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What is it like to play tennis with the "Butcher of Beijing" Premier Li Peng? How do diplomats prepare for secret negotiations with a country after 22 years of estrangement? How can the United States balance pursuing its global interests while remaining a moral actor and a force for human dignity?
Former U.S. ambassador to China and former assistant secretary of state for East Asia Winston Lord describes his role in the diplomatic outreach to the People's Republic of China under the Nixon administration, what demonstrators in Tiananmen Square were pushing for in the spring of 1989, and why the issue of human rights dominated much of U.S. policy toward China in the 1990s. With over three decades of experience at the highest levels of diplomacy, Ambassador Lord shares his unique insights on how Chinese government officials and top leaders interact with their American counterparts.
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 Winston Lord.
Almost no other U.S. official has had the range of experience in dealing with China as Winston Lord. This blue-blooded New Yorker and Yale grad participated in highest levels of decision making and negotiations around U.S. foreign policy for over three decades. From his time as a special assistant to National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger in the Nixon White House, to Ambassador to China in the run-up to the June 1989 Tiananmen crackdown, to the Assistant Secretary of State in the 1990s handling human rights and trade, Win Lord was literally present at the creation of diplomatic ties between the United States and China.
To set the stage, here's Kissinger, years later, explaining the secret trip he took with Win Lord to Beijing in 1971. They met with the Chinese Premier at the time, Zhou Enlai, to work on the President's pending visit.
Henry Kissinger (audio): I went to China in October, he was going in February, to prepare the communiqué and to prepare the visit, to work out an agenda, to pick the topics. And we had prepared a sort of typical kind of communiqué. And at the first session, Zhou Enlai said, "Okay, we’ll look at it." But then he came back having consulted with Mao, and Mao said, "This is bullshit."
James Green: In his wide-ranging discussion with me, Ambassador Lord explains why he is a "flaming centrist" in foreign policy, about how Chinese Communists differ from Vietnamese and Soviet counterparts, and about how Chinese Premier Li Peng rigged a mixed-doubles tennis match when he was U.S. Ambassador. As he moves into his eighth decade, Lord slyly invokes Lady Gaga in explaining how Chinese diplomacy can be incredibly nuanced and charming towards old friends. Ambassador Lord concludes with some frank words for how current critics of diplomatic dialogue with China has twisted the historical record.
Ambassador Winston Lord, thank you so much for taking time, I really appreciate it. You've got such a great personal history working on China and on East Asia. Before getting to the specifics of your career, I just want you to step back and put your policy planning strategy hat on and think about your own views on foreign policy. In the literature, there's the realists and then there's the idealists, and it seems to me in your career, you've kind of done a little bit of both. That is, you've been a pragmatist in dealing with the Vietnam War when you were at the NSC, but then on human rights issues in China more kind of tending towards the idealist side of American foreign policy. How do you see yourself and your time of working on China and on Asia?
Winston Lord: Well, I'm a flaming centrist in general and including on this debate in foreign policy about pragmatism versus idealism, which in many ways, I think is a phony distinction. But I'm a classic schizophrenic if you look at my background. On the one hand, I was Kissinger's closest associate for eight years and his emphasis on human rights is not uncontrolled. Although he cares about them, he's a classic realpolitik pragmatist and I have great respect and affection for him and helped to carry out those kinds of policies. On the other hand, my mother was ambassador for the United States to the United Nations for human rights taking Eleanor Roosevelt's place. My wife was chair of Freedom House, which promotes democracy, and got an award from President Clinton, the Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Humanitarian Advocacy, and I was chairman of the National Endowment for Democracy. So human rights and values are also crucial to me.
I think these can be blended. They can't always control an agenda with an important country like China who has security, economic, and diplomatic objectives which have to take precedent, but I think it should always be part of our agenda.
James Green: Oh, but let's move into your time at the National Security Council on Vietnam. You spent a lot of time with Kissinger and dealing with winding down the Vietnam War. That was a certain group of communists, and before getting to your time dealing with the Chinese Communists, I wonder if there's anything in the Paris Peace Accords and the Paris peace process dealing with the hot war in Vietnam and with the Soviets that makes you, that experience think about how to deal with the Chinese government or to deal with China?
