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Pacific Rim Report No. 20, May 2001
China and America: Spy Planes, 'Papers', Cults, and the Future
A conversation with Orville Schell



We gratefully acknowledge the Kiriyama Chair for Pacific Rim Studies at the USF Center for the Pacific Rim for funding this issue of Pacific Rim Report.

The Kiriyama Pacific Rim Briefing recorded in this issue of Pacific Rim Report was held on April 4, 2001 on the Lone Mountain campus of the University of San Francisco.

Orville Schell graduated Magna Cum Laude from Harvard University in Far Eastern History, was an exchange student at National Taiwan University, and did his M.A. and Ph.D work at the University of California, Berkeley, in Chinese History. He is a long time contributor to The New Yorker, as well as to such magazines and periodicals as The Atlantic, The New York Times Magazine, The Nation, The Los Angeles Times Magazine, Granta, Newsweek, The China Quarterly, Vanity Fair, and The New York Review of Books. Schell has written fifteen books, nine of them about China. His most recent is Virtual Tibet: Searching for Shangri-La from the Himalayas to Hollywood, published by Metropolitan Books, and he contributed the Afterword to the English-language edition of the Tiananmen Papers, just released by Public Affairs. He has also served as a television commentator for ABC-TV, CBS-TV, and NBC-TV and has worked both as correspondent and consultant for PBS “Frontline” documentaries and for “60 Minutes.”

Schell serves on the boards of the Yale-China Association and Human Rights Watch. He is currently the Dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley where he is also a Research Associate at the Center for Chinese Studies.

Marsha Vande Berg has worked for major U.S. dailies, in television, and as an editorial consultant. She has taught at the University of California, Berkeley, and she is a member of the German Quandt Foundation’s Transatlantic Forum. She was also a 1997 Salzburg Media Seminar fellow.

Vande Berg’s education includes a Ph.D. from Vanderbilt University and an M.A. from Duke University.

We gratefully acknowledge the Kiriyama Chair for Pacific Rim Studies at the USF Center for the Pacific Rim for funding this issue of Pacific Rim Report. If you would like to subscribe to Pacific Rim Report, please email us.

Marsha Vande Berg (Vande Berg): Three days ago U.S. and Chinese military aircraft bumped into each other off the Chinese island of Hainan. The two sides offer conflicting versions of what happened. What do you think?

Orville Schell (Schell): We don’t really know. It seems that there has been a tremendous amount of feeling generated on each side by a scenario that has been written in the imagination rather than in reality. Thus, the Chinese are demanding an apology, but it would in fact be completely misplaced to make an apology before we knew what happened. We wouldn't know who should apologize to whom!

What we can say is that if an American plane had bumped into a French plane off the coast of France and the French pilot had died, we would not be in such a situation. This begs the question of what it is about the Sino-American relationship such that every time something happens it ends up being extremely emotional, extremely conflicted, and so difficult to resolve. I think that we keep missing this underlying issue and mistake the event itself for the cause of all the sound and fury.

The Chinese-American relationship is as complex as any marriage—you may not be able to get together but you can't get apart either. The Chinese look at the U.S. with deep fascination, while Americans view China with great respect, but also some antipathy, especially towards China's communist revolution. The flow of events sets up these oscillating waves of love/hate representing strongly conflicted sentiment on both sides. When something contentious arises, volatile feelings with deep historical roots well up on one side or the other, complicating things further.

Vande Berg: Do you think that we are now simply in one of these periodic oscillations towards the negative, or could this be the tip of a deteriorating relationship between the two countries?

Schell: I do fear that this incident could presage a real cooling of the Sino-American relationship which in the best of times has to be managed with enormous acumen. What is going on here brings out the worst on both sides, and it isn't just the Chinese reaction. Congress is in a high state of dudgeon now, and you have a lot of important issues that are not resolved including what kinds of weapons we are going to sell to Taiwan, and these will surely color what happens. We also find ourselves having to vote again on China's trading status with the U.S. because they have not yet entered the World Trade Organization. A lot of whipping posts are going to get rolled out on this if we are not careful.

