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Joseph Prueher上将
Joseph Prueher上将
May 6, 2019

Joseph Prueher

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两个军事超级大国的战机在6000米高空相撞会发生什么?

2001年4月1日,驻华盛顿的美国官员收到报告,一架美国海军侦察机在中国南部海南岛紧急迫降;中国的一架F-8战斗机也在撞机后失联。幸运的是,时任美国驻华大使是一位拥有数千小时飞行经验的退役海军上将。约瑟夫·普理赫(Joseph Prueher)大使凭借他丰富的人生阅历和广阔的人脉,确保这次空中事故没有升级为更大的军事冲突。

这次采访是用英语进行的。

James Green: Welcome to the U.S.-China Dialogue Podcast from Georgetown University.

This podcast series explores diplomacy and dialogue between China and the United States during four decades since normalization of relations in 1979.We'll hear from former ambassadors, Cabinet secretaries, and White House advisors -- who will share how they shaped the course of the most complex relationship in international diplomacy today.

I'm your host, James Green.

Today on the podcast, we talk with Admiral Joseph Prueher.

Sometimes, just sometimes, the doors of history open in such a way that one person, at one time, for one moment seems to have the light of providence shine on him or her. Joe Prueher is such a person.

He graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy, then flew as a naval aviator in the Vietnam War, before beginning his steady rise through the military ranks. He returned to Annapolis in 1989, this time as commandant of the Naval Academy. After service in senior positions in Europe and the Pentagon, Admiral Prueher was given the largest geographic command in the U.S. military -- the Pacific Command out in Hawaii, also known as PACOM.

At PACOM, Admiral Prueher assumed command during a time of friction between the U.S. military and the Chinese People's Liberation Army. Then, in May 1999, a U.S. warplane mistakenly bombed the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade. So, in his new role as head of the Pacific Command, Prueher was given instructions to build channels of regular communications with the PLA.

In the aftermath of the Belgrade bombing, Prueher was appointed Ambassador to China and those military channels would be tested. On April 1, 2001, only a few months into the new Administration of President George W. Bush, a Chinese PLA Air Force F-8 collided into a U.S. EP-3 surveillance plane off the coast of Hainan Island. The Chinese pilot was killed, and the U.S. plane made an emergency landing on Chinese soil.

President Bush spoke at the White House to the American people about the downed plane, calling for China to take action:

President George W. Bush: "Now it is time for our service men and women to come home. And it is time for the Chinese government to return our plane. This accident has the potential of undermining our hopes for a fruitful and productive relationship between our two countries.”

James Green: Thanks so much for taking time out for this project, Sir. It's great to see you again after a few years. Before getting to your long career in the Navy and Ambassador to China, I just want to ask, as a boy from Tennessee, how did you end up going to the Naval Academy?

Joseph Prueher: This, well my, the short answer is my father went to the Naval Academy.

James Green: That's a pretty good reason.

Joseph Prueher: But my dad was killed in World War Two when I was eight months old. So, I never knew him. But that was out there that he had done that. The other short answer is that, when I was a senior in high school, I got a letter from Wayne Harden who was the Navy football coach. Who said, "Come try out for football at Navy." And so, that was a hook. That came my way and I said, "Well let's try that." And I had some other opportunities, and but I ended up going to the Naval Academy.

James Green: Wow. So, you went there in, you graduated in '64.

Joseph Prueher: Right.

James Green: And, there was a lot of things going on in Asia at that time.

Joseph Prueher: That's right.

James Green: …and you did a tour in Vietnam.

Joseph Prueher: Correct.

James Green: Or two tours.

Joseph Prueher: Just one.

James Green: Just one tour. And what was that tour?

Joseph Prueher: Well, from graduating in '64 I went to flight training. And I wanted to fly. And, got out of flight training in '65, and then started my active flying in '66. So, the Vietnam part, I had one deployment to the Mediterranean. A fairly short on in '66. And then, was in Vietnam in '67 and '68 on Kitty Hawk. During the Tet offensive.

James Green: Wow.

Joseph Prueher: And, it was a very, it was a busy time. And a fairly long cruise. But that was my only deployment to Vietnam. But I have two months where I did not have a day carrier landing. All night work in Vietnam. It wasn't all, but most of it was. And so, it was a very enlightening time.

James Green: And so, you've mentioned that you were doing aircraft take-off and landing. What other aircraft had you trained on at that point?

Joseph Prueher: Well, going through flight training, we flew...I don't know how much of interest this is. But the T-34 was our fundamental trainer. And then the T-2 C was another trainer. And then the old Korean War F9F was the other trainer in Texas. And then I went from there to fly A-6s, which I did in Vietnam.

James Green: And so, for the runs you were doing in Vietnam, you have night time takeoff and landing. What was the activity that you had overland? What were you flying to do?

Joseph Prueher: Well, some of it was ... this can rapidly get into a political discussion. But as a 24-year-old Lieutenant JG, I was not very interested in the politics of it then. I was just trying to stay alive and do my stuff. But in the bigger view, it was a time when our government and McNamara was there, and we would spool up and get where our overland time was. We'd beaten down the defenses there pretty good. And then we'd stop. We'd have a bombing halt. The Vietnamese would build back up the defenses and create a more hazardous environment. It drove us ... it was very irksome if you were on there getting shot at. So, but a lot of our targets, some of them were useless. And we had one we called a WBLC, which is a water borne logistic craft. Which might range from being a herd of water buffaloes to a barge or something like that, to power plants in North Vietnam. And the type of airplane I flew, the A-6, we were doing what was called Routes Package Six. Almost all of it was in the North. And, we had some fairly worthwhile-- some bridges trying to enter, you know, the Ho Chi Minh trail. We'd interdict that. And then, when we were allowed power plants around Hanoi and Hai Phong. Mining in Hai Phong.

James Green: And so, at that time, China, was not a participant in the conflict, overtly. But, was there some concern about the conflict becoming too large, and China becoming involved? Did that ever in to kind of your planning as far as you were aware?

Joseph Prueher: Yes. I think some of this is subsequent logic, but the idea of the domino theory in thinking that there was worldwide communism and Ho Chi Minh was a part of that. China was a part of that, USSR was a part. And subsequently I realize there's a little more national view of that than this worldwide domination. But, for us, as a practical matter, flying then, right around Hai Phong, you don't have to go very much north of there to be in China. To us, that was a, you know, a hard wall.

James Green: A bright line in the sky that not to cross.

Joseph Prueher: Do not stray into China. You know, that you'll disappear forever. And we had, I've got a couple of acquaintances that I know that did do that, and they were in a Chinese prison 'til the end of the war.

James Green: Wow.

Joseph Prueher: And so, it was not a place ... we just, we took extreme pains not to stray into China.

James Green: You did a lot of things after that kind of early tour in Vietnam.

Joseph Prueher: Yep, yep.

James Green: I wonder if I could fast forward to your time as the Commandant of the Naval Academy? To just ask, which was, '89, '90? Is that right?

