Back to Common Ground Archive


Program 9936
September 7, 1999


Wu Xinbo, Professor, Center for American Studies, Fudan University

Bonnie Glazier, Asian Affairs Consultant

Harry Harding, Dean of the Eliot School of International Affairs, George Washington University

Yan Xuetong, Director, Center for Foreign Policy Studies, China Institute of Contemporary International Relations

Ted Ossius, Senior Advisor on International Affairs for Vice President Al Gore

This text has been professionally transcribed. However, for timely distribution, it has not been edited or proofread against the tape.

WU XINBO: Over the past 20 years China’s attitude toward the United States is, has been very much driven by China’s domestic agenda—that is, China’s economic modernization.

KRISTEN MCHUGH: This week on Common Ground, US-Chinese Relations.

BONNIE GLAZIER: I believe now in the aftermath of the NATO strikes on Kosovo that China is once again more uncertain about the potential for a strategic relationship with the United States.

KEITH PORTER: Common Ground is a program on world affairs and the people who shape events. It’s produced by the Stanley Foundation. I’m Keith Porter.

KRISTEN MCHUGH: And I’m Kristen McHugh. The People’s Republic of China is struggling to find its role in international affairs as the world prepares to enter the 21st century. This week, as Common Ground concludes a two-part series on China, Chinese scholars and American foreign policy experts provide their personal perspective on China’s relationship with the United States and the rest of the Western nations. We begin today’s discussion with Harry Harding, Dean of the Eliot School of International Affairs at George Washington University. He says despite recent events the United States remains committed to building a cooperative relationship with China.

HARRY HARDING: There is a, I think a, somewhat of a widening gap between the US government’s policy and the preferences of at least important sectors of the Congress and the press. I think that the US government, ever since the exchange of summit meetings between Presidents Jiang and Clinton, has been committed to building toward trying to create what the two Presidents called a “constructive strategic partnership” in 1997. Those words are sometimes difficult to understand. Essentially what it means is an essentially cooperative relationship between the two countries. Acknowledging differences but arguing that there is much room for cooperation and the areas of potential cooperation are more significant than the areas of difference.

That idea, of course, has been very shaken by events this past year. Everything from the bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, to the Cox Commission Report and the charges of Chinese espionage, and just the continuing concerns about the possibility of conflict in the Taiwan Straits. A long list of developments this year have really been a series of body blows to the concept of a cooperative relationship.

However, like the Chinese government, the US government is still committed to this, to trying to build a cooperative relationship. But increasingly that concept has been criticized. The critics had fallen silent at the time of the twin summits. They are now beginning to say, “Wait a minute. How can this be a cooperative relationship?” And thus George W. Bush has at least been quoted as saying that instead of seeing this as a cooperative relationship we should really see it as a competitive relationship.

YAN XUETONG: As a Chinese I believe, on the China concern, the Sino-American relationship has ?? all these troubles, moving in a direction and getting better.

MCHUGH: This is Yan Xuetong, Director of the Center for Foreign Policy Studies, China Institute of Contemporary International Relations.

YAN XUETONG: And the, if we do the comparison study, then you find the relationship between China and US now is better than the relationship after the events of 1989. Although, we still have a lot of troubles. Officially the government policy is trying to avoid a confrontation with the United States and to develop a cooperation with the US. And still, the strategic partnership is a goal for the China’s policy toward the US. And in the society—I’m talking about ordinary people—they’re concept of the US is the only superpower of the world. It’s very strong. But sometimes the US hegemonic policy hurt Chinese feeling and their national interest. So, they concerned we should take a tough policy to protect our own national interest. And, but the majority of people do not support the policy to confront in every aspects and against the United States.

TED OSSIUS: I think since the late seventies what we’ve seen is an opening up of China, including to the United States. Greater interest in economic development and the benefits that a constructive relationship with the United States and other Western powers can bring.

MCHUGH: This is Ted Ossius, Senior Advisor on International Affairs for Vice President Al Gore.

OSSIUS??: We’ve seen a lot of oscillations. And in recent, even recent months we’ve seen pretty violent oscillations. I think some of that comes about because on both side of the Pacific there are pretty deep wells of suspicion that still exist about what is the intention of the other power. I think on the Chinese side that would be fair to say there’s concern that the United States is seeking to constrain China. On the US side, there are concern about nonproliferation, concerns about charges of Chinese espionage, concerns that China isn’t playing a responsible role yet in the world order. But then there are also I think in the governments of both sides, on both sides, people who are quite willing to identify the areas where our interests converge and try to expand those areas.