Winston Lord: Well, I was fortunate to be involved in all three of those areas, as you mentioned, and it proved that there wasn't a communist monolith when it comes to negotiating styles and techniques; the three were totally different. And the Vietnam negotiations as well as the Russians did not in any way prepare us for the Chinese. You have to look at each individual negotiating style, which is often a product of history and culture and identity. The Vietnamese were revolutionaries and they didn't believe in genuine negotiations like Americans do. They use that as a weapon to further their objectives of taking over South Vietnam, and if while they stall for two years in the peace talks, playing to American opinion of trying to destroy support for the Nixon administration's Vietnam policy. Also, we were unilaterally withdrawing under Vietnamization and so they figured time was on their side as well.
However, in October '72, we had a breakthrough because they saw that Nixon was going to be re- reelected in a landslide and they figured they're going to have to deal with this madman for another four years, so they better make a deal now. The Russians are like luck merchants, haggling over every detail, cheating on translations of communiques, because of their history of having been invaded so many times, and insecurity. These two styles were totally different from the Chinese based on 5000 years of being number one in the world with maybe about 150 years from the mid 1800s to the mid 1900s. And therefore, they had a certain self-confidence, including even arrogance, but also a feeling that could take the long view and they'd be a Middle Kingdom again one day.
So, the Chinese approach was the one that was most refreshing. They were tough, but also most suited to Kissinger because we were just starting a relationship after twenty-two years. And, therefore, the conversations were strategic and conceptual, not haggling over specific issues because we didn't have any issues to talk about at the beginning. And so, with the Chinese, the American and the Chinese side, then Kissinger and Zhou Enlai were uniquely qualified for this, would lay out longer term objectives, balance of power, strategic concerns, but also what essentially was the bottom line for each country. Doesn't mean you wouldn't haggle and maybe inflate it by 10%. But it wasn't like the Russians and the luck merchant approach or the Vietnamese, who were not negotiating at all. And thus, given the taking of the long view, we were able to get over the hump of Taiwan, which we can discuss in further detail, in order to move ahead with joint objectives.
James Green: So, the Vietnamese...that's a fascinating way to look at how these different countries negotiate. The Vietnamese felt like they were playing for time because it would hurt the U.S. side domestically.
Winston Lord: Right.
James Green: But they really weren't kind of sitting at the table with proposals back and forth. They would come and sit and then repeat talking points and there was no real engagement, is that right? There's not real discussion of the substance?
Winston Lord: That's right. I mean, they're... again, without getting into great detail, their position from the very beginning was for us to have our prisoners back essentially. We had to unilaterally withdraw, and as we left to overthrow the Saigon government. We agreed to a graduated withdrawal unilaterally, both so we could turn up more responsibilities over to the South Vietnamese and to maintain American political support. Even as we negotiated secretly, we paid a price for that because nobody knew we were negotiating seriously. But we weren’t about, for terms of virality, in terms of investment, and in terms of credibility as a world leader to overthrow an allied government on the way out. This impasse lasted for two years, negating critics who say we could have had the deal earlier, we couldn't have had the deal earlier. And finally, when the Vietnamese saw that Nixon was going to be re-elected, they dropped their political demand. We had a breakthrough and we had the Paris Accords, the following January.
James Green: And so, the breakthrough was from the political situation in the U.S., not the opening to China?
Winston Lord: That's correct. Now, that's a good point. The opening to China and to therefore better relations with Moscow was designed for a variety of reasons. One, the main objectives on the U.S. side, were number one to show that we had diplomatic flexibility and skill despite being in this Vietnam War and we weren't pinned down. Secondly, to show that the communist world wasn't monolithic. We'd already done a little work with East European countries, but also this would make clear that there were cracks in the so-called monolith of communism. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, we wanted good relations with Moscow, but we were having trouble, and we figured if we open up with China, typically after the border clashes in 1969 between the Chinese and the Russians, that we would get the Russian’s attentions. We wanted more stability in Asia over the long run and we figured over the long period, there might be some economic and other advantages.
Those were objectives, along with the one you just referenced, namely, an impact on Hanoi. We figured that opening up with Hanoi, opening up with Moscow and Beijing, the two patrons of Hanoi, would put some pressure on them to negotiate, both to show that their patrons cared about relations with us, even more than they did with Hanoi. I mean, after all, we were bombing and mining, North Vietnam just before Moscow Summit and Brezhnev went ahead with it anyway. We didn't expect them to cut off aid to Hanoi, we did expect them, in their own self-interest, both the Chinese and the Russians, to exert pressure or at least encourage Hanoi to make a military settlement only and get this war over with or something. The Chinese in particular didn't want to see Americans humiliated, even though we were on the border, they wanted to get us out of there, of course, because they wanted us to balance the Soviets, and therefore, they wanted us to look credible.
