common ground

Asian Affairs

Program 0218 April 30, 2002

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

CHAS FREEMAN, JR.: That visit was eerie in a way because it was the first time that any American had publicly stepped onto Chinese soil.

KEITH PORTER: This week on Common Ground, a visit that changed the world. Plus, complicated US-Asian relationships.

dr. michael armacost: I think the policy toward North Korea is to signal a readiness to talk but on a set of conditions that the North Koreans won’t like.

KRISTIN MCHUGH: Common Ground is a program on world affairs and the people who shape events. It’s produced by the Stanley Foundation. I’m Kristin McHugh.

PORTER: And I’m Keith Porter. This year marks the 30th anniversary of President Richard Nixon’s visit to China. It was a historic trip; the first by an American president to the communist country. Experts say the event marked the beginning of incredible change for China and its relations with the rest of the world. Common Ground’s Cliff Brockman recently spoke with two members of Nixon’s diplomatic team about the famous trip.

[sound of Chinese music, followed by an announcer’s voice]

TELEVISION OR RADIO ANNOUNCER: China is one of the largest countries in the world. Yet no American president had ever been there.

RICHARD SOLOMON: 1971 and ‘72 was a time of considerable tension in the United States. The Vietnam War was still raging and there was real concern that the United States and China might get pulled into another direct conflict as we had during the Korean War period.

BROCKMAN: Dr. Richard Solomon worked in the State Department with Henry Kissinger and assisted Presidents Nixon and Ford in trying to normalize relations with China.

SOLOMON: There were heightened concerns about the Soviet Union, what it was up to. We were in a period of real Cold War tension apart from the Vietnam conflict. And I happened to have been teaching at the University of Michigan in, at that time, in the summer of 1971, and was shocked along with everyone else when it, when President Nixon announced on July 15 of 1971 that he had sent Henry Kissinger on a secret trip to China. I had spent 10 years studying Chinese, doing the language. I had been doing research on the politics of the country. And frankly I never thought I would ever be using that language directly dealing with, with the Chinese, because of the Cold War divide.

[sound of Chinese music, followed by an announcer’s voice]

TELEVISION OR RADIO ANNOUNCER: [with stirring band music beginning to play in the background] China is one of the most populous countries in the world. Yet no American leader had even talked with them in 23 years—until President Richard Nixon.

BROCKMAN: This 1972 reelection ad highlights Nixon’s policy change.

CHAS FREEMAN, JR.: That visit was eerie in a way because it was the first time that any American had publicly, in front of the television cameras and with the press present, stepped onto Chinese soil.

BROCKMAN: This is Chas Freeman, Jr., who was the principal interpreter for the Nixon visit to China.

FREEMAN, JR.: Of course it began with Nixon repairing the infamous gaffe of John Foster Dulles, when Dulles had refused to shake hands with Chou En-Lai at Geneva. Nixon advanced with hand held out and the handshake that ensued was the beginning of a very different relationship between the United States and China. And indeed a very different world.

BROCKMAN: Tell us just a little bit about how things have gone since then—some of the high points in the past 30 years of US-China relations.

FREEMAN, JR.: Well, the relationship itself has been a roller coaster. That is to say it’s alternated between exhilarating periods of ascent and sickening periods of descent. And it really has been a very unsteady relationship in many ways. But that obscures one fundamental fact. And that is that the US opening to China, the US decision to engage China rather than to seek to isolate it as we had for 23 years before, fundamentally changed China. The leavening effect of contact with the outside world and especially the United States has turned China from the angry, isolated totalitarian society that it was in 1972 when the Cultural Revolution was still going on, into a much more open, vibrant, colorful, and prosperous society. One that grew at an average of 9.6 percent economically from 1980 to the year 2000. So I think the effects of this 1972 opening to China really have to be weighed as historic. We’ve brought between a fifth and a fourth of the human race back into close association with the rest of the world and helped them lift hundreds of millions of people out of poverty and to develop a world in which China is once again a respected participant in world affairs.

BROCKMAN: Dr. Richard Solomon?

SOLOMON: Today we have an administration in Washington that is, I guess, the fair phrase would be to say that they’re skeptical about where China is headed and what the intentions are and they’re, I think, trying to figure out whether we can have a constructive relationship with the Chinese. But again, how history is often full of big surprises, one would have to say that the events of September 11 have made both the Chinese and American leaderships aware that the problems they face are not based on their mutual differences so much on threats to security as those posed by terrorism.

