INTERVIEW WITH WANG YING FAN
Foreign Affairs Vice- Ministre of China
ONE WORLD, MANY SYSTEMS
Serge Berthier - China is a communist country. Is the Foreign policy China is promoting in any way linked to, or affected by the communist ideology?
Wang Ying Fan - No. As Den-Xiaoping said, we hold no banner. China has a distinctive system of internal and external policies. As regards the nature of our foreign policy, we strongly believe that the principles guiding international relations, between states and between China and other states, should not be based on the fact that they share the same social structure, the same creed or the same ideology. In other words, we are strong supporters of the non-interference principle and our relations with others are irrespective of their social system.
S.B. - Then what are the axes of the external policy of China?
W.YF. - Peaceful coexistence.
S.B. - Malcolm Muggeridge used to say that pacifists and pacifist-activities inevitably led to clashes, especially as pacifists tend to be somewhat aggressive in temperament. And one cannot find a single government that is not a pacifist at heart. Yet the world is far from being at peace everywhere...
W.YF. - Peaceful coexistence is hard to achieve if you don't play by the rules. We do have five rules, but maybe others don't have the same numbers or the same rules. That is the problem in international relations.
S.B. - What really makes it difficult for countries to adhere to the same principles?
W.YF. - Ideas. Ideology. Hegemony. As long as you do not respect the historical choice of the parties and the people of other countries, you are bound to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries. This has been the case for as long as we can remember. But bloc politics and ideological politics have reached a dead end. We just advocate the development of friendly co-operation and exchanges, on an equal footing with all other countries, political parties and organizations in the world.
S.B. - But don't you have priorities, or affinities?
W.YF. - We do have priorities. It is paramount to have good cooperation with your neighbours. To have a peaceful environment on the international scene, you need first to have peaceful and respectful relations with the countries sharing a border with you.
S.B. - What is good co-operation then?
W.YF. - One that is regardless of ideology. China does not indulge in ideological debates anymore. Whatever the ideology. We believe that every country should find its own path. Let them explore ways to solve their problems. Don't interfere. Human beings don't like being ordered about. Countries even less. So we never issue orders to others. We respect historical circumstances, historical choices.
S.B. - This is all very good when there is no threat and a common interest, but is this always the case?
W.YF. - If you treat countries as equal it is always in the interest of two parties to co-operate. It brings prosperity. But assuming that it is not the case, that it is not in the interest of one of the two parties to co-operate, then I have to point out that we are talking about China. The aim of China is not to impose its weight and hold the balance of the international "scale" at any decisive moment. China is just making every effort to make itself prosperous. We don't need to be a colonial power to achieve prosperity. We need preservation of world peace if only because it is in the interest of the modernization program we are pursuing.
S.B. - But let's assume for the sake of the argument that what is good for China is not necessarily good for others?
W.YF. - Then you are very wrong. We are striving to create and preserve an environment that we need in order to build the country into a modernized and wealthy socialist country. But if the Chinese economy does not grow, if the reforms are derailed for one reason or another, say, because of international pressures, it will mean bad news for the world. Because impoverished China, a China in social turmoil, is a threat to the world prosperity. So there is an obvious common interest when dealing with China. We need peace, the world needs peace too if only because without it, it will become poorer.
S.B. - We understand the conundrum but remain the facts that everyday there are friction, misunderstandings, warnings and so on. How do you gauge your position then on such petty matters?
W.YF. - I am not sure that frictions are petty matters. On international issues, we just try to assess what is right, what is wrong or who is being wronged. We do so in abstracto. We do not seek alliance nor do we agree with bloc politics. Therefore we pursue a policy of independence and non-alignment to the point that we are not even member of the non-aligned movement.
S.B. - Why?
W.YF. - Because as a principle we oppose bloc politics. Whatever the name of the bloc. Therefore we cannot support a non aligned bloc no more than we can support a communist bloc or a capitalist bloc. We can share views, but are against hegemony and bloc means at some stage hegemonic ideas.
S.B. - But can you just stand on your own when bloc politics are still part of the international scenery?
W.YF. - The cold war is over and the two opposing military blocs have basically disintegrated. This is a fact even if, from time to time, you see old reflex cropping up in the scenery. We think the world is evolving towards multi-polarisation. It is a different world. Nobody knows exactly how such a world will work. The strategy of our foreign policy is geared towards a multi-polarisation devoid of any ideology. This means that, in the medium term, any country's attempt to monopolize international affairs is bound to fail.
