The U.S.-China Policy Foundation






January 11, 2002

Transcript by: Federal News Service Washington, D.C.

MS. KERRY DUMBAUGH: My name is Kerry Dumbaugh. Welcome to another edition of the China Forum.

Since the terrorist attacks of September 11th on the United States, many people have been wondering whether the global anti-terrorism campaign might not be able to serve as a new framework for U.S.-China relations to improve the relationship and ensure it with some stability.

With me to discuss this question today are Michael Swaine, senior associate in the China Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and Chas. Freeman, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense.

Thank you for being with us today.

Before we discuss the implications of September 11th on the relationship, maybe we should refresh our memories a little bit and go back to January of 2001 when the new Bush administration had just been elected.

Chas, could you reminisce about what the condition of U.S.-China relations was at that time? And what the initial policy direction was that the Bush administration was taking?

MR. CHAS FREEMAN [Former Assistant Secretary of Defense]: Well, the administration came in determined to be tougher on the Chinese than they thought the Clinton administration had been and to be more balanced, as they saw, it between the China mainland and Taiwan. And, initially, particularly, the Department of Defense seemed to take a rather hostile stand against China. From the Chinese point of view, I think, therefore, the first six months of 2001 were very difficult and a rather dark period in U.S.-China relations, and they were made worse by the incident with the U.S. surveillance aircraft off Hainan Island, which neither side really handled very well.

By the end of the summer, however, things were looking up.

MS. DUMBAUGH: And so we had moved away. I think when the administration first came in, they called China a strategic competitor, and Beijing was unsure what that meant. In fact, people here were unsure what that meant.

MR. FREEMAN: I don't think the administration when it came in really had a China policy. They had an attitude. And as the time went on and they looked forward to the APEC summit and President Bush going to Shanghai, they began to develop a policy and it was really much more -- from the Chinese point of view, much more something they could work with.

MS. DUMBAUGH: So that's an encapsulation of maybe eight and half months of U.S. China policy. September 11th, though, is widely seen to have fundamentally changed the U.S. policy calculation, both political and strategic. Some, in fact, have even said -- I think I read that someone wrote that the Cold War had actually ended on September 11th at 8:46 AM. I want to ask both of you now, starting with you, Michael, do you agree that September 11th has caused such a fundamental sea change in U.S. policy approaches?

MR. MICHAEL SWAINE [Senior Associate, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace]: Well, I think it certainly has brought about a major change in U.S. national security priorities. The emphasis in many areas of U.S. policy now is obviously on combating terrorism. And this has served, I think, to lower the level of attention that the United States has paid before that event to all sorts of issues, both in Asia and in Europe and elsewhere. Everything is focused through that area now.

I wouldn't necessarily say it has entirely transformed the strategic landscape, however. A lot of the issues the United States has with key countries in the world remain. They're still important. The United States still has to deal with the underlying causes behind them. They haven't changed in a fundamental way. I think what's changed is the level of priority the United States has applied, perhaps the level of emphasis that it's putting in carrying out some of these policies. Those are the areas where I think you've seen some change.

MS. DUMBAUGH: Chas, are we in a different foreign policy universe now after September 11th?

MR. FREEMAN: I think the United States has an overriding national strategic objective again after, I would say, 12 years of confusion and frivolity following the end of the Cold War when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989. I think that era, the post-Cold War era is what ended on September 11th. We now have been cured of what some used to call enemy deprivation syndrome where we were casting about for an enemy, feeling disoriented because we didn抰 have one. Now, we have a real enemy, one that demonstrably is capable of hurting us badly.

And from the Chinese perspective, this is in some ways a welcome development because it means they're not the enemy of choice, and it also gives them something that they have in common with us; namely a concern about particularly Islamic militants using mass murder as a tool of political struggle. And so the war against terrorism, as we've termed it really has served to change the subject in U.S.-China relations. It hasn't solved any problems; it's just changed the subject.