Joseph Prueher: Yep.

James Green: '91?

Joseph Prueher: That's right.

James Green: The reason I ask is because events in China, because the Tiananmen Square crackdown, were kind of global issues.

Joseph Prueher: Yep.

James Green: And the Cold war was ending. Can you just talk a little bit about trying to lead a very prestigious part of the Navy during this tumultuous time on the global stage?

Joseph Prueher: It's interesting. The Naval Academy is a little bit insular, and the people are working very hard there. The midshipmen. And at that time there were a lot of gender issues as well. Women had been there, the first graduating class I think was 1980. So, they'd been ... and still a very small percentage of the brigade were women. That ... getting, helping gender issues move along was a big part. My interest a lot was in watching the, you know, 1989, Tiananmen Square, the fall of the Berlin Wall. I've got a little chunk of the Berlin Wall over there.

James Green: From when you served in Europe?

Joseph Prueher: No, it was given to me by Bill Owens.

Joseph Prueher: (laughs).

James Green: Wow.

James Green: (laughs).

Joseph Prueher: And but the midshipmen, it, being there at that time, what was going on in the outside world was not a particular focus. It was an interest, but the business of running the brigade of midshipmen and trying to get that working right, beating Army, things like that.

James Green: The important things in life.

Joseph Prueher: Yeah, that's right.

James Green: From there, I'm curious to hear your experience, as the Vice Chief of Naval Operations in '95, in which you were in Washington for less than a year, is that right?

Joseph Prueher: That's correct.

James Green: And, I guess '95, this was at the end of the Cold War. The Chinese Navy is not particularly strong.

Joseph Prueher: Right.

James Green: You had responsibility for the whole world. What was your focus at that time?

Joseph Prueher: Again, being the Vice Chief of Naval Operations is sort of like being a DCM in an embassy, in a way. You're working a lot on the day to day things. A lot, very much is dependent on what the CNO wants to do. And it is Washington-oriented. And I had just come back from Europe. I had been at the 6th Fleet prior to that job. And, I'll have to throw in here, I'm quite proud of the fact that in my ten years as a flag officer, I only spent seven months in Washington, D.C. I do much better as a field hand than I do being in whatever sort of adjective you use to describe what goes on in Washington.

James Green: Right, there's a lot of adjectives these days that people use.

Joseph Prueher: Yeah. But, significantly, that'll come into our subsequent discussion, is in '95, when the Chinese fired some missiles into near Taiwan. In my job as the Vice Chief, that was not even a blip.

James Green: Wow.

Joseph Prueher: It was not something we were thinking about. It didn't impact much. And significantly the United States didn't respond. Either militarily or otherwise. Maybe, a demarche or something, but that would be about it. So, it was not significant.

James Green: So, let's move to your time over in Hawaii. So, you were in seven months in the Pentagon.

Joseph Prueher: Yeah.

James Green: And that, you got your ticket out-

Joseph Prueher: Yeah.

James Green: To go to Hawaii. That must have been a nice change of pace. To-

Joseph Prueher: It was. I thought often, it, the circumstances by which I went were, my predecessor there, had made an unfortunate comment about Japan. And so, he, Bill Perry, who was Secretary of Defense, said, "Relieve him." They went through a process and finally I was the one that was picked to relieve him.

James Green: Wow, and so, for folks who aren't familiar with the Pacific Command, can you just talk a little bit about the area of responsibility and what the commander of, or the commander chief of, the Pacific Command is charged with doing?

Joseph Prueher: Yeah. The Pacific Command, which is, in those days we called it CINCPAC. Secretary Rumsfeld changed that to make it a combatant command. And, but the, it's the largest AOR, area of responsibility, in the way the United States divvies up things. And it is now it's called the Indo-Pacific Command. Harry Harris, who just left there and is now in Korea as ambassador, is for doing that, and it's now the Indo-Pacific Command. And it includes the Pacific littoral, it includes the West Coast of the United States, through Asia, and into India, and it was India and Pakistan. And then that got divvied up where the line between India and Pakistan. Pakistan went to the Central Command. India's still in the Pacific Command. So, it's a huge geographic area. It's about 310,000 people. The arrangement of CINCPAC in Hawaii has four subordinate commanders that are service commanders. CINCPAC fleet, which is very confusing to people, I get introduced as CINCPAC fleet a lot, but CINCPAC fleet is a Navy four star

James Green: So that's the Naval person in charge of the-

Joseph Prueher: The Naval person, of the Navy part there.

James Green: For folks in the Pacific?

Joseph Prueher: Yeah.

James Green: Mm-hmm (affirmative)-

Joseph Prueher: And then there's USARPAC, which is also there in Hawaii, which is the Army people in the Pacific. Who are mainly, most of the Army is in Korea. There's not a big Army presence otherwise. And then there's the MARPAC, which is the Marine Corps part. Which we now have some people in Northern Australia. A small footprint there that wasn't there when I was there. But the Marine force is in Okinawa and all over. And then the PACAF, the Pacific Air force command. And they have a prominent place in Korea, Japan, and all over. And then, US CINCPAC, the job I had, has very good help. You know we have a lot of staff and a lot of people that are very good help.

And so, the Pacific Command traditionally has been a, it’s a military command and the foremost thing is military readiness to carry out the US’ wishes there. But, because you can show up, there is a lot of interaction with other heads of state, with ambassadors, and there’s really a lot of political-military activity associated with it as well. And now, even, because the economy part is so vital, and even back when I was there, they had the 1997 baht crisis. And, I can recall a time with Stapleton Roy, another China guy, but he was Ambassador to Indonesia at that time, we were sitting in the back of his car in Jakarta, and I looked at him as sort of a naïve person, and said, "Hey Stape, you know this economic stuff seems to be pretty important. What do you know about that?" And he said, "Oh not much, but we ought to learn."

James Green: (laughs).

Joseph Prueher: And so, it's, that's true.

James Green: Can you talk about your September '96 and December '97 visits to China, and what you felt like you got out of that from the PLA, from the US point of view, and how you think that building communication helped for the US interests?

Joseph Prueher: Okay. I'm one that believes, and I'll give a story, an example of this in a moment, but that having communications, even if they're hostile, is very important. I mean, I think if people are not communicating, and there's some subject of tension, even if there's nothing going on, if you're not communicating, you're thinking the worst about the other side. So, communications are very important to keep going, particularly when you have tense relations with another entity of some sort. And this is the case with China too. I thought having the communications were very important. The September '96 trip is, was, thinking now, there's an election coming up in November in the US. And the Clinton administration, they didn't wanna be seen to be too close to China. They didn't want a political person or a political appointee going, though CINCPAC is an appointee. But they thought that I was a level that could go without having a political cost.

James Green: So, they didn't want a Cabinet secretary-

Joseph Prueher: No, they didn't want that.

James Green: -who was a political level person to kind of show up in Beijing?

