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Former secretary of state Madeleine Albright worked for National Security Advisor Zbignew Brzezinski in the Carter administration, then as UN ambassador and the first female secretary of state under President Bill Clinton.
Secretary Albright was at the heart of the U.S. effort in the 1990s to bring China into international institutions and groupings like the World Trade Organization and the Missile Technology Control Regime. This included coordination at the United Nations, where Albright built a working relationship with her Chinese counterpart Li Zhaoxing. After the mistaken bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade in May 1999, Albright raced over to see her old friend, Ambassador Li, who had moved to Washington to be the People’s Republic of China representative to the United States. The incident demonstrates one key element of the diplomatic toolkit: construction of those personal relationships to build credibility when times get tough.
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 the 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 former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Candidate Bill Clinton ran for the White House in 1992 condemning the "butchers of Beijing" -- that is, against the June 1989 military crackdown in Tiananmen Square and throughout China. After a few years of wrestling with how to address human rights, in the mid 1990s the Clinton Administration implemented a policy of building a "constructive strategic partnership" with China to address common interests like nonproliferation, climate change, and global growth.
Much of that policy was putting in place the mechanics of diplomacy that were never instituted in the 1980s: a presidential hot line, getting China into international institutions, and regular presidential visits. During one such visit, President Clinton hosted a remarkable press conference in 1997 with then-Communist Party General Secretary Jiang Zemin. In front of his Chinese counterpart, Clinton eloquently offered this judgment of the Tiananmen massacre and continued political repression:
President Clinton (audio): The United States recognizes that on so many issues, China is on the right side of history -- and we welcome it. But on this issue, we believe the policy of the government is on the wrong side of history. There is, after all, now a Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
James Green: In her discussion with me, Secretary Albright talks about her role in those presidential visits as the U.S.'s chief diplomat. She highlights the importance of building a good working relationship with the Chinese PermRep at the United Nations so that when rocky times came, she had established lines of communication to avoid escalation. That crisis came in the form of the U.S. mistaken bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, Yugoslavia in May 1999. But we begin our conversation with Secretary Albright's earlier work on Capitol Hill, her visit to China as a White House staffer in the late 1970s, and her inkling of momentous diplomatic change she learned about because of her smart decision to select a closet-sized office in the West Wing to be in the middle of it all.
James Green: Secretary Albright, thank you so much for taking time on this Georgetown project, so nice to see you again. Your personal history is extremely well known with Eastern Europe. I wanted to talk about your history with China, and particularly you worked for Senator Muskie and then the National Security Council under President Carter. Can you talk about your first trip to China, which was kind of in that time in the 1970s.
Madeleine Albright: I'm delighted to, and I'm very happy to be a part of this. What happened was that I had worked for Senator Muskie as his Chief Legislative Assistant and then I went to the National Security Council staff to work for Dr. Brzezinski in congressional relations. I had always thought that Ed Muskie was one of the really remarkable senators and chairman of the Budget Committee, and I was bound to make clear at the Carter White House of what an important person he was. So, that was a time when there were an awful lot of CODELs that were going to China-
James Green: Congressional delegations.
Madeleine Albright: Congressional delegations, in order for the people in Congress to understand a little bit, more what was going on with China. And so somehow at the last minute, somebody that was supposed to chair the CODEL couldn't do it. And so I suggested Ed Muskie, so then Ed Muskie asked me to come on the CODEL with him and it was, before normalization.
James Green: So this is, sorry, after Nixon's trip and before 1979?
Madeleine Albright: Yes. And so what happened was we started out in Shanghai and it really was so totally different, very sparse-
James Green: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Madeleine Albright: gray-
James Green: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Madeleine Albright: in many different ways. And I was back to Shanghai recently, so, just the comparison and I would get up very early in the morning and walk around by myself.
James Green: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Madeleine Albright: And there were the people there in their gray Mao suits, uh-
James Green: For they are exercising in the morning riding bicycles?
Madeleine Albright: No, no, mostly walking around in some way. They were fascinated by my shoes.
James Green: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Do you remember what kind of shoes they were?
Madeleine Albright: Just plain old high heels. But I was fascinated by the fact that despite that everybody had on these gray suits, I looked up and the laundry was colorful, and I thought 'ah-ha' there's something different going on underneath. And that is really my memory.
And so when I've gone to Shanghai since then -- the laundry, colorful laundry has been replaced by neon lights.
And so it still colorful. We then went on to Beijing and were able to really again see a very different kind of Beijing with lots of bicycles, but not a lot happening. Had quite a few meetings because this was a congressional delegation and there really were fascinating discussions about what was going on in both countries.
