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Same Bed, Different Dreams Managing U.S.- China Relations, 1989-2000

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I would also like to say in a personal sense--and this to you Mr. Prime Minister [Zhou Enlai]--you do not know me. Since you do not know me, you shouldn't trust me. You will find I never say something I cannot do. And I always will do more than I can say.--President Richard Nixon, speaking with Chairman Mao Zedong, Zhongnanhai, February 1972

So the question is, what can I do as an individual. So I am back to what can we do--education. . . . The worst dangers China faces are population and the environment. The worst problem is for China to become a world burden. . . . We want a moist southern breeze to blow up and help China reform. . . . If I must choose, economics first, politics later.--Dai Qing, New York City, January 21, 1992

Personalities matter. It matters in the conduct, formulation, and implementation [of foreign policy]--the Foreign Minister [Qian Qichen] is key. Foreign Minister Qian is one of the most capable foreign ministers on the globe today. Firm and intelligent.--White House official, February 1997

One congressman asked: "I just want to know, if you've accepted Jesus Christ as your personal savior." The [Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister] looked stunned, and he said "no." The whole table almost fell on the floor. The congressman was quite serious. That was his litmus test.--U.S. Ambassador James Sasser, recounting a 1997 conversation between a U.S. congressman and the Chinese Vice Minister over a banquet in Beijing

I had a talk with my old friend, Mr. Maurice Greenberg. I told him that while I was Mayor of Shanghai, I had permitted AIG [American International Group] to establish a branch in Shanghai, and at the time, I was called a traitor by a certain person in a responsible position. But after AIG came to China, not only did AIG do very well, our Chinese insurance companies also learned a lot about insurance operations and management from AIG, and they developed more rapidly than before.--Premier Zhu Rongji, New York City, April 13, 1999

Congressman Meeks: Do you like China?
Chinese Woman: Of course I do. I'm Chinese!
--Encounter between young migrant woman from Anhui Province and Congressman Gregory Meeks (D-New York), Spring 2000


Thus far we have examined the U.S.-China relationship from two vantage points: the level of global systems and the national level, particularly institutional arrangements, domestic politics, and beliefs that define both China and America. Each level adds a layer of complexity to management of the bilateral relationship. Consequently, the capacity of a single leader, or small groups of individuals, in either country to fundamentally alter the trajectory of the relationship is circumscribed.

In both the United States and the PRC, the ability of an individual to alone determine the relationship has declined since the 1970s. In China, the system has moved through the eras of Mao Zedong,[Note 1] Deng Xiaoping, and Jiang Zemin. Mao's proclivities were usually determinative, Deng's inclinations were extremely important, and Jiang Zemin (along with his colleague Premier Zhu Rongji) must spend enormous energy building and maintaining coalitions and support for his policy.[Note 2] As seen in Chapter 4, for example, President Jiang Zemin and Premier Zhu Rongji had to spend nearly seven months rebuilding a consensus on China's WTO entry offer after the previous consensus was shattered by Premier Zhu's abortive April 1999 trip to the United States and the subsequent bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade.

The United States also has witnessed a progression toward leaders who are less able to dominate China policy. President Nixon and Henry Kissinger single-handedly negotiated a new relationship with Beijing. Jimmy Carter controlled the U.S. terms of negotiation with Beijing on normalization until he was forced to acquiesce to the congressional version of the Taiwan Relations Act. And their successors have had to manage an increasingly complex bilateral relationship in an atmosphere where national institutions, social forces, and global markets have an increasing impact. Moreover, the disciplining effect of the cold war has vanished. As Robert Sutter put it, "[T]he post-cold war period has seen substantial changes in the way foreign policy is made in the United States. In general, there has been a shift away from the elitism of the past and toward a much greater pluralism."[Note 3]

Nevertheless, despite the limited capacity of leaders and individuals to determine the course of the relationship, their influence has been, and remains, significant. A subtext throughout this volume has been that leaders and individuals in both China and the United States count. Further, individual leaders in third-party governments (see Chapter 5), people like Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui or Hong Kong Governor Christopher Patten, have had an enormous impact on the bilateral relationship. In the final analysis, crisis decisions and circumstances requiring nonroutine decisions often provide the opportunity for individuals to leave the deepest imprint.

