THE UNITED STATES-CHINA POLICY FOUNDATION
THE CHINA FORUM: PROGRAM 1
Recent Trends in U.S.-China Relations
Recorded September 14, 2000
Federal News Service
MS. KERRY DUMBAUGH: Welcome to the "China Forum." My name is Kerry Dumbaugh.
U.S. relations with the Peopleís Republic of China over the past decade have been described as troubled, at being uneven, with periods of improvements followed by periods of renewed tensions. This pattern of improvements and setbacks in the relationship can make it very difficult to assess what the state of the relationship is at any given time. Weíre going to try to get a handle on that today, and with us in the studio are three experts to help us with this issue.
Immediately to my left is Art Hummel, former Ambassador to the Peopleís Republic of China from 1981 to 1985. Next to him is Steve Yates, a senior policy analyst with the Heritage Foundation. And finally, Mike Lampton Ė Mike to his friends Ė David Lampton, who is a professor at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. Thank you for being with us today. Welcome to the "China Forum."
Let me just start with a very small question. Let me ask each of you in turn to give your assessment of what the current state of the relationship is, of U.S.-China relations. Why donít we start with Ambassador Hummel.
MR. ARTHUR HUMMEL: Let me say, I think their relations are not bad. Considering where weíve been in recent years, theyíve been much worse; theyíve also been better in other times in the past. They could be better and they should be better. And I have reasonable expectations that theyíre probably going to get slowly better. We donít understand each other well enough, and we are getting to understand each other better.
MS. DUMBAUGH: Steve.
MR. STEVE YATES: I agree largely with Ambassador Hummelís assessment. I think the relations are not that good and not that bad. At the moment, coming out of some periods of deep distrust from the embassy bombing debacle in Kosovo and Yugoslavia. Weíve had a lot of distrust over the question of the rise of missile defense as a major political issue in the United States and a security question in the future. And I think that there are a lot of things that are going to put us on edge at a high level of diplomacy. But I think overall, there is a very deep reservoir of substantive contact between our two peoples. Thereís an enormous trade relationship, and thereís a lot of contact through universities and other channels that I think has the effect of keeping things somewhat steady, even though our politics go up and down.
MS. DUMBAUGH: Mike.
MR. DAVID ďMIKEĒ LAMPTON: I certainly donít think thereís much to be added to what weíve already heard. But I think one thing that might be constructive in this discussion is to say that we often talk about the relationship as good or bad, and thatís one way to think about it. But I think a more productive way might be to think about it as a mixed relationship, like the United States has with every other country on the face of the earth.
We have some structural problems with the Chinese in the economic areas: trade deficits, and what many Americans feel to be an inequitable trade relationship in some respects, the Taiwan problem. On the other hand, we have some very powerful common interests on the Korean Peninsula, maintaining stability in that area, dealing with narco-trafficking, all sorts of things. So I think what we need to be talking about is where our common interests, where are our frictions, and how can we most productively manage it.
MS. DUMBAUGH: You guys are no fun. I mean sitting here and agreeing with one another like this. Letís dwell on this a little more. The fact is that if you read the media, if you look at congressional debates and U.S. policy debates, if you go to conferences at think tanks, the overall impression is that weíre just sliding down a slippery slope into an ever troublesome relationship with China. So you donít agree with that. Where is this negativity coming from do you think?
MR. LAMPTON: Well, I think maybe one place that I would actually be a little more alarmist than the view youíve heard is in the area of the Taiwan problem. And I think that the people in the PRC are becoming, and particularly the leadership, progressively more worried that the identity of the Taiwan people is moving in a more independence direction and that the democratic system there is giving voice to this in a way that the mainland finds very troublesome. And therefore, the mainland is putting more pressure on Taiwan to negotiate politically.
The United States is caught in the middle of this. And I think, to put it bluntly, the people in Taiwan do not have very much, if any, interest in political negotiations now or for the foreseeable future. And I think as the PRC becomes more alarmed, their strategy is going to be to put more pressure, which is going to elicit a generally negative response from the United States. So I think the economics pulls us together. I think many of our societal values, in some sense Ė education, cultural exchange pull us together. But Taiwan is pulling us apart. And Iím, in the end, not sure which one of theses sets of forces are going to prevail.
