ICAS     Institute for Corean-American Studies, Inc

The ICAS Lectures

No. 2000-1013-YYZ

China-U.S. Relations: Issues and Outlook

Yuanyuan Zhang

ICAS Fall Symposium
economic, international relations and security issues
Washington D. C.
October 13, 2000

Institute for Corean-American Studies, Inc.

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Biographic Sketch: Yuanyuan Zhang

China-U.S. Relations: Issues and Outlook Mr. Moderator,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure for me to attend this Symposium. First of all, I would like to thank you, Mr. Moderator, for giving me this opportunity to share my views with so many senior diplomats, famous scholars, political commentators and policy analysts.

China-U.S. relations are very important, and are likely to be even more important in the future. No matter how people think of the term "strategic partnership", first appeared some three years ago during President Jiang's visit to the United States, I believe it has served the two countries well. Given the fact that China and the United States are both nuclear powers and permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, that the U.S. is the world's leading industrial country and China the most populous and largest developing country, and that both countries have expressed strong interests in keeping the world peaceful, stable and more prosperous, I believe that the way we conduct our relations inevitably has an important and strategic bearing on the region we live in and the world at large. Moreover, rather than trying to define these relations, our leaders simply pledged to "build towards" a constructive strategic partnership geared to the 21st century.

The reasons for China and the United States to stay engaged with each other and cooperate closely are many. Take the Korean issue for example. First and foremost, I think the Koreans on both sides of the 38th Parallel deserve the credit for bringing about the recent positive changes on the Peninsula. The joint procession of their athletes at the Sidney Olympic Games was such a wonderful and moving sight. Without the enlightened policies and the farsighted policy readjustments by the leaders of both ROK and DPRK, such a new situation could not have taken place.

Yet the role of the other parties should not be overlooked. China consistently maintains friendly and cooperative relations with the DPRK, not only because it is in our tradition to do so, but also because it is the best way in our view to keep the Peninsula peaceful and stable. We also value our relations with all the other parties. In fact China is the only country that has diplomatic relations with all the other three, DPRK, ROK and the U.S. We advocate reconciliation between the North and South and encourage dialogue between all the parties, especially that between DPRK and the United States. We caution patience when things did not go quite smoothly. We did this with a conviction that reducing tension and promoting peace, stability and national reconciliation on the Peninsula serve the interests of both the North and South, as well as the interests of China and the United States. In a few days, Premier Zhu Rongji will visit ROK, which, in my view, will become yet another milestone in the all-round cooperation between the two countries since the establishment of diplomatic ties 8 years ago. I also wish to take this opportunity to congratulate the U.S. and the DPRK for the steps they have taken to improve their bilateral relations.

Now, let me turn to the topic of my presentation: Issues and Outlook of China-U.S. Relations.

More than two hundred years have elapsed since China and the United States made their first contact with each other. Despite ups and downs, twists and turns, Sino-American relations have moved forward slowly but steadily thanks primarily to a simple common desire of both peoples to live in peace as friends.

In the 1970s when the world was still in the middle of the Cold War, China and the United States, rising above ideological differences and 20 years of hostility and mutual estrangement, decided to come together. President Nixon, who called his historic 1972 visit to China the week that changed the world, helped lay down the basic principles for this new type of China-U.S. relationship. What are these principles?

First, both the U.S. and China are motivated by their respective national interests to reach out to each other and to engage in mutually beneficial cooperation;

Secondly, the United States recognizes that there is but one China in the world and Taiwan is part of China;

Thirdly, notwithstanding their profound political and philosophical differences, the U.S. and China are ready to pursue a bilateral relationship based on mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity and non-interferences in each other's internal affairs.

All these principles are contained in the three joint communiqués between the two countries, namely, the Shanghai Communiqué of 1972, the Communiqué on the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations of 1979 and the August 17th Communiqué of 1982. The last two were signed during the Carter and Reagan presidency. These documents represent solemn international obligations and, taken together, form the foundation of the China-U.S. relations.

Over the past 28 years and through six administrations, both Republican and Democratic, there has developed a unified and consistent China policy on the part of U.S. government, a policy that has enjoyed bipartisan support in Congress and broad endorsement among the American people. The successful conclusion of the PNTR drama is the latest testimony to such a support.

Having said that, I do not suggest that the past has all been smooth-sailing. In fact, China-U.S. relationship is not an easy mission, but one that needs constant attention and careful management. If we forget those basic principles or choose to act in contravention of them, things will go wrong and the relationship will suffer. Since we do not have much time, let me limit myself to just three questions that I, as the Embassy spokesman, often come across.

The first question: Should the U.S. feel threatened by China's rising role in world affairs?

The second question: Can China and the U.S. ever get along?

The third question: Taiwan.