So, yes, the opening to China as well as the positive impact on relations with Moscow. One of the components, one of the objectives was to try to loosen up Hanoi's negotiating approach. It was helpful, but it wasn't decisive as I've already said. Now, I might quickly add since we're talking about the opening, China's two objectives were number one to balance the polar bear to the north because they just had these border clashes and Brezhnev had invaded Czechoslovakia in '68 and was claiming to be the sole spokesman for the communist world. And so, they wanted the far barbarian to balance the near barbarian. And, secondly, they were totally isolated, they're still in the Cultural Revolution. Every Ambassador had been called home except one in Egypt, and they figured if they opened with us that people are hanging back at our systems like Japan and parts of Europe would follow and normalize relations and they get into the United Nations.
What you have as a result is a clear win-win situation for both sides. The Chinese did indeed manage to balance the Soviets and lessen that threat. And they got in the United Nations quite quickly and many countries including Japan went ahead and normalized. So, their two objectives were met. Ours were as well, we had immediate positive impact by opening to China on our relations with Moscow, and they'd been dragging their feet about a summit which we wanted. And after the opening to China and Kissinger trip was revealed. And by the way, on the way to Beijing on the secret trip, we did one last check with the Russians whether they wanted a summit, and they said no. Within weeks after the Kissinger trip, they agreed to a summit. We made major progress in arms control and major progress on an agreement on Berlin. We also got some modest help on the Vietnam negotiations. We did show that we could operate on the world stage with skill. And so, each side achieved its primary objectives.
James Green: Well, I want to get to the normalization part and your part in it, in which in the secret trip I think that you said publicly about you went to the front of the plane that went from Pakistan and flying to Beijing. Could you just talk a little bit about that trip?
Winston Lord: Sure.
James Green: And then stepping back a little bit, you had mentioned the Chinese objectives, what kind of surprised you or didn't about the way the Chinese, interacted with us?
Winston Lord: First, in order to move ahead with the Chinese, we had to operate on two fronts. Let me quickly note that one week after Nixon's inauguration, he sent a memo to Kissinger saying, "Let's try to reach out to the Chinese." He had written an article in Foreign Affairs in '67 foreshadowing that. Both Kissinger and Nixon independently thought we should deal with the Chinese. Nixon's emphasis was in bringing him into the world order figuring with a quarter of the world's people, you couldn't have a stable international structure. Kissinger's emphasis was more strictly geopolitical in balance of power including the impact on the Soviets, but they both felt we should move ahead. So, we had to move ahead in two fronts because we had not talked to each other except in Warsaw and Geneva with meaningless propaganda exchanges for twenty-two years and were hostile, embargoes, and we'd fought each other in Korea.
So, publicly, we had to begin preparing audiences where we were headed, not only the allies, but Congress and the American public. And so, a series of unilateral modest economic steps which the Chinese didn't have to respond to were designed to send signals to all audiences, including the Chinese, that we were ready to move in a different direction. We made certain rhetorical flourishes and speeches and others, which suggested that we were ready to deal with China. And then the other track was the secret one to get to the secret trip to try to establish communications with the Chinese. We tried Romania, France, a few others where we finally settled mutually on Pakistan.
James Green: And so why was that, why was Pakistan a good one?
Winston Lord: Well, Pakistan was very close to China. They didn't want Romania because that was part of Eastern Europe, and even though they were pretty independent of Moscow, they still were a little worried about that. I think they never said this explicitly. France, of course, was a NATO ally, so that didn't work. Pakistan, we had friendly relations with. Both China and the United States, frankly, were leaning toward Pakistan against India in those days because India seemed to be pro-Moscow. So that was a solid ally, for both. So, we began to exchange messages through the Pakistani channel. The Pakistani ambassador in Washington would come calling Kissinger in his office with messages from Zhou Enlai. Usually it would just be Henry and me and me receiving him and then we would pen a response after we, of course, we check with the President. And we finally agreed on an envoy from the U.S. to see whether a presidential summit made sense. We were on uncharted territory.
People forget now that this was pretty courageous by Nixon. It is true that his white flag was protected being an anticommunist and a Republican. It would be easier for him than Humphrey. But still, he reached out not knowing the Chinese response and not knowing the American public response. So, we finally agreed on Kissinger going, but only until we made sure the agenda would be beyond Taiwan.
