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Spotlight On China: The Olympics [Rush Transcript; Federal News Service]

Speakers: Kenneth G. Lieberthal, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Political Science, William Davidson Professor of Business Administration, University of Michigan, and Sophie Richardson, Asia Advocacy Director, Human Rights Watch
Presider: Harry Harding, University Professor of International Affairs, Sigur Center for Asian Studies, Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University
June 17, 2008
Council on Foreign Relations


HARRY HARDING: (In progress.) But if you want to bring your drinks in and take your seats, we will get going.

My name is Harry Harding. I'm at George Washington University and I'm absolutely delighted to be here this evening to moderate this session on China and the Olympics.

Here are the ground rules, they're very simple. First of all, this is all on-the-record. That applies mainly to us up here of course but it also applies to you when you ask questions, you can see there are members of the news media here so this is not a hypothetical. And secondly we would request that you make sure that your cell phones are turned off or on stun or vibrate -- (laughter) -- or whatever silent setting you can put them on so that they don't interrupt proceedings; we all know how annoying that can be.

The other aspect of the procedure that you should know is that we're going to be talking up here for about half an hour. I'll be leading a discussion of some of the key issues focusing a bit more on the Olympics, what has happened so far, what's likely to happen, what the impact will be. And that will begin the process of talking about the broader issues of where China is, where it's going, where U.S. relations with China are going. And then perhaps during the question-and-answer period, which will start at about 7:00, you can carry the ball on to talk about these longer term issues of the future of China and the future of U.S.-China relations especially in this election year.

We're very lucky to have two panelists here who are extremely well-qualified to talk about this subject with us. Sophie Richardson is the Asia Advocacy Director of Human Rights Watch; she obviously is on your left, my right. I thought we don't really need to keep the characters straight. Ken Lieberthal on my left, your right teaches in both the business school and the political science department at the University of Michigan, and as you know served on the National Security Council staff in the Clinton Administration.

Let me set the stage. I've been lucky, undeservedly lucky, to be in China at some very interesting moments over the past umtiumth many years. I was there when the purge of the Gang of Four was announced in October 1976. I was there when the normalization of U.S.-China relations was announced in December of 1978. And then in July of 2001, totally again unintentionally, pure coincidence, I was there on the evening that the International Olympic Committee decided which city would be given the honor of hosting the Olympic Games in 2008. I had no idea what was going on. I was having coffee or maybe it was a drink actually with one of my oldest Chinese friends in what was then a kind of coffee area of the middle section of the old Peking Hotel -- now the Raffles for those of you who continue to visit there -- and there were all of these television monitors set up around the room. I said what's this all about? My friend said tonight is the night we find out whether we're going to get the Olympics.

And at that moment, I had no strong preference -- I knew the pros and the cons. The question is does China deserve it in some sense, can it be ready, is it qualified to host a successful Games? But also the sense that China had already been turned down once for the 2000 Games, that it saw it as a test of the willingness of the international community to accept it as a rising power, and perhaps it would provide some leverage to develop improvements in China's human rights record and other, there's going to be urban planning in Beijing in the seven years onward.

So I arrived at this moment with total indecision. That indecision quickly evaporated because I realized that if China did not win the Olympics, it would be a very unpleasant situation to be an American in the middle of Beijing on that particular evening. (Laughter.) So from being agnostic on the subject, I went to being one of Beijing's most fervent boosters, and sure enough the magic moment came and the screens flashed we won, woma yingma (ph), and the whole place went into complete pandemonium.

What I saw in a sense was Chinese nationalism at both its best and its worst, an enormous pride in China, anticipation of the future and also that persistent chip on the shoulder -- what would happen, what would the mood have been had China been turned down a second time.

I also sensed enormous self-confidence, absolutely no doubt that now that the international community had understood that Beijing could successfully host the Olympic Games, no doubt whatsoever that Beijing would meet and exceed all of the expectations; in other words, very little awareness from what I sensed at the time. Of course it was now seven years off from 2001. Little sense that China ran any risks, that basically it was down hill from here, they'd overcome the biggest hurdle and now they were going to undertake the most successful Olympic Games in the Games' history.

So with that, we now fast forward to the present and we see that the situation is much more troubled than the excited throngs of Chinese who filled Tiananmen Square within minutes after the announcement over television than any of them seemed to anticipate. We saw the Olympic torch relay running through the United States, through Europe, through Australia, through South Korea both attracting demonstrations against and counterdemonstrations largely of Chinese overseas for. We've seen calls for boycotts or protests in various ways over various issues. We still have uncertainty about the physical environment, the air quality of the Games with now even rumors and reports that the Australian track and field team may not march in the opening ceremonies because they don't want to expose themselves unnecessarily to pollution.

So I guess my first question that I'm going to ask Sophie and Ken is a very in a sense simplistic, obvious, straightforward but fundamental one. Why are the Olympics so controversial? We've had, you know, Sydney, Barcelona, Athens -- obviously some Olympics in the past have been controversial -- why is there such controversy surrounding the Olympic Games?

I'll start with you, Sophie.

SOPHIE RICHARDSON: I think there are a couple of different reasons. I think the first clearly is that the government has taken this as an opportunity not to just celebrate athletics, to celebrate sports, to make this a sort of warm, fuzzy international event, but has made it a profoundly political one primarily by inviting hundreds -- over 100 heads of state to the opening ceremonies. But also --

HARDING: And that's unusual?

RICHARDSON: -- which is quite unusual, the largest number who attended any opening ceremonies outside their own countries, it's obviously common for, you know, at the L.A. Games, the president of the U.S. would've gone. I think with six at the Sydney -- there were six heads of state at the Sydney Games, including the Australian Prime Minister. So this is quite an unusual number, but also this is the first time since I think the Sarajevo games in '84 that the Olympics have been held in an essentially non-democratic country. And particularly if you look at the language of the Olympic charter which has some very lofty rhetoric about the promotion of human dignity alongside the Chinese government's own commitments to improve rights prior to the Games, commitments of which it's clearly falling quite short, these are some of the reasons why people have really attached a lot of grievances to the Games.