James Green: Mm-hmm (affirmative) And it was, sorry, a lot of the discussion about the Soviet Union or what was happening in that part of the relationship? Was it really just trying to learn more about what was happening in interior within China?
Madeleine Albright: I think it was more about learning what was happening. And I think the thing that was so interesting, and I remember some of the comments, by the other members of Congress who said, they all work so hard; we need more people, you know, that are so dedicated to working so hard. And so, I think they were very impressed with what they saw, the difficulty of the work. The possibilities for the country. Just a personal aspect of this. What happened was that Dr Brzezinski didn't want me to stay the whole time. Because he said I had other things to do, so I had to leave them after Shanghai, and Beijing, they went on and saw other parts of China.
And I think they learned a lot. And, and Ed Muskie, I think appreciated going, but it was a fascinating time to go before normalization and then kind of witness how the whole normalization process was taking place.
James Green: And you had been to places in other parts of the world. How would you say at that time kind of China compared to other kind of developing countries or, or Western Europe?
Madeleine Albright: I think that China really, and I shouldn't make a judgment just based on a couple of days, but in the severity of it and so many ways and the kind of, hard life -- you could see that there was really a hard life going on. And that there wasn't, a kind of, a sense that something different could happen, but it was severe. I had gone to a lot of, I had spent my own time in going to Central and Eastern Europe. And so, even in comparison to also Communist Central and Eastern Europe -- this was pretty tough going. I thought.
James Green: So if I could fast forward to your time at the United Nations, when you were ambassador, U.S. ambassador to the UN, and you had to deal with China, Li Zhaoxing was the Chinese ambassador [crosstalk] please of course, can you.
Madeleine Albright: Can I go back to something? Because one of the part, my job was to do congressional relations.
James Green: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Madeleine Albright: And I'm one of this people that had a choice when I got to the White House of either having a fancy office in the old executive office building.
Or literally a closet in the west wing, I chose the closet in the west wing and it was right near the situation room and there were all, there was always somebody going into the situation room for some kind of meeting. And I did my kind of, a content analysis by watching who was going into the situation room. And all of a sudden there were an awful lot of the China experts that were going, led by Mike Oxenberg.
James Green: Mm-hmm (affirmative). True, true.
Madeleine Albright: And so there was a sense that something was going on.
James Green: This is '78? It must have been, right?
Madeleine Albright: Yes. Right. And there was not an awful lot of discussion that went on around it.
James Green: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Madeleine Albright: And by the way, I, when I was, when I went to China was in '78. So this was just around that whole time, but there was this kind of sense that something was going to happen by just the gatherings.
James Green: Wow.
Madeleine Albright: And then of course there was the declaration of normalization and an awful lot of, kind of a sense of having done the right thing, by the Carter Administration and Dr. Brzezinski, and the pleasure of Deng Xiaoping coming to the United States and a sense of celebration and of having accomplished something that was akin to what Secretary Kissinger had done.
James Green: Wow. On that, I wonder if we could ask. I know Dr. Brzezinski was a mentor of yours; when I went to graduate school at SAIS, I had a chance to take his class. Incredible professor. He wrote a note to President Carter just before the Deng Xiaoping visit and I wonder if I can get you to react to it just to kind of see where we are now on relations. He was trying to set up US-China relations, he said, 'Our long term objective is to include China in the international framework of cooperation, which we are attempting to build among the key nations of the world. The global dispersal of power precludes the possibility of either a Pax Americana or a world order through Soviet American Condominium. But we believe we can attain national security in a world of diversity in part by cultivating good relations with the newly emerging countries, none of which is more important than China.' This was in 1979. How do you think Dr. Brzezinski's analysis holds up now?
Madeleine Albright: I think it, as always, is a brilliant analysis in terms of how he saw things. And I think that they evolved in that way. And we can talk more about how this view that China could be a partner in an international system and how it was worth looking at the various steps to make that happen. So in many ways, the strategy that was followed out by first President Carter and then by other presidents, certainly by President Clinton also was something that fulfilled what Dr. Brzezinski had said and written.
And by the way, the interesting part about him, I took a course from him at Columbia. In 1963 when he talked about comparative communism. If you can believe that when, everybody thought it was a monolith. And so, he really was a great mentor.
James Green: Wow. Well, on international systems. I wonder if we could move to the UN and your time there because I think that was a time when China was, had joined the UN in 1971 over U.S. objections and, Li Zhaoxing I think was the, your counterpart as their Chinese Perm Rep and you were the U.S. ambassador. What do you remember about that time or kind of what issues that you had to work with China on, or was trying to kind of, a secondary thought as, as you know, we were moving forward with U.S. foreign policy objectives?
Madeleine Albright: There was a different, ambassador Li just before Li Zhaoxing. But when I got there and it followed even through when Li Zhaoxing was there, is that there was a sense that China didn't really participate in discussions very much unless it has something to do with interference and internal affairs.