There are at least four broad ways in which individuals in both China and the United States have been involved in the development or implementation of foreign policy and in shaping the broader context in which U.S.-China relations have been managed. To start, there is the category of individuals who have been constitutionally empowered to play a leadership role in each society. In China, by "constitutionally empowered" I mean those individuals the Chinese refer to as the "core" and "nuclear core" leaders; in other words, the "supreme leader" and relevant members of the Politburo and its Standing Committee.[Note 4] In the United States one must put in this category not only the president but also the assistant to the president for national security affairs, the secretary of state, the secretary of defense, and other cabinet-level officials who intermittently shape foreign policy (e.g., the secretary of the treasury or the U.S. trade representative).

The second category comprises individuals who control the "strategic passes" of their respective policymaking systems. These individuals may or may not be specifically mandated to play a role in the development and management of the U.S.-China relationship. Nonetheless, by virtue of their strategic position in the larger system they exercise influence should they choose to do so, or should the issue under discussion fall into their domain. Key congressional committee chairmen, for example, fall into this category in the U.S. system.

Third, there are those individuals in each society whose wisdom is sought by the senior leadership and policy community irrespective of their formal position--the informal advisers, the "elders" in China. These are the Clark Cliffords, Henry Kissingers, James Schlesingers, Carla Hills, Leonard Woodcocks, and Wang Daohans of their respective systems.[Note 5]

Finally, there are those individuals who have no government position but who employ their distinct power (intellectual, organizational, political, or economic) to shape the bilateral relationship or the broader context in which such management occurs. In the United States, business, labor, other interest group, think tank, and civic organization leaders fall into this category. In China, emerging civic organization leaders such as Dai Qing and political dissidents such as Wei Jingsheng[Note 6] (who since the late 1990s has been in the United States in effective exile) are two examples.

In this chapter, I have selected a few notable examples of each of these four categories of individuals. In choosing them, I do not intend to convey uncritical moral or policy endorsement. Rather, the criteria for selection were that the individual has had a demonstrable and important impact on the relationship and that I generally have had some rather direct interaction with the individual, however limited. The latter criterion is both a strength and weakness. To the degree that I have met, known, or dealt with either the principal or his or her staff, I at least have the sense of them that can only come through interaction. It is that very interaction and personal investment, however, that can create blind spots--a desire to emphasize the positive, for example. It is for the reader to judge where those blind spots may be, taking into account that most of the people discussed below have acted on a very broad stage and that a total evaluation of each would require a different standard from that applied here.

One more preliminary word--in China and America the skills needed for national leadership in one era are not necessarily those required in another. The era of radio rewarded different skills than the age of television, and the cold war required different skills than the murkier era that has followed it. At the start of the cold war, the United States was fortunate to have a generation of practical, organizationally adept strategists such as Paul Nitze, Clark Clifford, George Marshall, James Forrestal, and George Kennan. These individuals helped America conceptualize the new era and build the structures to pursue a fairly coherent, broad, and durable national security strategy. Once the strategy and apparatus were in place, more modest individuals carried out the process of implementation--persons such as Dean Rusk in one era, and Warren Christopher in another.

