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The Shanghai Communiqué and Me, 2002

Lloyd Neighbors talks about some Chinese stereotypes towards the American government.
February 4, 2002

Speech to CASS Conference

Feb. 4, 2002

I have a confession to make. I feel somewhat ill at ease speaking to you about the Shanghai Communiqué and the development of U.S.-China relations. As the Chinese proverb puts it, I am "wielding an axe in front of Lu Ban, the master carpenter" (banmen nongfu). The three ambassadors here today were key participants in many of the historical events that have shaped our relationship. And I suspect that all of you in the audience are far more expert about these matters than I am.

Despite my lack of expertise, however, I have spent more than 20 years living and working as a diplomat in China — seven years in Taiwan, seven in Hong Kong, four in Shanghai, and almost two years in Beijing. During that time I have been like a tiny mosquito floating on the margins of history, watching great events from afar.

For example, in December 1978 I was a junior press officer in Taipei when Deputy Secretary of State Warren Christopher came to tell Mr. Jiang Jingguo that we were going to break relations with Taiwan. I was in the motorcade surrounded by thousands of angry, screaming students. They were waving placards, throwing mud and eggs, even jumping on the roof of my car. I only played a minor role in that drama, but it certainly was a thrilling one.

In 1989 I set up the Press Center for President Bush the Elder's visit to Beijing. And in the summer 1998 I was in Taipei once again, serving as Acting Deputy Director of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT). My duty then was to explain to Taiwan leaders just what President Clinton meant by his Shanghai iteration of the "three no's."

I even have a special link with the Shanghai Communiqué. In 1984 I was the press officer at the American Consulate General in Shanghai. In May that year President Reagan came to Shanghai, bringing with him a band of 330 American reporters — more than double the usual number that follows a President. My colleagues at the Consulate and I were frantic making preparations. At the last minute we needed an extra table for use by American broadcasters in the Press Center at the Jin Jiang Hotel. I went into a side room and began to pull out a big wooden table. One of the hotel workers raced over and frantically said, "Be careful with that table. It's the same one President Nixon used to sign the Shanghai Communiqué."

But that's enough of my marginal role in the making of history. All these events stemmed from an amazing decision made in 1972 by Chairman Mao, Premier Zhou, and President Nixon — to open a dialogue between the United States and China. Thinking about that decision reminds me of a bit of wisdom, a western chengyu, coined by the Spanish philosopher George Santayana. He wrote, "Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it."

We recognize the truth of this remark. But, at the same we recognize that the opposite of this aphorism is also true. "Those who cannot forget history, never get over it." In other words, those who nurture their hatred, those who wallow in their grievances can never get beyond the past to build a better future. Just look at the situation in the Middle East today, and you know this chengyu has it right.

President Nixon recognized the truth of both these sayings. We need to learn from history, but at times we also need to forgive and forget. Mr. Nixon was a student of history. He did indeed look at the past in order to keep from repeating mistakes. He was a great admirer of China's rich cultural traditions and social legacy. After all, China has 5,000 years of history. And the United States — if you stretch it by including the colonial period — has maybe 5,000 months of history. The President knew the United States could not ignore this massive and influential presence in East Asia.

At the same time, Chairman Mao, Premier Zhou, and President Nixon acknowledged the truth of our second chengyu. They knew that our two countries had to get over their misunderstandings, they had to overcome the enmity that had grown out of the Chinese Civil War, the Korean War, and the Cold War. In February 1972 in Shanghai our leaders made a start. We've come a long way since then. Both our countries have changed dramatically, and our mutual understanding has improved.

Long-held beliefs and stereotypes, however, seldom yield to superficial treatment. They often require radical surgery. An American historian once said, "The past is another country." When people look at their own homeland, that's an easy concept to understand. America of 60 years ago was a different world from that of today. I would feel out of place if I were transported back to those distant days — I might even feel some culture shock. And Chinese know — without a doubt — that the Beijing of the Great-Leap-Forward era is nothing like the Beijing of here and now.

The problem is this: these obvious truths about the past are not so obvious when you talk about a land other than your own. Some Americans still view China through the prism of Cold War ideology. To them, China is the land of the Cultural Revolution, frozen in time, shrouded in darkness, wrapped in enmity toward the United States. They refuse to recognize the astonishing changes that have taken place in China over the last 20 years. This refusal to recognize reality on the part of some Americans has at times distorted our policy toward China.