But otherwise they were not kind of active discussants. And the thing that I think most people don't understand is most of the meetings of the Security Council don't take place in that fancy room.
They take place in a back room where there's an awful lot of discussion. You'd still do sit with your country signs in front of you. But there really is a lot of discussions.
James Green: It's a real dialogue between members.
Madeleine Albright: A real dialogue and, then you also see the same people over and over again. It's kind of like a college seminar. And you get to know people very well. But it was interesting to try to get the Chinese to participate to the point. And I felt this was when Li Zhaoxing came, that we were friendly enough for me to give him a little blue ball so that he could strengthen his hand to raise it to-
James Green: (laughs).
Madeleine Albright: To talk. And because there were clearly meetings of the P2 with the British and then the P3 with the French. And then when I was there, actually the P4 or just with the Russians because it was a post-communist period. But it was very hard to get the Chinese really to participate. The other part that I remember very well is, they had a hard time getting their instructions because night as day-
James Green: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Because of the time difference.
Madeleine Albright: Right. And they could always, have an excuse when the vote came, in order not to be able to go into the blue, and try to figure out how to vote and the time-
James Green: So 'going to blue' what is that phrase mean?
Madeleine Albright: I'm sorry. What happened was that, resolutions would be written. And then there was a lot of discussion of them and 'going into blue' literally would be printed in blue.
James Green: I see.
Madeleine Albright: And then you would theoretically be ready. You'd get your instructions and be able to go into the fancy room. And vote on it. So, it's interesting because partially they were reluctant to get involved. It didn't, it didn't seem as though they had a larger world view-
At that time. And also because they had trouble getting their instructions, but it changed in many different ways because I think that, we pushed -- Americans-- to try to get them more involved in discussion. And I don't want to overstate my own importance, but I think that when Li Zhaoxing came to Washington and I became secretary of state, we had a relationship that had developed, either over the blue ball-
James Green: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Madeleine Albright: Or just trying to, talk to each other more in this kind of seminar-like atmosphere.
James Green: Well you had mentioned a sovereignty as being a particularly sensitive issue on the Chinese side. And this is the time, this is '93 to '97. When you were at the UN. This is at a time when, as you had mentioned with the kind of cold war was over, and the U.S. was looking more seriously at humanitarian intervention and kind of what the rule should be in the international community. Could you just express your understanding of how the Chinese saw it and how that differed from the U.S. view?
Madeleine Albright: I think that the thing that differed, because one of the things that was beginning to happen, one could say that we didn't know what was happening in other countries during World War II.
Or whatever. I'm not sure I would agree with that. But we could say that. And all of a sudden we knew a lot about what was happening everywhere. And there were some very serious issues that the UN Security Council was dealing with. It was the end of the Cold War, and it changed the relationship with the Russians. It meant that we really could have more discussion. And we were concerned about what was happening specifically in the Balkans. And also then in Africa.
And talking about, for instance, whether a feeding program in Somalia had all of a sudden turned into an intervention in Somalia-- or what was happening, in Latin America with Haiti. And so there really was a lot of discussion. And one of the really hard parts, did have to do when the Chinese did get involved. And I'd actually forgotten about this -- but what happened was that we needed to get approval of a peacekeeping operation in Haiti. And they were very concerned about it, because in fact, Haiti had recognized Taiwan,
James Green: That is, Haiti had diplomatic relations with Taiwan and not with mainland China.
Madeleine Albright: Not with Mainland China. And so the Chinese were not very willing to support a peacekeeping operation in Haiti. And yet we needed it very much. And so I did a lot of back and forth. And one of the problems diplomatically is, if you are at a public meeting, and there's somebody that you don't deal with, you don't shake hands with them or do anything like that, but, and you try to be diplomatic at the same time. But I will never forget being in Port-au-Prince once the new president was being inaugurated, and all of a sudden the Taiwanese were everywhere. And because he, the Taiwanese representative, there was the highest ranking person. He was sitting on the platform, and, in visibility. And I come back to New York and the Chinese ambassador was not very happy about what happened. So there would...
James Green: That you were somehow endorsing Taiwan's diplomatic status by even attending.
Madeleine Albright: And then Aristide came to the General Assembly and spoke and said thank you to the Taiwanese. So there were certain things that the Chinese got very exercised about and were involved, and other times when they really were not part of the discussion.
James Green: Oh. Fascinating. So, you come to Washington again after your service, the UN, to be Secretary of State. I was looking back at the late 1990s to look at your trips to China and you, your trips to China. You went on four or five of them during that time was ranked as some of the, the most of any secretary of state until Secretary Clinton came. And then she went to China like eight or nine times. But, but you really spent a fair amount of time going.