S.B. - Multi-polarisation might be a good thing, but when it comes to territorial, economic or ideological disagreements, the arguments are basically the same and will remain the same. They won't disappear because blocs have disappeared, won't they?
W.YF. - Such arguments won't disappear. They are a legacy of history and diversity. Let's take our well-known arguments with Japan, Korea and other South-East Asian countries about territorial limits and the Spratlys archipelago (1). We are not able to solve the problems as we wish. We have basically agree to disagree. It is a product of history, but what can be done? It is a matter of sovereignty. At the same time, everyone has to be practical about it.
S.B. - Are you prepared to negotiate genuinely with the countries who claim today that China is encroaching on their territory??
W.YF. - We are holding bilateral discussions because the problems are state-to-state problems. This is the only way to build confidence in order to reach an understanding on such issues. The problem is that most of the time, in such matters as territorial disputes which are the legacy of past wars, others are trying to interfere. It only complicates the matter and never accomplishes anything. But of course, it is sometimes the only purpose.
S.B. - What purpose?
W.YF. - To complicate the issue. To enlarge it to the point where it becomes so entangled that nothing can be achieved.
S.B. - President Jiang Zemin pointed out about Taiwan that on questions involving state sovereignty, a government has no room for compromise. How then can you sort out territorial disputes since the core of the argument is a matter of sovereignty?
W.YF. - Border disputes or territorial arguments are complex and sensitive issues. Deng Xiaoping used to say: "there are two options, to use force or to use peaceful means." In other words, you have the choice between war and peace when you are confronted with an antagonistic situation. That is so unless you subscribe to the formula of "one country, two systems". This concept represents a breakthrough. You do not deal anymore in a bipolar world. The formula worked well for Hong Kong, and will be applied to Macao in 1999. Hopefully it will apply to Taiwan one day.
S.B. - But what has the formula to do with Foreign Affairs?
W.YF.- People thinks that the formula was coined specifically to accommodate the Hong Kong problem. But what was really meant is that you favour co-operation and common progress and put aside the "country" factor.
S.B. - You mean the sovereignty factor?
W.YF. - Yes. If you cannot solve the problem, you put it aside so that you can still engage in co-operation and peaceful co-existence. It just requires that both parties agree to disagree on a specific issue, the country issue, then they still can both agree on the two systems formula which is then valid for both sovereignties.
S.B. - Is it what you suggest to Japan and the other South-East countries in the South China Sea?
W.YF. - Yes. We need to respect reality as it is and seek a new approach. If we can't solve the sovereignty issue, we have to leave it aside. Then we can pursue the joint-development of the territory under dispute. This is definitely what we suggest for the Diaoyu. By doing so, we can still maintain a peaceful co-existence with the parties concerned. What we propose to all parties is to set aside any dispute and share the resources of the disputed region. We should make arrangements of a practical nature.
S.B. - The world political scene is no longer a simple division between two camps. World trade is bringing each country a little bit closer into what we call a global world. Is this realignment of the world along trade factors affecting international affairs?
W.YF. - Certainly. The world is shrinking and the interdependence between countries is obvious. But it does not imply that diversity is fading. It only means that countries on the economic angle complement each other more and more. This is not the same as being sucked up into a global undefined entity. This is the very meaning of multi-polarisation.
S.B. - What conclusions do you draw from this evolution?
W.YF. - The old world pattern has broken down. China has recognized very early on that the bipolar world has disappeared. It is no longer relevant today to pass judgment on the politics of the past. Nor is it relevant to cling to old habits or old ideologies because we are not yet used to this multi polar world which has yet to take its shape. Pragmatism must replace ideology. The world has different social systems, different cultures, different creeds. Discussions about competing systems are unavoidable but they are counter-productive. It is fruitless to battle about them and to believe that the bipolar world will evolve one day into a one-system, one-world. Therefore, if we really wish to avoid misery and war, we should strive to make such a multi-polar world peaceful.
S.B. - Does that require anything different than in a bipolar world?
W.YF. - Yes. It does require the admission that no country is going to monopolize the world affairs. Then it requires the treating of everyone on an equal footing. This is something the world is hardly used to.
S.B. - Isn't it what the United Nations are trying to achieve?