MR. YATES: I think my pessimism, to the degree it exists in this, is a different area. I agree that there are these tensions over Taiwan, questions about what Taiwanís future is and what itsí relation with the mainland are going to be. But I think we have a China problem more than we have a Taiwan problem. And I think the origin of a lot of the negative reports that youíll hear in the press or in Congress, frankly, is the truth Ė that there are a lot of negative stories that sometimes Beijing creates for itself, for jailing a particular person or a group, and allowing it to be on camera for the world to see.
Itís a little hard to escape some of the ugly truths from time to time. And I think that when weíre facing these kinds of complex problems, itís going to be very difficult, I think, looking into the future, to sustain these common interests. I think that China has a very different view of how to maintain itsí own global security than some of the competing visions within the United States. And I think the debate over whether the United States should have a national missile defense or a global missile defense is one of these areas.
The Korean Peninsula may not, over the long term, be an area of common interest. If the two sides of the Korean Peninsula begin to work more with each other, then maybe the Korean Peninsula as a whole begins to lean more towards the continental Asian power Ė then it may no longer be an issue of common interest. So I think as we look off into the future, there are signs of where we might be competing more than weíre cooperating. But I think a lot of the negativity, frankly, comes from some of the unfortunate events that are happening inside China that we have to acknowledge exist.
MS. DUMBAUGH: Thatís both of you that have touched on the domestic developments. Let me ask you; you were in China for your 4-year tenure as ambassador. Everything that weíve been reading lately -- that Steve just alluded to Ė the arrests of Falun Gong practitioners, but more importantly, I think, labor unrest and farmers protesting at local officials and corruption. This seems to be deeply troublesome to Chinaís own internal situation. It might lead to that same kind of paranoia, I guess, that you mentioned on the Taiwan question. What do you think about the internal?
MR. HUMMEL: I think thereís very little chance that Taiwanís internal stresses are going to result in any kind of an explosion internally because of internal factors within China. There is a Taiwan problem, and that can become ominous. But it seems to me, the most divisive factor for Americans thinking about this is not so much what is going on in China, because a lot of it is distasteful to us. The question is what do we do about it? And we are torn here, in the United States, between two goals or two ways of thought. One is how to change China, how to force China to change, and weíve had rather divisive arguments in the Congress and elsewhere about how to make China stop what itís doing.
And many of these suggestions about how to force them simply cannot be carried out. Weíve tried some, threatening to curtail trade relations with the most favored nation treatment. It didnít do any good. So, if Americans are faced with the inability to change China, then you reach the problem of how are we going to get along with China, because the two need to go together. Thereís a mix of this that has plagued us for a decade, for a hundred years. How should we change China?
And my parents were missionaries, and I grew up there. And my parents were trying to change China not by saving souls, but by educational means. And Chinese education was transformed partially by Americans. At the same time, we have to get along with the government. There is an irreducible level of friction beyond which we should not push the Chinese. This is very upsetting to a lot of Americans. Yes, we have to speak up about what we donít like, but we donít want to destroy the relationship or cause the Chinese to destroy the relationship by being excessive in the means we use to try to force them to change.
MS. DUMBAUGH: And that brings something to mind. Let me read a quote, and Iím sure youíre all familiar with it. This is just September 8 of this year. Chinaís President Jiang Zemin, speaking in New York, said, and I quote: ďChina is makingĒ Ė and he did say this in English, by the way, so itís rather dramatic. "China is making an effort to know the U.S. better, and the U.S. should likewise make an effort to know China better.Ē
Now, you hear this a lot, I mean we all hear this, American policy-makers admonishing Chinese officials that they need to understand the United States better, and Chinese officials admonishing Americans that they need to understand China better.
So I guess Iíve got a two-part question. And the first is, exactly how important is knowing each other better to solving some of these tensions that weíve been talking about? How important is it to an improved relationship? Is that our only problem? And the second part of that question is, to the extent that this is important in the relationship, what grade would you give either side in its efforts to try to understand the other better? Anybody want to tee off on that question? Mike?