Joseph Prueher: No, that was too tied to the administration. But they wanted someone that could do it, so they said, "Hey, Joe, why don't you go?" So, I said, "Great." Yeah, I was looking forward to that. I was looking forward to an excuse to go. So, that was first trip to China. And as you mentioned, Xiong Guangkai was sort of my host. The barbarian handler. And that visit surprised me, because I met with Jiang Zemin, I met with all of the hierarchy in China. It was a good visit. Karl Eikenberry was the defense attaché then, and he was very good and very helpful.

James Green: Just for folks who haven't been to China on an official delegation, could you just describe what it's like to kind of land in Beijing? And what the rollout of a red carpet can look like?

Joseph Prueher: Yeah, yeah.

James Green: When the Chinese wanna be gracious hosts?

Joseph Prueher: Yeah. Well, and they were pretty nice at this one.

One of the things, it's a heady experience for a, you know, boy from Tennessee, is to go with CINCPAC, and you fly in a big blue and white airplane and you land in Beijing, and they meet you there, it's ... but the headiness wears off in a hurry (laughs). And like most honors, they wear off in a hurry. You get to work. But they, you're met at the airport. You're whisked sort of into Beijing. That was my first visit to China, ever. And, I'm just soaking up lack of trees, the atmosphere, the smog, but also very eager to see them and looking forward to it. Xiong Guangkai has a personality that is he's very gregarious, he laughs a lot. He, he's less condescending than some other Chinese are to visitors. But he is, he's clearly giving the Party line. And so, I was subjected to getting the Japan lecture, the Taiwan lecture, the Tibet lecture from them. You know, this is how, not how we see this, this is how it is, with these countries. You know, we-

James Green: And for the Japan ones it is, Japan is a militarist nation.

Joseph Prueher: Yeah.

James Green: That's never apologized, and we need to watch out. We—the US and China—need to watch out for Japan.

Joseph Prueher: Yes, yes that's right. And if, you know, if you think, Japan, are friends you're mistaken. You know that. And then they can go on. You know subsequent times with the Nanjing massacre and things like that. There, there's some legitimacy in that point of view that they have. And so, we went through all of that. The other parts of, like meeting President Jiang Zemin, as people who had been there know, you go in, it's quite formalized, stylized, not very much of substance is discussed in these big meetings, but you drink a lot of tea, and you nod, and you talk and you get to meet them. And this is, you know it all seemed like a bunch of just pomp to us, and it is, but it underlines one of the fundamental things I think of working with the Chinese is, it's the start of building relationship and the relationship transcends contracts, transcends almost everything else.

And I will say that to my knowledge, I have always liked dealing with the Chinese. It hasn't always been easy. I don't always agree. But I enjoy it, because, from the Chinese people with whom I've had what I consider a forthright relationship, I've never been tricked by them. But that's not to say I haven't been tricked by them. But not by people with whom I've taken the time to build a relationship. It's true in business. It's true in the military, true in the diplomatic stuff. And I've got another, what I think is a very insightful tale about that.

So anyway, that visit went well. From the US point of view, there're, there're a faction of people, the United States that I think, and I think they still are but fewer, they never want to miss an opportunity to poke China in the eye. And so, they're hostile to any relationship you have. That've tried to accommodate one way or another. On the other hand, there are people that live in a dream world about China. That you know, kumbaya, can't we all be friends? And it's not that either. It's somewhere in between, which is a respectful and wary relationship. But it can work. It’s in the wary stage right now, pretty much.

James Green: You have mentioned what is was like as the CINCPAC, as the PACOM Commander, to pick up the phone and call other officials. And on the Chinese side, you went to China September of '96.

Joseph Prueher: Yes.

James Green: And you started to develop that relationship with Xiong Guangkai. Do you feel like, and we'll move to your coming to Beijing as an ambassador, but do you feel like during the rest of your time at PACOM in Hawaii, you could pick up the phone and call someone? Or that was still a work in progress to build that kind of connectivity?

Joseph Prueher: Work in progress, work in progress.

And Xiong Guangkai was sort of the official host. There were others I met. Zhang Wannian, who was a member of the Central Military Committee, was an older guy, had fought in Vietnam and fought in the Korean War, we got a particular rapport. And we were reviewing some event, and we were standing next to each other, talking through an interpreter. And, I really liked him (laughs). And I, we had several over the years, several subsequent events, but this first one we were standing next to each other. And there were younger troops out there that we were looking at. And he initiated this conversation and said, "It's very important that you and I and people of our generation form relationships that can be seen by these young men and women, so that in the future they don't have to start where we are. That they've had a relationship over time." And I think that was very important. I would not say that is a view that's held by everyone there or here, but it meant that an old war- someone who'd actually been in combat, an old war dog and an influential guy had those thoughts. And I don't- and, subsequent contacts that we had borne out that that wasn't just fluff that he was giving. That, that was good. So, I always liked him and liked that. That was part of that first visit which gave me hope. And that we could do this.

But the communication with the PLA, the big thing from our government was, "Did you get access? Did they show you their secrets?" And stuff like that. Eh, some. They said I got more access than others. But that was sort of the measure of success of a visit back and forth is how much access did you get. And the thing is, the PLA then was still organized in six regional districts. Regional headquarters. And these regional commanders had a lot of horsepower. They were not- they didn't have a- they had a department of defense sort of, but they weren't funded. They didn't have the purse strings there. It wasn't 'til later on that Jiang Zemin tried to bring that together and so, you had the six districts were, had a fair amount of autonomy. And they tried to equate CINCPAC to, "You're like one of our military districts." Not quite, you know.

Let me fast forward to another event that happened in '97. I had been, I'd been vocal about trying to build these communications with China. It was sanctioned by Bill Perry and the Clinton administration to do this. But there are, the people that did not like anything about China always suspected that- "Why are you trying to build this relation? Why do you wanna be able to talk?" And I said, "so we can prevent miscalculation." Well, in '97, and I forget what month it was, Jiang Zemin made his first trip to the United States, and he came through Hawaii. And Ben Cayetano was the Governor of Hawaii. Together we were his hosts. And he flew on a commercial airplane to Honolulu. And, Hawaii is kind of a place where people can visit the United States but not really feel like they're really succumbing to the United Sates. But that anyway was the first stop for Jiang Zemin on his visit.

Governor Cayetano was of Filipino extraction and a good guy. But he would kind of duck out on some things. So, he got (laughs) he didn't participate so much in this welcoming of Jiang Zemin. But I'd met him in China. I met him when he came. We rolled out the red carpet for him. I mean this is a guy that's been ten years in charge of a country at one point- then about 1.25 billion people. He might look a little funny with his glasses and stuff, but pretty able guy.

And, anyway, he came, and we took him on a barge. Which for people that don't know it's not really a barge. It's a Navy boat, I borrowed CINCPAC's fleet boat, and we took him around Pearl Harbor.