We'll get into the Taiwan issue in more depth, but the fact is, for twenty-two years, no negotiations were possible for Beijing unless we saw the Taiwan question; that's the only issue they wanted to talk about. That was their initial position in the secret exchanges and we finally broadened the agenda. And once they agreed to talk about other issues, then we agreed to the trip.
James Green: So, initially they had basically a precondition of “solve Taiwan and then we could talk about other issues?”
Winston Lord: Yeah, it wasn't quite that explicit, but it was the only issue that they wanted to talk about. I'm sure they were realistic enough to know that wasn't going to do the trick. And, in fact, the Chinese generals who advised Mao to open up with us clearly saw the Soviet factor. So, I'm sure the Chinese in the beginning wanted to talk about that, but their initial position we wouldn't buy. We didn't want to go there with only Taiwan on the agenda, obviously.
James Green: Right.
Winston Lord: So we settled on the secret trip, and it was part of a public trip to Southeast Asia, India, and Pakistan, and then we were going to sneak off secretly from Beijing to Islamabad and the cover story was that Kissinger had a stomach virus and had to go up to a hill, so to speak, and recover. Unfortunately, he got a real stomachache in India before he even got there, and he had to hide it so he could save his real story. So, I don't know if you want to get into the mechanics of this.
James Green: I think for people who aren't familiar with that, it would be very helpful.
Winston Lord: Sure. I recommend my oral history at adst.org for those who want to get into great detail. It's in the State Department oral history collection.
James Green: Extremely detailed, great.
Winston Lord: It may not be the most important but it's the longest. Tom Pickering, the non-diplomat, was the closest in length and I told the State Department, "If he gets too close, let me know, I'm going to go in and dictate some more." So, we checked, on the way there, we checked with Al Haig, Kissinger's deputy, to see whether the Soviets, who would be given a last offer for a summit, had bitten in it. He called me in New Delhi and said, "No, they hadn't." With some code words that a second grader could figure out. It wasn't very clever. So, we decided we would move toward a summit with the Chinese first. We went to a banquet hosted by the President of Pakistan, then after the banquet we snuck off to the airport driven by the defense minister. A secret service person impersonated Kissinger, went up to a hill station and was there and then we issued a statement that he is recovering and then we extended by another day, we needed 48 hours, for the Beijing trip.
In fact, to prepare for that, Pakistanis interviewed some doctors and anyone who said they could recognize Kissinger was dismissed and they got someone else. So, while this was happening as a cover story, we snuck off in the President of Pakistan's plane. It was a Pakistani plane with flight attendants and pilots out front being Pakistani. I was in the back of the plane with Kissinger and some Chinese who came down to accompany us. And as the plane got to the Chinese border, keeping in mind that nobody official from the U.S. had been to China for twenty-two years, I was in the front of the plane and Kissinger was in the back, so I was the first one in China. He actually admits this grudgingly in his memoirs, but he of course elbowed me aside and got off the plane first. But I was the first one in the Chinese territory.
In any event, we get...by the way on the plane, you would think Kissinger would be preoccupied with the geopolitical earthquake he was about to create, the James Bond secrecy aspect, how he's going to deal with Zhou Enlai...No, no, his main preoccupation was the fact that his staff assistant forgot to pack any shirts for him. So, he was very concerned about how he's going to look.
James Green: At a time when in Beijing you couldn't just go out and buy a shirt off the rack.
Winston Lord: Exactly right, that's right. And in a way, these historic meetings like these were secret so you didn't have any photographs be released, you can see why someone wouldn’t want to look ridiculous. He bought a shirt from John Holder who was with us, a China-Asia expert who was about 6'3, and Henry is about 5'8, 5'9. So, he went around looking like a penguin. And of course, on top of that, he immediately said to Henry, "We haven't even started negotiating with Zhou Enlai yet and you've already lost your shirt.” And then it turns out the shirt had a label that said Made in Taiwan. So, that was amusing, but also very exciting. So, in the 48 hours, there were two main objectives. The objective was to see whether a presidential trip made sense. So, that meant some very in-depth discussions, we had about 17 hours of 48 hours with Zhou Enlai and his lieutenants, mostly Zhou Enlai, going over various agenda items, of course Taiwan, but also the Soviets, Vietnam, the Middle East, Korea, Japan, and so on.
To see where there was enough to discuss for the President that would not be total hostility, and so on. And that was clear, and it was fortunate you had people like Zhou Enlai and Kissinger conducting this conversation. The other was to have a specific announcement of the Kissinger trip and the fact that it would be a presidential trip. And this resulted in some real haggling. I said the Chinese take the long view, and that's true, but in is specific communique. The basic issue was this: the Chinese wanted to make it look like Nixon was desperate to come to China and they graciously agreed to welcome him. We wanted to make it look like the Chinese were desperate to have Nixon come to China and we graciously agreed to come.