HARDING: Let me press you on that point, Sophie. You said that China made commitments and it's fallen short. What specifically are the commitments that it made? Is there a clear understanding of what the commitments were and how do we know that they've fallen short?

RICHARDSON: The only absolutely crystal clear commitment the government made was on the issue of press freedom for foreign journalists who had typically been quite restricted to Beijing and Shanghai and who were in principle supposed to get permission from the government before they interviewed anyone, which of course many journalists didn't do. But then they were sort of operating at risk of reprisals.

The IOC quite specifically in the negotiations with the Chinese over whether they were going to get the Games asked them to lighten up on press freedom for foreigners. The Chinese made that commitment to them -- to the IOC in 2001 and followed through on that with new media regulations that went into effect at the beginning of 2007. We continue to document dozens and dozens and dozens of problems that foreign journalists continue to encounter, despite these regulations.

Various Chinese government officials over the last seven years have also made much broader commitments and said that of course, human rights would improve by virtue of the Games or in honor of the Games. There's very little concrete to point to in those. There may be more language in the actual bid documents that the government submitted to the IOC. We don't know because those documents are not made public. It's clear that the IOC, you know, made some of these requests of the Chinese government because it was a result of China'S poor human rights record that it had been turned down for the Games it had bid on previously.

HARDING: Mm hmm. Ken, let me turn to you and ask you about another aspect of this. I mean, Sophie saying that the Chinese made some what I would say specific commitments and then did some hinting and implying about the human rights situation in China. And yet, until the protest in Tibet, the calls for boycotts really had nothing to do with China's internal affairs, they had to do primarily with Darfur, and that was where the genocide Olympics slogan came. There was some concern about Burma, China's international behavior. Can you help us understand why these other issues came on to the table and what some of the dynamics were there?

KENNETH G. LIEBERTHAL: Well, I think first of all -- let me -- if you don't mind, I want to take one minute first --


LIEBERTHAL: -- just to do what you did and review key events I'd been in China for because --

HARDING: How long were you there?

LIEBERTHAL: -- this highlights what a state of grace you live in. (Laughter.) My first night in China was the night of the Tangshan earthquake, and I was on the 8th floor of the Beijing Hotel when that occurred. I was then there on June 4th of 1989 in Tiananmen Square, and I got there recently the day after the Sichuan earthquake.


LIEBERTHAL: So I've lived under a cloud and you've lived a charmed life and -- anyway. The -- I think that, first of all, the Olympics in theory are free of politics and a celebration of athletic prowess and something that brings the world together. In practice, in modern times, they typically haven't been quite that. They've aspired to be that. But I don't care whether you look at Munich or at Mexico or -- you know, you go through the list, and they have -- there have been groups that have attempted to politicize the Games and, to one extent or another have done that, at least to some degree. And there are other countries in Asia -- Japan and the ROK, specifically -- that saw their own holding of the Olympics as their great coming-out party.

So I think that some of what's happening with China has happened before. It's happened on a larger scale. And I think that's partly because China simply is a larger story. The rapidity of its ascent, the spillover effects globally of its rapid ascent in the last 30 years and kind of the emotions that China for one reason or another tends to engender in a wide variety of constituencies --

HARDING: Mm-hmm.

LIEBERTHAL: -- meant, I think, from the start that there were a lot of people -- pun intended -- who would seek to game the Olympics. And we saw that in Darfur. It's interesting as the -- well, let me just say we saw it in Darfur and we see it in a number of other places. Then the Tibet came up with the riots and the -- you know, then the harsh response eventually, and that exploded the domestic side of it and brought in additional constituencies to this. So I think this kind of reflects (a) that the Olympics are never quite what they aspire to be -- which I think is very unfortunate; and (b) that China, you know, is associated with a lot of issues.

And so putting those two things together, you would have anticipated that I lot would come up. I don't think anyone anticipated as much would occur and especially growing out of the Tibetan protests, and the repercussions for the Olympic torch that we have actually seen. So that's been surprising to me.

HARDING: Of course, this is an interactive process and whether or not the Chinese anticipated what would happen -- as I suggested, I don't think they did -- the question is how they responded as things began to unravel, as you began to have the calls for boycott either of the Games entirely or of the opening ceremonies. You had the protests against the Olympic torch relay. How would you evaluate China's response, both as a society and as a government to the unraveling of their Olympic dream?

LIEBERTHAL: I think the initial response was clumsy. And between the mobilization of nationalism at home and some of that that you saw spill over in other countries --

HARDING: You see it as mobilization -- not just happening, but mobilized.

LIEBERTHAL: I thought if the Chinese government didn't get ahead of it, they would be behind it. But it was going to occur and they chose to get ahead of it. And I -- you know, frankly, was not surprised to see that. Interestingly -- I don't know how many of the rest of you have had this experience, but I found increasingly by about April as I talked to people in China -- I've been there, I guess, four times since March -- as I've talked to people in China, what I have heard -- now this is mostly think tankers and government officials. It is not taxi drivers. But the comment has increasingly crept in -- "You know, what this really reminded us is that we are still a third world country." And we kind of went -- when you were there and they announced the Olympics -- you know, "This is our coming-out party. We had made it. We're" -- you know, "we're" -- what, they were called (dagwa ?) -- you know, a country of real stature. Now -- you know, what we realize again is we aren't there yet. We've got a lot of weaknesses in our system. Those weaknesses don't disappear simply because we've got the Olympics and so -- you know, we have a lot of accomplishments. But we have a long way to go."

I was there a few weeks ago and met with a lot of people as part of a program -- people in different venues talking about different issues. And virtually every single person on the Chinese side, without mentioning the Olympics specifically, had as a theme -- you have to understand when you try to comprehend China that China is a country that has 4 (hundred) to 500 relatively -- 4 (hundred million) to 500 million relatively modern people surrounding by a developing country of 800 million very poor people. And if you ever for a minute forget either side of that equation, you'll never understand what's happening in China because those two sides interact across the board all the time.