And two significant things occurred in that. I'm not one for breast beating and talking about how powerful we are. I think it shows itself. So, I never use that type of rhetoric about our military power. It happened though; we had a great number of attack submarines in Pearl Harbor that particular day.

James Green: In the harbor that day that were-

Joseph Prueher: Just, just by chance.

James Green: That were up.

Joseph Prueher: Yes.

James Green: They were visible.

Joseph Prueher: They were visible, and we went on the barge around. Looked at Pearl Harbor and right after he landed. And, so they ran out of film taking pictures of all these nuclear submarines. But after a little bit, he came up and literally finger in the chest, and sort of smiling said, "Admiral, what are you, what are you doing in trying to talk to the PLA?" And this is a story I use, have used a lot. He said, "What are you trying to do?" And I said, "Mr. President, what we're trying to do is build some trust so that our military and your military don't miscalculate something and make a mistake and bring us into conflict that is not warranted. You know, we want..."

And he thought for a moment and he said these words. And said them in English, he said, "trust is a little ways off." He said, "before you can have trust you must have mutual understanding, and before you have understanding you've gotta have communications." And he said, "We Chinese-" now he was really smiling, "are very far ahead of you in the communications." Meaning that more Chinese speak English than do Americans (laughs).

And I've used that phrase a lot. But, on a serious note, that stepping stone from communications to understanding; if you're gonna negotiate, you've gotta understand the other persons point of view as well. And then to have trust is a big deal.

And he further said, "We're working pretty hard on communications now, we are not at the understanding or trust point of view." And, I'm not so sure we are yet (laughs).

James Green: And Jiang Zemin also, the head of the military commission.

Joseph Prueher: Yes.

James Green: In addition to being the president, head of the Communist Party at that time, right?

Joseph Prueher: That's right. That's right.

James Green: I wanna get to the, your time as Ambassador and the EP-3 incident.

Joseph Prueher: Yeah.

James Green: But maybe I could just preface it by starting it with the Belgrade bombing in 1999.

Joseph Prueher: Yeah.

James Green: Which was, those planes are not under the Pacific Command, but you were at PACOM at that time that the US mistakenly bombed the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade.

Joseph Prueher: Yeah.

James Green: What are your recollections about it? Or what did Chinese officials talk to you about the next time you interacted with them?

Joseph Prueher: Well it was the (laughs), it occurred about a week after I had said I would accept going to China to be an ambassador. So that put a, made me very … it's a puzzling question still. Because even people that know a lot about it, it's hard, very hard, to find out any facts about it.

And I know a lot about military targeting. What I do know is it wasn't a rogue flight crew that went and did this. They did what they were told to do. I think there was a, and if I were Chinese, and I look at, we talk about how effective our military is, how much we do things, I'd be very hesitant to believe anything we said about that either. That it was a mistake. So, how could you make a mistake like that?

And so, I can say this because I don't know the facts. So, I've talked to people who know some of them, but somewhere in the clamoring for more targets, which was Wes Clark, you know, asking more targets in this area, I think something happened hastily in the targeting process. It did not go through the normal bureaucratic selection of targets. They picked a target, I think there was a legitimate mistake in the mapping of what they trusted for mapping, and we hit the wrong thing.

No, if I look at it through Chinese eyes, you not only hit our embassy, but you hit a particular part of our embassy, that's not a mistake. So, I'm not sure what the truth is. I ... when I went to call on Jiang Zemin as Ambassador-

James Green: When you presented your credentials?

Joseph Prueher: Yes, presented credentials. I told Yang Jiechi I was gonna bring this subject up. And he said, "No, no, no!" You know, "don't do it, don't do it." Well, I did it anyway. And all I said was, "I don't know this, but I do know it was a mistake." And, they let that go without comment. You know, they just, but it still sticks in their craw. And as it- think what if they'd done it to us? I mean it'd stick in our craw too. So.

James Green: So, you are nominated.

Joseph Prueher: Yeah.

James Green: And the Senate confirms you to be Ambassador. I still recall when you got to the embassy, and at that moment the embassy was, ...

Joseph Prueher: On holiday .

James Green: (laughs).

Joseph Prueher: (laughs).

James Green: Oh, I was gonna talk about the physical building being less than impressive.

Joseph Prueher: Okay.

James Green: But yes, the embassy was on holiday. And the building itself was an old Pakistani school.

Joseph Prueher: Yeah.

James Green: And, was a little tired, shall we say?

Joseph Prueher: Yeah, yeah.

James Green: How did being ambassador differ, particularly when you first arrived, from being in the military and being the CINCPAC, the PACOM Commander? How did you see those things differently? And what were your expectations? And then when you landed on the ground-

Joseph Prueher: Yeah.

James Green: And you thought, "Oh, this is, this is the job?"

Joseph Prueher: Yeah, well, I was really looking forward to it. Suzanne was not so much. She'd run around a lot of the world a lot of the time and she was ready to be here; you know? And so, but I was excited to do it.

I also knew how to use authority, I think. Which I think some ambassadors don't. They ... most people don't know that at least in those days, the only charter the ambassador has is about a two-page letter from the president, which gives you huge authority over everything that goes on in that country. Including some strange things that might go on in various countries. That some ambassadors don't even know to ask about, and how to, how to use that authority. And I thought I did.

But, as a practical matter, talking about the shabby embassy, that didn't bother me so much. ‘Cause it was functional. But the living conditions for the people there ... in the military, we from the time you're weaned into the military, it's “take care of the troops.” And so, I went to see the living conditions and also what went on in the consular section of the visa stuff was just abhorrent to me.

And, so we changed it fairly quickly. And, what really got in my knickers was people would come out from the State Department and they'd stay at the St. Regis. And then they say "Gee, Beijing's a wonderful place. What complaints could you have about this? It's very nice." I said "Yeah, that it is there." And I'd done that too. And but, we had people living in the, you talk about Pakistani school building, the Stalin-era living conditions were, I mean…literally, one time I went in and someone had sacrificed a goat in the public area of the living-

James Green: Of the apartment compound.

Joseph Prueher: In the apartment compound. And so, we had a budget, and so very soon I sent what in the military we'd call an UNODIR. It means “unless otherwise directed.” And I sent a cable to Secretary Albright and said, "unless you tell me not to do this, this is what I intend to do." And I don't think the State Department exactly knew how to work with that type of message. Which I was banking on.

And, fortunately we had a budget. So, I said henceforth people that come and visit from Washington are gonna stay in this apartment complex, not in the St. Regis, until we get this situation rectified. And any new people coming in are going to have an option of going to an apartment in town somewhere, and people that are living there have the option of leaving. If they want to. And, you know, some people have a couple of months left, they'll just stay. And some people didn't care. They just stayed.

But anyway, so we changed the living arrangements. I think if the embassy had foreboding about having a military person coming in, I think that helped. You know it gave ... so, I never heard anything back from the State Department, so we did it.

