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Interview with China's Vice-premier Qian Qichen

Qian Qichen
Qian Qichen  

CNN Correspondent Andrea Koppel interviewed China Vice-premier Qian Qichen on March 22, 2001.

Koppel: I would like to begin with what your mission was all about here. It's certainly well-known that you came to Washington, you came to the United States, to try to convince President Bush not to sell the Aegis warships to Taiwan. Do you think you were successful?

Qian (through translator): I don't think your assessment is accurate. I don't think your characterization is accurate enough. The purpose of my visit is to have discussion with the new Bush administration on major issues: talk about the long-term and overall development of the bilateral ties instead of having negotiation and try to solve the specific issue.

However, I did encounter quite a number of news comments and reports quite consistent with what you said in your question. That is to deal on the sale of the naval vessels.

Koppel: But you won't deny the fact that the Chinese government is strongly opposed to the sale of the Aegis warship and that came up during your meeting with President Bush? I'm sure it came up, of course, last night with Secretary of State Powell. Do you think that the Bush administration is going to go forward with this sale next month?

Qian: The question of U.S. arms sales to Taiwan is a leftover issue when the diplomatic ties were officially established between the two countries. We have had lengthy negotiations about this issue. And finally, on 17th August 1982, a joint communique was reached between the two sides. And that joint communique was about the settlement of this question.

So I believe the U.S. side knows very well the position of the Chinese side. And the U.S. side knows how this should be proceeded.

Koppel: If you in Taipei know this, that this is a new administration. As you well know, the Republicans -- many Republicans tend to lean more toward Taiwan than they do toward Beijing. And word is that they are very seriously considering selling the Aegis destroyer to Taiwan. If they do, what will China's reaction be?

Qian: Well, first of all, I want to make clear that all U.S. administrations, be it Republican or Democratic, must pursue the same bipartisan politics. I don't see much difference between the policy of the Republican administration or Democratic administration.

Koppel: Then why was it necessary during your stay here in Washington -- and we've heard from Beijing, other Chinese leaders -- to warn the United States against going forward with this sale if, in fact, the letter of the law of the communique, in your interpretation, would forbid it?

Qian: Well, I think of this a necessity to mention this constantly, because it is true the agreement has been reached. But there are people who still forget it.

Koppel: And I'm sure you've been reminding them.

Qian: You are right.

Koppel: But, of course, there will be many people watching this evening who will think that China is warning, threatening all of these things but would never really do anything if in fact the U.S. were to sell the Aegis warships. And China has drawn a line in the sand over this particular sale. Would the Chinese government consider that to be a serious turn for the worse in U.S.-China relations?

Qian: The overall direction of the China-U.S. relationship is a positive one, although from the time to time there will be problems popping up, but every time the problem can be well-resolved. It has been 30 years since President Nixon opened the door of changes and it has been more than 20 years since the diplomatic ties were established under the Carter Presidency. So almost for all the issues, they have been well-resolved. I think this indicates the maturity of the China-U.S. relationship.

Koppel: Vice Premier Qian, if I understand you correctly, then you heard what you wanted to hear during your meeting with President Bush.

Qian: I view my meeting with President Bush as a very positive one. In other words, President Bush explained his view about the China-U.S. relationship. He hopes that the China-U.S. relationship can develop positively and he's prepared to work toward that end.

Koppel: I'm more interested in hearing your end of U.S.-China relations and your perspective on where you see the relationship going with this new administration. You just spent about 40 minutes with President Bush. Is this a man that the Chinese can do business with?

Qian: I'm positive, or in other words optimistic, about the growth of the relationship. This is because the China-U.S. relationship has undergone lots of difficulty, but looking back, you will notice that the progress has been significant. So the relations between two big nations like China and the United States would be in the interests of the people of our two countries. It would also be in the interest of the situation of peace and stability in the Pacific region, Asia and the world at large.

Of course, the two countries will have differences, contradictions and problems between them.

Koppel: I'd like to pick up on that if I could. Of course, Taiwan has long been a point of controversy in the U.S.-China relationship. Why doesn't China just invite Taiwan's new president Chen Shui-Bian -- who is actually not new anymore, he's been there for over two years -- to Beijing to talk? If you want to reunify, sit down and talk.

