a role model, they expect the
teacher to be deferential and considerate of the student. And so, often,
Chinese people see the United States acting in what they believe is an
arrogant, thoughtless way that basically is designed to keep China down. So
there's this admiration that competes with this sense of victimhood, this sense
of "You don't respect us," sort of what we call the Rodney
Dangerfield-"I-don't-get-no-respect" kind of view of the United States. So I
think it's deeply ambivalent. But, on balance, the prevailing sentiment is very
How dangerous is the Taiwan issue?
... prior to the World Trade Center bombing and its aftermath, if you look around
the world today and asked where in the world could two major nuclear powers
come into conflict, I would have said that the only probable place -- and it is
probably still the only probable place -- where two big nuclear powers could
come into conflict would be the Taiwan Strait.
In effect, the prevention of Taiwan going independent is absolutely critical to
the legitimacy of the Chinese communist regime. Chinese leaders believe that,
if they were to let Taiwan go independent and not respond, they would probably
be overthrown by their own nationalistic people. Therefore, I think they would
be willing to engage in what we might call "self-defeating military adventures"
in order to prevent that result, even if they knew they were going to lose.
So in my view, the key problem for the United States is how to deter the PRC
from using force against Taiwan. We have to be very clear about that, because I
think the United States would intervene if force were used under most
circumstances I can imagine. But on the other hand, we have to deter Taiwan
from engaging in such risky behavior that they precipitate an attack that will
be destabilizing to Asia, destroy the Taiwan economy and drag the United States
into a regional conflict.
And what would provoke this -- China?
They have a list of things that would provoke, but basically, certainly a ...
declaration of independence would be one of those things.
That would mean war?
I would think it would probably mean war. It would certainly mean some form of
military conflict or economic embargo or an attempt by the PRC to destabilize
Taiwan's economy. But let's put it this way: It would mean a substantial
escalation of conflict ... the inevitable result of that. If China, if Taiwan,
were to be known to be acquiring nuclear weapons, this might elicit a response
as well. If Taiwan were to provide bases for U.S. military, that might. In the
end, of course, China still has a relatively weak military. And I don't think I
know anybody who believes China could invade Taiwan successfully, almost even
if the U.S. didn't intervene.
Taiwan's military is not trivial. But the point is that we have to, on the one
hand, deter Chinese inclinations to use force, and on the other hand, deter
Taiwan from engaging in provocative behavior that could be bad for everybody --
But isn't it right that a country Taiwan, which is democratic... Isn't it
absolutely normal that they would also want to be seen as a sovereign country
and independent? Doesn't democracy inevitably lead to independence?
Of course. And you can go further and say that the Americans have a great
tradition, at least rhetorical, of rights of self-determination. The notion
that people who want to be free and constitute their own society should have a
right. Of course, as Americans, we didn't think that the South in the 1860s had
that right. There are many small groups all over the world that would like to
be independent of the authority of the sovereign, and we, in most cases, don't
support that. It's true to say that many Tibetans would like to be independent,
and no country in the world -- including the United States -- recognizes Tibet
as a independent country.
So we're left with this. The Taiwan people have a perfectly understandable
desire to have autonomy and dignity and independence in the world; that's an
understandable impulse. But the fact of the matter is that big powers, the
United States, other big powers, don't necessarily recognize all these
impulses. And in the end, foreign policy is a trade-off of values. How much is
the desire of 23 million Taiwanese to be independent worth, in terms of
bringing two nuclear powers into conflict, destabilizing the region? In the
end, Taiwan is 90 miles from 1.3 billion people. Is it viable for Taiwan for
eternity to have a conflictual relationship with 1.3 billion people 90 miles
that they're economically integrated with, and in which Taiwan is investing in
the mainland like crazy? The PRC is Taiwan's natural economic hinterland. So
there are lots of things that intervene beyond the subjective desire of a
people to be independent.
So how long is China prepared to wait to make sure that Taiwan becomes part
China's political leaders are like political leaders elsewhere, and that is
they spend most of their time figuring out how to avoid the worst thing, rather
than achieve the best. The worst, from their point of view is Taiwan going
independent, because it will force them to take action that they know is
self-destructive. As long as they have confidence that Taiwan is not going to
go independent and that the forces of economic integration are gradually
pulling Taiwan towards the mainland, I think they can be very patient; and by
"very patient," I mean decades.