BROCKMAN: As we said this is the 30th anniversary of the Shanghai Communiqué. For our listeners, if you could explain what a communiqué is and what that communiqué 30 years ago was about.

FREEMAN, JR.: Well, a communiqué is a, the term is a diplomatic one, French in origin. And it simply means a, a joint statement by the parties to a negotiation recording what they have agreed. And in this case what they disagreed about. A great part of the Shanghai Communiqué consists of very honest and straightforward statements of US differences with China and Chinese differences with the US on matters like Vietnam, Cambodia, the war in Laos, and other, other events of the time. But it also recorded some key agreements. It’s in effect a joint policy statement.

BROCKMAN: Former UN Ambassador Richard Holbrooke has proposed a fourth communiqué. What do you think about that, Dr. Solomon?

SOLOMON: I think at this point in time it doesn’t make a lot of sense to initiate the negotiation of a communiqué that is likely to bring out divisive issues that would likely make more difficult cooperation on a range of issues, just because political support, particularly in the United States, for normal relations with China is so shaky. I think a better strategy is to spend several years trying to advance cooperation on issues like terrorism, like weapons proliferation; issues related to China’s entry in the WTO and economic growth matters. And once we see a base of reality around which both governments can express their common interest in further improving relations then it might make sense. Then it might be a constructive process. But today I would say it probably would not be constructive.

BROCKMAN: Mr. Freeman?

FREEMAN, JR.: I think that Dick Holbrooke is right that the US and China need to sit down and work through and restate the broad range of common interests that we have and to focus on those. And if that’s what he has in mind I think it’s a sensible notion. If he has in mind something that would replace the, the Shanghai Communiqué or actually its successor the Normalization Communiqué, which was dated January 1, 1979, then I think that’s a bridge too far.

BROCKMAN: China recently achieved status in the World Trade Organization. How has that impacted their role in the region. Dr. Solomon?

SOLOMON: Well, the region is very worried about China. China is becoming a major economic force. They have an export-led growth strategy in many ways at this point. They’re absorbing much of the foreign investment that has in the past gone into other areas of the Asian region. And they are in short order gonna be major competitors of most of the export-oriented countries in the region. So China with its huge and low-paid labor force may end up hurting the economies of Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, Korea. I was recently in Singapore and the Sinaporeans are worried about the Chinese becoming a major exporter of computer chips, due to investment in chip manufacturing from Taiwan. So the region is nervous about the rise of an economic juggernaut. I don’t think they see China militarily as rampant. They look to the United States to maintain a kind of strategic balance in the region. So interestingly enough their primary concern is the economic range of issues.

That said, China is obligated now to abide by the WTO rules and I would say the big question for the next five to ten years is whether China, in fact, will meet its WTO obligations.

BROCKMAN: What lessons are there from that Nixon visit 30 years ago? Mr. Freeman?

FREEMAN, JR.: With China, I think, the lesson is that the relationship advances and improves when we focus on strengthening the elements of cooperation in it. And it weakens and becomes more hostile when politicians focus on elements of rivalry or competition. And that’s sort of an obvious point. We all know that in life you, you develop a good relationship with someone else by looking for some common ground. And that is the case internationally as well. And I think that is probably the major lesson to be learned from this relationship.

Final point, maybe the third lesson, is we should not underestimate our own ability to catalyze extraordinary change in foreign societies, simply through exposure to our own ideas and the dynamism of our society. There’s hardly an element of China that has not been changed under the influence of Americans over the past 30 years.

BROCKMAN: Finally, Mr. Freeman, you’ve said your career as a diplomat almost ended before it started because of a toast you were supposed to interpret for President Nixon. Please tell us about that.