James Green: And you assented, right?
Winston Lord: So, we ended up with a middle ground, which basically says knowing of Nixon's interest in coming to China, the Chinese have invited Nixon.
We also agreed that this was so dramatic that you didn't need a long statement, so we had a very brief, probably less than a minute, statement which Nixon announced on July 15, a few days after we got back.
James Green: And the Chinese hadn’t agreed to what that wording was?
Winston Lord: Yeah, that's right, we took to several hours of negotiation, and we were a tight timeframe because of the secrecy, so that was a little nerve wracking…but we finally agreed on a mutual proclamation. And, of course, it was dramatic and shook up the world.
James Green: On the trip itself, you've said elsewhere that you all weren't sure, you spent a lot of time preparing for Nixon's trip, lots of different binders and lots of different scenarios about the president will be repaired.
The Chinese didn't let you know explicitly that there would be a meeting with Mao. Could you just...and that, that really hasn't changed much, the Chinese side still holds out a meeting with a top leader or a senior official until the person's on the ground or maybe even after they're on the ground and then will announce, "Oh, you're having this meeting." Could you talk a little bit about the moving forward a little bit to Nixon's trip? And, that orchestration and how it ended up going?
Winston Lord: Yeah, first note on Nixon, he's got his dark side, we all know the yin and yang of Richard Nixon. I think anybody would admit that he was very well versed and very strategic in foreign affairs. And reached out and hired someone, namely Kissinger, who he didn't even know who would work for Rockefeller and was a liberal immigrant Jewish personality, which is not exactly Nixon's basic style. I have participated in many summits with many presidents and I've never seen anybody prepare as carefully and as well as Nixon did for this summit. We compiled, I was in charge of the briefing books so by all means the experts are providing the material, but I was coordinating it all and wrote some of it myself. There was six big black books and I know he read every one because it was his markings at almost every book. And as we flew stopping in Hawaii and Guam on the way to Beijing in Air Force One, he kept sending more questions back to us.
So, he was extremely well prepared and handled himself extremely well. Poor guy was stumped when he's asked what he thought of the Great Wall, and he said, "Certainly is a great wall." I don't know if I would have done any better than that either. So anyway, to get to your question, we were frankly confident that Mao would beat Nixon. I mean, if the Chinese are going to take this risk—after all, it’s a risk for them with their cadres and their allies as well as for us. And with their self-interest and balancing the Soviets, in particular, and getting out of isolation, they weren't about to humiliate the president by not having a meeting. So, although, they were never explicit, typical Chinese tactic, as you say, we were confident this would happen. We did, however, assume what would happen at the end of the trip, he put his blessing on the trip.
James Green: So, you'd have some meetings with Zhou Enlai and questions at the end…
Winston Lord: Yeah, and then he would make sure that it was blessed because by then they were sure of the outcome. To our surprise and delight, an hour after we arrived in the guest house, Zhou Enlai came back and said to Kissinger, "Mao wants to see the president right the way." This is a typical emperor summoning you, off hand at his discretion. But we, of course, realized this was a major breakthrough because it was putting his imprimatur on the whole visit and our new relationship at the very beginning, sending a message to his cadres and his people that I'm behind this.
So, we were very pleased, without going into great detail, to my everlasting gratitude, Kissinger asked me to go along to the meeting. Nixon only wanted Kissinger there. There was some thought that maybe Mao would have a second meeting at the end, that's sort of naive I think, but in that case, Secretary of State Rogers would have been invited. So, I went along to the end of the meeting, and we can talk about the meeting, of course. The Chinese came in with a photograph of all of us and a communique about all of us, and Kissinger turned to Zhou Enlai, or well maybe it was Nixon and said, "Mr. Lord was never at this meeting." So, they cut me out of the communique and the photographs.
James Green: And then the communique, sorry, just to be clear, they listed who was in the meeting?
Winston Lord: Yeah, except for me, and, and they showed a picture of Nixon and Kissinger and they cut it all just, before my image would appear. And they did it for good reasons, Nixon and Kissinger did. It was humiliating enough for Secretary Rogers not to be in the meeting with the National Security Advisor and the President, but to have a third person, the thirty-year-old punk, in a meeting at the same time would have been too much. So, for a couple of years, all the official photographs and all the announcements and all the historical novels and treatises about this opening had two people involved. Even the Nixon-Mao opera, by the way, which I went to see and I was distraught that Placido Domingo did not play my role as the third person in the meeting. So, the only person I knew essentially was my wife, from Shanghai and I wasn't about to keep it secret from her.