And, people like we've talked about Jim Moriarty, he and Lauren were staying in a really nice place. It could be good anywhere. And others were too, but there was a great disparity.

So that was one thing that was, was a change that we did in a hurry.

James Green: So were one of those things, just as a staff member, that was very clear when you landed, was that you understood the importance of leadership from the ambassador for the embassy community.

Joseph Prueher: Yeah.

James Green: And showing that for the staff and also projecting that to the Chinese, and, I think that was very welcome from the Chinese.

Joseph Prueher: Well, thank you.

James Green: And from the staff.

Joseph Prueher: I hope so.

I'd had trouble getting a DCM to come in. We talked to Evans Revere from Korea, and these were people that lived in Beijing in the '80s and their families weren't coming back. And Gene, the first DCM that came-

James Green: Was that Gene Martin?

Joseph Prueher: Gene Martin came. And Gene was a really fine guy. His main asset as far as I'm concerned was, he would come (laughs).

And he did. He did a good job. We had very different types of personalities, but he was there, and he did it. And then Michael Marine came in, Michael Marine came in and he was a force. He did a really good job at that.

But what you said about the embassy team, when this led on up, not ... no it was a year later … to the EP-3 thing, the embassy team functioned just great. We had some new players, but it was really something to behold. I had a lot of good help.

James Green: Let's get into that incident.

Joseph Prueher: All right.

James Green: We were very fortunate as Americans to have a Naval Aviator as our Ambassador when this incident happened off Hainan Island. Or I should say, “accident.” I was re-reading some of the history around it-

Joseph Prueher: Yeah.

James Green: And Colin Powell had said he wanted to make sure the term “accident” was used, that it wasn't kind of blown out of proportion.

Joseph Prueher: Yeah.

James Green: Could you just go into what happened, and then you're being called into the Foreign Ministry, and how that ended up-

Joseph Prueher: Yeah.

James Green: Working and not working.

Joseph Prueher: Yeah. Okay. We had, at CINCPAC, I had asked about the information we got from these, the flights, the routine flights that we had. What do we get? And that's been an age-old complaint of the Chinese that we're doing this.

James Green: These are flights, just to be clear, these are US military aircraft are flying far of the coast of China, but they're-

Joseph Prueher: Yes, but they're in international waters. And they're not out in the Atlantic somewhere, they are off the coast of China. And so, they're information gathering, which we do around the world in the preservation of peace. And so, the ... what it amounted to was we were flying a multiple, whole number multiple, of flights more than we needed to get the information, the same information.

So, I thought, well we're wasting some money, so we had throttled back on the numbers of flights, when I was at CINCPAC. Not a whole lot, but some. And so, this happened on April Fool’s Day of 2001. It was Sunday. And the first thing that I got, I was in town. We'd been to, my wife and I, we'd been to church, we were in town with another couple, a US but Chinese descent business couple in DC, I mean in Beijing, and I got a call that we've got an airplane down. And it was about 9:00 in the morning. 9:08, as I recall. And we had gotten this through from CINCPAC, 'cause the airplane had called back to CINCPAC.

So, the first thing we knew is, they were safe on deck.

James Green: So, the airplane called saying that they were going down and then had already confirmed that they had landed safely.

Joseph Prueher: They had landed. When I, when the word filtered to me.

So, I raced back to the embassy. 9:00 in the morning, 9:00 at night in D.C. I called Colin Powell.

James Green: And we should recall, these were new administration officials.

Joseph Prueher: New administration.

James Green: Because the Bush administration came in- only a few months earlier.

Joseph Prueher: Yep, and they in fact, you know, Rumsfeld was one of the few people who had been confirmed in DOD. Colin Powell was there. And I had the benefit of having worked with Colin Powell before. Not a whole lot, but some. We at least knew each other. And I think the world of him.

And this experience made me think more the world of him (laughs). So anyway, I called him and told him what I knew of what had happened. Danny Blair was at CINCPAC. We got information, you know, the airplane was on deck, and what had happened, that they had been hit by a Chinese airplane. And so, I called the Foreign Ministry and as I'm wont to say, and I think they've got caller ID, and they were not accepting any calls.

Joseph Prueher: And so, it was 9:00 at night. And we'd had the initiative to come in there, and then at 9:00 at night, they finally said, "You must come to the ..." -and I had been ready all day to come talk to them.

James Green: One of the tactics of Chinese negotiation is to-

Joseph Prueher: Oh yes.

James Green: Make it uncomfortable for the US side.

Joseph Prueher: Yes. Yes.

James Green: And so, wait until 9:00 PM at night and then call someone in. So, you were called in at 9:00 PM.

Joseph Prueher: And the, Yang Jiechi had been the guy I dealt with most of the time. We have an interesting relationship which is, I think respectful, but not warm. And, coming back from CINCPAC days when he was the designated hitter to me out on some things. He did with great glee I thought.

James Green: He's made a career out of, out of that.

Joseph Prueher: Yes, yes.

James Green: And it seems to have served him well.

Joseph Prueher: Yes, it does. It does. Wang Yi may be a little milder mannered, but we'll see. But, anyway we and Zhou Wenzhong-

James Green: Zhou Wenzhong.

Joseph Prueher: Zhou Wenzhong turned out to be my interlocutor. He had just come back from being ambassador to Australia. And he's a very good English speaker. But he wasn't friendly this time. And he said, you know, "Mr. Ambassador, your airplane has invaded our airspace. It's landed without permission. We demand an apology and we demand reparations." And I said, "Well, our government does not agree with any of that. And so, I think you've got the facts wrong." And there was some huffing and puffing and we departed.

And so, they had done what ... I'd studied Dick Solomon's book on negotiating with the Chinese a lot. And so, they made their declaration there, and part of the negotiating technique is, “okay, here's our statement. It's your duty to disprove it.”

James Green: The maximalist statement starts the conversation.

Joseph Prueher: Yeah, yeah.

And one of my friends whom I won't name in case this thing gets publicized some way, is that negotiating with the Chinese is about building ladders for the Chinese to climb down. And one of a- colleague from another country who I think very highly of made that comment when I was looking for counsel. And he said. So that's sort of where we were. They made a statement. And then, well we'll lose face if you don't, if you don't acknowledge this. And this bore itself out.

Well, you talk about having a Naval Aviator there. There are a lot of things I dealt with there I didn't know too much about where I was very dependent on the word of others and confidence in others. It happens that airplane intercepts are something I know a lot about. And I'd done it. And so, this was, I had a lot of confidence in talking to the Chinese about what was possible and what was not possible in this collision, that we finally agreed to call it a collision.

And so, there were two prongs here. One, was the airplane was a sensitive airplane. Two, the crew was safe, and they were in Hainan, and we wanted to get the crew out of there. And the crew was the more important of the two, because the airplane had a lot of sensitive gear, but we presumed they had been able to destroy a lot of it, which they had. Not all of it, but a lot of it.