FREEMAN, JR.: The Nixon White House was famously secretive. I could not get anybody on the way into China to tell me what I was supposed to do as interpreter—whether I was to interpret for the President or just for the Secretary of State, and what was to happen to the banquet speeches and this sort of thing. And Dwight Chapin, who was then the Appointments Secretary for the President, said to me, “The President has decided he would like you to interpret his banquet toast this evening.” And I said “Fine. May I have a look at the text.” And he said, “I don’t think there is a text.” And I knew something was wrong at that point. So he went back in and came out very annoyed and said, “There is no text and the President orders you to do it.” And I said, “Well, Mr. Chapin it might interest you to know that I did the first draft of tonight’s text. And I know that some of Chairman Mao’s poetry has been inserted into it but I don’t know what. And if you think I’m gonna get up in front of all of China and recite Chairman Mao’s poetry ad libbing it from English back into Chinese, you’re out of your mind.” So I said, “Either you give me the text or I won’t do it.”

Three days later, after a lot of conversations over the head table, where I was seated with the President, who was glowering at me all during the banquet that evening, he called me over and personally apologized to me with tears in his eyes. And said, “I should not have done that. And I apologize. And I misjudged you.” And then he said some very flattering things. And in retrospect, trying to figure out why this happened, it was very simple—Nixon was a man with considerable vanity about his ability to memorize texts. And to deliver apparently extemporaneous remarks that, in fact, had been carefully scripted. And he had memorized the text. He didn’t want to take the risk that someone would be standing up there with him with a text, making it obvious that it was not extemporaneous. And so it was all appearance that he was concerned about. And nobody ever thought to ask me whether—I have a photographic memory. I could have read the text once and that would have been all I needed. I didn’t need to have the text in front of me. But that was his concern. And it led him basically to lie and it led me, wisely, I think, as a 28-year-old junior officer, to refuse an order from the Commander-in-Chief, as improper.

BROCKMAN: Chas Freeman is currently chairman for an international business consulting firm. He’s also President of the Middle East Policy Council. Dr. Richard is the current President of the United States Institute of Peace. For Common Ground, I’m Cliff Brockman.

PORTER: US relations with Japan and Korea, next on Common Ground.

dr. michael armacost: Some of the other difficulties that used to plague our relationship in the economic sphere, threatening to spill over and adversely effect our security relations, have been less problematic, less troublesome in the last decade than many expected them to be.

MCHUGH: Printed transcripts and audio cassettes of this program are available. Listen at the end of the broadcast for details, or visit our Web site at Common Ground is a service of the Stanley Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that conducts a wide range of programs designed to provoke thought and encourage dialogue on world affairs.

PORTER: Fifty years ago Japan and the United States were arch enemies. Since then security and trade alliances have developed in a way no one at that time thought possible. Meanwhile, the US struggles with its policy toward another Asian country—North Korea. Common Ground’s Cliff Brockman recently spoke with an expert on both Japan and Korea about US policy in the region.

dr. michael armacost: Oh, I think China has emerged as a powerful force in Asia. The United States has, to Japan’s satisfaction I think, conducted itself in a way that inspires their belief we’ll continue to be reliable allies and it’s helpful to have us around as a counterweight to a big neighbor.

BROCKMAN: Dr. Michael Armacost is President of the Brookings Institution. He says the United States-Japan security alliance has gotten stronger since the end of the Cold War.

armacost: Some of the other difficulties that used to plague our relationship in the economic sphere, threatening to spill over and adversely effect our security relations, have been less problematic, less troublesome in the last decade than many expected them to be. At least since 1995. We had major struggles over auto parts and over an effort to negotiate quantitative measures of our trade imbalance in the early 1990s. That didn’t work out very well. But since 1995 the trade issues have been largely in abeyance—at least they haven’t been so politically troubling. And some combination of those factors I think accounts for the rather robust state of our security ties.

More recently, of course, it’s the perception of common ground against terrorists. Tokyo was very swift off the mark in asserting a political sharing of our counter terrorist objective. And they moved with startling swiftness in altering their law permitting them to dispatch noncombat forces to support the counter terrorist coalition. The law is limited in time, so it doesn’t automatically create a precedent for a struggle other than in Afghanistan. But I think the precedent is there.

They’ve also changed the rules of engagement on their peacekeeping forces. Before if they sent units in an international peacekeeping force authorized by the UN their units couldn’t carry anything except the smallest of arms and they couldn’t use them except when they were in extremis themselves for their personal security. Now, and that made them something of a burden because they had to be protected by someone. And now they’ve changed the rules in such a way that it would permit them to defend themselves and others in their protective care. So if they were doing noncombat work, for example, in providing security for a refugee camp, let’s say, then they would be able to defend the camp. That wasn’t true six months ago.