And one of the things that I know you were doing in '97 and '98 was to get ready for President Clinton's trip there in '98. And at that time, it's hard to remember, but human rights was just an incredibly important issue, kind of politically speaking in Washington as to what was happening in China. What do you recall about your trips in '97 and '98 on human rights? And just kind of more broadly about how those trips went?
Madeleine Albright: Well. In '97, first it was very interesting because, what had been really the custom was the secretary of state in United States on his trip, would go to Europe and that was it. And I decided that on my first trip I wanted to go to Europe and Asia. And so I was going to China. And Deng Xiaoping had just died. And the question was whether they wanted me to come then or not, and they decided they did, which I thought-
James Green: Interesting.
Madeleine Albright: ... was very interesting. but it was kind of at an early stage, I think kind of a sense that they wanted to have a different relationship. And so, and then there were a number of times that I met with Qian Qichen, the foreign minister, which also I have to say as kind of the continuation of getting the Chinese more involved in, not just putting their hand up to vote, but in what they thought about strategy.
So what would happen is there was a meeting that I had with Qian Qichen once and I said, here are my talking points. Give me your talking points and why don't I, I would like to know what you think about overall National Security strategy. So I must say that we did see them, during the Clinton administration as being part of a system of an international system, not kind of exotic group of people that never had any say in things, in some ways kind of just pushing them to, to get more involved.
And I think it was the right thing to do because it was part to go back to Dr. Brzezinski's note, because it really was a way to try to bring them in. So I did go to China a number of times. One of the times that I was still at the UN, when the women's conference happened. And what happened was, and it was very controversial by the way, because what had happened was that the decision to have the women's conference in Beijing was taken before the Clinton administration. But then there were questions about why were we going there? And then when first lady Hillary Clinton decided to go, why would the first lady honor them with this? And then there were, you know, what would the delegations look like? What were we going to talk about?
James Green: And the underlying concern was that, human rights in China or that the way women were treated in China with somehow unfair or not representative of UN or American values? Was that the kind of crux of the issue?
Madeleine Albright: Well part of the issue was that nobody that we were going to talk, had to talk about values. I think one of the things that we felt was very important, and it was important at the UN and then later is that the U.S. would always talk about what our values are. It might not be the only point in the talking points, but there really, it was very basic that it always did happen. And so it was that. And then, how would they even run a conference? And why were we giving all that honor to the Chinese especially when there was a problem with a dissident, that was not being treated very well.
James Green: And this is only a few years after the Tiananmen crackdown. So Tiananmen was in 1989 and this would have been in '93 or '94. Yes, so only a few years after.
Madeleine Albright: And I, but I have to say, and frankly, practically every administration that I've studied starts out not very well with the Chinese. And if you remember, President Clinton talked about the butchers of Beijing. And so that was one of the things that kind of was in a kind of, an overhang of a variety of things. And so how would an American delegation behave? Who would be a part of it? So it was a, in some ways, fairly treacherous. And then, so we decided to go and, Hillary Clinton decided to go. It was kind of complicated because many of us had not gone at that.
I mean, I, as I said, I had not gone since '78. But it was, in Beijing, there were all kinds of reports about how they were getting ready for all these women. All these lesbians. And so --there were -- we get there and somebody came up to me and said, where is this country of Lesbia?
James Green: (laughs).
Madeleine Albright: You know, but or in the hotel where, clearly there was -- one of the people on the delegation was ironing, which you're not supposed to do in the hotel. And all of a sudden somebody bursts into her room cause they were watching. Or in the bathroom, you could see that the mirror didn't fog up all the way. And so a number of things. So it was kind of difficult in a number of ways how we would operate, and, how the speaking order would go. And then, what happened with the NGO, the non-governmental organization groups, where would they meet? And so it looked fairly, co... It was complicated. And logistically in addition to ideologically, and it was incredible, I have to say because it was a huge conference and it wasn't easy to the speaker to get attention.
But when Hillary Clinton spoke, it was stunning, and she came out with women's rights are human rights and human rights are women's rights. And it resonated in the hall. But it resonated throughout. And it certainly did in Beijing and at the NGO conference. And then when we left, and one of the things that came as a result of that was the signing up by various countries to a national plan about how they would fulfill the Beijing Women's Conference.
James Green: Mm-mm (negative).
Madeleine Albright: And so, now when you say Beijing Women's conference is just emblematic of the kinds of things that the Clinton administration thought was important to deal with the Chinese, but also never to forget about our values system.