WU XINBO: Over the past 20 years China’s attitude toward the United States is, has been very much driven by China’s domestic agenda—that is, China’s economic modernization.

MCHUGH: This is Wu Shen Bo, Professor with the Center for American Studies, Fudan University.

WU XINBO: So in this regard we think the United States is a valuable partner for China’s economic development. Also, in the early period of the ‘80s, we thought the United States a kind of informal strategic partner for China in dealing with the Soviet threat. But with the collapse of the former Soviet Union that perception is gone. So, at present stage I would say that China views the United States mainly as partner in China’s economic development, although we have become increasingly aware of the necessity to seek US cooperation on China’s foreign policy concerns such as Taiwan and regional stability.

BONNIE GLAZIER: Over the last 20 years I think that China’s assessment for the potential a cooperative relationship with the United States has changed.

MCHUGH: This is Bonnie Glazier, an Asian affairs consultant based in Washington, DC.

GLAZIER: Certainly there was a period in the ‘80s when China was more optimistic that it could be strategic partners with the United States. And then that optimism waned and perhaps was reinvigorated again with Clinton’s summit meeting with Jian Zemin in which the two Presidents identified as a long-term goal to build toward a strategic, a constructive strategic partnership between the two countries. However, I believe now in the aftermath of the NATO strikes on Kosovo that China is once again more uncertain about the potential for a strategic relationship with the United States and for a cooperative relationship with the US. And, although has not given up hope that that can be attained, nevertheless is pessimistic that it can be achieved in the near term.

MCHUGH: Well, that brings to my next question and that was, how does the bombing in Yugoslavia affect US-Chinese relations? Wu Shen Bo?

WU XINBO: I think it affected this ?? in several ways. On the political level people have become much more concerned about US global strategy, especially its implications for China. And secondly, for the Chinese leaders, I think they have become increasingly aware of the vulnerability of this relationship. That will make them more cautious in the future in dealing with the United States. Thirdly, on the public level I think this has produced a lot of psychological impact in China because we tend to think that US bombing of Chinese Embassy as a kind of deliberate, intentional attack, rather than a mistaken bombing. So, this perception, or the Chinese’ public perception of the United States, in many ways, and that will in return constrain Chinese leaders’ decision in, on US-China relations. And finally, this may also affect China’s cooperation with the United States in international affairs because we think the United States adopts a highly arrogant and presumptuous attitudes in dealing with other countries. And why China should be so forthcoming in cooperating with the United States on international affairs.

YAN XUETONG: The immediate effect is a very, very strong. And created a deterioration of the relationship between China and the US. And I think the practical impact will last just in short-term. But the psychological impact will last a very long, it’s very durable. And for my understanding, this bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade will strongly, or largely, change the Chinese image of the United States. And they make, most of the people believe, USA just a hegemonic power and they do something according to their own will and their interests and take care of very little others’ interests and they gave, they didn’t give enough respect to China’s interests. And so in the long run I think it’s, the world takes a very long time for America to restore their image in China.

MCHUGH: Taiwan is also a very hot issue. How is that going to impact future relations?

WU XINBO: Well, I think the recent development on the Taiwan issue is really testing US-China relations once again. Because the comments made by Taiwan’s leader, Lee Deng Weih??, about the so-called “state-to-state relations across the Taiwan Strait” is viewed in Beijing as a kind of declaration of Taiwan’s independence. And in that sense I think China has no choice but to respond resolutely in defending its territorial integrity. And for the United States, I think given its long-term relations with Taiwan, that if China takes military actions against Taiwan, the United States will be very likely involved. So in that sense China and the United States may be involved in another confrontation since the ‘50s and the 60s. Again, this also provides an opportunity for China and the United States to improve the political relations.

GLAZIER: I think that the United States and China have differences on the issue of Taiwan, but we fundamentally share a common interest of avoiding war between our two countries over the problem of Taiwan. And I think that if the leaders in both countries keep their minds on that particular objective then we will be able to avoid a crisis over this issue.

YAN XUETONG: The Taiwan issue has been the core problem between China-US for several decades. And it seems to me after the announcement of the state-to-state relationship of, by Lee Deng Weih??, it will make the relationship in the dangerous situation. And from my understanding, if Lee Deng Weih?? does not take back the words, then mainland China need to take some substantial action to force him back from moving toward the form of independence. And now that’s really depends on how much China and the US can cooperate on this issue. And if US cannot cooperate with China on this issue, and China must take its own action. And if US take, cannot understand this situation in the same way like China to understand, and provide arms sale to Taiwan and to continue support, political—some political support, not from government but from Congress for the independence of that island, and the relationship will hurt immediately. So I think that that’s really depends on how the crisis ended. By now it’s too early to predict the result.