With the end of the cold war, strategists who could build organizations and sell their vision to a U.S. Congress, public, and allies searching for a new framework of association were once again needed. This stage was portrayed aptly in the 1997 words of Bill Clinton: "Presidents are the custodians of the time in which they live as well as the instruments of the visions and dreams they have. . . . So the first thing I had to start with was, you know, we don't have a war, we don't have a depression, we don't have a cold war."[Note 7]

The Elite Foreign Policy Leadership Role

Leadership in Washington

In the American foreign policy and national security system the president generally is the principal foreign and national security policy leader. The president must select a team that possesses a diverse range of skills, in addition to modifying the extant policymaking structure to suit his tastes, strengths and weaknesses, and sense of priorities. Presidential personnel and organization-structuring decisions are intensely personal. During the 1989-2000 period, the United States had two presidents, George Bush and Bill Clinton, who possessed quite different sets of skills, priorities, political bases, and temperaments and who consequently developed somewhat different institutional structures, policy processes, and staffing patterns for their administrations. They also made radically different decisions about how to allocate their own time and with whom to surround themselves.

George Bush. As mentioned in Chapter 1, Bush not only cared about foreign policy, having been director of Central Intelligence, the U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations, and the second head of the United States Liaison Office in Beijing (October 1974-December 1975), but also defined the U.S. relationship with China in personal terms. He knew Chinese leaders personally and, just as he did elsewhere in the world, he managed the relationship through people he knew. It was no accident that one of his first post-Tiananmen reflexes was to try to phone Deng Xiaoping. President Bush's secretary of state, James A. Baker III, was not particularly interested in China and wisely deferred to a president for whom that country was a very high priority. "From the instant of his inauguration," Baker said, "[Bush] took an unusually personal interest in China policy and drove its development to an unprecedented degree."[Note 8] "China was obviously going to be one of the President's personal priorities since he had served as head of our liaison mission there in the 1970s."[Note 9] The secretary of state concentrated mainly on other regions of the world, and on Europe, Russia, and the Middle East in particular. Of George Bush's interest in the PRC, Baker went on to say, "In the case of China policy, however, it's fair to say that very few policy initiatives were generated either by State or the National Security Council staff during my tenure. There was no real need. George Bush was so knowledgeable about China, and so hands-on in managing most aspects of our policy, that even some of our leading Sinologists began referring to him as the government's desk officer for China."[Note 10]

George Bush was of the World War II generation that thought of the world in geostrategic terms, and he selected persons of similar temperament and experience to advise him. Brent Scowcroft, the president's national security adviser, friend, and subsequent coauthor,[Note 11] had been a U.S. Air Force Lieutenant General, an associate of Henry Kissinger in both government and business, President Ford's assistant for national security affairs, and centrally involved in the China initiatives of the early and mid-1970s. Scowcroft too had a personal connection to the U.S.-China relationship.

George Bush's coming of age in the World War II generation facilitated his communication with the Chinese. One Chinese interviewee put it this way in comparing the ease with which George Bush dealt with the Chinese to the later Clinton interaction: "Bush saw Deng less than Clinton sees Jiang. George Bush and Deng both were of the World War II generation, geopolitics, they thought along the same line. I don't know if it is true, but Jiang came back from the United States, then said that he felt there was a generation gap. Clinton is 51 and Jiang is 24 years older."[Note 12]

These proclivities, personalities, priorities, and work styles came together to create a particular policy context for the Bush administration. The president was interested in, and involved with, China policy. He was in close proximity to a trusted lieutenant (Brent Scowcroft) who shared his views regarding China and who could ride herd on policy in the bureaucracy. The State Department (often a policy competitor to the National Security Council) was headed by a personal friend of the president, James Baker, who had virtually no desire to compete for influence over China policy. To further tighten the White House hold on China policy, James R. Lilley, CIA station chief at the Liaison Office in Beijing during Bush's time as representative there, became ambassador to Beijing. Lilley, born in north China's port city of Qingdao, was raised in China and speaks the language well, served as national intelligence officer for China, worked at the National Security Council, and was ambassador to the Republic of Korea for President Reagan.[Note 13] This, therefore, was a setting in which the chances for policy coherence and control were comparatively good.