James Green: Wow. Thank you. I thank you for bringing back the Women's Conference, that that was a really critical area at the beginning of the administration to kind of talking about that. So in your ' 97 and '98 trips, could you just describe for people that haven't been in Chinese government meetings, what they're like. They have kind of the big horseshoe and you're kind of seated up at the foot of the horseshoe or the 'U' part of the horseshoe and kind of how those sorts of just the physical arrangements are in the meetings compare with maybe European countries or other countries that, that kind of mechanical set up on the diplomacy.
Madeleine Albright: Well. I think first of all, it's overwhelming how large everything is.
James Green: (laughs).
Madeleine Albright: The buildings are large. Beijing, I had fewer bicycles then, but still very large. And a lot of people at it very, very formal. In terms of the way they are set up. The translations, this is not, there are very few people when you go with the delegation that actually speak Chinese or speak English. And so, they are very long meetings.
And very formal, stylized, in many ways. There's less kind of small talk even at the dinners around that. And there are a lot of dinners with many, many, many courses.
Mostly, you don't know what they are. But it's a very formalized aspect I think much more so than any other place. And the European ones are, people that know each other from somewhere. I think probably now there are so many people that know each other from different lives, and all the interaction that's taken place since. But when I was there, it was pretty formal kind of meetings and then, ways of, you didn't kind of have press conferences, and getting in and out of the buildings and motorcades and so, pretty formal.
James Green: So you had mentioned you had kind of formed a relationship with Li Zhaoxing in New York that then served you well here in Washington. Is there any other ways that you could see to kind of break through that bubble? One of the challenges on the Chinese side is they have to report up their chain if they become too close to an American so that there's kind of limits on their side. But is there any way that, that you felt you could kind of break through with your Chinese interlocutor? Qian Qichen is an amazing diplomat and was quite good on their side, but is there a way to think about it?
Madeleine Albright: A little bit. I have to say, I mean I felt that way with Li Zhaoxing, although we had some difficult times.
James Green: We'll get to that.
Madeleine Albright: Yes. But I, I do think it's a little harder because you can't tell whether you're making their life more complicated or at least at that stage.
James Green: Good point.
Madeleine Albright: In terms of getting too friendly. And especially if it's somebody that you've known from somewhere before. So I think it's, it's a little bit harder. I can't say I really did. Maybe a little bit in the shopping department.
James Green: Right. So, I wanted to bring you to your time here in Washington when Li Zhaoxing was ambassador, and in April 1999, a U.S. jet flying under a NATO command mistakenly bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. And, let's just say the Chinese side was rather upset. I know you took a trip to the Chinese, old Chinese embassy here in Washington. Can you talk a little bit about the lead up to it and that visit?
Madeleine Albright: Well, first of all, the thing that had happened was, actually it was a Saturday night and I had just been to the wedding of somebody that had worked for me. Katie Bartles. And so then, I go home and I turned on the TV and I see ambassador Jim Sasser at a window at our embassy with crowds outside yelling and screaming.
What happened was, during the war in Kosovo, it was not simple to decide that we would have an air campaign. And we all talked about it in Principals meetings and President Clinton agreed that we should do it. And, but it wasn't simple in so many ways, because when it started in March, the weather was bad and the Serbs put out decoys and, just very complicated in every single way.
James Green: And sorry, the rationale for the campaign was?
Madeleine Albright: Was that in fact, the Serbs were ethnically cleansing the Kosovars. And we had tried every kind of diplomatic thing to make them stop. Multilateral, conferences. Diplomatic. I did a lot of bilateral, all kinds of things to make them stop. We really did try the diplomatic tool, and things kept getting worse.
And we had intelligence that the Serbs were going to take even stronger action in terms of ethnically cleansing. And so after some difficulty, we made up our minds that we would, in fact, use air power. One of the issues, frankly, also was that I had been, I was pretty sure that the Russians would veto whatever we were going to do in the Security Council. So we went to NATO with it. So it was a NATO operation.
James Green: And this is because you felt the Russians and the Serbs had a particular bond. And so the Russians weren't going to support any sort of action?
Madeleine Albright: It was very clear the Russians would not. What happened was I actually went to Moscow to talk to the Russians about it, for once I was able to take advantage of the fact that in the hotel they had listening devices everywhere. And after the Prime Minister Primakov at the time, we had gone to the opera, had told me during intermission that they would not allow us to use the Security Council for this. I was able to call the foreign ministers one at a time. And I figured that if I'd gotten the message wrong, the Russians would tell me because they clearly were listening. So we did start in, in March. And so, but then all of a sudden later, in this list of things that were going wrong, my executive assistant, I came in, in the morning and he says, sit down.