Now, I am a Democrat not a Republican, but I think [President George W.] Bush has handled this matter fairly well, remaining fairly cool and matter of fact in the face of a lot of inflammatory rhetoric. However, in China it is another matter. China's sense of woundedness from the past, its sense of being victimized, of being preyed upon, etc. is a very old syndrome, and when something such as this incident happens, sentiments rise up out of history that may have very little to do with the incident itself.

Vande Berg: What do you think China’s reaction to this incident reveals about the thinking of the Chinese leadership?

Schell: The present government, as has often been the case, is in a state of relatively high anxiety about the future. You have to understand that the present leadership is due to step down in about a year and a half or two years, and there is no really obvious person to take over. Little has been happening to legitimize this government either. They have Falungong [a religious group the Chinese government regards as a dangerous cult] to worry about, which has them very off balance; they have mysterious bombings that keep occurring across the country that increase their anxiety level further; the Tiananmen Papers has also got them very concerned because they are not sure where they came from. All of this makes them quite suspicious and wary.

Then there are all of these intellectuals who have been arrested; all are Chinese, but all hold either green cards or have U.S. passports. No one really knows why they are being arrested or what they are being charged with, although ‘violating State security’ is the vague standard charge. One senses that at the core of the Chinese leadership there is a great lack of resolution and a great uncertainty about how to move forward. This is the context in which this whole crisis over the aircraft collision has to be resolved.

Vande Berg: [Chinese President and Party General Secretary] Jiang Zemin recently convened the so-called ‘work group’ of 2000 or so Communist Party leaders and expressed concerns about the Tiananmen Papers (the Chinese-language version of which is due out momentarily), and the activities of the Falungong. What does the Party leadership’s reaction to these internal and external sources of potential destabilization tell us about how they see the current situation?

Schell: The Chinese Communist Party exhibits a not very highly-evolved notion of working out differences through discussion and compromise carried on in the public sphere. Indeed, this was as true of the old imperial government as it is of the present Marxist-Leninist regime. The traditional way of dealing with any threatening uncertainty is to clamp down. Now, sometimes that works in the short run, but fails to work in the long run because it creates a kind of internal pressure that can later erupt. We can see a lot of that going on now. The crackdown on the Falungong, the pressure on intellectuals, and the renewed scrutiny of the media are all signs that some aspects of life in China are subject to increasing government attention even as some other aspects are becoming freer, more open, and less regimented.

Vande Berg: Do you have the sense that there is solidarity at the top policy making levels in China?

Schell: No, although if you talk with any Chinese official they will, of course, deny this. But I don’t think that there is any less solidarity at the top of China’s government than there is at the top of our own. It is just that we cannot see this as clearly in China’s case because of the lack of transparency. There is no system for mediating the interests and perspectives of the different factions in the Chinese hierarchy, so you have them kind of ‘mud wrestling’ behind the curtains until someone gains sufficient strength to lead the way. The process is often very complicated: you have the military, the Party, and the Public Security Bureau trying to weigh in; you have the so-called ‘reform faction’ within the Party releasing the material for the Tiananmen Papers, etc. There is no structure for voting or compromising in a legal framework, so these differences create a lot of anxiety.

Vande Berg: The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has recently been given an 18% increase in their budget, though many think that this may merely be a way of cushioning the loss of their commercial enterprises which they were forced by the government to relinquish a few years ago. Is the PLA likely to take advantage of the current situation to ask for more substantial increases?

Schell: Any military likes to create situations that give it a larger slice of the pie. With their eyes on Taiwan, I think that it is safe to say that the PLA would prefer to have this not cool off too soon because it makes them more influential and perhaps gets them a larger budget. I think that the military is a key aspect of the whole political mix in China. But what is absolutely astounding, even to a person like me who has spent 40 years of his life trying to peer into this system, is how little we know of what goes on there. There is no transparency, no investigative journalism, no necessity for policy makers to explain themselves. It leads us to imagine that the Chinese government works as one, when it in fact does not.

Vande Berg: You mentioned the lack of consensus at the top of the American government. How do you see the Bush administration doing in its handling of this situation in particular and China and Asia policy in general?