HARDING: Mm-hmm.

LIEBERTHAL: And when I heard this theme over and over, I thought back to the comments I had heard in early April and then -- you know, periodically since then, essentially, you know, we have great weaknesses. We still aren't highly institutionalized. We aren't democratic. We aren't this. We aren't that. And that inevitably spills over when you're trying to stage something as big as the Olympics.

HARDING: That's interesting because that's a little more balanced and sober, not the kind of, you know, chip-on-my-shoulder they're out to keep us down and to insult us again kind of response, which there was much of. But you're telling us that it was more nuanced than that.

Well, what should the United States now do? We have less than two months to go. Sophie, are you either individually or is your organization advocating that President Bush stay away? Are you advocating that American -- ordinary American sports fans and tourists stay away? Are you advocating that there be protests at the Olympic venues? What -- what's your position on what Americans should and should not do at this point?

RICHARDSON: Let me just come back to one of the points quickly --

HARDING: Mm-hmm.

RICHARDSON: -- that got raised a minute ago about -- you know, about the politicization of the Olympic Games.

I was reading an internal IOC memo this afternoon about how the IOC is prepared to respond if there are certain kinds of developments, and it was sort of organized according to if there were demonstrations or if there were terrorist attacks. And the language that was used over and over was a sentence to the effect that -- you know, the IOC recognizes that various groups and individuals will use Olympic Games as an opportunity to raise their issues. The phrase that was used over and over again -- I couldn't help but think, "This is what the government has done, right ?" I think we can be reasonably confident that there will be people who will, you know, protest and wear "Free Tibet" T-shirts, and all that sort of thing.

But I think that this is an event that the government specifically sought and to which it has clearly attached a political agenda. So I think we can't just -- you know, we can't just say that people other than the government or groups -- other than the government are making use of it this way. Human Rights Watch has not been in support of a boycott for two fairly straightforward reasons. One is that it is a little bit hard to be against something that 1 billion people are for. And it was our view that it would be quite alienating to be against China's hosting of the Games. We don't have an argument, really, about that. Also, frankly, as an advocacy organization, if you advocate a boycott, the conversation sort of essentially stops there. There's no room to raise other issues. There's no room, essentially, to -- you know, try to take the government at its word to follow through on the commitments that it's made.

The point that we've been trying to make to heads of state -- to President Bush and to many others -- you know, is to try to leverage certain human rights improvements prior to accepting invitations to go to the opening ceremonies. We --

HARDING: Is that still feasible with less than two months to go?

RICHARDSON: I think a number of the things that we urged really are, and one of them is allowing an independent investigation, preferably by the U.N.'s High Commission for Human Rights, into what happened in Tibet in March. You know -- and I think if the government were so inclined, we could see that happen pretty quickly. It's not difficult for OHCHR to mobilize those kinds of efforts. So I think there are some fairly straightforward steps that if the government decided it wanted to do, could be done.

The question is whether, you know, government leaders are willing to actually do that. Some of them are more inclined, some of them are less so. The Bush administration seems to be --you know, at this point, it certainly appears to us that the administration is essentially working hard to pave the way for the president to go rather than seizing the opportunities that it has in front of us to make positive change in exchange for that kind of recognition.

HARDING: Mm-hmm.

Ken, let me ask you not only to comment on that, but -- if you'd like, but also ask two other questions. And that is we know that the United States government has been providing various kinds of technical cooperation to the Chinese government surrounding the security of the Games, both technical advice, sales of equipment and so forth. Is that appropriate? And as someone who teaches in a business school, is it appropriate that multinational corporations be sponsors of the Olympic Games?

LIEBERTHAL: Well, let me first comment and then --


LIEBERTHAL: -- respond to both of your questions.

I found, when I was in the government -- and I think different people end up with kind of different takes on this -- but my own take quite strongly, in working with the Chinese, was if you really want to get something done, don't advertise that you're doing it while you're trying to get it done.

I thought that the right course for President Bush, and I think it's the course he's been following, was essentially to call Hu Jintao and say, "Look, I'm committed to come to the games. I think that's the right thing to do. Unfortunately, the political base is eroding under me for this, and I need your help. And these are the things that would really strengthen my position here in favor of what I really want to be able to do." So you try to get the Chinese working with you to accomplish some things rather than publicly challenging them, in which case you've changed the political calculus on their side.

I admit, this is -- you know, this is not always -- it's not 100 percent of the time that this is always the best way to go at it. But in my experience, more times than not, especially when sensitivities were high, this was more the effective approach. And I don't know what President Bush is saying to Hu Jintao privately, but if he's doing something like what I just suggested, I think that's likely to be the most effective approach.

The second issue -- should we be cooperating with them on security issues related to the Olympics -- we cooperate with the Chinese quite a bit on counterterrorism overall. We have an FBI office there. There's a lot of intel liaison and other kinds of things that go on.

My understanding of this is that this is primarily within that kind of bucket. And, if so, I think we certainly -- from what I understand, Interpol has indicated that they are aware of a real danger of terrorist acts at the Olympics. I think we ought to be cooperating on that.

There, I'm sure, are areas where you would want to draw the line on either what you transfer or what they can use it for, what you walk with, essentially, and what you leave behind. I, frankly, am not immersed in those details. I can't comment knowledgeably on that, but I would think that some judgment has to be exercised, and I'd be very surprised if it weren't the set of issues being considered.

For companies sponsoring the Olympics, to me this is not a moral issue for companies. The Olympics are generally a good thing, and they were awarded to China on the right basis. And Human Rights Watch supports China holding the Olympics, so why shouldn't they sponsor the Olympics?

I think the risk here is to the companies themselves, which is to say I think that there are three stories that are very likely to come out of this Olympic Games, one of which will end up being the dominant story. I don't know which one will be dominant. But one of the three, and the one that certainly companies want, is "What a great set of games" -- you know, terrific venues, great competition; Beijing is more modern and lively and open and all that than we had realized; good news story. And that's obviously the story the Chinese government wants.