MS. DUMBAUGH: But it really -- well, you've put it exactly rightly, it has changed the subject. It has really taken the attention off of people who saw China as a principal threat and we've moved on to other topics. So it really does look as though we'll be able to cooperate with the PRC on this particular topic.

But this also happened during the Gulf War. Problems with China were really muted during the Gulf War and it was a temporary phenomenon. Does this look like it might be a temporary phenomenon of convenience just because of the campaign against al Qaeda?

MR. FREEMAN: I don't know if you want me to lead, but I would say that in quoting a Chinese friend that what happened at Shanghai when President Bush did meet President Jiang was that they herded all the monsters and ghosts and goblins that had troubled the relationship out of the room and locked the door, but they're still in there causing trouble and growing and fermenting, and they will come out at some point.

In the meantime, we're pursuing other business in a room that is dominated by the theme of anti-terrorist struggle, and that, I think, sums it up. We haven't really changed the relationship. We've just set aside a huge number of problems that continue to fester.

MS. DUMBAUGH: Michael, did you have anything to add to that?

MR. SWAINE: No, I mean, I think that's generally an accurate assessment of it. There are significant differences, however, of course, between what happened during the Persian Gulf War and what is going on now. The level of Chinese support I think at that time then was significantly greater and probably had more staying power behind it because of the nature of that conflict and the limitations on that conflict.

In this case, I think, there are some uncertainties down the road that concern the Chinese considerably. They don't quite know where this is going to go over the long term --

MS. DUMBAUGH: No exit strategy --

MR. SWAINE: Right. The U.S. government doesn't quite know where this is going to go over the long term. How long will the U.S. continue to stay in Central Asia? Will it have a more long-term military presence there? Will the United States go from Afghanistan to other places beyond Afghanistan? Will it start directing attention to Iraq, and will that find approval in China? That will probably develop -- create problems between the United States and China. It could get to be a much more complicated issue. The Chinese could become much less supportive of this effort over time.

MS. DUMBAUGH: I want to go back to something now because we're dancing around this subject, something that you mentioned, Chas. The PRC -- you mentioned the anti-terrorism campaign basically that the PRC has been waging on its own soil, and the PRC has been trying to link the crackdown in Xinxian in the far northwest against ethnic Muslim fundamentalist separatists there with the global anti-terrorism effort. They say that they are fighting terrorists in Xinxian, that it is the same, and the PRC officials have been criticizing what they suggest is kind of a double standard that the United States has been following. Anti-terrorism against terrorists committed in the United States, that's okay, but ethnic Muslims in China are not terrorists.

Do we have a credibility problem here with the PRC, or can we really draw fundamental difference?

MR. FREEMAN: I think there is, in fact, a building disquiet in China on this issue. We began this campaign, which I think is a more accurate term than war, with the clear distinction between local terrorists and terrorists with global reach, to use the President's words. Since then, every country of course has tried to get us to sign on to their particular problem with violence, and actually we have signed on to some of them. We have, I think, rather foolishly embraced the Israeli designation of Hamas and Hezbollah as terrorists, even though they've never done anything in the United States, and we've done the same with two groups in Kashmir.

The Chinese sort of look at this and they say, well, why do you do this for Israelis and Indians and what is different about a bomb going off in a police station or a rail station in Xinxian and one going off in Kashmir or in the Occupied Territories? And so I think this does in the end pose a problem, and it could end up by somewhat limiting Chinese cooperation.

On the other hand, the Chinese have suffered from training of their militant spy al Qaeda in Afghanistan. They are a neighboring country of Afghanistan. One of the ways in which they've cooperated with us rather remarkably, unlike the Gulf War, is to not only not oppose, but actually support a major U.S. military operation in a country right on their borders. And they haven't opposed, they have supported the establishment of a temporary military presence by the United States in Central Asia and in Pakistan. But in the end, I think you point to a potential contradiction between us that probably will limit our ability to cooperate.