W.YF. - It is what M. Boutros Boutros Ghali was trying to achieve when he was Secretary-General. He did a lot to maintain peace and the majority of the countries, including China and France, did support him...
S.B. - Nevertheless, his mandate was not renewed, the United States being against his reappointment for another term...
W.YF. - Yes. This is not the only instance where a country is forcing its internal political agenda onto the international scene...
S.B. - Can this happen again and again?
W.YF. - It could happen again, for it is obvious that there are countries that want to force their views onto other countries too weak to resist the pressure. But it does not make you very popular and it is likely that it will become increasingly difficult to bully others into submission in the future.
S.B. - Is this a wish or a fact?
W.YF. - It is a fact. There are more and more players on the world scene that want to have a say. To name a few, you can count on the European Union, then Russia, France, Germany, Japan, United Kingdom, ASEAN to have their say. This means that you can no longer expect to have a one-man show for ever.
S.B. - What are the attributes of the new world order as China sees it that are not yet there?
W.YF. - They are numerous, but just to mention the two critical ones, it is a reformed United Nations and a comprehensive disarmament treaty. Both are very difficult issues and little progress is being made. So it is difficult to foresee when they will be in place but it is clear that they will evolve.
S.B. - What is the position of China on both issues?
W.YF. - On the reform of the United Nations, as a permanent member of the Security Council, we share the same view as France, another member of the Council. We have the same policy. To be member of the Security Council implies a high sense of responsibility. The reform of the United Nations is difficult because many issues are at stake at the same time. As regards a disarmament treaty, it is a complex issue because you cannot look at it simply as a matter of weaponry. It is not a question of how much you can spend on the military. You have first to agree on a set of principles to deal with sovereignty issues. As long as you don't have these issues set, you cannot go forward, for how are you going to deal on international issues which affect the sovereignty of the country and the independence of its government? This is why we push for the Five principles President Jiang Zemin mentioned to you. Mutual respect and non-interference are paramount considerations. Then when you have a set of principles, you have to build trust. It takes time. Look at what is happening in Europe. The Berlin Wall disappeared quite a while ago. N.A.T.O is nevertheless expanding Eastwards which is understandable. But this cannot be done without Russia understanding. If you don't have dialogue, you can't have even the slightest trust. If you have no trust, how can you deal with someone you don't trust? So, a disarmament treaty is a long step by step process. You only talk about weaponry when you trust your partner.
S.B. - How do you build trust which is obviously lacking in Eastern Europe and in lot of other areas?
W.YF. - I give you an example. We have a very long border with the Central Asian countries (2). It is very important for them and for us to have a stable relationship. But they are new countries subject to all sorts of tensions which are a legacy of the Soviet Union era. They are wary of Russia. Nevertheless we have brought everyone around the same table (3) and signed a series of "confidence-building measures" such as notification of troop movements. We also have granted some assistance. In the medium term, what we would like is a complete demilitarization of our border with such countries. We can only achieve this, if we co-operate and lead a peaceful co-existence.
S.B. - North Korea is at the centre of many apocalyptic scenarios. China is said to be its closest friend. Do you really believe that North Korea is a danger to anybody?
W.YF. - It is a good example of what can happen when there is no trust. As a whole, we can say that the Korean peninsula is slowly lurching in a detente. All parties seem to have the will to improve relations, to change the picture. They all strive for peace not war. Peaceful co-operation is what should happen in the end.
S.B. - When?
W.YF. - We can't predict. Although we have relations with the two Koreas, we are not the decision-maker.
S.B. - Is there a decision-maker?
W.YF. - Four parties are involved. Then you have to take into account Japan. That makes five parties in a complex situation. Our policy is very clear. We do all we can to preserve stability and peace. We oppose every move that might affect stability and peace. Today, the main problem is the lack of communication between the South and the North. They mistrusted each other for so long that it will take time for each of them to know the other, to understand each other. They should set up some confidence building process one way or another. They can and we encourage them to do so. Overall we are optimistic but the future is not a straight line. What is needed is an iron will on both sides to get over with the past and build a future.
(The following questions were answered by Cui Tiankai - spokesman of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs).
S.B. - Has North Korea a clear leadership on the issue?
Cui Tiankai. - Yes. There is no question of leadership in North Korea. The team that is at the top is fully in charge.
S.B. - Is this new generation of officials different from the team that was in power since 1954?
C.TK. - Very much so. They belong to a new generation. They know the world.
S.B. - In what way?