Schell: Before this aircraft incident occurred there was the fascinating prospect of a new character developing in the Washington—Peking relationship. [U.S. President William J.] Clinton cared a great deal about the relationship with China and exerted tremendous effort to make it work—he went to China for nine days and then didn’t even stop in Japan. He really labored; indeed, some people felt he worked too hard at it. In some sense he took the burden off the Chinese for doing their own part to make the relationship work. But I will say that China did demonstrate a more open and accommodating attitude during Clinton’s tenure.

On the other hand, when Bush came into office he basically said, “If you guys want to play ball, come on! We’re ready. But you have got to start acting right. We can’t excuse a lot of things; we will go to Geneva [to the United Nations Human Rights Commission] and table a motion to condemn your record on human rights,” etc. I think that for those few weeks, China was quite off balance. I was in Washington last week for a speech that former Chinese Foreign Minister Qian Qichen gave, and you had the sense that China felt it needed to supplicate a bit, perhaps to make some concessions, that it wasn’t so sure of which way Washington was going or what it must do to get the 2008 Olympics or to stop the Taiwan arms sale. There was a kind of interesting new chemistry in which Washington was not being quite so whiplashed by China.

Well, we never got to see how that was going to work out because this incident happened. Now, I could never figure whether the actions of the Bush administration were by artful design or whether they just didn’t have a policy, but either way it had introduced a new more realistic dynamic into the relationship which wasn’t entirely unhealthy.

Vande Berg: What do you think of [former U.S. Secretary of State] Henry Kissinger’s suggestion that there be some sort of fact finding mission sent to China to take this affair “out of the imagination,” as you said, and to get some facts on the table.?

Schell: Well, that sort of thing is Kissinger’s forte, getting people together and trying to untie the knot. The Chinese very often engage in a certain amount of ‘barking’, making strenuous demands in public, and this can be very deceptive if you haven’t seen how this pattern has played out in the past. You might be confused because this behavior is really just for public consumption, to show that China is not going to be pushed around. But they are also really good at getting down to practical negotiations, as they have shown time after time. I think this is what Kissinger was hoping to take advantage of. In order to do so, some high level mission might at once grant the Chinese ‘face’ and also get down to the practical issues. Otherwise the whole thing is just floating around in the realm of sentiment and high blown rhetoric, some of it quite excited.

Vande Berg: What is your sense of what might happen next?

Schell: Well, I think that the crew will get out ‘soon’. I don’t think there is going to be an abject apology from the United States, nor should there be as long as we don’t know what happened. I think there will be a much longer-term hangover about the airplane. We don’t know how much of the sensitive equipment and material was destroyed during the limited time the crew had before they landed. When the American diplomats and the military attaché went down to Hainan to talk with the crew they were not allowed into the room alone with them, so they couldn’t ask the crew what actually transpired. Even after the crew comes out there will still be a major issue to resolve because the only way to get that plane out is to fly other airplanes in, loaded with equipment and parts, to fix it.

Vande Berg: [U.S. Secretary of State] Colin Powell today expressed regret over the loss of the Chinese pilot. Is this the right sort of response to make?

Schell: To express regret seems appropriate. It was actually a tragic incident, and a life appears to have been lost. A great power can afford to do that. On the other hand, there is an almost insatiable yearning on the part of the Chinese to have people apologize to them, which derives not only from the concept of ‘face’, but also from a fundamental weakness of the Chinese government; they cannot afford to be seen as having been wrong, as having made a mistake. Just recently there was an explosion in a school, where it appears the children were being forced to make fireworks. When the place blew up, the government first said it had been done by a “mad bomber,” but [Chinese Premier] Zhu Rongji did finally come out and make an apology, saying that “we have not done our work well,” but such a thing is extremely rare. Since the United States is the great power, and we understand that China’s need to be treated delicately and to have some conciliatory gesture comes out of 150 years of history of the Western powers and Japan preying on and occupying China, I think Colin Powell’s expression of regret was right.

Vande Berg: Is this concern with ‘face’ also what underlies the Chinese reaction to the revelations contained in the Tiananmen Papers?