MR. LAMPTON: Well, Iíve spent my life in the business of mutual understanding. And I think, in the long run, both sides need to do a better job at that. I think, in some sense, youíd have to say the Chinese, as a society, have made a very substantial effort to understand the U.S., if itís measured by the number of students and scholars they have studying here; it has been, for over a decade, 50,000 in round numbers. There are, at any given time, a few thousand Americans that are making an equivalent effort in China in language.
So I think in language and cultural understanding the U.S. has got to make a much more substantial effort. I think part of that, though, reflects the value of that the Chinese attach, particularly the leadership, to this relationship. Most of the Chinese leaders have had sons or daughters live for substantial -- or many of them -- for substantial periods in the United States, some ultimately becoming involved in business, some going back into Chinaís diplomatic service, and so on.
So, I think the Chinese have made a substantial effort. And I was in New York when Jiang Zemin delivered his speech, as I would say, about 40 minutes in English entirely. And I asked myself ďWhen is a President of the United States going to be able to go to China and deliver a 40 minute address in Chinese?Ē And I do not anticipate that day coming. So I think we have to make a bigger effort to try to understand China. But in the end, there are still some abiding differences in interest between our countries. And all of the mutual understanding in the world isnít going to wash those away.
And also, there are some deeply different cultural attitudes and practices in China that, once Americans find out, theyíre not going to find particularly tasteful. So, I think our only strategic hope is more mutual understanding. But itís not going to wipe out the cultural differences and certainly not the differences in interest.
MR. HUMMEL: We have a national predilection for wanting to lecture foreign countries; itís not just China, but a lot of other foreign countries. We have to express our national views, the views of our populace, and complain about things when theyíre going badly abroad. But at the same time, it can be overdone. One of our former secretaries of state, in New York, at the same occasion that we are talking about, with the quotation that you gave, the speech by Jiang Zemin, introduced Jiang Zemin by saying, among other things, ďChina has gotten along for 3,000 years without the benefit of American advice.Ē There was quite a bit of tittering throughout the hall.
We do give advice, sometimes, too freely. We are obliged, because of our system, to speak freely about things we donít like. But sometimes we put pressures on that simply donít achieve the result theyíre intended to achieve.
MR. YATES: I agree with both of these sentiments, but to be the skunk of the garden party for a little bit, thereís a skeptic in me that says, ďWe donít really need to understand very much about each other to know where our seventh fleet is. We donít really need to understand very much about each other to know in which direction your nuclear weapons are targeting.Ē And there is only so much Americans can understand about China as long as there are restrictions on where you can go, when you can go, what you can say, and who you can meet with, and the repercussions on the people that you do meet with.
And so there are always going to be limits to what Americans can understand about China, at least as long as the Chinese government puts limits on how much of China weíre allowed to go and see, and freely interact with. I think itís good for Americans to learn more about the world. We do have a sense of pride or arrogance, depending on which way you want to slice the emotion. But frankly, itís because we have intense global interests.
And to a certain extent, arrogant Americans may be that way, but the rest of the world must deal with us because we are everywhere, and we have significant interests all around. And while I donít think that we should be arrogant about it Ė one of the slogans in our presidential campaign is to have ďExcellence without Arrogance." Itís a wonderful ideal to strive toward. But I think to a certain extent weíre going to disappoint those in China who want to see us working extremely hard at mutual understanding at times, because weíre going to have people who have a very narrow interest on defense or some other diplomatic or trade issues where culture isnít an issue. A binding agreement is an issue; and how itís implemented in one culture or another is a fine discussion, but those attorneys and negotiators arenít going to care very much about that.
MR. HUMMEL: Iím afraid I have to take issue. Let me be a skunk, even if we donít have a garden party here. Ė (laughter) Ė I object rather strongly to the notion that Americans cannot understand China because of restrictions the Chinese government places on the contacts. That simply is not the case. American tourists, American teachers, American businessmen are in daily contact with all levels of Chinese society. And the Chinese are very free to talk about what they think, extraordinarily free now.
Perhaps youíre talking about a bygone era of maybe two decades ago when China was pretty efficient in itsí ability to wall off foreigners from contacts with Chinese. That is simply not the case now. You go anywhere you want; tourists go -- except for some restricted areas, which we have restricted areas, the United States too. And you talk to the Chinese. I speak Chinese, so does Dave Lampton. And you can find out what the people are thinking. And theyíre very free to say, as long as there's nobody listening who will object or punish them if they say something terribly derogatory about the government. You talk to a Beijing taxi driver, and he will tell you that he hates the government. Many of them do.