Qian: We stand for one China. Should there be negotiations, it will be about unification, one China.

Koppel: So are you ready to issue an invitation to Mr. Chen?

Qian: Well, the invitation was issued a long time ago. So long as they recognize one China principle, they may come to have talk with us on mainland and we are prepared to go to Taiwan. But he's vacillating on this position.

Koppel: I read an interview that you did earlier this year in which you put forward a slightly more expanded definition of the one China policy.

Qian: Well, my version is there is but one China in the world. The mainland Taiwan is part of one China. Sovereignty and territorial integrity of one China with no division.

In other words, one China includes both mainland and Taiwan, which belongs to one China. In other words, should there be two counties with Taiwan being separated away from the rest of the country, then it would not be consistent with the one China principle.

Koppel: And if I understand China's position correctly, your concern about the pending sale, the possible sale of the Aegis warship to Taiwan, is that that might encourage Taiwan's independence. If this sale were to go forward, is it a provocative act in China's eyes?

Qian: That should be the case.

Koppel: And would -- I've heard some of your speeches since you've been in Washington. And you have threatened force, you have threatened China using military action. That's not terribly new. But you say if the Aegis sale were to go forward, China would attack Taiwan?

Qian: I think they have completely misunderstood. Maybe that's because they don't understand Chinese. What I have said is that should such arms sales go forward, the repercussions would be very serious.

Koppel: I see. There wouldn't be any kind of retaliatory action from the Chinese?

Qian: It depends on the circumstances.

Koppel: OK, let's move on. National missile defense, this is another concern of the Chinese government, especially with your arsenal -- the Bush administration went forward, that would neutralize your arsenal. Is there any room for compromise on national missile defense?

Qian: You should not understand me this way, because if you look at the current international situation, the United States is not under that much threat that it should warrant a national defense system that would protect the United States.

Koppel: So you, China, does not recognize or does not believe that North Korea, Iran, possibly Iraq, have missiles that could threaten the continental United States or U.S. troops in Asia.

Qian: At least the threat is not realistic at the moment. I actually set one example. Historically, in the past, China has such a defense system. We built the Great Wall to protect the whole country.

Koppel: That was long before the age of missiles.

Qian: Right. That was, indeed, a kind of defense system.

Koppel: But today -- and I recognize you're saying that China doesn't recognize the threat today. The Bush administration, the United States government is saying that there will be a threat in the not-too-distant future. Does China agree?

Qian: Yes, we've heard explanation from U.S. side and we're prepared to study it.

Koppel: So perhaps there's a middle ground?

Qian: Anyway, it's a matter up to U.S. side to decide.

Koppel: But you could see perhaps China offering some sort of different plan?

Qian: We have not reached the stage yet to develop such a defense system.

Koppel: Let me ask you, Mr. Vice Premier, where do you see U.S.-China relations going under the Bush administration? You've had an opportunity to sit down with most of the members of the Bush Cabinet. Do you see them as Cold Warriors?

Qian: I think they are very sensible about the growth of the relationship with China. Tomorrow, I will also call on Vice President Dick Cheney.

Koppel: Let me ask in the United States -- like father, like son. You, of course, have known the father for many years. Do you think there is anything that President Bush could learn from his father?

Qian: It's hard for me to answer this question. I did tell President Bush today that 10 years ago I visited Washington as foreign minister of China. At that time, our relationship was experiencing great difficulties. And in Washington, I had a very good discussion with his father and then-Secretary of State James Baker, and the national security adviser, General Scowcroft. And later on, gradually, we managed to advance the relationship forward. I recalled that episode.

Koppel: Why did you bring up that episode? Were you trying to hint that you didn't want to see a repeat of that period in U.S.-China relations?

Qian: Well, I recalled that episode, because I'm now, 10 years later, meeting the son of the former president and also in the White House. So there is no intention to hint anything.

Koppel: I'm afraid we've run out of time, Mr. Vice Premier. But I would like to thank you so much for taking the time out of your very busy schedule to speak with us today.

Qian: Thank you.



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