The second one is, "What an environmental disaster that place is." You know, keep in mind, this is not only air pollution, but it's also heat. Last year, during this block of time, August 8 to around August 20, the average daytime temperature in Beijing was over 99 degrees. You know, North China is heating up. It may not be that this year, but you're going to hear a lot about it if it is. And if the winds happen to blow from the south instead of from the west during those days, you're going to have a lot of air pollution in Beijing then too, despite the dramatic efforts they've made. So it's a bad news story potentially on the environment side.

And then, thirdly, there unquestionably will be people who are going to try to stage demonstrations and, you know, make their point and provoke the government if they can, provoke an ugly response that they hope will be captured by NBC and others and broadcast around the world. And if that occurs, that may end up -- repression may end up being the story of the Olympics.

So when you're GE, that is both a core sponsor of the Olympics and whose sports coverage covers, through NBC Sports, covers the Olympics, I would say there's a big potential up side and there's a big potential down side. And I suspect a number of the executives there are doing a lot of prayerful watching of this at this point.

HARDING: Right, especially because they run a reputational risk in both places, in China --

LIEBERTHAL: Absolutely.

HARDING: -- as well as back home.

LIEBERTHAL: Absolutely. So there's a big branding issue here.

HARDING: Let me then ask you about a fourth possible scenario, and that is that, just as we saw during the torch relay, in some ways the bigger story was not the protests but the counter-protests. What's the chance that there will be some explosion of Chinese nationalism? We saw it directed at NBC's coverage several -- was it Atlanta, I think? -- where they complained about some of the comments of the sportscasters, again, coming out of the Chinese community in the U.S. There could be complaints about bad reffing or poor sportsmanship, especially by Japanese or Americans. Is that a possible fourth scenario that we should worry about?

LIEBERTHAL: Sure, it is. I think, actually, if I were the Chinese officials, one of the things I would be worried about is if there are protests in China and Chinese citizens decide to show the protesters a thing or so by beating them up. And how do you prevent that kind of ugly scene from occurring? I cannot imagine that they haven't gamed that out and, you know, put in place procedures. But again, the Chinese are typically not at their best in handling protests on television. This is not where their skill set lies. And so, you know, there's a lot of potential for real problems here.

HARDING: Just about time to turn it over to the audience for some really intelligent questions. But let me ask one last set of both of you.

As Ken has often reminded me, the Olympics will end after that numerologically wonderful and very symbolic starting point of 8:00 p.m. on the eighth day of the eighth month of the eighth day (sic/means year) of the new millennium, depending on how you --

LIEBERTHAL: It is eight minutes after 8:00.

HARDING: Oh, sorry -- eight minutes after 8:00.

LIEBERTHAL: -- on the eighth day of the eighth month of the eighth year.

HARDING: I'm sorry; another eight. And then there'll be the closing ceremonies as well, and that will come just a few days before the national political party conventions here in the United States, the traditional kickoff of the general phase, as opposed to the primary phase, of the presidential and congressional elections.

So far, in my judgment, China has not been a central issue. It's been a secondary issue. It's come up from time to time, but it hasn't occupied center stage. To begin to transit from the Olympics to U.S.-China relations and China policy more generally, let me ask both of you, do you think that, if you had to make a guess, that the Olympics will, in a sense, activate that issue in any way? If so, how? And more generally, do you think that China is going to be a more prominent issue in the next stage of the campaign than it has been so far?

We'll start with you, Sophie.

RICHARDSON: Oh, I want you to answer this one first.

HARDING: Oh, okay.

RICHARDSON: But, no, I'll give it a stab. I mean, I think, invariably, it will become more of an issue in the campaign, I mean, once the conventions are over and people really at that point have to take more of a position, a clearer position, on certain key foreign policy issues. And obviously China, not just domestically but its foreign policy, will become more a subject of interest.

I think how it gets discussed will depend enormously -- and how it gets discussed both in the campaigns and long term -- is going to depend a great deal on what actually happens during those couple of weeks. I think if it goes smoothly and there aren't any real (eruptions ?), I think we're sort of going to go back, at least here in Washington, to a dynamic where human rights gets discussed in a very particular setting and not related to security issues or to economic issues.

I think if we do see more protests and a very strong response from the government, there's going to be a little bit more room to make a case for a broader, more prominent, systematic inclusion of human rights in all aspects of the bilateral relationship. That's certainly -- that's obviously what we would like to see. And, I mean, it would be nice to think that we'll get there simply by virtue of the issue being important. But I suspect that there may be developments that are going to push it right back to center stage.


LIEBERTHAL: I think if the Olympics go fairly well, then it will be mentioned at most in passing in the political conventions. And if nothing else occurs during the course of the fall, I think China will be marginal in the fall campaign. That's largely because even on an issue like human rights, a lot of the energy on that issue at a political level, I think, is going to play off of Iraq in various ways, whether it is, you know, alleged violations -- I happen to think there are violations of constitutional principles by the Bush administration domestically, or how various issues have been handled within Iraq. You know, I think that's going to become more of a fulcrum than China is.

If the Olympics produce some big meltdown, you know, along the lines we've been talking about, that, I think, then does run a risk of being mentioned enough at the conventions that it could carry into the fall campaign.

The Chinese are smart enough by now to recognize that it is very much in their interest for no one to pay any attention to China during the fall campaign. So, you know, when Dick Solomon was in the White House, you know, way back in the early days of the U.S.-China relationship, my guess is the Chinese kind of wanted, or at least, in the subsequent years, after normalization took place, the Chinese kind of liked the attention and felt it showed how important they were.

They learned that attention is never in their interest. And so I think they'll go out of their way not to create ripples during the course of the fall campaign unless there's something growing out of the Olympics or something simply beyond their control that inject them into it.

When you look at the array of domestic issues, and Iraq and foreign policy especially, I don't see China getting pride of place in this campaign, barring something very unexpected that occurs.

HARDING: Very good. Well, now it's time for Council members to join in the conversation.