So, at this time, Neal Sealock was the defense attaché. Another, Army, was a brigadier general, and was very, very good. I was itching to go to Hainan myself, because I wanted to muck with it down there. And -

James Green: You're a take charge kind of ambassador.

Joseph Prueher: Well, but then, with some counsel and also thinking about it, the real fight wasn't there. It was in Beijing. So, I needed to be in Beijing. So, Neal went to Hainan and did a great job of carrying our water down there. And he did, did a bang-up job. Took a couple of henchmen with him and did a great job.

So, he was ... we wanted to see the crew and that took a couple of days. So, Zhou Wenzhong, when we started the next morning, we had a meeting, and uncharacteristically he conducted it all in English. Which was a good sign. But it was quite tense at the time. And we needed, you know, President Bush had to have something to say about this, and so-

James Green: Because it had got out into the international press-

Joseph Prueher: Yeah, very quickly.

James Green: But yeah, quickly afterwards.

Joseph Prueher: Yeah.

James Green: So there needs to be some public acknowledgement-

Joseph Prueher: Yeah.

James Green: And something to say about it.

Joseph Prueher: And all of this is going back and forth through Colin Powell. Who did, I will say, in all the negotiations, he was just wonderful. Call me any time, night or day. And he would turn it in the Washington area and get back to me within an hour or so, about “okay, yes, no, maybe so.” And so, I think we really sort of by turning it that fast, “okay I'm ready for another meeting let's talk.” This cowed the Chinese a little bit in this regard.

Also, they were, I think President Bush through Colin Powell were given moderate things to say. The crew is out, is safe, they're not hurt. We'll get them. You know, they're safe on deck. That was the initial thing of what he had to say.

We did not come out and say, “our airplane had been rammed by a Chinese airplane,” which is in fact what happened. Okay. But-

James Green: Can we just spend one minute on the flight patterns, but for people who didn't follow it, there was a Chinese plane that had been close in to the US plane-

Joseph Prueher: Yeah, okay. Yeah, yeah.

James Green: Maybe you just spend a minute or two about what had actually happened in the air.

Joseph Prueher: The flights that we have, the airplane is an EP-3. It's a very heavily-loaded P-3 aircraft which was designed to be an anti-submarine aircraft. But it's had a lot of, Lockheed Electra is the airplane. It's a four-engine turbo prop. Good airplane, but the ones that are the EP-3s have a lot of extra weight on them. They're plodding airplanes that are not maneuverable. And they fly at a fairly low airspeed which is known as max endurance type, or a little bit above max endurance type, air speed. So, their time in the air is lengthened, not range necessarily. But they don't have a lot of excess energy to maneuver up there.

James Green: So, the idea is to get it up there, have it a slow flight path and do its thing- and then come back and land.

Joseph Prueher: That's right. The Chinese were in the habit of intercepting airplanes, which we would do also if their airplanes were flying off our coast, and we did do this during the Cold War.

James Green: And by intercept you don't mean to actually collide into, you mean to shadow the other plane.

Joseph Prueher: No, no, I mean joining up on them, shadowing, look at them, taking pictures of them et cetera.

So, they would intercept these. And in the East China Sea, the intercepts were generally quite controlled and benign. In the South China sea, a different command environment is all I have to say, base this on, is they were much bolder. You know, they would be more rapid rendezvous, and as it turns out we had some information on the pilot of this airplane who was killed after this thing. But we had pictures of him showing his, email address, one of them giving the international peace sign, the finger sign-

James Green: And you're saying that his plane was so close to the US plane that the US plane could take a photograph and see inside his cockpit and see?

Joseph Prueher: On previous intercepts.

James Green: On previous intercepts. Hmm.

Joseph Prueher: Previous intercepts. And he was, this guy whose name was Wang Wei, and I've avoided ever saying that in a public forum ‘cause if you get close to the English it trivializes it. And so, I'm not, but that was his name. But he'd joined up and in this case, what he did is he, when you're joining on air path, the people who are listening to this can't see my hands here, but when they're joining, you join at an angle, so you have both rate of closure and distance that you can work with to make it a safe rendezvous.

If you do, if you come in with too much closure rate-

James Green: Meaning come too close.

Joseph Prueher: Well, come too close too fast. Your rate of closure, you have to stop it in order not to hit the airplane. There, there's only really one way of doing it. And one is pull off, the other is tuck the wing up and you get your lift vector going that direction and you stop it. Or, what is the prescribed thing is, you under-run. You do under-running and then you come back and try again at a more measured pace.

So, anyway, what happened with this guy is, he apparently came in and had too much closure rate and he knocked off the wing tip and knocked off one of the engines and knocked off the nose cone of the EP-3. And then it damaged his airplane and he went down and if he ejected, we don't know that, but he perished.

Very, we're sorry you lost him. But the crew that flew the airplane ended up, the pilot did a great job of controlling the airplane. They called an emergency. The people on Hainan at the airfield in Hainan did what they're supposed to do under international law when an airplane's in extremis, is they let him land. Now the Chinese, if their communications were good, could have parked trucks on the runway and kept him from landing. They didn't do that. They did what they're supposed to do down there.

James Green: Which is to allow a distressed aircraft to land.

Joseph Prueher: Yes. And he called on the emergency, on the guard channel, and he did not get a response, but he came on in and landed. And there were Chinese airplanes in the air that were close to him, but he came in and landed. And all of that was what should have happened.

Now, back to the Chinese contentions. The collision occurred in international airspace. It did not occur in Chinese waters. He landed, he didn't have verbal permission, but he had called for landing and he didn't have a choice. He couldn't go around. So, he came in and landed. He did everything he could. He did not get a response to his calls.

James Green: And the aircraft was damaged, so there's no way for it to fly back to its own airfield.

Joseph Prueher: No, no. He couldn't, I mean he had to land right away. I mean, badly damaged airplane. So, he would not have made it ... And so, that was, that was the situation we had. So, in the negotiation with Zhou Wenzhong, we got into at first: who's fault is it? And despite, they didn't have any aerodynamics guys on their side of the argument, but they would say, you know, that our airplane ran into theirs, I said "no, that didn't happen. It couldn't happen." Talked about speeds and all these things. And they stopped trying to make that point but they said but they were stubborn about saying it was our fault. So, and we were going nowhere, because the argument was stalemated.

It happened that Ken Lieberthal was in Beijing on another project. And I'd known Ken from the Clinton administration. And it- remember this is the Bush administration now. But Ken's a pretty savvy guy. And I asked him to come to the embassy, and we went into the tank and I said "Hey, what's going on here?" And what I need to do right now is take a break. All right.

So, Ken came in and he said, "You're sort of stalemated right now in this negotiation. The only, the thing I think you oughta do is stop arguing about whose fault it is, and then if you can call it something else then you can get on with the negotiation.

