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Fei-Ling Wang

Visions of China chat about Chinese policies

September 22, 1999
Web posted at: 1:00 p.m. EDT

(CNN) -- In September of 1999, CNN Interactive marked the 50th anniversary of the People's Republic of China with a special section "Visions of China" and presented a series of chats with expert guests -- from officials and academics, to dissidents and analysts.

Our guest on Wednesday, September 22, 1999, was Fei-Ling Wang, Associate professor at the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Dr. Wang joined us by phone from Atlanta, Georgia, and CNN Interactive provided a typist for him.

Chat Moderator: Thank you for joining us Dr. Fei-Ling Wang! Welcome to chat!

Prof. Wang: Thank you. Hello. I welcome everyone to this chat on China's affairs.

Chat Moderator: How do you feel about the People's Republic's offer of aid to Taiwan after the earthquake?

Prof. Wang: I think they did the right thing by making the offer. So far, they have not yet come up with a sufficient amount of help. I think the Chinese should do more than offer a $100,000. They need to offer rescue teams, medical personnel, and equipment to the island.

Chat Moderator: Do you think that the Taiwan government may see the offer of aid as having strings attached?

Prof. Wang: Yes. Personally, I think the Taiwanese authority has some thinking to do. They will be cautious about accepting aid from China in the form of personnel, but I don't think they will refuse monetary aid or supplies.

Chat Moderator: Are American attitudes toward China still influenced by the China Lobby?

Prof. Wang: The term "China lobby" is an old one. It refers to some interest groups in the U.S. who were pro-China ever since World War II. Today, when you say "China Lobby" you are talking about people who are lobbying on behalf of Beijing or PRC, and that kind of group is largely non-existent today. The right term is "Taiwan Lobby" as the New York Times has discussed that term. Personally, I think the Taiwan Lobby is just one factor in shaping the American attitude. I think the American attitude is fundamentally shaped by national interests, which include power, pursuit of certain values that may be at conflict with the Chinese values. The other important factor is geo-politics. The U.S. wants to stay in East Asia, and to be an important actor in the region. The Taiwan issue provides a very good reason to do that. In this sense. the Taiwan issue has served as a great strategic asset to the U.S. Not that we can use Taiwan militarily, but we may use the Taiwan issue to influence China, Taiwan and other countries in the region. It is almost like a trump card to play. If we refuse to play that trump card, it would be irresponsible to American interests. But if we play the card too long or too hard, then we have to pay a substantial price. China is getting stronger and more nationalistic; the price of playing the Taiwan card could be getting higher and higher. That is one important factor among others in shaping American attitude toward China and Taiwan.

Question from Jackie: Can you tell us about your educational background and how you came to be an assistant professor at the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs?

Prof. Wang: My current title is Associate Professor. I was born in China, grew up there, got my bachelor's degree in history and my masters in economics before coming to the U.S. to study for my Ph.D. That was in the middle of 1980. After that, I was a faculty member at West Point. After that, I came to Georgia Tech, which is a great school. I like Atlanta very much.

Question from Candyce: How do you feel about the Village Elections program being conducted out of The Carter Center? Has this been a good program for the democratization of China?

Prof. Wang: I am very familiar with that program. I think it is a very valuable program, but it is under supported; I wish people would give this more support. The so-called "grass-roots" democracy in Chinese literature has been developing very impressively over the last decade. That is where the true hope for the Chinese democracy really is. The changes may not be very spectacular to the outside observers, but it is deep and lasting. Therefore, I think we should pay more attention to the Village Elections and to the institutionalization of elections in China.

Question from David: Where did you receive you bachelor and master degrees, please?

Prof. Wang: I received my bachelor and master degrees in China. I received my Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania.

Chat Moderator: Do you get a chance to visit China often?

Prof. Wang: I returned to China for the first time after three years in the U.S. Recently, I am studying and teaching international affairs. Now, I return to China on an almost annual basis. This year, because I was a visiting fellow in Singapore, I made three trips to China.

Chat Moderator: Where are you from originally? What region of China?

Prof. Wang: I was born in Southeastern China, in the Anhi province, which is roughly the same geographic location as Georgia is to the U.S. I was educated in Beijing.

Question from DMV: Has the population control methods of China really worked, or has it just scared the people of China?