Again, some ground rules, please. Wait for the microphone -- there are two gentlemen on either side of the room -- since we need to hear. And I guess it's being -- it is being recorded, right? And when you get the microphone, could you please rise and state your name, rank and affiliation? And keep your question as short as possible. If it's directed to any particular person, please let us know that as well.

So who'd like -- I think Dick Solomon wanted to be the first one.

QUESTIONER: Since I was -- my name was mentioned in vain, I couldn't resist the opportunity.

My comments have a theme, which is this eternal question of how are we going to change China, or how will China change? It used to be the missionaries going in and we're going to change from the inside. Now we have China reaching out. And while it's only a footnote, there's a fantastic article in the press today, reporting in the Chinese press, trying to figure out what it means that a black man in America is running for president. And that is generating very interesting debates in the country about how they deal with their ethnic minorities. But it's just one element of this.

What I want to talk about is the American agenda, which you have all been talking about. How do we change China, in part, through the games, how we relate to them, versus how the Chinese are looking at it? And what really strikes me is that if you look at the billion or so Han Chinese and not consider the interests of the Tibetans or the Uighurs or the Falun Gong or some of the other groups that do have their own agenda for change, those billion-and-some Han Chinese want their government to be effective, which works against all that we're looking for in terms of change in the way that China is governed.

And the best example of that initially was the reaction to the earthquake. The Chinese wanted and the government was effective, in a way that the Burmese government was not, in handling the relief effort in a way that made the Chinese people feel their government was taking care of them.

I think the same thing could be said for the Olympics. If the Chinese government mismanaged the Olympics, that would really produce a very strong domestic reaction, because, as has been pointed out in your comments, the Chinese people have an enormous sense of pride. And I'm not sure what that leads to other than this difference in agenda and the difference in perspective where, again, most non-Chinese want a strong government to be an effective purveyor of security and organizing important events that give China pride, where we're looking for all these changes. And how that will play out psychologically is interesting. Ken, you made a really interesting comment about --

HARDING: Dick can you wrap it up?

QUESTIONER: -- people now saying, "Okay, we did a good job, but we've got weaknesses," and then once the games are over, they start really evaluating what it's all about now that they've proven themselves.

HARDING: It's an even broader question than it might seem, because we have an interest in China evolving and changing, not just on the human rights dimension but in terms of its economy, in terms of its foreign trade practices, its foreign policy.

So let me start with Sophie on the human rights side about whether we are in a position to get China to change, and if so, in what direction and how, and then maybe turn to Ken for what our interests are in terms of dynamics on additional dimensions of Chinese behavior.

RICHARDSON: Well, on the issue of getting the Chinese government to change, you know, my organization's agenda obviously is not an American one. You know, our -- you know, our marching orders come from the ICCPR and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And I think it's a tough time, even when we can get the Bush administration to, you know, take the positions that we want them to or they're pulling in the direction that we want them to anyway, for that to be heard seriously in other places. There is deep, deep -- there are serious credibility problems for the U.S. on human rights everywhere now, not just in China.

But I guess maybe I don't see as bright a line between, you know, what the Chinese people want or what the government is doing and what we're suggesting. I think there's no better example of that than the issue of the rule of law. We've done a lot of work in the last couple of years about abuses of lawyers who are trying to take up what we would consider class-action suits or to simply represent people in what we would consider civil rights cases.

And, you know, the point that we've tried to make over and over and over again is that it's really in the government's interest to let people take these kinds of cases to court and resolve their grievances that way rather than wind up with them protesting on the streets. And, you know, so there are systemic changes, but I think the distinctions that you may be drawing here are not necessarily -- I don't think it's that they want one thing, we want something else. I think there's actually a certain amount of common ground. And as an advocacy organization, obviously you're much more successful if you can point to a commitment that a government has already made and encourage its move further in that direction.


LIEBERTHAL: I think a big ongoing problem is a failure in the United States, beyond folks who really focus on China professionally, to understand what's going on in China, and therefore, a tendency to see China, A, in terms of our own categories rather than the way they think about issues -- and the way they think about issues is not all that strange; it just doesn't happen to fit quite the same categories that we use -- and B, to see China as kind of this undifferentiated -- there's the government and then there's the people.

You know well, anyone who works with China knows that there is an enormous amount of consensus-building and argumentation and, you know, seeking to maximize flexibility at every level of this government and in every geographical region of China. And there's a tendency to think of these folks as basically ideological when, I think, in practice they are some of the more pragmatic people on earth.

So, you know, I think we would do better in being a little more effective if we had a little better understanding, at a broad level in the United States, of what's really going on there. I think if we did, what we would find is that there is real disagreement with the Chinese leadership over the value of multiparty democracy. They clearly -- what they see is "We have to break a lot of eggs to make our development omelet. It's going to take us another 15 to 20 years" to become what they would term a relatively well-off society.

I've had leaders tell me privately that "Once we've done that, you know, then we recognize the next step has to be some serious democratization. The rest of Asia has moved in that direction. It will come our turn too. But we can't do that while we still need a very strong government that can develop this society and economy."

Now, let me say, I have never met an autocratic leader who felt the moment for democratization was on his watch. So, you know, you can draw your own conclusions. But if you set aside the multiparty democracy issue, in a lot of areas what you find is the central leadership agenda is much closer to what we would like to see and to what our interests are than is the agenda at local levels that are produced by the incentives in different localities and the way the system operates.

Central leadership is seeking to make China much more energy-efficient than it has been. It is seeking to increase domestic consumption, which would take some pressure off of exports. It is seeking to build a social safety net. It is seeking to improve labor conditions and conditions for migrants; you know, seeking to do -- and the list could go on -- seeking to do a lot of things that we say we want China to do.

The problem is ineffectiveness in the system. The way the system works itself rarely produces the outcomes that the central leadership would like to see, other than in long-term trends. But a lot else gets kind of, you know, altered in significant fashion as it goes down the system.

So when you say, how would we move China in directions where we want it to go, frankly, a big question is, how does the central leadership become more effective in those areas where, you know, we also think it's good for China to go? And are there ways that we can be helpful?