So, I had discussed the tack we were taking with Colin Powell, and he had approved. And I was antsy about calling him back and saying, "Hey boss, you know what we're doing, I'd like to take a different tack." But I did. And he said, "Hmm." He didn't like it either. But he said "All right. Go ahead." So, we did. We said, we talked to Zhou Wenzhong, we had good discussions. I mean, he was, I knew he was getting a lot of guidance. And also concurrent with this was, we agreed to stop talking about who's fault it was. Because eventually, I think in a public forum we would win that argument. Just over the-

James Green: Over the physics of the flight?

Joseph Prueher: Yeah, and I think that they maybe knew that. But the other thing was, is, we're their biggest trading partner. Got the 2008 Olympics coming up, and WTO is still in the balance. And so, I think they were starting to think about these things. And so, that then was a shift, is what I knew then, was they wanted to solve this problem.

James Green: They stopped talking about, “you need to admit fault,” and needed to find some solution.

Joseph Prueher: Yeah, to find a solution to this thing-

James Green: Can I just ask on the Foreign Ministry side, I know Zhou Wenzhong was there and practiced and went on to be Ambassador to the United States.

Joseph Prueher: Yeah.

James Green: On their side, was there anyone from the PLA who was there who spoke?

Joseph Prueher: Not that I recall.

James Green: Zhou Wenzhong was the main speaker and he was the one who was there.

Joseph Prueher: He was the guy. So, after that, you know, in the evenings or after this, I was doing some, a couple of TV spots that were published back in the US. And I was confident that we would solve this. Neal Sealock had seen the crew; they were doing okay. They were, you know, they were going to do a hunger strike, 'cause they didn't like the food. And I mentioned this to Zhou Wenzhong and he said, "They're in a hotel in Hainan. Their lives are better than 98% of the Chinese, and they're on a hunger strike?" Sorta, "Give me a break!" But so, I said, "Go for it."

James Green: So, the crew was safe?

Joseph Prueher: Yeah, the crew were safe. And I was, at that time I was confident we'd get them out. So, I could go on a public forum and say, "This is where we wanna be right now. We're gonna get this solved." And say that with assurance. And my bosses could too. So, that went on.

But the negotiating went back and forth, and this, the saving face for the Chinese, yielded what is, I hate this term, but the “letter of the two sorrys.” I don't like that. But they said to get out of this, we've got to have, they didn't say an apology, but they, I wanted to use the word "regret". They said, "No we gotta have sorry."

So, I went, and I talked to Colin about this. I said, "There are two things," and I was thinking a lot like now. “What can I live with?” For me, I can say that I'm sorry your pilot was killed. And I can say, “I'm sorry you didn't hear us when we called to land.” And so that's what we said we were sorry about. And then, that's what was in the actual letter.

Probably in the various nuances of sorry and regret, they worked that when they translated it to Mandarin, and they got the letter. Also, it got distanced from the President, from the Secretary of State, to the Ambassador, so there was plausible deniability. And I understood all of that. And so did my bosses understand that.

And so that got the people out. We then made an arrangement for- we could have flown the airplane out. After some maintenance. And they said you can fly the airplane out on the 31st of May. Yeah, 30th of May is what they said. 'Cause that's it would take that long to fix the airplane to make it flyable. They told us we could do that.

Once we got the crew out, which was about eleven days after, Colin said this has got to shift to DoD and not be a State Department thing, because it's a DoD asset, and Rummy is going nuts with this thing, ‘cause he hadn't even been mentioned in the whole ...

So, I said, "Okay." So, I sent a cable to Secretary Rumsfeld that said, "We've been working this in the State Department channels, Secretary Powell has told me it's now Defense channels. I'm here.”

And basically, what I got back from him was, “sit down and shut up and we'll tell you what to do.” And he sent a guy over whose name I don't remember. He was Assistant Secretary of something. And he came in and there was no negotiating room for anything. And they asked me what's going on, and I said, I can't help this. You know, I can't solve this. I went back and said "We've gotta talk to them," and they said, "No, nothing." Just hard line, and-

James Green: And sorry, just to be clear, the DoD position was the plane should be able to leave? Or it needed to ...

Joseph Prueher: The DOD position was we're not going give anything. We don't agree with anything and we're gonna, we want-

James Green: Just give us our plane back.

Joseph Prueher: Yeah, give us our plane back. There was no mutual understanding involved in this. And it was, “Because we say so is why.” And so, the Chinese figuratively said, “Okay watch this.” And so, when we flew the crew out, we made arrangement. It had to be a commercial airplane, and we'd flown an airplane from Guam I think into Hainan. They're gonna load them on there at 7:00 in the morning. With no press, no nothing. I think the Chinese actually had a little press, but we'd agreed that.

But right before the airplane was supposed to take off, about, I think it was about 10:00 at night, Beijing time, which had been mid-morning, yeah that's about right, I got a call from Rich Armitage, who, Colin was in Europe at that time, he said, "Hey Joe, we got a problem." And I said, "What's that?" You know, we're right in the 11th hour here. And he said, "Rummy won't let the airplane take off from Guam."

And I said, "What? And you want me to call him, right?" And there's some history with Rich Armitage and Rumsfeld. That...

James Green: Not necessarily positive history.

Joseph Prueher: No, no, no, no. No, it wasn't. Of which I was aware. And he said, "Yes."

So, I called him, and he took the call right away. And he said, "I'm just, you know we don't have anything in writing from the Chinese. We don't have, what if they embarrass the president, do this." I said, "Sir, they've, they've advertised over here, they've said they're gonna do this, they're gonna do it. They don't do stuff in writing." You know? And I said, "You can blame me, if it falls. Blame me." He said "No, no, I'm not looking for somebody to blame. I just wanna protec-"

And I think I have to give him credit for being sincere in this. You know, he's playing hard ball, and I was just short of saying let me see, is it Rumsfeld, is it I-E or is it just F-E-L-D, and can I have your Social Security Number (laughing) and that. And I didn't do that, but I was thinking along those lines, if this deal falls through. And so, he said "No, no…Okay all right." And I called Rich Armitage back and he said, "He's already called. It's on." So, the airplane went, they picked them up, they took them out.

But we didn't get the airplane out, we got the airplane out in pieces. And so, I attribute that to a flawed negotiation. And that was the one thing I wanted to add. The other part of this is when the Foreign Ministry ... I couldn't get them to do stuff. And so, through Zeng Qinghong, we had talked when I came to be ambassador, because I'd met him before. And he had said, "We really can't be seen together." (laughs). You know? "It'll hurt my reputation." You know? And I mean, it was okay, he said, "but we just can't. You don't know it yet, but you don't wanna be seen with me, and I don't wanna be seen with you. But there's my guy Dai Bingguo." And he said, "You talk to Dai Bingguo. He will speak for me."

So, in this thing, I talked to Dai Bingguo. And he was getting word to the- Foreign Ministry wasn't passing word up the line. He did it.

And he, I can't remember even now what his job was, it wasn't the Communist Party School, but it was-

James Green: This is Dai Bingguo?

Joseph Prueher: Yeah.