MCHUGH: Ted Ossius?

OSSIUS: This is a really tricky problem in the US-China relationship. It’s certainly something that China views as a core interest. And it’s something that we also see as very important. We have very important economic and cultural ties with Taiwan. Taiwan is a functioning democracy. And at the same time we want to maintain an open line with Beijing on this issue so that we can help deter any kind of military aggression aimed at Taiwan. The US has the opportunity to play a constructive role in defusing tensions across the Taiwan Straits. And so far the US has been able to do that. I think both the Taiwanese and Beijing have valued our role thus far.

PORTER: Coming up, more on China’s relationship with the United States.

OSSIUS: The relationship with China is too important to play politics with. And I think that there will be—I predict a responsible approach to the China, the US-China relationship during the next few months.

PORTER: Printed transcripts and audio cassettes of this program are available. Listen at the end of the broadcast for details. Common Ground is a service of the Stanley Foundation, a non-profit, non-partisan organization that conducts a wide a range of programs designed to provoke thought and encourage dialogue on world affairs.

MCHUGH: Does China want to become a superpower? As some in the US media, at least, are suggesting?

HARDING: Of course, and I immediately smiled. Because the Chinese definition of superpower is such that by definition they wouldn’t want to become on.

MCHUGH: Again, Harry Harding.

HARDING: A superpower is a big country that bullies others. So, it’s interesting how much the Chinese discourse has evolved over the years that even some Chinese are willing to discuss this without immediately denying it. I think the best answer is that most Chinese realize that that is a long, long way off. If by superpower we mean a country that is able to project its influence everywhere in the world. I think that what China wants to become is a major—if not the major—regional power in Asia. And it wants to have a voice on global issues, say through its seat, permanent seat in the UN Security Council. That, you know, the Chinese have that within, kind of, within their sights. They’re within shooting distance of that kind of an objective. Superpower would be way, way down the road. But I think it’s a more limited vision that they have in mind for the next several decades.

WU XINBO: We think superpower has some special meaning.

MCHUGH: Again, Wu Shen Bo.

WU XINBO: First, is means that you will possess a kind of a military superiority over other countries that the former Soviet Union and the United States stand. And secondly, we think superpower means that a country pursues a kind of power politics and hegemony in international relations. So in that sense China does not believe it is seeking a superpower position. Having said that, I have to point out that China is determined to become a great power. And we believe we are very much in this process. But in the end China will not turn out to be like former Soviet Union or the United States. And China will be China.

MCHUGH: Bonnie Glazier?

GLAZIER: I think certainly China wants to be a major power. Perhaps not a superpower. But most importantly, China wants to increase its overall, what the Chinese would call “comprehensive” indices of national power. Economic, political, technological, scientific. China would like to enhance its strength in a number of areas. Not for the goal of combating the United States or taking on its neighbors, but as China sees it, to defend its own interests. I believe that there is growing frustration, perhaps even exasperation, in China, that China is too weak to prevent others from damaging its interests. And the example that comes to mind is the continued US arms sales to Taiwan. I think that China believes that one day, when it is strong enough, it will have an ability to have greater influence on the United States, greater leverage over the US, on that issue. And on other issues. But as long as China is weak its leverage with the US on that issue and other issues is very limited. So yes, China wants to be a major power in the future, but not necessarily a superpower. I don’t think that it has, with any time in the foreseeable future, an objective of supplanting the United States.

YAN XUETONG: I think maybe every country to be a superpower on the Earth. But that’s not the question.

MCHUGH: Again, Yan Xuetong

YAN XUETONG: The question is whether a country has the potentiality or capability to be a superpower. And in the long run, being a Chinese, I think that China has that potential to be a superpower, in the future. But I do not want to mislead that. China will be a superpower very soon. And first, the term potential superpower for China, is used by Western media. It’s Western countries that concern China have the capability to be, a potentiality to be a superpower in the near future. I, personally I believe China, it will take China at the least 30 years, maybe 50 years, to be a superpower. Maybe even longer. According to Deng Xiao Peng’s expectation—that is China’s paramount leader, late paramount leader, and he expected it would take China several generations to reach that goal. So, now it is, when people concern China is a competitor of the United States, I think it is an over, overestimated China’s capability. China is a still developing country. China is only a local power. And China still is a faraway to be a world power, a world superpower.