Schell: Of course they do not like having their secrets revealed, but it is also quite humiliating to have it pointed out that the government itself is built largely on secrecy. This is a government with a great deal of paranoia and suspicion about what goes on in the outside world. Then suddenly these craven Americans come up with what appear to be incredibly valuable documents that illuminate the decision-making processes at the very top of the Chinese government, and of course it is embarrassing. This is a different situation from that of the Pentagon Papers, although those leaders were also embarrassed [to have their role in secret decision-making about the Vietnam war revealed]. But in America there is a right arrogated to an independent and free press to dig deeply into the affairs of state. Nothing like that exists in the Chinese tradition.

Vande Berg: Can you tell us about how your involvement in the Tiananmen Papers project came about?

Schell: I came into the project relatively late. Perry Link (Princeton) and Andrew Nathan (Columbia) had been working on the Papers and asked me if I would write an afterward. I said I wanted to think about it. I told them that I thought they had perhaps not done enough due diligence to answer questions about the authenticity of the material.

So we began a process of comparing the material with known documents and discussing it with other experts and select people from various intelligence organizations of other governments who were familiar with the cable traffic and with what had actually happened. And of course we spoke at great length with the compiler himself (whose identity must remain a secret beyond the pseudonym of Zhang Liang), about his own role, how he got the material, why he was doing this, etc. That was an important process and it is what I ended up writing about so that I could delineate for readers why we thought it was worthwhile publishing the material even though we could not say with absolute certainty that every bit of it was authentic.

Vande Berg: What is the nature of any uncertainty you retain about the Tiananmen Papers material?

Schell: Well, it comes from the fact that I have been around the block a few times. Documents coming out of China have always been very hard to authenticate, and a lot of folks have gotten fooled very badly. There was a wonderful British historian, Hugh Trevor-Roper, who wrote a marvelous book that some of you may have read, The Hermit of Peking, about Sir Edmund Backhouse, a rather eccentric ‘sinologist’ who lived in China at the turn of the last century. Backhouse claimed to have found documents which purported to chronicle imperial government discussions during the Boxer Rebellion. The documents were quite convincing but turned out to be completely fake. The problem for old Hugh Trevor-Roper was that after he wrote this great book about a charlatan, someone brought him The Hitler Diaries in the early 1980s and after pouring over them, he said they looked authentic. Well, he was wrong. Many, many documents have come out of China and some seem credible and some don’t. It is extremely difficult to judge them.

Vande Berg: [Premier] Li Peng comes out rather badly in the book.

Schell: Well, in a way. It is amazing that in the Tiananmen Papers material there really are no huge smoking guns, but we still learn a lot of things we didn’t know before. Actually, I was rather impressed with Li Peng, who is not my favorite leader in the whole world. He acted with a certain honor; you are a Marxist-Leninist and you have your principles, and you act in accordance with those principles. The leaders were trying to solve problems, and they weren’t yelling and screaming at each other. But they did make some wrong turns, and they paid a huge price for doing so.

Vande Berg: For the most part, aside from the ousting of [Party General Secretary] Zhao Ziyang, the leadership seemed to have avoided any serious division amongst themselves.

Schell: Actually, there was a truly monumental division over whether or not to declare martial law. One of the most damning revelations of the Tiananmen Papers was that when it came to do something about all the students and other people in the square, three members of the Standing Committee of the Politburo would have voted against martial law and two would have voted for it, if all had been left to their own devices. As it turned out, one gave up because he knew that ultimately the ‘council of elders’, on which Deng Xiaoping sat, were going to overrule them anyway, so it ended up as a two to two tie, with one abstention.

Vande Berg: Does Zhao Ziyang’s behavior strike you favorably?

Schell: Well, I think he was a good communist too, but he finally did stand on principle and said, “I am not going to do this. I am not going to call the troops in. We haven’t talked enough. We haven’t done what I think we ought to do.” He wanted the government to do exactly what China now wants the United States to do, to say to the students that the government was sorry for accusing the students of being unpatriotic and sowers of turmoil in the May 19 People’s Daily editorial, which was very insightful. Ultimately, he went to the Square at four in the morning, weeping and telling the students that he had come too late, that he was sorry, and that the students should go home. He has been under house arrest since.