Prof. Wang: The family planning policy in China has caused lots of controversy, especially outside of China. Inside of China, the policy does seem to have nation-wide support. This policy has been relatively successful in slowing down the growth of the Chinese population. Compared to India, for example, the Chinese have produced at least over 100 million fewer people in the past decade because of the family planning policy. Of course, on the level of individual families, the Chinese are paying a terrible price for their policy. In some cases, human tragedies do occur. Overall, I think the Chinese population control policy has been a success, and it is unprecedented national sacrifice that China is making for the whole world and human kind. When I say sacrifice, I mean the price and human tragedy associated with this policy. However, think about the alternative. That is why I am saying it is a sacrifice. Throughout human history, there has not been a country or nation so determined to self-limit its own growth so successfully. For the sake of the environment and everything else, I think the Chinese are doing a great public good for the world, and they are largely suffering the consequences of this policy alone. For these reasons, I think those who criticize this policy will want to rethink the true meaning of it.

Question from David: Would you give your opinion on the crackdown of Falun Gong?

Prof. Wang: The Chinese crack down on the Falun Gong has caused lots of criticism. Personally, I think the Chinese government used too much force in dealing with that organization. It shows to the outside world that the Beijing government is rather limited in what to do with competing political or ideological groups. It also shows that the Chinese government is a little bit paranoid about dissenting views and organizations. At the same time, we must note that the Falun Gong group, in my opinion, represents certain features of a religious cult that may be a legitimate target of investigation or criticism. A nation-wide campaign to crush this organization is yet another example that shows freedom of assembly and freedom of speech are quite limited in China, despite the fact that the Chinese society and economy have changed a lot. Maybe the Chinese have a logic for that limited freedom of assembly and speech. They would say that political stability is a key value to them. We can clearly see a difference between the values of the Chinese and the Americans.

Question from Candyce: In terms of ideology, what is the future face of Chinese leadership?

Prof. Wang: That is a good question. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has changed almost beyond recognition in the past two decades. Not only has the party lost its ideological conviction, but the party has become a heavily pro-business political organization which has lots of officials thoroughly corrupted. Communist ideology in China now is largely a political decoration. Among Communist party members, we identify very few "true believers" of communism. To make money and to advance one's own career seem to be the leading goals for most if not all the members. Capitalism, actually a very crude version of capitalism, and many western cultural values have become the de facto ideology in China these days. Of course, the Chinese do have certain spiritual pursuits and philosophical thoughts. The favorites are Confucians, Taoism, and Buddhism are still competing in China for believers. Even Christianity is making big progress in China these days. You do see a coexistence between a variety of philosophical and religious thinking. The CCP may keep its name and banner for some time to come because that is in its political interests, but that is not a reason for concern. The outside world, especially America, perhaps needs to have a process called "de-anti-communism," meaning we should tell ourselves that communism is no longer a viable threat to us anymore. It is merely a view dissenting from our value system. In places like China, communism is still used for political purposes, but is no longer a viable ideological threat any more. Talking about de-anti-communism, we need to make sure that we are not labeling everything related to CCP as evil. If we treat them as an ordinary dissenting political group rather than inherent evil, we may have a more reasonable China policy.

Question from DMV: Do you think that the rightful, exiled government in Taiwan will ever be reinstated?

Prof. Wang: The government in Taiwan is indeed a government in exile from China. This is the result of the Chinese civil war that started half a century ago, and was stopped by the U.S. in 1950. Because I have never been under the rule of that government, I cannot say whether the it is rightful . I have visited Taiwan a couple of times recently, and the government appears quite open and effective. Talking about bringing this government back to rule the whole country of China is grossly unrealistic and perhaps even unnecessary. Perhaps a better way to consider this issue is to think in terms of the Taiwan government dealing with Beijing to conclude the interrupted civil war.

Question from Candyce: Do you support China's admission to the World Trade Organization?

Prof. Wang: China has tried very hard for many years to become a member of the WTO. The U.S. has been negotiating with China on that issue. The problem here is not whether China should be admitted, but under what conditions. The U.S. has insisted that China should be treated as an industrialized country in terms of opening its domestic market. China insists that it should be treated as a developing country to enjoy the preferential treatment offered by the WTO. In June of 1999, the Chinese premiere offered lots of concessions to satisfy American demands, but unfortunately, Pres. Clinton did not cease the opportunity. The negotiations are now back at square one. I think, from the U.S. perspective, we should admit China into the WTO as soon as possible. From the Chinese perspective, it should not rush into WTO. As a matter of fact, WTO membership will bring to China very limited benefits. In return for membership, China would have to make lots of concessions such as opening its fragile industries to international competition. That would cause a huge social and economic price. From the WTOP perspective, China's accession into WTO is a good development in the sense of integrating China into the rest of the world, and should be accomplished as soon as possible. If I have to advise the Chinese leaders, I would say don't rush into WTO because it is not going to be of much benefit to China, and the price will be very high. You need to bargain very hard. It was really a pity that Pres. Clinton missed that opportunity back in June of 1999.