MCHUGH: Finally, where do you see US-Chinese relations heading in both the near future and in long-term.

HARDING: Good question. In the near future I am not—putting aside Taiwan, which has so many question marks around it—but setting that aside, I have not been that concerned about the near term. I think that unless something happens in the Taiwan Strait to throw things out of whack, I think the US-China relationship will stabilize and may even improve. The two Presidents are supposed to meet at the annual meeting of APEC??, and I think that the idea is that they will move things forward, maybe even have—I hope—an agreement on WTO.

But over the longer term I’d have to say that I’m much more cautious, and more cautious now than I have been in a long time. The combination of these worrying developments in the Taiwan Strait and this broader issue of China wanting to be a rising power, suspecting the United States as the established power. The United States is the established power suspecting and fearing the rise of China. There are certain schools of international political theory that say that conflict is unavoidable in that kind of situation. I wouldn’t go that far, because of all the economic interdependencies. But certainly managing that issue, that big issue, is going to be very difficult. And the fact that there is this immediate flashpoint in the Taiwan Straits makes it of some concern.

YAN XUETONG: I do concern in the short-run. And the relationship cannot get dramatically improved. And because of the nowadays we have so many big problems, and like the bombing of the embassy impact is still there. And the WTO problem is there. And also nowadays we have the Taiwan issue, or the emergency. And the short-term it seems to me is very difficult. In mid-term, I mean in two years, and it’s still very difficult for China and the US to improve their relationship. Because the domestic politics in the US, I mean the presidential campaign. And during the campaign both Republicans will use China as a bullet to attack the Clinton administration. So Clinton administration, they are not to make a brief step to improve the bilateral relationship. So in the mid-term I think it is still difficult.

But in the long run, and that means after the presidential campaign, then the, a chance will come for these two countries to improve their relationship. Because no matter who came to power, no matter who takes the leadership in the US, or in China, they must concern. These two major countries must avoid major conflicts among them. This is a strategic, mutual interest for both sides. This is so important, if would anyone ignore it, and go to the, to run that risk of war, that war for both sides. So that’s why I argue in the long run the strategical relationship between China and the US will develop.

OSSIUS: There are great areas where cooperation between China and other countries such as the United States can be expanded.

MCHUGH: Again, Ted Ossius?

OSSIUS: The primary area is certainly economic cooperation. We have the possibility of greatly increased cooperation in energy, for example. In liberalizing food trade. In the environment and dealing with global environmental issues. In terms of your point about domestic politics intruding into the US-China relationship, I guess I’m a little more sanguine about that. I think that the relationship with China is too important to play politics with. And I think that there will be—I predict a responsible approach to the China, the US-China relationship during the next few months.

WU XINBO: Both China and the United States have developed a heavy stake in the bilateral relations that neither side wants to see the breaking up of this relationship. And both sides will develop more skill, more expertise in crisis management in this relationship, and will try to bring this bilateral relations back to the right track after each crisis. So in that sense I would be predicting that several years from now, maybe we are more mature in dealing with this bilateral relations, both strategically and tactically. And in fact, I think especially with the growth in the US-China economic interdependence, I think this relationship will become more stable.

MCHUGH: Bonnie Glazier?

GLAZIER: In the longer run I too am optimistic, as Wu Shen Bo is, that we have learned a great deal of lessons from the crises that we have faced. We understand that it would not serve the interests of our two countries to allow our relations to deteriorate to the point of confrontation. There are many issues on which we will have to face together in the 21st century. And again, hopefully we will have wise leaders in both capitals that will be able to at least not have a confrontation over, over the differences, but more importantly will be able to see that prospects for cooperation where our two countries can join together to advance our common interests in world peace.

MCHUGH: That was Asian affairs consultant Bonnie Glazier. We also heard from Harry Harding, Dean of the Eliot School of International Affairs at George Washington University; Wu Xinbo, a Professor with the Center for American Studies at Fudan University; Yan Xuetong, Director of the Center for Foreign Policy Studies, China Institute of Contemporary International Relations; and Ted Ossius, Senior Advisor on International Affairs for Vice President Al Gore. For Common Ground, I’m Kristen McHugh.

Our theme music was created by B.J. Leiderman. Common Ground was produced and funded by the Stanley Foundation.

Copyright © Stanley Center for Peace and Security