Accessibility links

VOA-TV Interview: James Lilley - 2003-03-06


VOA’s David Borgida interviews James Lilley, a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research and a former U.S. ambassador to China and the Republic of Korea.

MR. BORGIDA
Now joining us to talk about China, someone who knows a lot about it, former U.S. Ambassador to China James Lilley. Ambassador Lilley, thanks for joining us today.

AMBASSADOR LILLEY
Thank you.

MR. BORGIDA
You heard that piece, and it does sound like economic issues are at the top of this agenda. Is that about the right assessment?

AMBASSADOR LILLEY
I think something left out in that talk was a point that Zhu Rongji made very strongly in his speech; namely, that the rural income disparity could undermine the foundation of the Communist Party of China. It was the most serious problem they faced. He stressed that very heavily.

He stressed the fact that his tenure was a very good one—37 percent growth, that sort of thing. And then he left out the serious problems of banking, finance, deficit spending, and this sort of thing. He didn't leave them out, he downplayed them. So, it was the real problems, what I accomplished, and then leaving out some of the more serious problems.

MR. BORGIDA
What about big policy issues, China's place in the world? There are political changes at play here. What do you see as the major changes from a policy standpoint vis-ŕ-vis the rest of the world?

AMBASSADOR LILLEY
China is becoming part of the rest of the world in a major way—the 2008 Olympics, joining the World Trade Organization. And then the very mild statement that they made on Taiwan, that's important. They're stressing economic and cultural factors as the key to reunification rather than the military.

MR. BORGIDA
Would you see as part of all of this a strengthening or weakening of the U.S.-Sino relationship?

AMBASSADOR LILLEY
I think there is no question it's strengthening. I think it has been strengthening ever since we had our first summit conferences in 2001. And we've had a whole series of them. Jiang Zemin has been down to Crawford, Texas, one of the four leaders that go down there.

The Chinese had a tremendous play on that. They like summitry. Cheney is going to go out there in April. Powell was out there last month. We are really putting emphasis on China. We're showing them a lot. And we hope for a presidential meeting perhaps in the late summer or early fall.

MR. BORGIDA
And of course, a big issue that the United States has been concerned about has been Chinese human rights issues and its record over many, many years. Would you see any change in that?

AMBASSADOR LILLEY
I think you would have to be waiting for that. Because the way they're handling, let's say, the dissident delegates for the National People's Congress, it's not very nice. It's single-party control. "We don't want any kind of an opposition in China." That's quite clear. And if the opposition upgrades its ferocity or its challenges, they're going to be crushed.

And certainly the movement in Hong Kong, this Article 23, is beginning to tighten up on press freedom there. And you see a gradual turning of the screws to tighten up. I don't see any real break in their human rights policy.

MR. BORGIDA
Ambassador Lilley, while we have you here, I think I'll take advantage of you and your experience in the region, particularly with regard to the Korean Peninsula. I would like your assessment, sir, of the intercept just this past weekend. What do you make of that?

AMBASSADOR LILLEY
I think it was very transparent that they were trying to capture that airplane and have another Pueblo incident, as they had in 1969, where they captured our ship, brought it in there, kept our people for 83 days, forced us to bargain with them, forced us to apologize to get them out. I think if they had gotten that plane—as they tried to get it back into North Korea, the commander took it away from them. That was the ploy that they tried to do. It is escalating, but it's always kind of below the line of really challenging you.

MR. BORGIDA
What about danger--is it dangerous to see this sort of thing?

AMBASSADOR LILLEY
Oh, yes, it's dangerous. If I was a young crewman on an American RC-135, I would be very concerned if I didn't have fighter escorts.

MR. BORGIDA
Is diplomacy the way out of this, Ambassador Lilley?

AMBASSADOR LILLEY
Yes, it is, especially with economic leverage, pressure on North Korea, getting a common position, or something approaching a coordinated position, between China, Russia, South Korea, Japan, and the U.S. If we get that, North Korea has had it.

MR. BORGIDA
And the relationship, in the last minute or so, we have with the South, is South Korea playing a helpful role with the United States in trying to deal with this crisis?

AMBASSADOR LILLEY
It's getting much better.

MR. BORGIDA
There is a new government there.

AMBASSADOR LILLEY
Yes. But we're getting with the new government. And I think we're beginning to work out common policies, both on the South Korea economic engagement with the North and our military position in South Korea in resisting North Korean encroachments. These things are being worked out with the new South Korean Government.

MR. BORGIDA
Ambassador Lilley, it has been a delight to see you. Thanks so much for being with us to talk about China and North Korea. We appreciate your time.

XS
SM
MD
LG