Public Forum, December 2, 1995
Chinese American Culture Center, Sunnyvale
Good afternoon, Ladies and Gentlemen:
I want to thank the sponsors of this forum for organizing this event and for giving me this opportunity to share my views on the relationship between the U.S. and China. Most important of all, I want to thank you all for coming. I congratulate you for your concern and your interest. I believe this relationship between two major powers of the world is of critical importance not only to the people of the countries involved but to peace and stability of the entire world.
Before I get into my presentation, let me give you a little more of my personal history. Knowing my background may help you put my comments in proper perspective.
I am a first generation immigrant American. When I came to America, I was 11 years old and had completed the 6th grade in China. After arriving in Seattle, my father would frequently say to my sisters and I: "Don't forget you are Chinese; don't do anything that would embarass the Chinese and cause them to lose face." For the next ten years or so, as I was becoming an adult in the U.S., I was busy learning how to be a good American. During this period, I didn't want to be a Chinese, not even a Chinese American.
In 1974, twenty five years after I immigrated to America, I visited China for the first time. It was an extensive trip covering 12 major cities. This trip made a lasting impression on me. I came back with a lot of photographs and spoke before many groups on what I saw in China. I was fascinated by the breadth of Chinese culture that I saw. Every city had its historical heros, its unique folklores and customs, its special native handicraft, its local cuisine, its place in Chinese history as a major or minor capitol, site of battle, etc. No two cities were alike in spite of heavy hand of the regime in control then, known as the Gang of Four.
I was deeply impressed and proud of the Chinese people. They were warm, friendly and curious about America, but at the same time they were proud of being Chinese and proud of China having regained its stature as a full-fledged equal to other major nations and playing an important role in the world arena.
In 1978, I jumped at the opportunity to join Chase Manhattan Bank and co-direct their non-banking group, Chase Pacific Trade Advisors. Chase was the first American bank to establish a presence in China to help American companies develop business relationships in China. The Chase position allowed me to play a constructive role in the U.S. China relationship. That is, to explain and help prepare American companies on how to succeed in China and to explain America to the Chinese organizations so that durable and sensible and mutually beneficial business alliances can be formed.
By helping American businesses, I can also help China in their drive to modernization. This then has been part of my activity since 1978, sometimes more and sometimes less. I am proud to be an American and I am proud of my Chinese heritage, it's enormously satisfying to be able to contribute to the mutual understanding of these two great nations
I feel that it is important for the audience to know that I am speaking to you from the ground level of a business consultant who goes to China frequently. From this perspective, the first issue that I would like to deal with is the rather natural assumption that I have a vested interest in seeing a friendly relationship between the U.S. and China. That is certainly true. But I submit, it should be in the interest of everybody in the world to see the two major nations engage in a cordial rather than in a tension-filled relationship. In fact, I can't think of many parties and situations that can derive benefits by playing the suspicions and biases of one against the other. Maybe there are a few Americans that feel the need to replace the former USSR with China as the common enemy. There are unfortunately people of little minds whose Asian bashing attitudes are based on ignorance and/or racist bigotry and I don't think there is much that I can say that would have any impact on them.
For my formal remarks, I would like to discuss three related subjects. Namely: (1) What constitutes a constructive engagement between U.S. and China. (2) How human rights and democracy can impact this engagement. (3) What influence economic cooperation can have on the bi-lateral relationship.
I think it is fairly obvious that in order for any two parties to enjoy a so-called constructive engagement, there has to be mutual respect. Unfortunately, respect, politeness, consistent posture, and close communication, the ingredients needed to build and maintain relations have been conspicuously missing in the way the U.S. has been dealing with China. It seems that the only time the U.S. has anything to say to China, it is to make demands, to insist on China doing things in ways acceptable to the U.S., to tell China how they should manage their internal affairs, to threaten China if they fail to abide by the U.S. wishes and then back down when China ignores those threats.
President Clinton's own personal commitment or interest or understanding can be simply measured by counting the numerous times that he has already visited Europe versus the only one trip that he has taken to Asia, and that was to attend the APEC meeting in Indonesia last year. This year, of course, he didn't even make an appearance but had to make a last minute cancellation because of the budget crisis at home.
The Clinton Administration isn't the only one to be blamed. The Congress has to shoulder its share with its parochial ignorance and arrogance. Very few Senators and House of Representatives have ever been to Asia and much less to China. Most have shown not the slightest inclination to understand the Chinese culture and attitudes but are ever ready to condemn based on what they have been told is going on in China. The Republican leadership in Congress is much more interested in embarrassing and obstructing whatever the Clinton Administration is attempting to accomplish than to judge each issue objectively.
So what about human rights and democracy? Let me make one thing very clear. No leader in China can stay in power that does not respect human rights. A surprising statement to some of you, I suppose. But that's because many Americans equate human rights with democracy. That's simply not true. Human rights can exist in the absence of democracy. The presence of democracy doesn't guarantee human rights.
May be I should backtrack a little and state what I think constitutes human rights. I think human rights consist of the right to life and include the freedom from starvation, right to shelter and clothing, the right to an education, to employment and thus gain the means to support themselves. If deprived of these basic rights, do you think anybody would care if they get to vote or voice their opinion as to who should be their political leaders? Next time you see homeless persons in San Francisco, check this out. Ask them when they last voted or what they think about the job their Congressman is doing.