James Green: But then, later the Chinese did-
Winston Lord: Well, flash forward, at another trip—I was on nine trips in history with both President and with Kissinger alone, in every meeting with Mao, Zhou and Deng Xiaoping—we were there, Kissinger and I, and a big delegation. Not big, but we had a very distinguished group on the American side including George Bush, a liaison chief, Brent Scowcroft. In the middle of the meeting with Zhou Enlai one night, Mao's grandniece came and handed him a note and he announced that Chairman Mao wanted to meet with Dr. Kissinger and Mr. Lord. Now, Chairman Mao wouldn't know me from Lady Gaga, but what they were doing very skillfully and to my delight knowing that the world did not know I've been in the first Mao meeting, they decided to make it clear that I could make the second.
Kissinger could only take one person; I was lowest on the totem pole and protocol, so the Chinese jumped me over Bush and Scowcroft to leave and all the others and I got to go. And then at that meeting, Zhou Enlai gave me a photograph of the original Mao Nixon summit showing me and to prove I had been there.
James Green: Right, right. You've mentioned all of these meetings that you were in with senior Chinese leaders. Could you just reflect a little bit on what each of the three that you had mentioned, Mao, Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping were like in negotiating with the United States? That is, we were looking at setting this communique up to establish diplomatic ties. Can you just go through how each of them differed in their approach with us on it?
Winston Lord: Sure, each of the three were totally different. The Mao meeting with Nixon, our initial reaction, Kissinger and myself, when we came out of it was some disappointment. We weren't so much disappointed in the length; it was an hour, and it turns out that he almost didn't have a meeting at all. Mao was very sick even then and his doctors didn't want him to have it, and so by doing an hour, he was exerting himself to the greatest extent possible.
James Green: Did you read Dr. Li Zhisui’s book about that?
Winston Lord: I, I did.
James Green: Yeah, that's a fascinating story about the Chinese side of it.
Winston Lord: Yeah, yeah. And remind me because that book is related to the Zhou-Mao relationship. So, what we were most sort of puzzled by was Mao's desire not to engage in substance with Nixon who kept raising issues. Mao would use brushstrokes, he basically said, "That's up to Zhou Enlai, I don't get into details." And Nixon wanted to talk about some of the substance, but Mao was not doing it partly out of his own stamina probably and where he was. But more importantly, he did want to leave it with Zhou Enlai, but we realized as the days following we negotiated with Zhou Enlai that Mao in his seemingly random brushstrokes had set the major parameters of the Chinese position, like on the key issues. It was clear he was worried about the Russians; it was clear he would take his time on Taiwan and wasn't pressing that issue. It was clear he liked conservatives in the United States who could carry out the China policy.
So, these brushstrokes then informed what Zhou Enlai did. So, Mao was rough like a union leader, a peasant background, could be bawdy and some of his references had no elegance but exuded strength and determination, no question about it. Then you got to Zhou Enlai who Kissinger has said and I with a much more modest dance card would say was the greatest diplomat you ever met. And their conversations of hundreds of hours were absolutely extraordinary. And he was totally different, of course, in fact, totally different than anybody Kissinger or I have ever met. This is not to whitewash him; you don't get to be number two—actually, he made sure he was number three—in China without being pretty ruthless yourself. Although he did tame down some of Mao's extremities including doing the Cultural Revolution and he was a pragmatist in many ways. But he had the elegance of a Mandarin scholar, he had tremendous grasp of history and culture. He was very well informed, never looked at any briefing books.
That's why Nixon and Kissinger decided not to have any briefing books in front of them, because they didn't want to be outshone by Zhou Enlai.
James Green: I see, they wanted to make sure they mastered their brief.
Winston Lord: That's right. When, in fact, they both did, of course; they're both extraordinary in that respect. And he was charming, had a sense of humor, but very firm, but also consensual and strategic and able to maneuver within the limits. So he was extraordinary. And he skillfully used personal gestures. For example, one of our secretaries on a trip was sick, he sent his own doctor over to help her. And the most extraordinary example that I can remember in terms of the summary was on a subsequent trip, probably February '74, I'm not sure the exact date, Kissinger and Zhou Enlai were having that final meeting, and at the end of it, like they always do, they sort of sat around just talking about history and philosophy and so on. The lead up to that meeting was we were staying in the Zhaoyutai in the guest area in Beijing.
