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JIA QINGGUO: China and the United States are two great countries. We really don’t have fundamental differences. Either in economic relations, or in political relations. I think in terms of values China has no problem with democracy, freedom, and these value objectives.
KRISTIN MCHUGH: This week on Common Ground, conflict with China.
LI XIAOPING: The Chinese people think the US is arrogant dealing with international issues.
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.
MCHUGH: And I’m Kristin McHugh. Serious conflicts remain in the relations between the United States and China: human rights, nuclear weapons, Taiwan, and trade relations are just a few of the many disagreements that still must be resolved. Scholars and academics from both countries recently met in Seattle to discuss the issues that China and the US don’t agree on. Jia Qingguo is an Associate Dean of the School of International Studies at Peking University. Wu Xinbo is a Professor for the Center for American Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai. And Timothy Weston is an Assistant Professor of History at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and the co-editor of the recently published book, China Beyond the Headlines. We begin today’s discussion on the status of US-Chinese relations with Timothy Weston.
TIMOTHY WESTON: In general, I would say that there’s considerable tension and distrust. I think that the recent passage of PNTR, though, is a good sign. I believe that this suggests that the tensions are likely to decline. Or at least that there’s a great deal of interest on both sides, but in the case of PNTR, in improving them. In not letting them slide too much further at the moment.
MCHUGH: Jia Qingguo, how would you characterize relations now, versus a year ago?
JIA QINGGUO: Well, I think at the official level the relationship is fine. We have some problems, we have some differences, but then both sides want to maintain the relationship at a healthy level. But at the popular level, I think there is a lot of politicization of US-China relations, especially US-China policy. In the US, I think that people opinion of China has deteriorated over time. And also in China because of last year’s bombing, and also other issues. The popular support for a more friendly China-US policy has also deteriorated somewhat. So this is something to be worried about.
MCHUGH: Wu Xinbo, would you agree with that?
WU XINBO: Personally, I would agree with what Professor Jia Qingguo has said. I think on the one hand we are still trying to do fence mending for China-US relations, which have suffered severely last year after the embassy bombing. And on the other hand we are trying to face new challenges. One is on the Taiwan issue in the wake of the election of Chen Shui-bian to the power. And thirdly, I think we are going to move to the end of the election year and then you will have a new administration. I think both sides have some uncertainties about these relations, how it will look like next year. I am not as pessimistic as some people have suggested.
MCHUGH: Jia Qingguo, that was actually going to be my next question. And it was, do you foresee major changes in the relationship once a new administration takes office in January?
JIA QINGGUO: Well, depending on which administration. I think if the Republican Party takes over, then there might be a little bit more changes than if the Democratic Party takes over. That’s usually the case. But after a while I think either the Republican Party or the Democratic Party in office will follow more or less the same kind of China policy. So, if the Republican Party takes over then there might be a little bit fluctuation in terms of the relationship, a little bit volatility at the beginning for adjustment. But after a while I think both-the current policy is more or less realistic and supported by both parties.
MCHUGH: Tim Weston, you’re nodding your head in agreement.
WESTON: Basically, yes. I think if you look at what’s happened in the last decade that you can see the two parties have more or less arrived at the same place in terms of what I would say is the pragmatic engagement strategy. And I don’t see that either of the major parties in this country is likely to change from that. I do think Jia Qingguo is right; that if it’s a Republican administration that will introduce a new jockeying on, for position on issues, and I think will probably create a bit more tension. I think that the Republicans are more likely probably, especially in the short term, to-and this is whether or not they win the White House-to push harder on the Taiwan issue than the Democrats are. But that too, is a pretty bipartisan issue in this country.
MCHUGH: Wu Xinbo, Taiwan and human rights are still major concerns, as everyone has agreed during this conference, for the US. How does China view these issues at this point?