Vande Berg: In whose interest is it to have the material in the Tiananmen Papers made public?

Schell: One of the questions I was most interested in pursuing as we did our review of the material was, who could be trying to spin this thing? Especially in light of the imminent leadership changes, who could be doctoring documents and in whose interest? The truth is, it is very hard to find any one person in particular who comes out as a ‘hero’ if you wish, except perhaps Zhao Ziyang, but even the way he is revealed is very much the way we would expect if we had known the full record given in the Papers themselves, considering the partial record we already possessed. That was very reassuring. We could not sense any agenda or scenario within the documents that made us say, ah hah! This or that faction was out to make their guy or point of view look good in the leadership struggle.

In a larger sense, the impulse to reform economically is fairly advanced and is well evidenced in all facets of China’s current situation, the impulse to reform politically has been amputated, and it is precisely this amputation that motivated the people behind the Tiananmen Papers to release them in order kickstart political reform because one of the big impediments to political reform is the so-called ‘verdict’ that 1989 was a ‘counter-revolutionary rebellion’. There is no doubt that this verdict will be revised, it is only a matter of when.

Vande Berg: How do you think Deng Xiaoping comes out in the Papers?

Schell: Deng appears as a reluctant octogenarian who thought he could escape a role in the crisis, but then realized he could not. He fell under the influence of Li Peng who promoted the view that the students were out to overthrow the Chinese Communist Party. Initially at least, that was not the case at all. I was there, and I can say that this was not the students’ intention. As it went on, there were those who came to feel that communism’s time really was over. But Li Peng caught Deng Xiaoping’s ear which led to the very harsh editorial which I referred to, which then hardened the student line. This resulted in exactly the kind of escalation from which neither side could back down. I fear we may end up with something similar now if someone does not yield fairly soon in this aircraft incident.

This is a sort of dance that we engage in with China but really with no other countries, and it is burdened by huge reservoirs of emotion, sentiment, and culture. But this does not mean that the United States should yield all the time just to keep the peace. I think very often the U.S. has gotten China into a rather bad habit by compensating for the differences between the two countries in order to maintain an even keel in the relationship. It is a bit like having children and every time they threaten to upset things, you turn the television on to pacify them. It isn’t the best practice.

That is why I think what Bush was doing [prior to this incident] was potentially so interesting. He wasn’t responding to every hiccup as if not doing so might result in the relationship running off the tracks. We should be engaged with China, and we should not try to isolate or contain them because there is too much at stake, but I also think that some plain talk and a more evolved sense of what we ourselves are about as a nation with interests in Asia, together with less willingness to rush in and make the difference to keep things going, was an interesting approach.

Vande Berg: Would you agree with the Bush characterization that China and the U.S. are ‘strategic competitors’ as opposed to the Clintonian ‘strategic partners’?

Schell: I think the idea of ‘strategic partners’ was a bit of wishful thinking. It is a nice aspiration but dangerous to assume as a reality. We have to remember that China had a revolution, a very profound, even ‘tectonic’ revolution. One of its major tenets in regards to the outside world was a deep suspicion, which manifested itself in the form of anti-imperialism, anti-capitalism, anti-colonialism, anti-foreignism, and certainly anti-Americanism. When I first went to China in the 1970s, on every smokestack and every wall was painted the slogan ‘dadao meidiguozhuyi!’, or ‘Down with American Imperialism!’.

Now I am not saying this is exactly what is happening in China today, but it is simply to say that the Chinese have deeply ambivalent feelings about America and the West, and Japan, I might add. And these feelings are not entirely erased by a couple of hundred Kentucky Fried Chicken stands and McDonald’s outlets. We would be deluding ourselves to pretend that the Chinese revolution never happened, and worse still if we failed to remember that there were reasons why it happened.

Vande Berg: What is the relationship between the rise in popular nationalism, as we saw mobilized following the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, and the apparent failure of communist ideology?