MR. YATES: I have spoken to a lot of the taxi drivers myself too, but there is a lot of China that you go to, and after someone like me visits them, the public security bureau will come by and interview people. A not so subtle way of letting people know you met with someone that we have concerns about.
MR. HUMMEL: That does happen.
MR. YATES: There are some ways, but itís not quite as successful. And sometimes itís not convenient to get a connecting flight.
MR. HUMMEL: But I deny that Americans are unable to be in meaningful contact with what the Chinese people think.
MS. DUMBAUGH: Let me leap in with another sort of skunk Ė Mike is the only sweet smelling person at this garden party.
MR. LAMPTON: And thatís about to end.
MS. DUMBAUGH: I would say that the comments that I have heard and have experienced is that yes, what youíre saying is true: the Chinese are very accessible, but in terms of the political processes and government decision making, we have such a transparent system, and the burden very much is on China to understand us because we make information accessible Ė that to understand the Chinese decision making process in politics is very, very difficult because of the closed system, and thatís where some of the tension is. You said this sweet smelling nature of yours is going to change; did you have a comment to make?
MR. LAMPTON: I was going to say too, I think many of the, let us say, dark sides of the Chinese society that are in the New York Times or in our mass media, are frequently -- the data for it are supplied by the Chinese. Itís really quite a revelation to read the provincial statistics on mortality or income distribution, or go to the local courthouse and see how many executions have names with the red checks. Most of the data we have is coming -- much of the data that we donít like -- is, in fact, coming from the system itself.
When I first went to China in 1976, most statistics were, in fact, state secrets. Now, the system is at least providing them. We can have a debate about which statistics are reliable or not, but a great deal of what passes as news in the United States, in fact, has itsí origins within the Chinese system. They are talking about these things, and we are listening, in effect, to their conversation. So I think the transformation of the Chinese system, in terms of the ability to hear divergent views, and to hear those things that even the Chinese are not proud of themselves, is infinitely greater than it was two decades ago. But the political decision-making process, the predictability of administration of justice: this all, certainly by an American standard, probably an international human rights standard, is deficient.
But we have to be able to walk and chew gum intellectually at the same time, and that is, hold two different propositions in our minds. That is, China has made enormous progress. I think thatís undeniable. That has enormous problems. And that, I think, is also undeniable. And the practical question, it seems, is exactly that which Ambassador Hummel said: the issue isnít what we like or dislike, the issue is what weíre going to do about it thatís productive. And I think that ought to be the focus of our debate, or much of what we propose to do is not going to be productive.
MS. DUMBAUGH: All right, let me talk then about what we are doing about it. One of the things, of course, that we are doing is something about Chinaís trade status. You know that for a decade now we have had this rancorous debate over the way we treat China in terms of trade status. And each year, we have given normal trade relations, but just for one year, an era that is now ending. What do you see in terms of a post-MFN, if I can still use that old term, the term that the rest of the world uses, opposed to permanent normal trade relation status for China? What are we looking at over the next year? How is our relationship with China likely to change because of that?
MR. LAMPTON: Well, this, I think, gets to the remark I made a minute ago about the nature of the relationship being mixed. On the one hand, this economic relationship is going to grow, and itís going to grow, I think, rather rapidly because of a more regularized and institutionalized economic relationship. I think thatís going to have a positive effect in terms of the development of a middle class in China. And that, I think, will have implications for the political system.
But there is an "on the other hand." On the other hand, the U.S.-China relationship, I think, for as far as the eye can see in the economic area, is going to be American attempts to push the Chinese to comply with this very detailed and very onerous agreement they have just now basically agreed to. And so, on the one hand, weíre going to be deriving more benefit from this relationship economically then we ever have; itís going to have more impact in China than almost anything the Chinese have done in recent memory. But on the other hand, itís going to be supremely frustrating to American business and Americans who are trying to get the Chinese to comply to the letter.