I said, what's the matter with you? He said, just sit down. So I sat down and he said, we have just bombed the Chinese embassy by mistake. So we knew, you know, and tried to figure out what really had happened. There had been a mistake. And, I have to intervene to tell you a story, which is that I had gone after I was out of office and everything, I went up to talk to the Chinese, the Caucus on China in Congress and, Dr. Kissinger was supposed to go, but he couldn't. So I went and the person that was the head of the China Caucus was congressman Kirk from Illinois.
And he was saying that we needed better relations with the Chinese, but he then told me that he was in the airplane.
James Green: Wow. I had no idea.
Madeleine Albright: And I was just stunned. And so then he said that when they landed back in Aviano and pushed back the canopy, they said, do you guys know what you just did? You bombed the Chinese embassy by mistake.
James Green: Wow. I had no idea.
Madeleine Albright: So anyway, so, we were trying to figure out what happened and, and, whether it was the buildings look the same or whether it was kind of like Park Avenue and Madison Avenue where the cross streets and the numbers don't match and all that. So we knew, I mean, it did happen that we bombed them. So then to get back to the evening of the wedding, I'm watching and Jim Sasser's being, trying to deal with the mobs and I thought we need to do something about this
James Green: And these were Chinese students who were upset-
Madeleine Albright: Protesting.
James Green: Or bused in protesting that the U.S. had bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade?
Madeleine Albright: Right. Exactly. So I decided I needed to go to the Chinese embassy in Washington to try to explain to them that it was a mistake.
James Green: Because you felt like they didn't really, they were protesting that was intentional.
Madeleine Albright: They would say it's not, they were -- they thought it was intentional. And so I decided I needed help going over there. So I called General Joseph Ralston who was vice chair of the Joint Chiefs. And I had to laugh. He was over at Fort Myers and he said, I don't have a car. And I said, I'll come get you. So I went over there, then I asked Tom Pickering and Ken Lieberthal...
James Green: Mm-hmm (affirmative). From the White House and the Undersecretary of State.
Madeleine Albright: To go with us. And we get to the Chinese embassy and there's my friend Li Zhaoxing. And he is saying, all of a sudden cameras come into the room, and he is blaming us for everything. And I kept saying it was a mistake, it was a mistake. And he said, no, it wasn't, you know, you're accurate. I can't remember exactly. But basically our reputation for accuracy...
James Green: Your precision munitions knew exactly what they were hitting.
Madeleine Albright: Exactly. So I said, we apologize. It was a mistake. And then I said to him, may I speak to you alone? And so what....
James Green: Because you guys were in a room with cameras -- at it was a kind of performance at the beginning.
Madeleine Albright: So he said yes. So I asked everybody to leave and I said to him, look, it really was a mistake and I'm really sorry and I don't want to get him into trouble even now. But he said, I think I understand that, but I have to do what I have to do. And so it was kind of, he had to make clear that he was mad at us about everything. So then what happened was his time to leave, and we're going out one of the doors and all of a sudden these people who said they were journalists said, we can't let this have happened. And you killed our colleagues and all that.
James Green: Right. Sorry, the three Chinese officials who were killed in Belgrade were nominally Chinese journalists.
Madeleine Albright: Yes right. And I kept saying, I was amazed we got out because they were so-
James Green: ... Of the building itself.
Madeleine Albright: Yes. They were so angry at us. But I have to tell you something. Even later when I went to China again, they were absolutely convinced that we had done it on purpose, which then began to convince me that they must have been doing something in that Chinese Embassy that we should have been suspicious about. But I do believe that it was an accidental bombing.
James Green: Yeah. Thank you. The three officers who were killed were nominally journalists. There are other folks who said they were intelligence officers. And so that kind of adds the level of confusion and the finger pointing.
Madeleine Albright: But it did something that stuck with all the relationships that I had after that with the foreign ministers that followed Qian Qichen.
James Green: How so?
Madeleine Albright: Because every time that we had a conversation, no matter what we were talking about, they said, you know, you bombed our embassy. And so it was very much part of the talking points.
James Green: Can I just end your time with the, the Clinton administration talking about China's entry into the World Trade Organization and you are not the U.S. trade representative. And I spoken to Charlene Barshefsky and she's of one of the folks who are on this series of podcasts. But from your recollection of the foreign policy aspect of it, that kind of strategy part of it, of bringing China into the WTO. Zhu Rongji visited in 1999 just before the bombing. What do you recall about those discussions and what the thinking was about bringing China into the World Trade Organization?
Madeleine Albright: Well, I think it was a very important time in terms of, to go back to the original concept that we wanted to bring China into an international system. And there were questions about what their trading practices were and issues on intellectual property and a number of different things. Until then, because we were doing permanent trading relations with China. Every year there would be questions about what were Chinese human rights activities, what were their various trading principles? And I remember describing it, it was like pulling up a plant once a year to see if it's growing.