WU XINBO: Definitely the issue of human rights, China has become more accustomed to this kind of debate with the US side. We have set up this kind of a regime for dialogue on human rights, and I think that for the Chinese and the Americans the real difference on this issue is not about whether or not human rights is important, but about how to assess the progress that China is making in this regard and how reasonably we should expect from China in this regard. And then on the Taiwan issue, I think after the March election, I think both Beijing and Washington have been trying to manage this issue to keep it from getting out of control. But if there is a Republican government, I assume, they will take a tougher position on issues like selling weapons, more weapons, to Taiwan, or even bring Taiwan to a theater missile defense. In that case then the Taiwan issue will become a major source of contention between China and the US again.
MCHUGH: Jia Qingguo, how do you feel about Taiwan and human rights?
JIA QINGGUO: Well, on the human rights issue, I think, yeah, I agree with Wu Xinbo, that we don’t have fundamental differences. I think the differences are a sort of priorities. China is undergoing tremendous changes. China needs to balance between protection of human rights and also maintaining stability, especially when you talk about civil and political rights.
But on the Taiwan issue, I think despite our differences on a range of issues, especially US selling arms to Taiwan, I think the two countries share one interest in common: that is a stabilization of the Taiwan Strait. Neither the US nor China want to see Taiwan independence to rock the boat, to draw the two countries into a military confrontation. So both countries try to maintain the one China principle and at the same time, of course, try to stabilize the situation. China, of course, hopes that eventually it’s, it will be able to achieve reunification as well. But in the short run I think China does not have that high of aspirations. And the US, of course, wants to see a peaceful resolution of the issue, even if the independence comes up. But of course, it doesn’t want to take the risk and let independence to be the cause of a major military conflict. So both sides are going to work closely, or separately, to avoid the issue of Taiwan independence to draw the two countries into a military conflict.
MCHUGH: Tim Weston, I’m curious as to your thoughts on whether or not there is room for concessions on both of those issues.
WESTON: I think the most likely way for us to see the United States showing a willingness to allow the situation to take a peaceful course is if we see an agreement between Taiwan and Beijing, first of all. This is the most practical way for it to go, and I think that that’s likely, actually. That there is going to be-I’m optimistic in that regard. I think that they are going to find a way to use language which puts off the necessity of coming to some kind of really quick conclusion to that, which, and I think the United States is likely to be very supportive and instrumental in furthering that process.
On human rights, I agree entirely with Jia Qingguo. First of all, I’m a strong supporter of human rights, but I am also somebody who’s come around to believing that it has become increasingly politicized, and that the United States really has to start thinking about being consistent in the way it talks about human rights, that the United States needs to avoid politicizing the issue needlessly, or at least in ways that other countries are going to find irritating. And I think that it’s really critically important that the United States not forget to talk about problems in this society, that it not stand on a pillar and sort of preach to the rest of the world, as if these problems are only elsewhere and not problems that we have too, in some respects.
MCHUGH: Jia Qingguo, I’ve heard recently, very recently, that Taiwan is an issue that China would be willing to go war over. Would you agree with that?
JIA QINGGUO: Well, I think there are two issues here. One is reunification. The other is independence. China probably will not go to war with Taiwan over reunification. China wants to achieve peaceful reunification. But if Taiwan declares independence, that’s a different issue. Then China is going to face tremendous pressures to fight to protect China’s territorial integrity. And I think if Taiwan really dares to declare independence then I think war is inevitable.
MCHUGH: Wu Xinbo.
WU XINBO: I don’t think China will use military means to seek unification with Taiwan. But if Taiwan seeks formal independence, then China will have no choice but to use force to respond to that kind of scenario.
MCHUGH: Tim Weston, could either one of these situations provoke the United States to intervene militarily?
WESTON: Well, certainly if mainland China were to attack Taiwan prior to any kind of any formal declaration I think there’s no doubt that there would be a US response. I think-in fact, I think there’s likely to be a US military response in either case. God forbid, but I do believe that at this point at least there’s, both sides are sort of in a posture where anything else is impossible.