1. Reading Patrick Tyler's book, A Great Wall, Six Presidents and China, one gets an impression that the United States was once a big fan of China. Deng Xiaoping was chosen trice in the 1980s as the Time Magazine's Man of the Year. Then the Soviet Union collapsed. China seemed to have lost all its value overnight as a counterweight to the once fearful rival superpower. Guided by Mr. Deng's reform and opening policy, China continued to make progress, growing stronger and perhaps a little more assertive when it came to relations with the West. Then, we began to hear some noises about the so-called "China threat". In Western press, China was often portrayed as an emerging superpower that would soon overtake the U.S., that China was a vengeful giant that was eager to reclaim its dominant position in the world, and that China was spreading dangerous weapons, threatening international sea-lanes and supporting rogue states. One alarmist futurist predicted that China would soon deplete world of all its surplus grain supply, sending poor nations to starvation. So on and so forth. But that is not the real China.

In real life, China is a struggling developing country. True, China may have been a success story in that it is now able to feed, clothe, shelter, educate and employ 22% of the world's population with only 7% of the world's cultivated land. It is presiding over one of the world's longest and strongest economic growth. And its economy, now stands at 1 trillion U.S. dollars, is the 7th largest in the world. However, when translating into per capita terms, it means only 800 dollars for every man, woman and child in this massive country of 1.25 billion people. Despite initial prosperity mostly in eastern coastal cities, China still has many citizens living below the poverty line. The ratio of college students is even below that of India. It will take years of hard work and, I would add, luck before China can achieve a per capita GDP comparable to a medium-level developed country. In fact, we set the date for this goal to be met in the middle of the 21st century, the centennial anniversary of our People's Republic.

Of the four modernizations, modernization of industry, agriculture, science and technology, and defense, defense comes the last. The country's military spending, which now stands at roughly 4% of that of the United States, is the lowest among the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, and one of the lowest in the world in per capita terms. Both the hardware and technology of China's military are years, if not decades, behind a typical European country. What is more, to expedite economic development and improvement of people's living standards, China has unilaterally cut back on its troops by a million and half since the 1980s and converted much of its defense industries to civilian production.

China loves peace, cherishes its hard-won domestic stability and works hard to make its long-awaited modernization a dream come true. There is no doubt in our mind that we cannot achieve our goals behind closed doors and that is why we are committed to greater openness to the outside world and gradual integration into the world. With the PNTR bill signed into law and China's forthcoming entry into the World Trade Organization, that process will become even faster to the benefit of the Chinese people and the people the world over.

It is indeed very unfortunate that some people in this country are not comfortable with a stronger China and greater Chinese role in world affairs. Entertaining what I would call a kind of Cold War nostalgia, they miss the time when they had a clear enemy in sight so that everything seemed easier to associate and understand. Instead of working on problems in a more complex world, they tend to simplify issues as some kind of zero-sum game. "Oppose what my enemy supports and support what my enemy opposes." This is not a healthy and constructive way of thinking. I have heard many words of caution critical of such a mindset. One comes from former secretary of state James Baker. He said, the surest way to find yourself an enemy is to look for one.

2. Politically and culturally, China and the United States are as different as any two countries can be. It is all very natural for us not to see eye to eye on some issues. But if you believe that our world should be a colorful and diverse place, then you should not find it hard to deal with a different China. In fact, we do agree on many issues, perhaps more than we realize. That is why we seek each other's assistance in addressing such thorny global issues as environmental degradation, international terrorism, alien smuggling, drug trafficking, and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

When there are differences, we can sit down and work toward their solution through dialogue on an equal footing. When disagreement persists, we can set it aside for a while so that it will not stand in the way to our cooperation in other areas. If past is any guide, we can see that whether in areas of trade, human rights or intellectual property rights, the two sides can work out their differences through sincere and patient dialogue, while arm-twisting, sanctions or confrontation can only aggravate the dispute.

The key to a successful dialogue is mutual respect and mutual accommodation of each other's interests. Over the years, China has proved itself to be a good listener and a ready partner to go an extra mile in order to reach agreement. But if one side just demands that the other make concessions without doing the same in return, if one side wants too much too soon without considering the other's ability to sustain, then agreement will be hard to come by. If dialogue is conducted only for the purpose of putting pressure to bear on the other side, making him look bad or hurting his vital interests, then there can be no dialogue, let along agreement.

In my work as the Embassy spokesman, I often come across people with tough questions. Sometimes I was not as receptive because I did not give the answer they wanted. It does not mean that I did not care about their views. Let me give you one small example. The other day, an American caller put me on notice that a letter campaign was under way to protest China's alleged import of 100,000 dogs for food. Since I had never heard of this news and could not confirm it, I assured him that the overwhelming majority of the Chinese people were no dog-eater. In fact, in Beijing alone, there are more than 100,000 dogs kept as pets. In the end, just for the sake of argument, I asked him why people did not seem to care when far larger numbers of hogs, sheep, cattle and of course turkey are eaten every year by humans.