And part of it will be because Beijing has itsí qualms about the agreement. But most of it is going to be because Beijing doesnít fully control all of the local authorities who arenít going to find it in their interest to comply. So more benefits, more frustration, and I think thatís what the relationship is going to look like.
MR. HUMMEL: One of the major changes that is occurring now with China entering the WTO, means that it is not just the Untied States thatís going to force China to live up to all of the detailed provisions of opening up their markets, and enduring competition from aggressive foreign firms. Formerly, Chinese firms were protected against this competition. All of this is going to be terribly disruptive. But itís not going to be just the United States. Itís going to be the WTO organization itself voicing the disagreements of many countries, not just us, in order to try to continue to force compliance by the Chinese to the World Trade Organization agreement. This is good. We have had too much unilateral force on China. Other countries simply donít go along with us when we try to have draconian blanket sanctions against China. And therefore, our economic sanctions donít mean much if other people are going to sell to China what we try to deny them. This is now changing in a very healthy way.
MR. YATES: Frankly, I think that the PNTR issue being resolved is going to change our relationship much less than our presidential election is likely to influence the nature of our relationship. I think thatís going to set the new tone. But before talking about that, the one part of the PNTR legislation that is going to change somewhat is the formation of a new commission to focus on human rights that requires reports above and beyond the annual State Department human rights report. I think we wonít know yet what kind of a role that will play in the relationship. Some people want that commission to give concrete recommendations to the White House and to the Congress on changes in policy. I donít know that we are that much far removed from something similar to what has been our annual ritual on the trade vote, just in a different capacity.
MS. DUMBAUGH: Well, I was going to ask, do you see that as sort of the compromise -- everybody can sign up to -- still a mechanism for reviewing the U.S.-China relationship every year, but without holding our trade status Ė
MR. YATES: Rock-bottom, I think it comes down to a question of confidence, the confidence that the Congress has in the presidentís policy towards China, the confidence that the U.S.-China relationship is on the right track or the wrong track. And if there is this presence of confidence, then I think this commission does very little to disrupt the making of policy and diplomacy. And if the relationship is strained between Congress and the White House, or the White House and China, then I think this commission can become a force for friction, and probably will result in things that would be disruptive to the White House objectives.
MS. DUMBAUGH: Talking about the White House, letís get to the upcoming election. A Gore Administration, a Bush Administration: what do you see as the likely outcome for China policy depending on that outcome?
MR. HUMMEL: Fortunately, from my view, the surface pronouncements about China by both of the major candidates has not been abrasive or disruptive. How they will actually behave after one of them is elected is very hard to guess, except to say the obvious, that if Gore is elected he will probably keep a policy of constructive engagement with China; if Bush is elected, it seems to me, he has announced that he will follow such general guidelines, but itís not known to me what he will actually do. I donít know that anybody can guess. But, well, letís guess.
MR. YATES: Iíll guess on that, I suppose. Really, I think that for both Bush and Gore, I think theyíre going to take somewhat of a different approach to China. I think both have a less high regard for Chinaís notion of sovereignty. I think that for Gore, issues like labor standards and environmental standards are things that he will want to interfere in Chinaís internal affairs on, perhaps more than Clinton has. Itís questionable how that will translate into policy.
But on the Bush side of things, I particularly think that his approach to China is going to be more similar to the transition in 1982 from Secretary of State Haig to Secretary of State Shultz, where there is a perceived overemphasis on China and there is a transition to trying to put China into a perspective thatís broader, so that it would not be, necessarily, a direct challenge on China, or trying to force China to change, but an attempt to balance things back out by emphasizing other relationships and let the absence of positive and negative attention be a guide.
MS. DUMABUGH: Mike, you have about 15 seconds.
MR. LAMPTON: Yes, basically, letís not forget Congress. I think the selection is going to determine not only which parties are in control, but perhaps more important, which committees are controlled by which chairman. And I think if we learned anything from the last 8 years on China policy, it makes a big difference who the committee chairmen are. So Iíll be looking with almost as much interest to what happens in Congress as with respect to the presidency.
MS. DUMBAUGH: Thank you very much. Weíre out of time. And there you have it, three people who can walk and chew gum at the same time. Thank you for joining us for the "China Forum."
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