Schell: When the center does not hold, in the sense that the people no longer believe in the legitimacy of the government and its ideology, it is very easy to fall back on nationalism and anti-foreignism, and this has been a problem in China for a long time. The Qing government foundered on that very point in 1900, when they had to choose whether to support the violent anti-foreign movement known as the Boxers, or oppose them and risk their wrath. They went with them, and it was a fatal mistake. Nationalism is a very dangerous thing, and once released it is not so easy to moderate. I will say that this time, although there is a lot of anti-American sentiment on the street, and evident on internet chat rooms as well, the Chinese government has not yet excited it, and it has not played this incident up in an inflammatory way in the press, unlike the bombing, where they really did a ‘Boxer number’, getting right on board immediately. That event ballooned in a way that was very frightening.

Vande Berg: Before we go to questions from the audience, I would like to get your perspective on the broader issue of the Chinese government’s position on human rights, a topic which I know has been of great concern to you over the years.

Schell: I don’t believe that someone being tortured or thrown in jail without due process can be written off as part of ‘culture’. It may well have cultural aspects, but that doesn’t make it ‘right’. The world has evolved, thankfully, in the last half a century, and has established internationally accepted standards for many things, such as war crimes, human rights, international maritime law, etc. China’s problem with human rights is that not only in the Marxist-Leninist scheme of things, but also in its traditional scheme of things, there was no notion of them or any legal basis for them. On this point the Chinese constitution is almost irrelevant. I think this is a really difficult subject for China to engage the world on because—without it being a question of not liking or trying to make trouble for China—most of the world says you simply shouldn’t do these things.

China is very much trapped by its past, and in many ways China’s past is encapsulated in that picture of Chairman Mao on Tiananmen, on the Gate of Heavenly Peace. Until they can get that picture down and Mao’s body out of the mausoleum just across the square, it will be very hard for them to get away from their past, from the ideology of the Party, from the revolution and from all of the things which mitigate against being able to enshrine some new code that would encompass human rights. This is a huge dilemma because if you cannot escape your past you cannot describe a future or even a goal towards which the government hopes to move. Human rights often get orphaned in the discussion of socalled ‘Asian values’. I am sorry, but ‘Asian values’ do not say that you can torture and imprison people.

I think until China can manage to escape from its revolutionary and Marxist-Leninist past, it will have a very hard time describing a future for the roles of law, of the public in government, or of a free press. It is sad to say that no one in China is free to discuss this monumental task in a way that is really salutary. It would be hard enough in a society such as ours with nearly unlimited freedom but where no one wants to hear about such things. In China, when you start to talk about such things, you end up paying a very heavy price.

Audience Member (Audience): Could you say something about Falungong, and why the Chinese government regards it as such an incredible threat?

Schell: For two main reasons. For one, the Party has never countenanced public organizations that are not certified by the Party. Such ‘approved’ organizations are called ‘GONGOs’ or ‘government-organized non-governmental organizations’, but they are really spurious. Falungong surprised the Party nearly to death when 10,000 of its members appeared without warning in front of Zhongnanhai [the seat of the government in Beijing]. They were confronted with an organization that they didn’t know existed or how it was organized, and they simply could not allow its continued existence. The second reason is that everybody in China knows the way past dynasties have ended. They know about the ‘Yellow Turbans’, the know about the ‘Boxers’, they know about the ‘Red Spears’, they know about all of the cults that have presaged the ends of each dynasty. They have read the illustrated comic versions of these events, they have seen the movies, they have read the children’s books, and the Falungong produces an almost autonomic response; groups with charismatic leaders, and with these types of crypto-Buddhist or Taoist notions of health and immortality mean that the ‘mandate of heaven’ is ending for the current regime. The concept of ‘mandate of heaven’ holds that ‘heaven’ (a very complex subject in the Chinese context) confers upon the ruler the right to rule. How do you know when the mandate has been withdrawn? Well, you start to have earthquakes and other natural signs, you start to have peasant unrest, and you start to have groups like Falungong in the streets signaling that the regime no longer has the blessing of heaven. I think that at an almost unconscious level the leaders know it, and the people know it, and that all of these things are so nerve wracking because they have a deep symbolic meaning that makes everyone think that they have seen this pattern before.