C.TK. - The previous generation of leaders was very traditional. The people we are dealing with are not so traditional in their thinking. And they are very much attracted by the American way of life.
S.B. - Coming back to what Vice-Minister Wang said about the new world order, ASEAN has been mentioned as a factor of the new world order. Is China pleased with the emergence of what looks like a mini-Asian bloc?
C.TK. - We don't consider ASEAN as a bloc. It is as you know a regional group of nine, soon, ten South-East countries. We have to be realistic. It is there and actually we had welcomed the idea of Prime minister Mahathir (of Malaysia) when he suggested the setting up of an Asian Caucus few years ago. It is a positive development for Asia as many countries share common challenges. We think it will enhance the prospect of peace in Asia since countries of the ASEAN grouping will have to be good neighbours to one another. Being engaged in some form of economic integration, they will build up mutual trust, will be involved in all sort of dialogue which can only mean more prospects for economic development in the region and a more stable environment.
S.B. - A number of ASEAN countries have territorial disputes with China. Aren't you worried that they will use the ASEAN forum as a pressure group against China?
C.TK. - No. We don't think it will happen. Firstly, some of them do have territorial disputes with China, but they too have their problems with one another. Secondly, we are already engaged in bilateral discussions with the countries who have an argument about territorial matters. Then what is important to remember is that the ASEAN countries share with us the view that we can agree to disagree. This will not stop dialogue and other avenues of co-operation.
S.B. - In December, ASEAN has invited China, South Korea and Japan to their annual meeting. It seems that we come to the original ideas of the Malaysian Prime Minister, Dr Mahathir, to have an Asian forum that will exclude the Pacific Nations such as United States or Australia...
C.TK. - We have accepted the invitation and we understand that Japan and Korea have done the same. It is not a formal forum. China does not join any forum, nor does Japan as far as we know. But it is a very good idea to be able to hold dialogue about our own vision of the Far-East region where we live. For the first time, everyone will be around the table to discuss regional issues. This can only build trust between all parties and it is very important.
S.B. - Trust is not what seems to be building up between Japan and China...
C.TK. - Are you alluding to our reaction to the Japan-US military agreement?
S.B. - Yes. There seems to have been few constructive talks with the Chinese leaders during the visit of Prime Minister Hashimoto...
C.TK. - That is not correct. We had thorough discussion on important issues. Both sides agree to develop friendship agreements at the highest level. Japan is the first trading partner of China. We also signed a bilateral fishing agreement where territorial disputes were at stake. So we have a good co-operation. Furthermore Japan supports China's position on commodities in our discussion with the WTO. We still have to iron out minor differences on the services. So, overall our co-operation is good. There is however one issue that is a problem. It is the extension of the Japan-US military treaty. We have made our point very clear, and we believe that the Japanese have got it. It is unacceptable for China, and we believe for all Asian countries, to see such a treaty moving beyond a bilateral arrangement. It cannot take a regional dimension.
S.B. - Is it not the fact that the Japan-US Defense co-operation agreement might extend to situation in areas surrounding Japan, which could include the Taiwan Straits, that bothers China?
C.TK. - The Chinese government has made it very clear. And Premier Li Peng will stress the point again when he is in Japan in November. The Taiwan issue is an internal affair of China. It is out of reach of the scope of any Japan-US co-operation agreement.
S.B. - Did you get a commitment from the Japanese government that it was out of the scope?
C.TK. - If you mean a commitment in writing, no. We don't need one. We need a clear understanding between Japan and China. And we believe that we have got one. They are very aware of the weight of their history. And if necessary, we will remind them time and time again of our stand. But we don't think that there is one inch of misunderstanding on the issue.
1.- China claims that it first discovered and named the Nansha (Spratlys) Archipelago and its adjacent seas. Historical records show that it was the first country to exercise administrative rights and sovereignty. Therefore the Chinese position is that the region has been "historically the water of China". Furthermore they point out that in 1947, the Chinese Government announced nine broken national boundaries to demarcate China's sovereignty over the South China Sea.
For a long time afterwards, the international community offered no argument or views.
It was only in April 1982 that the United Nations adopted the International Law of Sea Convention. The Chinese Government was among the first to sign the convention which acknowledges that "historical waters" do exist. Since oil was discovered in the Spratlys Archipelago and its adjacent seas, in particular on its western rim, the region has become widely contested although most the islands, atolls and islets are uninhabited.