MS. DUMBAUGH: The PRC has actually for a long time, for a few years now, has been making that allegation that weegers from Xinxian were being trained by bin Laden, by al Qaeda, and it didn't really get a lot of attention in this country. But recently there have been reports that seem to have confirmed that and, in fact, that some who have been arrested in Afghanistan are, in fact, from Xinxian.

Does this strengthen the PRC's case at all?

MR. FREEMAN: Well, I think, you know, that one of the problems that we have here is the use of the word terrorism. The British called Benjamin Franklin a terrorist. Menachem Begin was a terrorist; he blew up the King David Hotel. Gerry Adams used to be a called a terrorist, but now gets to White House dinners, or at least did. I think -- well, that's why I prefer the term mass murder, because I think what is an issue here is the use of illegitimate means of struggle, including murder in a very cold-blooded manner. And on that level, I'm sorry to say that the struggle in Xinxian is guilty. There has been mass murder conducted by the Xinxian dissidents.

Now, how we deal with that, I don't know. The fact that mass murder occurs in many contexts in the Philippines and Indonesia, in India, in Pakistan, in Afghanistan and in Xinxian, as well as in Colombia and other places, doesn't meant that we have to treat all of them the same.

MS. DUMBAUGH: Go ahead, Michael.

MR. SWAINE: I was just going to say, of course, a large part of the problem for I think for the United States in looking at the Chinese situation with terrorists in Xinxian and such is that there is a strong suspicion that China tries to use the example or the excuse of suppressing these individuals to suppress the overall effort by groups within Xinxian to peacefully, in various ways, protest the presence of China, or, as they see it, the occupation of China of Xinxian, and that by condoning this effort, the United States -- or condoning the effort against terrorism so-called, anti-terrorist efforts in China, that the United States is also condoning Chinese efforts to generally suppress any dissent within China, issues of autonomy by weegers or others. And so there's enormous amount I think of sensitivities of not get drawn into that kind of a situation for various political reasons.

MS. DUMBAUGH: And, in fact, we have been fairly firm so far in saying that. I think it was General Frank Taylor --


MS. DUMBAUGH: -- U.S. ambassador for counter-terrorism, that said we do not equate freedom fighters, I guess, or legitimate political dissent with terrorism.

MR. SWAINE: Right.

MS. DUMBAUGH: I think there still seems to be a fine line that we haven't quite -- that we're straddling a little bit that could come back to haunt the relationship.

MR. SWAINE: Well, there's just one other point, if I can make it, is that I don抰 think this is really a critical issue between ourselves and the Chinese, because my sense is that I don't think the Chinese are going to push this issue. They're not going to really press the United States to give more clear, unambiguous support for what they're doing in Xinxian. And that, I think, in part is because the Chinese don't have, as I see it, a major problem in dealing with this unrest in Xinxian. This is not something that they're barely able to keep under control. They deal with this in a pretty ruthless fashion, and I don't think they need to have necessarily U.S. support to cope with this issue.

MS. DUMBAUGH: Don't the Chinese kind of have their own credibility problem, too, in this campaign? I mean, they've signed on to the anti-terrorism campaign and yet they're continually criticized in this country for weapons sales policies that enable rogue regimes to support terrorist activities. Do they -- do you think they have rethought their own weapons sales policies in light of September 11th?

MR. FREEMAN: I know those accusations are very frequently made, but China's actually a rather minor player in the international arms market, and the allegations that have caused trouble generally have involved Pakistan, which is now our ally in the war against terrorism, or Iran, which the White House has noted has behaved quite responsibly in this context.

So I think the term rogue state is a problematic one. The last administration invented it and then walked away from it, because one country's rogue state is another country's responsible friend, and it just becomes -- it's a term of invective in political argument really rather than an analytical term of any use.