It may be it accounts for the fact that when President Bush was recently there he praised them to the skies for their contribution to the coalition and sort of soft-pedaled criticism of their economic performance.

BROCKMAN: Speaking of the economic performance, you say that while our security ties are strengthened, Japan’s economy has gone the other way. What’s happened there?

armacost: In a nutshell, the economy is stagnant because the individuals aren’t spending on consumption. The companies aren’t investing in new plant and equipment. And the banks aren’t lending. And on top of that they’ve tried to compensate for all those trends over the last decade by spending public money for public works. That has, to be sure, supplied some demand but it’ s not socially effective demand. They’ve paved a lot of the rural countryside. But they’ve also created a fiscal condition that’s one of the worst in the world. They’ve got, 140 percent of their GDP is debt. So there are limits on which they can rely on government spending to offset the failure of consumers to spend and banks to lend and companies to invest, which is what you usually have to see before you have self-sustaining growth.

BROCKMAN: The Prime Minister of Japan came in on a campaign of reform; very popular when he was chosen. But has had difficulties. Why is that?

armacost: He’s had difficulty translating his reform reputation into specific reform. I think he’s done something that’s admirable. In my experience in government, at least, you can’t solve a problem until you acknowledge it. And he’s at least acknowledged the problem. And he said that Japan can’t grow without reform and can’t reform without pain. And that’s a reality that nobody can escape. So, hat’s off to him for saying the truth. But there’s a lot more involved in getting reform—I mean, just acknowledging the problem doesn’t get you there, either. And it’s easier for people to acknowledge a problem in principle than it is put in the place the details, which get you over the hump. And every time he’s tried to put the vision into specific proposals he’s run up against fierce resistance either from within the bureaucracy—which has much more power in Japan than it does in our country—or elements of his party which are wedded to the old ways of doing things, because it protects their own specific interests through sweetheart deals or some form of government protection—or just the general sense in Japan that, well, things aren’t great but they’re not so bad that people are willing to take on the dislocations that the kind of reforms he’s talking about inevitably bring.

We are a country which lives with the idea that there are winners and losers. That’s easy for us to accept culturally. In Japan there’s been a general tendency to socialize risk and to protect the losers. And there will be a lot of losers in a reform which opens their economy to market forces to a much greater degree. So it’s gonna require a cultural change and Japan’s a conservative country that relies on a broad consensus and building that consensus takes time. It’s gradually taking place but it, it takes a lot more time because of the depths of the problem. And each time you delay an answer to some of these problems, the problems themselves may get worse.

On the other hand, the strength of their system is that once they have a consensus it is so broad that they can move with great swiftness in implementing it. It’s well for Americans, who tend to forget our own difficulties, that in the ‘70s we had more than a decade of stagnant growth. We had slow growth; we had low productivity; we had high inflation; we had large amounts of unemployment; we had a market that languished for more than a decade at levels that it was at or higher in 1969. So we didn’t come up with a single solution to the problem. And we picked away at it piecemeal and got inflation under control through the Fed.

BROCKMAN: Let me turn to Korea. Of course President Bush labeled North Korea as part of his axis of evil. And there was a recent New York Times article, columnist Nicholas Kristoff agreed that North Korea is evil, but he says the real problem is that the United States doesn’t have a North Korean policy. Do we have a North Korean policy?

armacost: I think the policy toward North Korea is to signal a readiness to talk, but on a set of conditions that the North Koreans won’t like. The new agenda item they want to put on there is conventional force adjustments. The North Koreans won’t like that for the simple reason it’s their main card. They, the one element of intimidation they retain vis-à-vis South Korea is the fact they’ve got a million troops, most of them deployed right along the DMZ. Many of them deployed within 40 miles of the South Korean capital. And that we would want to talk about that is natural; that they would like to keep it off the table is natural. And so we’re kind of skirmishing over the terms of negotiation when they commence. We’ve said we’re willing to talk any time any place without condition; the condition really is that we want that on the agenda. We’d have the right to address that issue and that’s normal in negotiations with other countries. Each retains the right to put things on the agenda that [it] wishes to talk about.