James Green: He was probably in charge of the Communist Party's international departments.

Joseph Prueher: I think that's right, yeah. And so, he did that. And he, later on I thanked him, and he said "What are you thanking me for? I didn't know what" ... But anyway, I used a few capillaries. The other guy was the head of the Bank of China, and -

James Green: Was that Liu Mingkang? At the time?

Joseph Prueher: Liu Mingkang. Yeah. And talked to him, and they got word up the line. What I call the capillaries of the system. You know? The bypass.

James Green: Having other lines of communication than just the Foreign Ministry

Joseph Prueher: Yeah, yeah.

James Green: -was helpful to make sure the system understood what is actually going on.

Joseph Prueher: Yeah, 'cause I wanted the leadership to know what we're trying to do. And I did not have confidence that it was getting out of the Foreign Ministry, up the line.

So anyway, those two things occurred, and I don't know which of that worked or didn't work.

James Green: But flooding the zone was a way to make sure that all of it, as much information as possible got passed up to the decisionmakers.

Joseph Prueher: You know, some of these cups of tea were worthwhile. Or a beer maybe. Were worthwhile. So that was that was, that was a piece of it. And so, it ended up what I think was a good success. One, we didn't go back to Tiananmen Square, we kept it where it was, it was solved, satisfactorily for both sides, and it didn't create a worse flap. I mean, it could have been a huge flap. I mean, like the Belgrade bombing. Could have been a huge flap.

And so, I was, and then I left shortly thereafter. And that was…I came back in early May.

James Green: Right, very much shortly thereafter.

Joseph Prueher: Yeah, yeah. So that was it. The other, the other part is Li Zhaoxing, I mention that.

James Green: Former Foreign Minister, at the time Foreign Minister, former Ambassador to the United States.

Joseph Prueher: Yeah. And I'd met him before I went to China, when he was ambassador to the US. But after, we were having a press conference and Faye Sim was the interpreter. And Li talked at the thing and said you know, "You Americans don't understand about having lost a pilot and he's got a son that will grow up without a father." And I said, "Mr. Minister, nobody understands that better than I do." And he looked at me funny like that. And I didn't say anything more, but Faye starts, Faye was trying to interpret, and she knew my story, and she started crying (laughs).

And that, I mean, just some of the posturing that goes on is amazing.

Now, having said that, 'cause we're about to wind up here, you may have another couple of questions, but I sort of along the lines that I talked about with dealing with the Chinese these days, I really enjoy working with the Chinese. I think they're fun, they have a good sense of humor, they're a little bawdy sometimes, which suits my instincts a bit. So, I think there is hope to do it.

The other question about these are times, we're talking about early 2000s now, we're nearly twenty years later. Things are very testy and seem, I only know what I read, and there's, what you read, almost all of it is biased one way or another, so I try to filter that, but you know, if you get too proud nations that bring it to confrontational stuff, and neither is gonna give an inch, there’s a negotiating tactic which is there too, but it's not a good situation to have to go to the mat over every issue.

And I think the, one of the things that again happened early on. I got asked the question, the difference between the idea in the United States of manifest destiny and the idea of the Middle Kingdom. And here you have two entities, different styles of government. “Conceived in liberty, dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal, whether this nation or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated can long endure.” We've got two different styles of government there, that can either work together, which I think they can, or not.

I think the Chi- well, one of the things that, I don't agree with it, but I think we don't understand about the Chinese, I don't agree with the Chinese position on this, is falsifying records to get into schools and doing other things like that is an accepted practice. Stealing if you can get information, and we call it stealing, they just call it getting information. That's accepted practice. They don't see that that's ... I don't think that they see that it's a moral wrong. It's a business practice; if you can get away with it, it's all right.

These are problems we have to understand about each other. So.

James Green: Sir, maybe just as a summary, you mentioned negotiations a couple of times.

Joseph Prueher: Yeah.

James Green: Are there lessons you think, going forward, we can keep in mind from your time, both at CINCPAC-

Joseph Prueher: Yeah.

James Green: -and as the ambassador on how to negotiate? In a lot of ways China has changed and opened up and become more prosperous.

Joseph Prueher: Yeah, yeah.

James Green: In other ways their Marxist-Leninist system hasn't changed.

Joseph Prueher: Yeah.

James Green: And so, dealing with their officials in some ways really hasn't changed that much. And so, is there some guidance that you can kind of give us and give our successors at the Embassy and in the US government, and business, and other areas, about how to negotiate with the Chinese or principles or lessons?

Joseph Prueher: I'm not sure what I have, if my pontification will be helpful. But I talked about reading Dick Solomon's book about it, which helped me a lot.

But I think in any negotiation, this is a sort of a generalized thing, but if you enter a negotiation, the sort of the American way of doing stuff is to, "Let's get busy and get to it." I think first you have to realize, what are the hard points you have to get out of it, and what would you like to get out of it. You also have to understand that about the people on the other side of the table. What do they have to get...?

President Clinton was good at this. I mean he knew, "This guy's not going to be able to deliver that. You know, he can't do that." And whereas we, "Well he's gotta deliver it!" You know? Well he can't do it. And so, you've got to know what they have to get out of it, what they'd like to get out of it.

That's a lot of thinking and a lot of serious work to figure that out, about any negotiation. Particularly a big complex one. And then, you also, on the bigger negotiations, you're not just negotiating it. It's not like buying a tire. You know? It's not just a military thing. It's the whole of government and all these things. And you've gotta realize that these capillaries are going on all the time and just whoever's talking across the table to you are not necessarily the only conduits for information.

So, then if you know those things, then you start negotiating and figuring out what you can give up and what not. Now, I've heard some NSC people talk about a negotiation, it was a great negotiation. We got every expletive-deleted thing we wanted, and they didn't get anything. That's not a good negotiation. That's a negotiation if you're never gonna see the person again, or never do anything again. But if you're going to have a continuing set of negotiations, they're gonna try and stick it to you every chance they get. Which is ... so, people have to get out of it something.

So, I think in our negotiating, we need to be very much aware of that, and then have who the negotiator is. And if it's the President, Xi Jinping, one, they should not be the negotiators. There's gotta be a fallback position. Because they can't save face. That's where you get plausible deniability. Let the ...

And the Chinese, in my experience, in negotiating, sometimes the decisionmaker is in the third row. And, it's pretty handy to know that (laughs).

The actual negotiator can be sacrificed in this thing. Like the “letter of the two sorrys.” The negotiator can be sacrificed if need be, to get the solution you need.

So that's along those lines about all I've got.

James Green: Let's- no need to be modest. Thank you, Mr. Ambassador, Admiral. Great to see you again, I really appreciate your time, and your insights this afternoon.

Joseph Prueher: James, treat to be with you. Thanks so much.

James Green: Admiral Joseph Prueher, speaking with me from Virginia Beach, VA. You’ve been listening to the U.S.-China Dialogue Podcast from Georgetown University. I’m your host, James Green.