And very hard in terms of having some kind of a functional relationship with the Chinese. And again, I repeat, we did have this view that we wanted China to be, not just vote in the Security Council, but to be part of a strategy. What did they think was happening in the rest of the world? So that was the basis in addition to thinking about real problems that Ambassador Barshefsky was dealing with, intellectual property issues and a variety of things. But part of the other reason was that bringing them into the WTO was a way to have help internationally on some kind of ways that the rules would be obeyed. That it wasn't just the United States telling the Chinese what to do, but that this was the international system and that they would respond to the international practices. That was the point of it.
James Green: The Clinton administration left office in January 2001, you started this very successful firm and have done a lot of other things. I know that you've gone back to China a number of times, including from discussions with the Communist Party. And those are kind of interesting discussions. With leaders of the Democratic Party and Republican Party, although not the RNC and DNC specifically. I know one of the areas on foreign policy that Communist Party deals with is North Korea and they're kind of brethren in the communist world. How did you find those discussions and, can you describe what those are like for those who aren't in kind of party to party discussions?
Madeleine Albright: Well, the party discussions really were, it was an invitation from the International Department of the Communist Party to political people. And so initially the Republicans didn't want to go. And so, I thought the Democrats shouldn't go by ourselves, but the Republicans decided that they would go with us and it was a little bit, of a pickup team. And, we were, what happened we're all sitting there on the democratic side. I chaired it and Tom Daschle, majority leader, and or former majority leader-
James Green: Former majority leader.
Madeleine Albright: And governor Howard Dean. And on the Republican side, Richard Williamson, who had been a negotiator for President Bush, Mike Dunkin, who had been chairman of the Republican Party, and Vin Weber, former member of Congress. And so what happened was that, the, Chinese were explaining their party system.
And all of a sudden I couldn't stand it. And I said, excuse me, but our party system's a little bit different from yours. We don't know how many people we really have in the party-
James Green: As party members.
Madeleine Albright: As party members. And, we don't, nobody has to fill out an application or goes to party school. And one of the things when you're secretary of state, people don't speak unless you say, 'Ambassador Green, would you like to say something,' but that is not how it worked. So Howard Dean pipes up and he says, we do know how many people we have because of the great database I established. And Mike Duncan, the Republican not to be out done, said, yeah, and we did psychological profiles of 200 million people and everybody's eyes are going around. And this Rich Williamson, that I didn't know until then sends me a note forever endearing himself saying, well, if that's true, how come we lost the election?
James Green: (laughs).
Madeleine Albright: So it was kind of crazy, but my question when we were meeting with that particular group was that, why did they want to meet with us? And I think that the reason is that they have pressure at the bottom of their pyramid between urban, rural and rich and poor, and that they wanted to know what we did to relieve the pressure because it was...
James Green: What was the role of political parties and kind of mediating society problems?
Madeleine Albright: Generally. We'd had a number of meetings over the years with that group. There were other meetings where in fact, that were sponsored by the Aspen Institute where we would have some discussions about North Korea.
And I think that we were kind of scoping each other out in terms of what could and couldn't be done, how they felt about the North Koreans. At that point I had been the highest level American official to go to Pyongyang. So we kind of exchanged views.
James Green: And you had driven up from Seoul, is that right? You hadn't gone through Beijing to Pyongyang?
Madeleine Albright: No.
James Green: You drove up through Seoul?
Madeleine Albright: Actually flew in from Seoul to Pyongyang.
James Green: Okay.
Madeleine Albright: And it was really so interesting because going back, I noticed this more than anything as you're flying over in North Korea, it's just dark and then you cross into South Korea and it's like neon movie, totally, totally different. So we were kind of exchanging views. But I don't think, I didn't get a sense that the Chinese were that much more knowledgeable than we were...
James Green: Despite their communist ties.
Madeleine Albright: Despite their communist ties.
James Green: Right. But that you would have gone at the end of the Clinton administration when there was a sense that maybe there would be a diplomatic breakthrough with North Korea that did didn't end up happening. During that time, I'm talking about North Korea. Do you remember the Chinese playing a particularly important role in that aspect of your travel to North Korea?
Madeleine Albright: No. I don't, I do not really.
James Green: Yeah.
Madeleine Albright: I mean, part of the thing that happened by the way, there had been talks going on with the North Koreans since the beginning of the Clinton administration. And one of the first things that happened at the UN was the North Koreans were threatening to get out of the Nonproliferation Treaty then. So we were dealing with that. And there had been a number of talks, different kinds of talks. And the thing that's unfortunate I think is timing. That the North Koreans hadn't had this idea until kind of late summer 2000.
And what had happened was the number two guy Vice Marshal Chi had come over to the U.S., and we were in the Oval office and he's dressed in full uniform, gives President Clinton a folder that had in it an invitation for him to come to North Korea. And President Clinton said, well, maybe at some point I'd go, but it has to be prepared.