Let me give you an example. On the environmental side, the environmental protection law in China empowers local governments to manage environmental affairs; all right, so national policy, but local management. One of the things local governments systematically do is to distort their reporting on emissions in the localities, because they can control the local EPA.

We have technologies that the Chinese could use, if they want to institute centralized monitoring of emissions -- local control, but centralized monitoring -- they have very sophisticated computer software and that kind of thing. Our companies like Oracle know how to do that stuff. You know, we have an interest in the center becoming more powerful on this issue and in helping to enable that.

So if you think operationally on issues of enormous importance where we find real allies at the top of the system, and then how might we make those folks more effective in getting done what they seek to get done, I think we might actually have a more effective impact. Where we sit back and tell the Chinese that what they're doing is lousy and what we're doing is great -- I'm caricaturing this, obviously, but where you have that kind of nuance or sensibility to what you're saying, my experience is you really get very far with China on that basis.

HARDING: More questions. In the back, please. And again, your name and affiliation.

QUESTIONER: Thanks. My name is Evan Medeiros. I research China at the RAND Corporation.

My question, I guess, is principally for Ken, but I'd welcome Harry's insights as well.

After the Olympics, where do the drivers of Chinese foreign policy go? Will China, in relative terms, become less sensitive to international consent and opprobrium? Just what happens to China's view of the world? Does it become more confident, and therefore become more assertive?

LIEBERTHAL: That's it? Oh, I thought you were -- I thought you had another sentence there.

Sophie --

HARDING: That's to you. It's to you first.

LIEBERTHAL: I told Sophie before this that every time a really difficult question came up, I would give her pride of place. I'm just trying to follow up on that.

First of all, I think that China is very concerned about its stature in the world. It is very concerned with what Joe Nye called soft power; in other words, its ability to get things done without using force or threat, but simply by virtue of example and respect. So I think they certainly will remain sensitive to views in other countries. I think you've seen that reflected far beyond the Olympics in Chinese foreign policy over a number of years. Your own work, I think, has buttressed that observation.

I think also, just from a U.S. perspective, we sometimes tend to underplay a little bit the extent to which the Chinese are reacting to us in a lot of areas. And so a lot depends upon how we approach them for what kind of posture they assume. And they won't say, "It's because of our concerns about you," but often it is.

I think that is true especially in military affairs, where we are truly the elephant in the room. I mean, we're just enormously more capable than they are. And so I think that their level of trust in our intentions and their sense of the degree of our transparency, of our policies toward them, affect in turn how defensive and bellicose they become and how much they choose to hedge against what we might do.

So I think this is in part a matter of how we behave, but it's also very much a matter of they want to gain stature -- not just power in a hard sense, but stature. And so I think that they are quite concerned about what others think of them, and a good part of their foreign policy reflects that concern. I don't think that's limited to the Olympics by any means.

HARDING: I agree. I think that there are all of these questions economically, too. What'll happen to the Chinese economy after the Olympics? What will happen to Chinese policy towards Taiwan after the Olympics? I agree with Ken. I don't see the Olympics as being, in themselves, a key factor. What could be key is the interaction of China and foreigners during the Olympics. And again, if the Olympics go well, that makes China a little more confident.

I think the down-side risk of a China that feels besieged and feels under attack is greater than the up-side risk of a China that says, "Now we can do anything we want. The constraints are off. We've shown how successful we are." I think that is a relatively low risk compared to the risk of something really going awry here.

Yes, we'll take a question down in front.

QUESTIONER: Thank you. My name is -- (inaudible) -- with Radio -- (inaudible) -- Venezuela and the European Broadcasting System.

I would like to know how easy or how difficult it is for the United States to reach consensus at international level regarding China. Thank you.

LIEBERTHAL: I'm sorry. Do you mean to reach a consensus with others on how to treat China?

QUESTIONER: (Off mike.)

HARDING: Do you mean with other countries or internally in the United States?

QUESTIONER: No, for the U.S.

HARDING: Internally.

LIEBERTHAL: Internally.

QUESTIONER: Yes, and with other countries. Okay?

HARDING: So I guess how easy is it to reach a consensus that then will have a consensus with other countries; put it that way.

LIEBERTHAL: You know, first of all, China has long been the subject of a lot of contention in U.S. politics. And it has especially on Capitol Hill been an issue of a lot of contention over the years. But I've been impressed at the continuity of actual U.S. policy. And while it is a subject that generates a lot of debate and a lot of emotion, at the end of the day you get very few people in positions of real authority who would radically change what we've been doing.

And so this has lasted now since President Nixon. And if you look back, it is more of a steady progression, with a serious bump, obviously, in 1989 and a few years after that, but otherwise you get this kind of mini-cycle of every new president, when he comes into office, decides that the former president was too soft on China, seeks to be tougher in various areas, and then, over a period of time -- it's varied with different presidents -- has essentially come to the conclusion that to unnecessarily antagonize China or put obstacles in our relationship with China doesn't serve U.S. interests. And so they go back to basically what their predecessor did and then build on that. So I think, actually, the operational consensus in the U.S. is pretty strong.

Now, having said that, I personally think there is a new area that is going to become quite important over the next four or five years, and that is, for the first time we face a global commons issue of enormous importance, and that's the issue of climate; environment broadly, but climate in particular. And I think that that issue is going to start to play a role in the U.S.-China relationship that will be increasingly important and may become one of the major shapers of the relationship, whether we can cooperate on that issue or not.

Both presidential candidates in the U.S. say this issue is one of their top agenda items. John McCain spent an entire week campaigning only on that issue. Barack Obama has made very strong comments about it and put out a number of papers and so forth.

So that kind of shifts to a new ballgame. That's not an issue and it's not a type of issue that has ever played a very central role in U.S.-China relations. And so I don't know how that's going to affect the relationship going forward. We may see either a new level of cooperation and trust or conceivably a new level of distrust and difficulty in managing the relationship.

So, you know, the future is not always like the past, but so far what impresses me is the continuity over Republican and Democratic administrations, in the middle and more toward one end of the political spectrum or the other. The relationship with China has been a constant.