I wanted to make a point that agrees with Michael on the limitations of Chinese -- how far the Chinese might push their own concerns. This isn't the central issue for China that it has become for the United States, the struggle against terrorism. China is not as important a player in this as many other countries. It's not central to the U.S. campaign against terrorism. We haven't really asked the Chinese to do anything of a positive nature. We've asked them to acquiesce in the UN, in Central Asia, and in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and they've done so. They have volunteered to share intelligence, but their intelligence is not crucial to our effort. It's helpful.

So this should not be over-emphasized as something that would outweigh the many other elements in U.S.-China relations, which is very complex -- very, very complex relationship now.

MS. DUMBAUGH: Let's talk for a minute. Michael, you mentioned something earlier, and it relates to this, and, Chas, you just mentioned Pakistan -- China's relations with its Central Asian neighbors. China had made a big push into Central Asia -- "big push" might be too much -- but had formed a cooperative agreement, the Shanghai Five, now the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, with some of the stans and with Russia. And the purpose of this, I think, was twofold, for security reasons, cross-border terrorism reasons, since these countries share these concerns, and to expand China's influence in Central Asia probably as a counterweight to U.S. influence.

Now, here comes September 11th and suddenly the United States is in China's backyard. These individual countries -- Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Russia -- they're cutting their own deals with the United States and really gong extraordinarily far in supporting the U.S. effort, including allowing military bases. China can't be happy about this, and yet they've been taking very much a low profile.

What's your assessment of the longer-term implications of the United States being in Central Asia?

MR. SWAINE: Well, I think it's absolutely the case that the 9/11 events and the follow-up by the United States, its campaign against the terrorists in Afghanistan, have completely disrupted the Chinese effort to establish a structure there along the lines you've just described where it's very centrally involved in coordinating for security purposes, also for, I think, economic purposes in the region. All of this, the priorities in that, the concerns of the countries involved and their willingness to engage in this organization, has been, I think, strongly compromised by the presence of the United States.

Now, it doesn't mean its been destroyed entirely. But the ability of the Chinese to play the kind of role that they've been playing before September the 11th I think has been greatly undermined. And the Chinese are in some disarray I think in their policy and in their outlook toward Central Asia at this time. They have certain priorities that they're trying to pay attention to regarding Pakistan, regarding the prosecution of the U.S. effort in Afghanistan and the limits of that. As Chas says, they've not been able to provide a whole lot of really positive assistance in this effort. There are some red flags they're trying to pay attention to. And beyond that, I don't think they have a clear strategy as to how to rebuild their position over time, and a lot will depend on U.S. behavior and action over the coming months.

MS. DUMBAUGH: Chas, do you think the Chinese are in disarray about the SCO?

MR. FREEMAN: No, I don't think so. But I do think that there is a big difference between a short-term presence in Central Asia by the United States and a long-term presence. We entered Central Asia with assurances with the Russians that our presence would be short-term. Actually, they tried very hard to keep us out of Uzbekistan, which has aspirations to be the local hegemon in the region, and to push us into Tajikistan, which they control. The Chinese were very cooperative. They didn't make their influence through the Shanghai Cooperation Organization a problem for us in any way.

If we now propose to establish long-term bases, however, then I think they will be disturbed. But I suspect Russia will be even more disturbed than the Chinese. The Russians invited the Chinese to join them in securing Central Asia against Islamic terrorism. That's basically what the Shanghai Cooperation Organization represented. It wasn't so much a Chinese initiative as a Russian initiative to enlist additional resources and the Chinese have, in fact, assisted the governments in the region in important ways, including most recently with shipments of bulletproof vests and other police gear suitable for anti-terrorist action to these countries.

But if we're in there for the long run, then I think we can expect both the Chinese and the Russians to regard that as a problem.

MS. DUMBAUGH: What do you think the long run would be? I mean, something you alluded to earlier to, Michael, that we don't really have an exit strategy in sight for this effort? What's the long term? What's the short term?