And Kissinger and I will often take walks to talk about strategy thinking we wouldn't be bugged outside like we were certainly being bugged inside, which has its advantages. I used to say, I hate certain kinds of Chinese food and we wouldn't get them on the menu then.
James Green: Right, if you use the messaging system, it could work to your advantage.
Winston Lord: But every time we got to a certain bridge, a PLA or a police officer would pop up and prevent us from crossing that bridge. We couldn't figure out why, we could wander anywhere else in the compound. So, on the final night as I'm getting back to that, at the end of the meeting in an extraordinary gesture of diplomatic protocol, namely, Zhou Enlai, being Premier and outranking Kissinger, agreed to walk him back to our guest house. And he took us back over that bridge.
James Green: Over the forbidden bridge.
Winston Lord: ... and I never said a word, never said anything. Anyway, it turns out I think the bridge was near the visiting dignitaries, might have been CNR, or it might have been somebody else.
So, that's Zhou Enlai's style. Deng Xiaoping was sort of unorthodox. He was somewhat spontaneous, not as much as Hu Yaobang, but here he was this 4'10” guy but brimming with self-confidence, would speak quite candidly, was generally very positive in our relationship; often he would have bad cops before then we'd get Deng and he'd be the good cop.
James Green: Magnanimous and welcoming.
Winston Lord: That's right. And also, of course, key to perform in the opening as well as good U.S. and Chinese relations. He didn't have the elegance of Zhou Enlai, but he certainly knew his brief. But he too would say, "I'm only vice chairman of the Bridge Association," which of course is nonsense when he ran the government and the party. But he basically would not get into great detail just like Mao would.
James Green: Interesting.
Winston Lord: So, he was somewhere in between Mao and Zhou. One last comment, the relationship between Mao and Zhou, a very complicated one. But here you have Zhou Enlai and the meetings which he was conducting incredibly impressive, domineering, not domineering in a bad sense, but I mean just-
James Green: Mastered his brief.
Winston Lord: ... mastered his brief, charismatic, and so on. In the five meetings with Mao, he was not only deferential, almost obsequious. Not only he didn't speak, but his body language showed his adoration of the chairman.
James Green: So, you all would meet with Zhou Enlai and then meet with Mao and Zhou Enlai would be there?
Winston Lord: Oh, yeah. It wouldn't be one meeting. It would be right after but-
James Green: No, sure, you've got to have a break, debrief.
Winston Lord: I mean the point is that Zhou Enlai was always there and Zhou Enlai was always a totally different person.
And this is borne out by a doctor's book which, very poignant and very sad in many ways, and Zhou Enlai maintained his allegiance to Mao to the end. And he had cancer. Mao was also very sick, and the issue was who's going to die first? And then who could help set the transition with a moderate say under Zhou and Mao more radical leaning. Mao prevented Zhou Enlai from having an operation; now whether that would have saved his life, I don't know. But Zhou Enlai knew that Mao had prevented the operation, and yet on his deathbed he said, “Long live Chairman Mao.”
James Green: Wow, amazing. Before moving to your time as ambassador, I just wanted you to talk about the Taiwan issue which was8 a critical part for the normalization talks and the communique. Understanding on the U.S. side, we had these global issues we wanted to talk about. On the Chinese side, Taiwan was there. Can you just introduce the main points of friction and then how we talked through them?
Winston Lord: Sure. Clearly, the biggest obstacle to new U.S.-China relations was the historic one of Taiwan; your listeners would know the background on this. And the Chinese had always insisted that we had to solve this before getting any traction in our relationship. They relaxed that condition at our insistence and the secret communications, and therefore, we had a big agenda for the summit. Nevertheless, both generally and moving ahead and specifically for the Shanghai communique, we had to find a way to get around this issue. Now. this reflects the Chinese negotiating style and self-confidence of the long view. We could not go forward if the Chinese had held their previous positions. And a lot of people, particularly on the right, say that Nixon and Kissinger made undue concessions on Taiwan to the Chinese, which is nonsense for three reasons.