MCHUGH: China and Russia most recently have decided to basically be on the same side, or on the same team in terms of US plans for a National Missile Defense. China and Russia both have stated that they are very opposed to this idea. Is this a big stumbling block in moving along US-Chinese relations? Tim Weston?
WESTON: I think it is. I think that there’s a perception in China that the United States is setting up the situation in a way that will-that this is all about Taiwan, and that this will make the Chinese interests, long-term interests in Taiwan harder to achieve. And therefore it puts at risk the speed at which things are going. And I think too, there’s a sense that it’s increasing US dominance in a situation in which the United States already has an overwhelming superiority of military strength. So I do think it’s a very serious concern in China, yes.
MCHUGH: Jia Qingguo?
JIA QINGGUO: Of course China is also in principle opposed to either TMD or NMD, because it believes that the 1972 agreement, Anti-Ballistic Missile agreement, has a useful function to play in stabilizing international strategic and regional strategic environment. And in this respect China shares the Russian’s feeling that the development of NMD or TMD is going to have a disruptive effect on the current balance of international strategic environment, and also may lead to a new round of arms race, which is not in the best interests of either the world or the region.
MCHUGH: Jia Qingguo and Wu Xinbo, when I first visited with you a year ago, both of you were fairly optimistic about the future, the long-term future of US-Chinese relations. Has your optimism changed at all? Jia Qingguo?
JIA QINGGUO: I think the situation today has somewhat deteriorated, especially at the popular level. I think that needs to be restored. And I think we should try to discourage politicians to manipulate on the “hate China” or “hate the US” issues. I think that’s very important. The other aspect of the question is whether in the long run we are going to face better relations. Well, I’m still optimistic. I think China and the United States are two great countries. We really don’t have fundamental differences. Either in economic relations or in political relations. I think in terms of values China has no problem with democracy, freedom, and these value objectives. But of course China has its own priorities and in the short-run of course these priorities might, may run, may not be compatible with the American priorities. That’s many, where many of the problems in US-China relations arise. Now in the long run we may, we are resourceful and wise enough to sort out these problems and then develop a healthy and normal US-China relations.
MCHUGH: Wu Xinbo?
WU XINBO: Well, my optimism for US-China relations is based on several factors. One is that I believe it’s naïve to think we will have a better agenda without any serious differences. The differences are always there, but at the same time we are developing the skills and the mechanisms to address those differences. Also, I think the common interests between our two countries will increase and this will allow the two leaderships to work together to promote better relations. And, but I also share with Professor Jia Qingguo’s concern over the deteriorating public opinion towards the other side in both countries. I think in this case maybe the US media and the Chinese media as well, should play a constructive role in enhancing the mutual, mutual understanding of each other.
MCHUGH: Tim Weston, the last word. Are you optimistic about US-Chinese relations?
WESTON: In an overall sense I guess I’m basically optimistic. I do believe that there’s, this is a very tense period. And I think that China has become, mostly for worse, a little bit for better, the major foreign policy “other” in the United States right now. And that therefore big issues that have to do with globalization more broadly are being filtered through the Chinese in particular. And I think there is a lot of demagoging going on. I think the United States media has some role in this. I think the media tries to be balanced. I think if one reads it carefully one can actually find balance in it. But I think that the political instincts in Washington tend not to, tend to be going toward the negative these days. And I would just add as a historian that I think it’s beyond merely what gets represented in the media. That’s very important. Or what politicians say. That’s also very important. But I think really what’s, what needs to happen as these two countries play, become closer together and play an increasingly large, shared role in devising the future for the world, is that they need to have a greater knowledge, especially Americans, of Chinese history and of the immediate context. And therefore I think a greater sense of patience with the problems that China is grappling with, which are large and multiple and very, very difficult to solve.
MCHUGH: That is Timothy Weston, an Assistant Professor of History with the University of Colorado and the co-editor of the recently published book, China Beyond the Headlines. We also heard from Jia Qingguo, the Associate Dean of the School of International Studies at Peking University, and Wu Xinbo, a Professor in the Center for American Studies at Fudan University.