Asia with the exception of Philippine has been the economic success story of recent decades. This includes Taiwan, South Korea, Hongkong, Singapore and Tiger wannabes such as Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. None of them started out as democracies; some barely qualify now, others remain not. They had first and foremost a stable government. Only with a stable government, can the leaders promote economic expansion. With economic growth, the general population began to enjoy a higher standard of living. When they have their basic human rights satisfied, then and only then do they start to look for more and demand more. They expect more alternatives and choices in lifestyle if not for themselves then for their children. The progressive liberalization that follows may not be part of the plans of the political leaders, but it has been inevitable.
This is the path China is taking. China's economy has been growing at nearly 10% per year for the last 16 years or so. The change that comes with this economic growth has to be seen to be believed. When I was first going to China regularly in 1978, there were no high speed expressways, virtually no locally made passenger cars, and no traffice jams, no fancy Hongkong-style restaurants, no 5-star hotels, no high class department stores with shelves of imported luxury goods, no McDonalds, nobody wearing anything that could be described as plain much less fashionable. Now all of these things are common place and not just for foreign tourists but for the local people. Now there is a proliferation of stalls, store fronts, restaurants and enterprises that are privately owned.
Now, there are even enterprising young men and women in their 30's and 40's who have made enough money to be able to come to the U.S. to invest here and take advantage of the U.S. immigration laws that would allow them to in effect buy themselves a green card. Interestingly, these people are much more interested in the convenience of the green card for doing business with the U.S. and have no interest in living here.
These young entrepreneurs and the so-called princelings, i.e., the sons and daughters of high ranking officials, represent the future of China. Largest portion of these princelings have been or are being educated in the United States. They have seen the pluses and minues of an open society. There is no way that they would be party to the old dogmatic ways. Besides the privileged class, there are also an increasing flow of professional managers and technical personnel visiting the U.S. in search of or working with business partners. They are experiencing first hand what life is like in the U.S.
Let me digress for a moment and tell you about a group from China that I was taking around recently. As we were driving along 280, I had the spur of the moment inspiration and pulled into the rest area with the huge stature of Father Junipera Serra. I showed the Chinese visitors the nicely planted gardens in the rest area and explained that it was done by a homeless priest who was living there and acted as the unpaid caretaker there. I also told them that Caltran initially wanted to evict the homeless priest but was turned around completely by the vocal protests of the people in support of the priest. Now Caltran wants to use this case as a model for beautification of other rest areas. Why did I do that? Because I believe these anecdotal, see-for-themselves incidents are much more effective in promoting their understanding of America than the holier-than-thou lectures that people in Congress like to give. As long as there are cordial relations between the two countries, there are millions of opportunities for these show-and-tells.
The bottom line as I see it is that the more contact the Chinese people have with America, the more exposed they will be to the American ideas and gain a real understanding of the principles of democracy. Thus, they will be in a better position to decide and choose a governing system that is best for them.
There are other tangible benefits of the presence of American businesses in China. Multinational corporations will not invest in China without clear guidelines on how their investments will be protected. Consequently, the government's drive for joint ventures with foreign companies has led to the formation of laws and regulations on foreign owned ventures. These laws are not perfect but represents a huge step in getting China accustomed to the rule of law as opposed to rule of men. As most of you already knows, democracy can work only where there is rule of law. For thousands of years, not just the current regime, China has been governed by rule of men.
Americans sent to China to work in these joint ventures are also important agents for change. By working alongside their Chinese colleagues, they are in the position to show their egalitarian attitudes, to share their concerns for the environment, views on equal opportunity and other values. With daily contact, they are in a strongest position to influence the thinking of the Chinese people.
Many in Congress have asked the question: Given China's drive toward economic reform and growth, why can't the U.S. use the threat of withholding economic cooperation, such as MFN-- most favored nations status on trade-- as leverage to get China to make the political reform more to our liking? The answer: We can't, because it doesn't work. One reason is that the U.S. position has not support among the Group of 7 major economic powers. Others do not agree with the U.S.; they have and will continue to do business with China. Of the 30 some billion $s investment that goes into China every year, only about 10% comes from the U.S.
Of course since the U.S. is China's most important customer, any economic sanction will hurt them more than it will hurt us. Even so the pain will be significant on our side as well, in such destructive lose-lose situation.
Even if economic sanction does work, is it really in our national interest to have a destabilized China? Despite its recent economic success, or perhaps because of it, the Chinese leadership is confronted by a host of problems. They include:
• A massive migration of rural peasants to the urban areas and from interior to the coastal regions seeking employment.
• The disappearance of precious farm lands due to the building of highways and conversion of land into factories and office buildings.
• The improved standard of living resulting in a higher quality diet that requiring more, not less, land for cultivation.
• Increasing prospects of unemployment for workers from inefficient and non-competitive state-owned enterprises and the lack of pension funds to support those laid off or retired workers.
• Corruption of officials at all levels of government.
Ironically, with economic reform and loosening of government control, China now even has a drug trafficking problem because drugs from the golden triangle south of the border can now find a easier conduit via the mainland of China to get out to the western market. The government actually is now in need of more control, not less. Democracy is the last thing on their mind.
Part of their solution will depend on economic growth to continue to create opportunities for its people. If the Chinese leadership fails to solve these problems, the consequence of chaos among 1.2 billion people will be felt world wide. The flood of boat people from Vietnam would seem a trickle in comparison. It will be in our interest to help China avoid such a catastrophe, not pushing them towards it.
Personally, I am not convinced that our human rights record is superior to that of China. In any case, human rights in China have been improving steadily and will continue to do so with a healthy growing economy. American engagement and sharing of common interest will allow us to exert positive influence on the future course of China. We can be on the inside as a partner to progress or we can be outside throwing bricks. If we choose to be on the outside, we will be standing alone unsupported by world opinion.