HARDING: To this gentleman here, and then Richard.

QUESTIONER: I'm John Helgerson from CIA.

Speaking purely in my personal capacity, let me note that in 50 minutes of discussion we've had only one incidental mention of Taiwan. Superficially, at least, at one level, things seem to be going better between China and Taiwan. I would be interested, Professor Lieberthal and Professor Harding, if you think this phenomenon is in any way related to the Olympics. And, Olympics or not, do you think we dare be at all optimistic that this will endure?

LIEBERTHAL: I do not think it's related to the Olympics in any serious way. This is longer-term. It reflects a whole series of steps that have been taken over a period of at least three years between the Chinese Communist Party and the Kuomintang.

I think that there is reason for optimism, but the road ahead is not easy. And the reason for optimism, I think, is two-fold. One is, Ma Ying-jeou has been prepared to remove the issue of independence from the cross-strait agenda, at least for his term of office, and to try to create the basis for this to be longer term. In other words, China's fear -- I mean my own read has been for some years now, China has been afraid that Taiwan would do something on the independence issue that, given the politics in Beijing, would require a Chinese response. And it scared the hell out of him. I think Ma has taken away that concern at least for a period of time. And both sides are seeking to institutionalize that and to build on it to having a wide ranging non-threatening relationship in both directions and see if they can set that up in away that will endure beyond the next election in Taiwan.

Now, all of this obviously depends upon Ma's managing the politics of it in Taiwan. And if some things should go, you know, screwball in one way or another, Hu Jintao and others have to manage the politics in Beijing of it. So it's -- I don't think we can all say, whew, glad that issue is behind us. I think it's an issue that continues to require a lot of work and a lot of attention. But I do think that strategically the issue is in better shape now than it has been in many years and that there is a very strong possibility that we can see a long-term stabilization of that issue. And then we have to think about what are the implications for various facets of U.S. policy in Japan. I mean, what does that do in the region given how important that issue has been and worry about that issue has been in shaping the policy of everyone in the area?

HARDING: I just would add, I agree with that. Things have happened extremely quickly and there's already some talk on Taiwan of Ma outrunning the consensus, outrunning his electoral base and his political support. I think it'll be key that, now, because these are basically seen as concessions that Taiwan has made. It accepted the One China principle, the 1992 consensus, it has therefore gotten cross-straits air links to a degree. It's agreed to have tourists come, agreed to the associated convertibility of the Renminbi.

Now the question on Taiwan is going to be, what is the mainland going to do, especially on two issues? One, security, including the military balance; and secondly, international space. And unless the mainland is prepared to make some concessions, I think that that sense of outrunning the political base may continue. The critics have not gone away. They were defeated in the election, but they're still going to be arguing that closer integration of the Chinese and Taiwanese economies, which is what Ma is campaigning on, runs two risks. There's an economic risk of basically exporting jobs, of costing some workers in Taiwan their livelihood, and there is the political interdependence that this can bring. So I agree with Ken, this story is not over and, in fact, it worries me that things are happening so fast because that may be raising expectations in some quarters that I think -- I don't think that trend line is going to continue. Richard Bush is the one who can really speak to this.

QUESTIONER: I don't want to talk about that. (Laughter.) I want to come back to Ken's --

HARDING: Richard Bush of the Brookings Institution.

QUESTIONER: Thank you, sorry. I want to come back to Ken's point about stature and suggest that the Olympic Games for both the Chinese elite the Chinese public is a litmus test of whether the rest of the world is willing at this point in time to acknowledge Chinese stature up to a point. And leaving aside the very reasonable and wise scholars that you talk to, I wonder what you think about the idea that, as far as the Chinese public in all it's complexities is concerned that the verdict is already in on that litmus test, and the outside world has failed, that our -- that the outside world's response to the Tibet episode led them to decide, rightly or wrongly, that the West really wasn't ready to accept China as a country of a certain stature at this time. And that at least they will be set -- they will find it much harder to believe between now and the time of the Olympics that we are really serious in accepting them as a real country.

LIBERTHAL: A very good question. The -- let me make a couple of comments on that because it really is a fundamental question, I think. I think a lot of Chinese -- I always hesitate to say most Chinese because who knows what most Chinese think -- but a lot of Chinese. I think it felt that China -- you know this may sound almost trite but it's also true -- that China has been through a very bad patch lasting well over a century. They have finally gotten their act together. They are now doing what they have sought to do since the beginning of the decline in the 1800s. And the economy is surging but society is becoming vibrant. They're playing a role in the world. They increasingly are a country of gravitas. And the Olympics as much reflect that as being a confirmation of it. I mean it's a natural outgrowth of that, right?

I think that the fact the Olympic torch ran into so much trouble over Tibet was especially unfortunate given this framing. It would be as if suddenly there were protests all over the world before the Los Angeles Olympics over the history of American treatment of Native Americans, and the Chinese president refused to come because we had mistreated Native Americans historically. And we would sit there and say, well, these folks can't possible care about Native Americans. I mean, it just isn't their issue. It has nothing to do with them whatsoever, right? So it's got to be something else, whether they're trying to humiliate us or whatever, we're more confident generally of our place in the world than China has been. I think they react to this having been triggered -- the massive protest being triggered over Tibet saying it is just not conceivable that these people in France and, you know, in the United States are all that concerned about Tibetans. It must be to humiliate us. I think that was very much the tone of the blogging and all this kind of thing that you saw run across China very, very rapidly on this.

Now the question is whether that is recoverable, you know. And I will say I've been impressed over the years at the extent to which Chinese actually pay attention to what their own government says about big developments with the rest of the world. And the government has -- I mean, has a very serious impact, I think, on kind of fundamentally whether people are feeling good about things or not feeling good about things. You notice the government about a month ago began to introduce into the media the comment that, essentially, enough of all this protest, it's time to show the world that we welcome everyone as friends because this is the Olympics and this is what we do. And I think if the Olympics go fairly well, the government really will be stressing that this shows that China is what people would like it to be and that the world accepts it and all that. And, you know, in their heart of hearts, how many people have doubts? I'm sure a lot of people will have doubts. But will dominant discourse shift? I think if the government shifts in a dramatic way on that, the dominant discourse will shift too. What worries me always is how it can shift back fairly easily. I think it can shift in both directions fairly easily, and that can have policy consequences.