In terms of China policy, therefore, the Bush administration was in a relatively strong position--it had presidential attention, a capacity to think strategically, an unusually noncompetitive Department of State, and a relatively experienced foreign policy team with many members who felt "ownership" in the U.S-China relationship.

At the same time, however, the administration and the president were deficient in two key areas. The first difficulty was that the president rarely sought out the role of public educator. Some of his foreign policy aides subsequently spoke of their frustration at their inability to persuade him to deliver a comprehensive explanation of the administration's China policy to the American people until long after the vacuum of public pronouncement had been filled by administration opponents. A second problem stemmed from the president's ardent defense of executive branch primacy in foreign policy. Particularly in the context of the emotionally charged debate over China policy in the wake of Tiananmen, Bush's zealous defense of presidential authority made him appear deaf to congressional and popular outrage. This intensified congressional backlash. Nonetheless, given the mood in Congress at the time, particularly the intense partisanship of Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell (D-Maine), the argument could be made that any presidential conciliation simply would have fed more extreme demands from the Hill.

There was another, related problem when it came to dealing with Congress, and in this respect Bill Clinton proved more astute. While George Bush appointed excellent ambassadors to China with genuine China expertise (e.g., James Lilley and Stapleton Roy), these individuals did not interact with Congress extensively, though Lilley was more active in that regard than Roy. When Bill Clinton appointed his emissary to Beijing, it was a former member of Congress, Tennessee Senator James Sasser. While Sasser started with less knowledge about China than many of his predecessors, in times of waning domestic support for China policy, influence on Capitol Hill was probably more important. Here Sasser was comparatively effective. Moreover, the ambassador-designate spent a great deal of time studying China even before his posting because of the protracted confirmation process he faced.

Bill Clinton. Turning to President Clinton, there are stark contrasts between his administration's proclivities, personalities, priorities, and work styles and those of George Bush. To a much greater extent in his first term than in his second, Clinton did not see foreign policy as a priority. In contrast to Bush, Bill Clinton moved China policy as far away from himself as he could, calculating that there were no political gains to be made in this policy area, until late in his second term when his attention turned to his legacy and China came to assume importance in that regard. In his first term, however, the president in effect assigned an assistant secretary of state (Winston Lord) to come up with China policy and then implement it. In pushing a policy concern so far away from himself (physically and in hierarchical terms), the president signaled to other powerful political actors that working on that issue was not a priority. This put the subordinate responsible for China policy in the untenable position of trying to shape the behavior of cabinet superiors who did not agree with that policy. Consequently, discipline broke down, foreign interlocutors became confused and truculent, and domestic political opponents saw cracks into which wedges easily were driven. A second consequence of the president's clear preference for domestic issues was that China policy, when addressed, was filtered through the lens of domestic political concerns. For example, whereas George Bush to a considerable extent judged a China policy initiative by whether it advanced strategic interests or specific foreign policy objectives, Bill Clinton's reflex was to consider domestic reaction and implications, and whether it would receive congressional acceptance. By making congressional approval a principal definition of success Clinton transferred tremendous initiative from the executive branch to Congress and threw China policy into an arena dominated by domestic, often parochial, political concerns. In addition, the issues germane to China policy that most attracted Clinton's attention were those items that had a domestic resonance--human rights and economics (particularly trade issues).

The new bureaucratic agencies that the president created reflected these concerns as well--the National Economic Council in the White House, a special assistant to the President and senior director for democracy in the National Security Council (Morton H. Halperin), and a substantially strengthened Bureau of Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs at the Department of State. Predictably, senior administration personnel were quite different than those who had characterized the Bush administration. A college professor specializing in international relations at Mount Holyoke College, Anthony Lake, who had broken with Henry Kissinger over the Cambodia invasion of 1970, was selected as assistant to the president for national security affairs.[Note 14] Warren Christopher, a Los Angeles attorney, previously deputy secretary of state in the Carter administration, who had served as law clerk to Justice William O.