Question from student1: Do you think that relations between the U.S. and China are doomed to get worse?

Prof. Wang: This is a profound question that many inside and outside of the U.S. are considering. In many ways, China can be viewed as being in a state of flux. China can go either way. It can be a potential enemy to the U.S., therefore, dooming the Sino-American relationship to being a hostile one. China can also become a very beneficial partner, a friend to the U.S., thus making the Sino-American relationship a fruitful one for both sides. What China will do and will be in the future now largely depends on the what the U.S. will do to do China. I have written several articles and published a book recently that focuses mainly on this issue. Personally, I think there is a great window of opportunity for the world, led by the U.S., to incorporate China into the World Community peacefully, smoothly, and inexpensively. Many politicians in the U.S. have realized that possibility. American foreign policy has been moving in that direction during the past two years. However, there is no guarantee that the existing major powers, led by the U.S., will be consistent in the good effort of incorporating China. Therefore, there is no guarantee that the Sino-American relationship will be a good one simply because the Chinese now seem to have only a fairly limited and transparent list of demands. The Chinese demands are centered in three areas: (1) their own political stability; (2) a peaceful environment for their economic development.; and (3) reunification with Taiwan. Those demands may be challenging to some people, but none of them is challenging the world or the U.S. on the grounds of ideology, territory, or economic systems. Therefore, unlike the rising powers in the past, the Chinese may have a tendency of not pursuing imperialism if their demands are well addressed. At the same time, we need to be watchful of what a Chinese power may do if the Chinese nationalism runs wild. The Sino-American relationship is one that can be shaped and maintained in a way we want. In other words, much can be done with this relationship or doomed. It is not pre-determined.

Question from Allen: Do you believe that China has really stolen and benefited from US weapon secrets ?

Prof. Wang: Good question. I am really impressed by these questions. I think, just like many other countries, the Chinese have benefited significantly from U.S. technology, including military technology. Many Chinese have been educated in the U.S. engineering and science programs. The U.S. has a very open academic environment, lots of information is openly published. But, I think the talk about espionage efforts made by the Chinese against the U.S. so far has appeared to be largely speculation. The accusation against Weng Ho Lee at Los Alamos has become, in my opinion, a shame on the U.S. media. He has been widely accused in some of the most prestigious newspapers, yet there has been almost no evidence. He has not been charged, arrested, and now the chief security officer of the weapons laboratory has said that he was singled out because of his racial background. That is really a shameful thing for the media to do without much evidence. It is really a poison spread around without much evidence. The Cox Report, released last spring, reminded people of some of the dark times in U.S. history when groundless accusations were the basis of decision making. China is like any other country - it is entitled to intelligence collecting. Every sovereign nation has done it. What we need to do in the U.S. is safeguard our secrets as much as possible. At the same time we should avoid groundless and sensational accusation. The U.S. is the biggest player in the espionage world, and that is really a normal thing to do. If China is not collecting intelligence from U.S. we should be surprised. That would indicate that China is not a normal country. An abnormal rising power would be a great danger to world peace and to the U.S. A normal country can be dealt with in a normal way. We have the FBI to go after foreign spies. We don't need highly emotional and politicized speculation about China's espionage efforts. If we really catch a Chinese spy, we should deal with that situation as we would if the spy were from any other country. Personally, I think China's technological development and progress has benefited from U.S. technology in many ways, but I don't think espionage has played a big role in that regard.

Chat Moderator: Any final thoughts?

Prof. Wang: This has been a very interesting and useful avenue for people to discuss important issues. I think CNN is doing a great service to society not only in the U.S., but the world. So I want to congratulate you. I hope you keep getting these stimulating questions and keep getting serious answers.

Chat Moderator: Thank you for joining us today, Dr. Wang.

Prof. Wang: Thank you to everyone who participated and to CNN.

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