Cultural sensitivity aside, what sometimes made me a little upset was the attitude of some people. They thought they had a powerful case, a strongly felt conscience and therefore a moral authority to lecture any one who does not agree with them. That attitude makes meaningful dialogue very difficult.

Perhaps here I can say a few words about the NMD issue, which was dealt with by previous speakers at great length. The Chinese side takes note of the U.S. moratorium of NMD deployment, regarding it as rational and positive decision. We are opposed to NMD, because we are concerned about its potential damage to global strategic balance and stability, as well as its negative impact on international disarmament and non-proliferation efforts. China understands U.S. concerns about its own security. But we are not in favor of maintaining one's security on the expense of others', nor are we in favor of unilaterally seeking one's absolute security. China's limited nuclear arsenal is entirely for self-defense, and we have no intension to threaten any one. While not participating in any arms race, China must defend its legitimate strategic security interests. Most countries in the world, many U.S. allies included, have expressed their doubts about NMD. Many Americans have also taken exception of the program. I hope the U.S. government will listen to them and reconsider it.

3. To put an appropriate handle on the Taiwan question holds the key to a stable China-U.S. relationship in the new century.

Taiwan is part of Chinese territory since ancient times. Following the return of Hong Kong and Macao, all Chinese hope to see Taiwan's return to the embrace of the motherland as early as possible. The Taiwan question is the product of China's civil war back in 1940s. Our basic policy on the Taiwan question remains peaceful reunification on the basis of "one country, two systems". We have the utmost sincerity and will try everything possible to achieve this. At the same time, we cannot sit idle watching separatist forces on the island to dismember our motherland. The root cause of tension in the Taiwan Strait is Taiwan independence. As our leaders said many times, so long as the Taiwan authorities recognize the "one-China" principle, peace talks can start right way, leaders of the two sides can visit each other and everything can be put on the table for discussion.

It is no secret that the Taiwan issue is the most important and most sensitive issue in China-U.S. relations. The normalization of relations between China and the U.S. could not have taken place without the U.S. side agreeing to sever diplomatic relations with Taiwan, abrogate mutual defense treaty with the regime and pull out all American forces from the island. Over the years, both the Republican and Democratic administrations have made clear and unambiguous commitments on the Taiwan question. These commitments are so authoritative and well known that no amount of spinning can change or modify. When solemn pledges were reneged, the relationship would become the victim.

Take the issue of U.S. arms sale to Taiwan. The United States undertook in the August 17th Communiqué of 1982 that it does not seek to carry out a long-term policy of arms sales to Taiwan, that its arms sales to Taiwan will not exceed, either in qualitative or in quantitative terms, the level of those supplied in recent years since the establishment of diplomatic relations between the United States and China, and that it intends gradually to reduce its sale of arms to Taiwan, leading, over a period of time, to a final resolution.

Last month, the U.S. announced a sale of 1.3 billion dollars worth of U.S. arms to Taiwan. Between 1992 and 1999, more than 20 billion dollars worth of U.S. arms, including high-performance fighter aircraft, early warning radars, Patriot missiles and air-to-air missiles, were sold to Taiwan. The endless supply of sophisticated American arms has inflated the arrogance of pro-independence forces in Taiwan who have become ever more recalcitrant. Last year, Lee Teng-hui finally tore down his "one-China" fig leaf and began describing relations between the mainland and Taiwan as "state-to-state". For more than half a year, the newly elected leader of Taiwan talked glibly about reconciliation, but stubbornly turned his back on the "one-China" principle. One can only draw the conclusion that continued and expanded U.S. arms sales to Taiwan in total disregard of its solemn commitments is not aimed at encouraging dialogue, but perpetuating tension and confrontation across the Taiwan Strait, making U.S. pledges of not supporting 'Taiwan independence', "two Chinas" or "one China, one Taiwan" ring hollow.

Our difference with the Taiwan authorities has nothing to do with Taiwan's democracy or, for that matter, Taiwan's political and economic system, the way of life of Taiwan people and their people-to-people contacts with other countries. Our difference with the Taiwan authorities is whether or not China's sovereignty can be divided. We don't think it can. Neither did President Lincoln, and many Americans at the time when they were confronted with similar hard reality. Slavery, as I understand it, was not an issue, since the Union was prepared to tolerate the Confederacy of that for the greater good of national unity and territorial integrity of the United States.

A reunited China will not cause any disruption to Taiwan's trade, economic, cultural and people-to-people ties with the United States. An earliest possible resolution to this question can only facilitate rather than impede the normal growth of China-U.S. relations, thus serving peace and stability in Asia-Pacific and the world at large.

Thank you very much for your attention.

This page last updated 10/15/2000 jdb

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