HARDING: Sophie, do you want to -- ?

RICHARDSON: I mean, yeah, just to pick up on that point about the shifts in what the government says or shifts in public opinion. I mean, I think to the extent that the people came to the conclusion that, you know, the outside world couldn't possibly be seriously concerned about what happened in Tibet, I think we would do well, certainly, to remember that, you know, that conclusion is easily, or more easily reached when you live in a place with a state-controlled press and you get only one version of the events and one version of history that doesn't, you know, accommodate for a more nuanced understanding with the possibility that these might be legitimate grievances. All of a sudden, to the extend that people were feeling that this was a conspiracy and that the outside world is trying to keep China down, that the rapid, and, I think, quite genuinely felt response from the outside world to the earthquake, you know, softened that to some extent.

You know, how it plays over the next couple of months remains to be seen. I mean, you know, we're also starting to see, for example, you know, some of the parents in Szechuan saying things like, you know, why is the government spending billions of dollars on the Olympics when they couldn't even scrape together the $25,000 to build proper schools so that our kids didn't get killed? Or, you know, even -- I think there was a piece in the New York Times travel section this weekend about sort of hip places to hang out in Beijing, you know, that was quoting, you know sort of Chinese yuppies as saying, they didn't -- they were starting to get cranky about the Olympics because, you know, there was too much security in the city and it was sort of crimping their lifestyle. (Scattered laughter.) You know, so I think they're going to -- we're going to see a number of different views, and how the government decides to, you know, determine its narrative I think is going to depend on who makes the most noise domestically.

LIEBERTHAL: Can I add a footnote to that, or do you need -- ?

HARDING: Go ahead. we have one last question coming up.

LIEBERTHAL: Okay. I actually think, when you get to really big countries -- the U.S., Russia, China, India -- you know, big countries have problems with small minorities that they just don't understand and the majority is so big and so dominant that even with a free press, the narrative doesn't take. I think that's part of U.S. history, it's very well known it's part of Russian history; it's certainly a part of Indian history; it's a part of Chinese history. So I actually think there would be a problem with Tibet. I never met Chinese from the very liberal to those who are not at all liberal who actually think that Tibetans are other than people who would benefit enormously by being raised up to the level of Chinese civilization. I mean, it's just heartfelt -- we have a lot of problems with it but it'd be very hard to convince them of that. So I think they're -- you know, in part we're dealing with -- we are not dealing with a Luxembourg or a Lichtenstein or something. We're dealing with a continent, and Tibet is far off and very different, and I just think it's very hard to get that narrative out there in a serious way.

QUESTIONER: (Off mike.) (Laughter.)

LIEBERTHAL: And we in Michigan take pride in that. (Laughter.)

HARDING: We have time for one more question.

I'm instructed to say, before we take it, I just want to remind all participants that this meeting has been on the record. Now, I know operationally want does that mean. You can't take back anything. I guess what it means is normally when you leave a Council meeting you say, "Now, how can I let people know what happened when I'm not supposed to acknowledge that I was here or that I heard it here or who said what." You know have to worry about that this time. You can say anything you want about what any of us has said.

LIEBERTHAL: But anyone who simply heard this but did not see it on a visual tape, has to note that I smiled when I made my comment about Michigan views of Washington, okay. (Laughter.)

HARDING: Okay, fair enough. I think there was a question down here. Was there, or -- you'll get the last one.

QUESTIONER: Spurgeon Keeny, National Academy of Science.

As someone who's long believed that any boycott of the Olympics is a terrible idea and any effort to use it as a bargaining chip almost as bad, I've been very encouraged by the trend -- the discussion that we've heard this evening, but I still have a question of the -- all of the speakers. Given what we've heard, what is the chance, if any, that any major country or group of countries is actually going to boycott the Olympics or refuse to attend the opening ceremonies or otherwise try to minimize it?

HARDING: Okay. Sophie, why don't you take it?

RICHARDSON: Sure. There's been no serious discussion amongst anyone about not sending the athletes. Nobody is contemplating keeping their athletes home. The outstanding question is really whether the heads of state who've been invited will attend the opening ceremonies.

A couple of -- Angela Merkel has said that she won't go, although, she's been very careful in choosing her words -- or essentially has not elaborated on why she's not going. Gordon Brown has opted to go to the closing ceremonies but not the opening ones stipulating, or specifying the protocols of handing off the torch from China to the U.K. since the next games are in London. But, you know, some of the -- you know, some of the big players are still somewhat on the fence; primarily Nicolas Sarkozy and a lot of the European countries have made it clear that, particularly as France holds the presidency of the EU that they will follow suit according to what he does.

You know, President Bush has said -- he hasn't specified which part he's going to go to. He's said publicly and in smaller settings that he would go as a sports fan, as a private citizen; it's hard to imagine how you can be the president of the United States and not -- so, nobody's -- all of the athletes are going to go. The question remains -- the Japanese haven't announced yet whether they're going to go. So some people are still sort of on the fence, I think. And I -- look, I assume that to some extent they are doing as Ken suggested earlier saying more quietly, look, you have to make this politically acceptable for us to come. You know, we'd like them to be more explicit about that since there are, you know, abuses that are taking place not just generally but specifically as a result of the Games.

LIEBERTHAL: The only thing I would add is I've heard the rumor that Condi Rice as a sports fan is insisting that George Bush go so she can go with him. (Laughter.)

HARDING: Well, ladies and gentleman, I'm afraid that that's all we have time for. My apologies to the gentleman in the back. It's always better when the time runs out before the questions do, and that's happened again this evening. I want to thank both Sophie and Ken for participating, thank all of you for coming. And the meeting is adjourned. (Applause.)









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