Audience: You mentioned earlier that internet chat rooms have carried some quite strident reactions to the aircraft incident. Is it possible that the significance of the chat rooms is over stated?

Schell: Are the chat rooms the true vox populi of China? Not really, but there are very few places to gauge public opinion outside of them. There have been some pretty hair-raising things said in the chat rooms but they would be just one source that a responsible journalist would consult in trying to characterize popular reactions. The chat rooms are closely monitored, and as has happened in the last few days, when they get too hot, with people shouting ‘kill, kill, kill’ etc., the government shuts them down. This is one indication that the government does not want to play on those sentiments at this time.

Audience: How do you see not only Chinese, but also general Asian sensitivities to the U.S. conducting surveillance or spying as revealed in the aircraft incident?

Schell: Well, I am not going to attempt to justify spying, but one of the reasons these spy planes are flying up and down the Chinese coast is that China has one hell of a wall of missiles aimed at Taiwan, and the U.S. wants to know what is going on even if we are a little ambivalent about whether or not we will come to Taiwan’s aid. We should note that not all Asians want U.S. forces, especially the Seventh Fleet, out of the area, not even the Chinese! As soon as the Americans leave Korea and Okinawa, the Japanese are likely to rearm and that is far more threatening to China than the Seventh Fleet. So if you were to ask the Chinese on most days, (though perhaps not today), they would admit that the Seventh Fleet is basically a stabilizing influence.

Although I am not really in favor of all the spying that goes on, I do know that it has become routine over the many decades that it has been going on, and that the Chinese Airforce has gotten a lot more provocative recently. Although no one agrees with them, the Chinese imagine that the whole South China Sea is their territory. What are we to do about that? Should no one fly over the South China Sea?

Audience: Would it not have been better for Bush if he had let someone at a lower level do the talking about this rather than jumping in so quickly himself, forcing a response then from the highest levels of the Chinese government?

Schell: There was a unique problem in that the ambassador in Beijing couldn’t find anyone to talk to. This was very reminiscent of what happened in 1989 when the U.S. president, the elder George Bush, called Beijing and no one answered! In both cases it suggests that the Chinese government was in a good bit of disarray as to what they would say if they were contacted and that there was still debate going about what sort of policy to follow. Undoubtedly there were some very hot heads and the cooler heads needed time to prevail. You will notice now that Chinese president Jiang Zemin has flown off to Latin America, which likely means that they have indeed decided what they are going to do.

Audience: Two questions. First, why does the Chinese government refer to Falungong as an ‘evil cult’, and second, what would be the likely effects of something like a trade embargo between China and the U.S. as a result of this aircraft incident?

Schell: Well, the basic answer to the first question is that the Chinese government regards Falungong as an evil cult because it is not their cult. Because Falungong is so potentially volatile for them due to its huge membership and secretive organization they need to turn it into an evil cult it in order to oppose and suppress it.

For your second question, I think that at least there would be a lot of unhappy people in K-Mart, but I also think that China would suffer tremendously if their exports to the United States were to be cut off.

Vande Berg: What does the handling of the aircraft incident reveal about the about the capabilities of the Bush administration to mount an adequate foreign policy towards Asia?

Schell: I am not too sure. Bush does not have a lot of China specialists on board at this point. Clinton had a lot, no matter what you thought of them and their policies. I think that this has caught the Bush administration very early, before they had a chance to really formulate any policies, but what he has done is very consistent with the way he ran his campaign and how he is; speaking plainly and simply and not necessarily trying to understand all of the complexities, subtleties and ambiguities. Unfortunately, Sino-American relations are replete with complexities and ambiguities.

Audience: Why was the decision made to publish in English only a small portion of the mass of material that will be included in the Chinese-language edition of the Tiananmen Papers, and how were the documents included in the English edition selected?

Schell: Well, simply put, no one would have read them. For instance, there are innumerable reports that came in from hundreds of locales all over China reporting on marches and other activities which were essentially repetitive in the sense that a few examples were sufficient to give the sense of what these contained and how varied they were. Including more would not have been of particular interest to the average reader and they would not have related in any fundamental way to the central questions dealt with in the Papers as a whole.

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