I think the real problem, however, is not the terms of our policy; the problem is the North Korean conundrum. On the one hand they’ve demonstrated to a fare-thee-well that a country that isolates itself from a global economy is going nowhere. They’re one of the very few economies—Burma is perhaps the other—it’s going backwards and it has for perhaps a decade. And Japan has grown by about a percent and they call it stagnation. North Korea has declined by about 10 percent a year for a decade. It isn’t a functioning economy. They can’t feed their own people. And they, they divert 25 percent of their resources to the military and yet they allow several million people to starve. That’s what it seems to me it means to describe them as evil.

But in the end the question for them is whether or not they’re prepared to risk the opening to the world. Their regime has maintained their authority on a tissue of lies. And they’re fearful, I think, of opening themselves up to the world because that will demonstrate to their people that most of the communications from the government over 50 years have just been based on hot air. And their regime doesn’t appear to be ready to take those risks. The Chinese, you recall, in the 1970s when they opened up, they built a constituency for economic reform by starting in the countryside. And they got a lot of the peasantry on board by simply relying on market prices. The peasants could see that they could make money. And because their army was a peasant army once they opened up the possibility for reform to the countryside the army was kind of on board and they broadened the reforms over time.

The North Koreans—people that know a lot more about it than I do—say they’re considering these kind of Chinese-style reform. It’s pretty hard to see the evidence. Maybe they will. Maybe they won’t. What is clear is the current course is a loser. So we’re kind of taking a tough-minded attitude figuring time is probably on our side. So if it means you wait a little longer that’s probably the strategy. The problem with the strategy, I think, is that we’ve been aligned with South Korea for more than 50 years now. And South Korea, as they see their future, they wish to engage with the North in a more active way. And in a sense you don’t have much of a policy toward Korea if it’s not aligned with your ally in Korea. So the, the difficulties that have emerged in recent months have been a result of a slightly different approach, a strategic approach on the part of the government of Kim Dae-Jung, on the one hand, and the Bush administration.

In the long haul all Koreans wish to engage with the North. It’s just a matter of the terms. And their opposition now is insisting on greater reciprocity in their dealings with the North. That’s kind of where the Bush administration is. Kim Dae-Jung faces an election in December. And so maybe this is the waiting period [that] happens to come at a politically active time. So it’s potentially volatile. But it’s not, the problem isn’t the lack of a policy. The question is whether or not we’re properly aligned with South Korea and whether or not we can afford to wait through this period, ‘cause we’re, we have much greater experience.

BROCKMAN: This same columnist laid out a scenario where he says there would be an exceptionally bloody war that could break out by this fall between North Korea and South Korea and some of its other neighbors and possibly even the United States. Do you think there’s any possibility of war developing soon?

armacost: I would never say never but this doesn’t seem to me terribly likely. North Korea is extremely weak relative to its neighbor, particularly when you add in American strength which is deployed on the peninsula. And they are not isolated in the sense they have no connection with the rest of the world as was the case practically a decade or so ago. But none of their friends abroad has any interest in seeing a resumption of fighting on the Korean peninsula, including the Chinese, who if anybody qualifies as best friends it’s probably Beijing. But certainly China doesn’t want any hostilities on its border that include the United States. And they’re nervous about conflict on their border even if it didn’t include us. So that seemed to me remote. But nonetheless it’s worth remembering that North Korea can be unpredictable and accounting for that in one’s policy.

BROCKMAN: Michael Armacost is President of the Brookings Institution. For Common Ground, I’m Cliff Brockman.

PORTER: Cassettes and transcripts of this program are available. The transcripts are free; cassettes cost $5.00. To place an order or to share your thoughts about the program, write to us at: The Stanley Foundation, 209 Iowa Avenue, Muscatine, Iowa 52761. Please refer to Program Number 0218. That’s Program Number 02-18 To order by credit card you can call us at 563-264-1500. That’s 563-264-1500.

MCHUGH: Transcripts are also available on our Web site: Commongroundradio is all one word. Our e-mail address is For Common Ground, I’m Kristin McHugh.

PORTER: I’m Keith Porter. Cliff Brockman is our Associate Producer. B.J. Liederman created our theme music. Common Ground is produced and funded by the Stanley Foundation.

© 2002 by The Stanley Foundation

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