MR. FREEMAN: Beyond the immediate campaign in Afghanistan, I think is the answer. And there are, in fact, some indications that the Defense Department is thinking of removing forces from Pakistan where they are obviously a major political irritant and putting them into Central Asian countries, which would be very happy to have an additional guarantee of independence, primarily from Russia, but also from China.

MS. DUMBAUGH: And to lower the sensitivities on this issue for Beijing, should we be, or perhaps are we talking with them, having strategic dialogue about our mission and our purposes for being in Central Asia?

MR. FREEMAN: I think that the President's visit to Beijing and the consultations that will begin before that between the Foreign Minister Li Jao Shing, Vice Foreign Minister Li Jao Shing coming here shortly, and the prospect that later in the year perhaps as a result of the Beijing meetings, we might have a resumption of defense consultative relationship will answer that question. But at the present time, I don't believe we are conducting a sort of dialogue we should with the Chinese, or, for that matter, with others with an interest in this, including Iran, Turkey and Russia.

MS. DUMBAUGH: The PRC has a number of constraints on its own ability to act, and it seems based on what we've been discussing, that they've been actually remarkably low-key about the U.S. presence in Central Asia and as supportive as they can be, I guess, with the anti-terrorism campaign, would you agree with that? Is there more that they can be doing or are they pretty much offering everything that they can?

MR. SWAINE: Well, I think, probably they're doing about as much as they can at this particular point. I mean, there are certain things that the United States government could potentially ask them to do that they haven't been considering up until this point.

MS. DUMBAUGH: Like what would those be?

MR. SWAINE: Well, assistance in providing greater food relief perhaps for the refugees in Afghanistan. Providing some other kinds of support for the effort to try and maintain peace in various parts of Afghanistan without sending in troops, or anything like that of course. These are possibilities that could be raised. But I'm not entirely sure that the Chinese would be very comfortable with getting involved in this. I mean, they have historically not taken a very high visibility position in these kinds of actions, and they don't want, I don't think, to get too closely involved in a behavior here, an action here that is clearly being run by the United States.

Yes, they want to be consulted. Yes, they want to be able to discuss areas where they can provide some sort of lower level support, but I don抰 think they want to give the impression that they are sort of fully involved in this effort because of the reason I just mentioned.

MS. DUMBAUGH: Well, this seems to be a particularly difficult time in the Chinese political succession process too for a sort of involvement or bold policy decisions. We're expecting leadership changes. Do you expect any different approach as fourth-generation leadership comes to power in China?

MR. FREEMAN: We have a remarkable transition going on, as you said, with the prospect of roughly 60 percent of the members of the central committee changing at the end of the year and with three new leaders coming in, if the succession proceeds as planned. Hu Jing Tow (sp) would emerge as the party secretary-general in the fall and the interesting thing there is that almost no American has met him and he has never been to the United States, so we will be starting a relationship with a generation ? I'd say that Won Jop Hao (sp) who is likely to be premier, similarly, has not had much contact with Americans and Wu Bang Gao (sp) who seems likely to head the NPC similarly is not well-known, so we're starting off very oddly after 30 years of relationship, we're starting off again with a bunch of people who we don't know and who don't know us. So I'm sure there will be changes, but I wouldn't begin to be able to predict what they might be.

MR. SWAINE: And I would say -- I mean, I agree completely with that, and I think it would take some time for any leadership, whether known by the United States or not, to be able to establish after the party congress all the right kinds of policies and power relationships clearly so that they could then go and reassess to some degree perhaps their relationship in dealing with the counter-terrorist efforts and other major issues. The emphasis will be on stabilizing the situation domestically and maintaining the relationship as best as possible with the United States.

MS. DUMBAUGH: I want to thank both of you for joining us on the China Forum at interesting times and uncertain times ahead for U.S.-China relations. This is Kerry Dumbaugh for the China Forum. We'll see you next time.



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