At the same time we must recognize that some Chinese — some very influential Chinese — still cling to an outdated view of the United States. This view is based on a description of imperialism written by Lenin more than 70 years ago. At that time there may have been some truth to his analysis. The western powers did take advantage of their industrial and military might to wrest control of the Third World. China suffered as a result. There's no denying that. We must acknowledge, however, that the Age of Imperialism has passed. China has transformed itself. So has the western world. No one is preying on China now. Least of all, the United States.

Of course, Lenin-based analysis of world politics has not remained stagnant. The new term of art is not imperialism, but hegemonism. The United States is regularly described — in the media, in scholarly journals, in school texts, and on the Internet — as the only super power, the new hegemon. In this version the U.S. seeks to encircle China, to contain it, and to thwart the development of its economic, political, and military influence.

Frankly speaking, this litany of propaganda against the United States does not serve our mutual interests. It's particularly damaging when these negative attacks appear regularly in school textbooks. This educational "line" promotes a kind of mindless nationalism that can get out of control when relations are tense between our two countries.

I'm also surprised when official anti-Americanism in the media seems to contradict the positive, problem-solving tone set by your leadership over the last six months.

The concept of hegemonism may be intellectually appealing. It may fit well with the current mode of nationalism. But, it does not describe reality. The United States is a super power, granted. But we do not seek world hegemony. And most importantly for my listeners here today, we do not seek to contain China's legitimate aspirations. We did, for example, during the Cold War seek to contain the Soviet Union. We had almost no trade with the Soviets. . Cultural and educational exchanges were virtually nil. Perhaps 50 Soviet students a year came to the U.S. to study. We established the NATO alliance to thwart their influence in Europe. We had vast nuclear and conventional arsenals targeted and poised for use against the Soviets. Now THAT was containment.

Now let's look at China. The U.S. is one of your largest trading partners. We supported your entrance into the WTO, and are delighted you will be hosting the 2008 Olympics. We are wary militarily, but certainly not sitting on the brink of conflict. And most important for our future relations, we host almost 60,000 of your students at our American colleges and universities. If this is a plot to contain China, it's too subtle for me to comprehend.

Let me be frank. A thwarted, dissatisfied China is not in the U.S. interest. We would like to see a stable, prosperous China — a China that can work with the United States to face, in a constructive manner, the problems that matter to us both. I'm speaking of counter-terrorism, non-proliferation, East-Asian security, environmental protection, WTO implementation, economic development and trade, human rights, and the Taiwan issue.

President Jiang, as you know, responded immediately, very positively, to the 911 attack. And Foreign Minister Tang called Ambassador Randt that same night, expressing his support. He said that in the fight against terrorism, the U.S. and China would stand shoulder to shoulder.

Trust me, the U.S. Government, including President Bush, was deeply impressed by this response. It set the tone for the President's highly successful visit to Shanghai. And I believe (congenital optimist that I am) that our mutual effort to combat terrorism may have triggered a psychological sea change that bodes well for our future relations. After 911, the U.S. looked around and said, "We have real enemies. China is not one of them." China, in my opinion, made the same conclusion about the United States.

President Bush plans to follow up on this good feeling with a visit to Beijing next month. This is unprecedented. No other U.S. President has visited China more than once while in office. But, Mr. Bush will be making his second trip in six months. His visit signals a new pragmatic relationship that doesn't shrink from frank discussion of difficult issues. At the same time it is becoming a mature relationship that recognizes our overarching mutual concerns.

President Bush will arrive in Beijing on Feb. 21. He didn't choose that date by accident. Thirty years ago, to the day, President Nixon arrived in Beijing. He came to China, and our countries have never been the same. During his short visit our leaders crafted and signed a far-seeing document, the Shanghai Communiqué. Amazingly this document still provides an essential roadmap for our mutual journey.

When President Bush the Younger arrives three weeks from now, I'll be back at my old spot, gazing mosquito-like through the window, buzzing around the perimeter of the Presidential entourage. If you see me at all, I'll be shoving journalists out of the way or running to catch up with the Presidential motorcade, or arguing with security personnel. I will have a worried look on my face. But to tell the truth I will be loving every minute of it. Where else would I get such great stories to tell my grandchildren after I retire?

Thank you.

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