And so I'm going to ask the secretary to go. They weren't real happy about that.
James Green: And I know you're very excited.
Madeleine Albright: Yes, right. But the problem was we had no idea what I was going to do and because we have no Embassy there or anything.
So I did not get a sense of the Chinese. Unless there was something going on that I didn't know. But really, we ran out of time.
James Green: Fascinating.
Madeleine Albright: And then the election of 2000 happened. But, we had begun some of the negotiations because this was about missile limits. And there had begun to be negotiations in Kuala Lumpur and then the election changed all that.
James Green: Right. All right, well, I wanted to ask you kind of a couple of big picture things to wrap up. You talk often, I know in your class at Georgetown and other places about the kind of diplomatic toolkit. In your experience, what do you think could have worked with China in the diplomatic toolkit to kind of get a -- it's hard to get other countries to do things that you want broadly speaking, but what do you think works in the, in the Chinese context?
Madeleine Albright: Well, I have to give you some context of what I, I always say that as a diplomat, every country makes decisions based on the same five factors. And it's very important to know what, when you're sitting at a table, what the other countries five factors are.
So one factor is objective. What is the location, geographical location of the country, what is the population count, things that are countable? And then the second factor is subjective. How does a country feel about itself at any given time? How did the people feel? The third factor is how the government is organized. We know what ours is, but you know, Chinese one party system, et cetera. The fourth are the bureaucratic politics which are reflected in how the budget looks. And the fifth is the role of individuals. And so in order to know how to treat another country, you need to know what their five factors are and then try to figure out what tools are the most useful.
And I do think that it's a combination of them, which is diplomacy, bilateral and multilateral is kind of the bread and butter tool. The tool that is chosen the most often because it's the middle option is the economic tool. Either trade and aid or sanctions. And then there's the threat of the use of force, the use of force, intelligence and law enforcement. That's it.
So I think as far as the Chinese are concerned, I think that diplomacy is the most important. But clearly the economic tools are very much in play now mainly because so much of our relationship is based on the intersection of our economic systems and the influence that one has on another and how dependent we are on each other. So I think that's what we're seeing.
There is however, a show of force going on with the, what's happening in the South China Sea and pushing on some of the freedom of navigation points. There have been military to military talks that sometimes take place at strange times, but concern about accidents and how those would work. So in many ways you have to use all the tools, but statecraft is trying to figure out which tool to use when.
James Green: Sure. I wanted to end. You've got a very successful book on fascism -- congratulations on that. And you've spent a lifetime working with communists and post communist states and single party states and multiparty states. And I guess I would just say is there anything from your book on fascism that helps understand the way the communist party of China works or those sorts of systems can work? And understanding that fascism is kind of the single party state at the end and single party state from the right and communist China around single party state in the left. But kind of broadly speaking on how those states work or how to interact with them or how we can think about them? Is there, there's something from your long career and in the book that you think could be helpful?
Madeleine Albright: I think you've summarized things very well. And one of the things that I, as I did research for my book, was the historical aspect of things. And what separates communist systems from the others is revolution. What happened, Mussolini and Hitler came to power constitutionally. Because in Italy, King Emmanuel transferred power to Mussolini and Germany, von Hindenburg to Hitler. The current ones that I described now, as dictatorial authoritarian systems, everybody was elected. In Hungary, Orban was elected. I talk about Poland, Turkey, Philippines, Venezuela. So they were all elected. The difference about left wing and totalitarianism is that they come from revolutions. That was true in Russia and it was true, in China. And, but the result is the same in terms of control by one party with no role for a minority.
And then one thing that's unfortunately becoming truer -- fascism is hard to define, by the way. I mean, we kind of tossed the term around anybody we disagree with is a fascist, but it is a process not so much in ideology when it's coming from the right.
There's more ideology on the left, but it is the identification of the leader with one group of people at the expense of another. And to some extent, what's happening in China now with the Uighers, is pointing them out as kind of the scapegoat for things that are going wrong. And so the process of it, whether it's by revolution or by election, that way of dealing with a minority and blaming it for economic problems or-
James Green: Social problems.
Madeleine Albright: Terrorism or social problems, I think that is something that's similar.
James Green: Secretary Albright, thank you so much for the walk down memory lane and sharing your thoughts about how to deal with China. I really appreciate it.
Madeleine Albright: Well, thank you. I think this is a great project. I'm glad you're doing it.
James Green: Thanks so much.
Secretary Madeleine Albright, speaking with me from Washington, DC. You’ve been listening to the U.S.-China Dialogue Podcast from Georgetown University. I’m your host, James Green.