Why do they have this extraordinary military buildup of missiles opposite
I'm not quite sure that the word "extraordinary" is justified. But it is
significant. They're probably adding maybe 50 a year short-range and
medium-range ballistic missiles in the area of the Taiwan Strait in coastal
China, and that's a significant threat.
But in the end, these missiles are, in effect, just large bombs. And the fact
of the matter is, if you start using those missiles against the people of
Taiwan, does anyone seriously think this is going to increase the willingness
of the people of Taiwan to join in any significant political union with the
PRC? So in some sense, you have to ask, what utility are those missiles to
I would argue all those missile are is a deterrent against Taiwan declaring
independence. But those missiles and coercion cannot win the hearts and minds
of people of Taiwan to want to join in a voluntary union of any sort with the
PRC. So my general advice to the PRC is find more positive reasons that the
people of Taiwan should want to be in some closer political association with
you. You might be able to prevent them declaring independence with military
force, but you will never achieve reunification with those means.
That may be your advice. But presumably they may use those if there is this
declaration of independence.
In that event, they would find some use for at least some portion, if not many
of those missiles. But in the end, what is going to be the result? They're
going to end up scaring Japan and driving Japan in a more militarized
direction, which they don't want to do. They're going to end up bringing in the
United States. They're going to scare every smaller country on its periphery in
Southeast Asia. In short, China will set back its modernization program and
reunification with Taiwan by decades. So I think the Chinese are fully aware of
these costs, and part of it is they can't be perceived by their people as not
responding. But I think their top leaders are fully aware of just the cost
China would pay if they used force.
Does America have an obligation to defend Taiwan if it's attacked?
We no longer have a treaty obligation to come to the defense of Taiwan. What we
have is what's called the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979. This obligates the
United States to sell weapons of a defensive character to Taiwan. It obligates
us to be concerned about the situation in Taiwan and the region And it
obligates the president of the United States to consult with Congress about
what to do. So, in a sense, we are obligated to be concerned and give Taiwan
the means by which it can defend itself, but we are not obligated to come to
the direct rescue.
If you go from treaty legal obligations to moral obligation, of course, many
Americans feel we have a moral obligation to a fellow democracy with which
we've been friendly for many decades. I may agree with that moral statement.
But if you say we have a treaty obligation that requires we come to Taiwan's
defense no matter what, no matter what they do or the context, I would say I
don't believe we do.
What about the differences over the years regarding China as it played out
in Congress and with various presidents?
Congress and the president have been in various degrees of conflict over China
policy probably for the last 50 or more years. The fact that you find people in
Congress dissatisfied with any president's China policy is not at all unusual.
And the situation is particularly acute when you have a president of one party
and a congress -- either an entire congress, or even one house in the bicameral
legislature -- that's of another party.
China has been a subject rich in symbolism for Americans, and we tend to
project onto China our greatest fears, whether its military, or our greatest
hopes for democracy, or economic and trade wealth. China becomes this kind of
screen on which we project these images. So, frequently, Congress and the
president find themselves responding to different images here. And frankly,
Taiwan has been a master at playing to the congressional machinery.
Why did Clinton decide to send two battleships and their carriers and a
fleet to Taiwan in 1995-1996?
... Here you had Secretary of Defense William Perry under Clinton who had
long-standing ties with China, friendly relations, one of the more respected
people in China. He wanted as much as any secretary of defense probably ever to
have good relations with China. And yet, when China fired
missiles to the south and the north, the issue immediately rose for President
Clinton and Secretary Perry, "How do we respond?" And the issue immediately
became, "Do we send one carrier taskforce or two?" And without a hesitation,
they all said, "Send two." Because they all recognized that the American people
could not support a large communist country attacking a small democracy with
which we had had intimate relations for a long period of time. Intimate
economic interests [were] involved, and about half of the Taiwan Cabinet was
trained in the United States. So it's an elite that has deep association with
the United States.
Even somebody who was wanting to have positive relationship with China, as with
Secretary Perry, could see the writing on the wall, [could see] what was
required of that situation. And I believe that almost any responsible American
official, the president or defense secretary, the secretary of state, would
respond almost similarly, irrespective of party. Of course, it will depend on
the world circumstance at that time. But basically, in anything resembling a
normal circumstance, I think you'd have to expect an American reaction.
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