PORTER: Coming up, broadcast news in China.
LI XIAOPING: The function of the media has been enlarged quite a bit.
PORTER: Western media outlets are actively reporting news from China. But you may be surprised to learn that broadcast news is a competitive industry within China. Li Xiaoping is an Executive Producer for China Central Television in Beijing. Kristen recently talked with her about how the news is covered in China.
LI XIAOPING: I am responsible for produced dairy current affairs program. And in my kind of first program we are, we have some subjects dealing with domestic issues and some dealing with international issues. Myself, I am in charge of a team which is responsible for the coverage of international issues. When American President Clinton visited China we tried very, very hard to interview him, but not in Beijing. Finally we followed him to Shanghai. We interviewed him in Shanghai.
MCHUGH: Well, that’s really good, because I can’t get President Clinton to sit down with me! [laughing]
LI XIAOPING: It’s very difficult to get the VIP to interviewed, because they have been so busy, their schedule is so tight. So, quite difficult.
MCHUGH: Now you and I were talking earlier about how the Chinese system works, in terms of the broadcasting system. Can you maybe tell me a little bit about the broadcasting system in China?
LI XIAOPING: We have two areas. One is a radio system. The other one is a television system. And the TV system can nationwidely reach about 82% of the total population. And for the radio they can reach about 81% of total Chinese population.
MCHUGH: In the United States there is a great deal of competition within the media, both in newspaper and in broadcast. Is there competition in China?
LI XIAOPING: Yes. I think it’s, inside television and the broadcasting system, and the radio system, it’s very competitive. Between state television station and the local TV stations. And also between the normal TV stations and cable TV station. And also, very, very keen competition between traditional media and Internet.
MCHUGH: You work for state-owned media. And I think that there is an idea in the United States that the government tells you what to say in all of your newscasts. Is that true?
LI XIAOPING: In some extent, it is. But in other extent, it is not. Because since China has been opened and has been reformed, the Chinese television professionals they learned a lot from outside world. And they have very strong sense of journalism responsibility. They try to make as much as possible coverage, all kinds of issues. If they can provide informative means they will get more raising rating. So that makes them try very, very hard for the daily base. They don’t give us any daily direction, say what you should do, what you cannot do. We have basic guidelines say what kind of thing such as floods, such as a disaster, such as any corruption, or such as some social evils, how should we report for that. We have a party line. But not item, case-by-case. But if something, very significant thing occurred, we may get some direction from government.
MCHUGH: You were telling me earlier that the media is changing in China. How is it changing?
LI XIAOPING: The function of the media has been changed a lot. Now, the media try to make a lot of coverage to reflect the true situation. So the function of the media has been enlarged quite a bit. And also, for the media we, from my program we often criticize some corruption, and some social evils and some kind of things. That to be a watchdog, to monitor a lot of things. So that might-I think it is very good for the society.
MCHUGH: Would you say then that the media is admired in China?
LI XIAOPING: Because our program criticize a lot of bad things inside, inside Chinese society, so we got so many phone call and so many letters each day. And many people they, I think they rely on the media to criticize bad things.
MCHUGH: How does the Chinese media cover the United States?
LI XIAOPING: We did a lot of coverage. We have some coverage on the American high technology, such as a lot with daily news, with space, and also how American people treat natural disasters like earthquake, like a flood, and a big, big fire, and these kind of things. Also, some, how Americans dealing with some international affairs, and about Sino-American relation. The Chinese people think the US is arrogant dealing with international issues. But when they dealing with domestic issues, they are quite diplomatic. So basically the Chinese people think America is quite advanced, is very clean, not so much pollution, is very beautiful country, and the people are very enthusiastic, very kind, very nice, to people from other countries.
MCHUGH: That is Li Xiaoping, an Executive Producer for China Central Television. For Common Ground, I’m Kristin McHugh.
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