First, you can’t move ahead with China with something that important to them without doing something on that front. Secondly, and I'll go into details, I would argue the Chinese made greater concessions than we did. And, thirdly, if you look at the last forty or fifty years, I think successive presidents with ups and downs and twists and turns have handled this issue extremely well. We moved ahead with a major, complicated, and now more fraught relationship with the Chinese, but at the same time Taiwan has been an economic miracle, it's a flourishing democracy, and its security so far has been assured. So, I would argue that we've done a good job starting with Nixon and Kissinger. Now, look at the Shanghai communique, look at the result of the talks. Kissinger and Nixon had to endorse a One China policy, but they kept it extremely vague.
And we used the formulation and the Shanghai communique which I helped to draft—the communique—and not that particular formulation of all Chinese on either side of the strait believed in one China. We didn't say which one was the one China. Little misleading to say all Chinese and so on. And you could nitpick the wording but basically that's about all they did. There was sort of a desire to strengthen the relationship with presumably the subtext of the normalized relations. But as a result of that particular agreement, and the Shanghai communique also said we would reduce our forces on Taiwan as conditions in the area permitted. Now, what this meant was if the Vietnam War settled down and we can finish that, that we wouldn't need those troops in Taiwan related to Vietnam.
So, it's an incentive to the Chinese to help in the negotiations. And we didn't say all troops, and we said it's conditional. So, as a result, we have this breakthrough on relations and on Taiwan, they had to swell of, one, we're maintaining diplomatic relations with Taiwan, not shifting to China. In fact, it took another seven years under President Carter.
Secondly, we maintain our mutual defense treaty with Taiwan. Thirdly, we maintain troops on Taiwan. Fourthly, we're maintaining selling arms to Taiwan, all of which is total anathema to the Chinese. So, those who forget what the Chinese had to put up with are crazy, in my opinion. Then the further examples are, a year or two later, the Chinese have always said we will never have an embassy in Washington as long as there is a Taiwan embassy. Well, they didn't but they agreed to a liaison office which is in everything but name, and now it's switched as we speak here today, but it's a de facto embassy. So, the Taiwan issue was handled by both sides with an agreement to kick this can down the road while we focused on Soviet hegemony, which was in the communique and not with the Soviet adjective, and getting along with mutual exchanges, and seeing where else we could begin to cooperate.
James Green: Right, well, I want to move to your time as ambassador. When you arrived there in the mid '80s, I want to ask about Li Peng and other vignettes that you have. But how did you conceive of your mission; you were one of the first ambassadors since the embassy was set up. The relationship was expanding, there was a defense relationship that was starting to take off. There were also consular issues and other sorts of challenges of just running an embassy. When you arrived, how did you conceive of what you should be working on?
Winston Lord: Well, from the opening in the early ‘70s up until when I became an ambassador, the major glue of our relationship with China was the balancing of the Soviet Union. I saw my mission above all of strengthening our bilateral relations beyond that phenomenon. So, it wouldn't just be based on a negative, however important, asset, but also that we would have real stakes. And, therefore, I focused on above all business and economics. I'm happy to say that as a former U.S. Trade Representative expert, I spent more time in business and investment and trade and technology issues than any other issue when I was ambassador. But also, cultural exchanges and high-level exchanges between our two sides.
James Green: It's hard to remember there's a time when very few American officials had any exposure to China at all.
Winston Lord: That's right, so we had all our Cabinet officials, essentially, all the military service chiefs, the two heads of CIA, although on black hat secret operations, and a bunch of vice premiers and others coming to America, which I would accompany when I went back. So, my point was someday we might not have the anti-Soviet glue, and even if we did, that wasn't enough to sustain a relationship. And we have a quarter of the world's people, let's build up. It wasn't just my idea, it was everyone’s, but that was my primary objective was to do that while maintaining that original foundation. So, at that point, we, with the help of Pakistan, we and the Chinese provided aid to the mujahideen resisting the Soviet invasion. We had secret listening posts along this Soviet border to watch missile launches that I visited, and we manned them with the Chinese.
James Green: Soviet missile launches?
Winston Lord: Yes, Soviet missile launches. And we sold almost a billion dollars of arms to China, which even in those days, that's a lot of money. So, we were continuing to nurture that dimension, but preparing for other contingencies. And this turned out to be prescient. I left in '89 just as the Tiananmen Square demonstrations were beginning. But shortly after that, the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet empire fell, and therefore the glue we had was gone. Not to mention, because the Tiananmen, the human rights issue was ascending. So, it was good we had these ties, and I was fortunate in my timing. I got to China's ambassador in '85, the Taiwan issue was relatively quiet instantly because of the third communique in 1982 sort of settled that fairly well. And so, we could focus on other issues. Reagan had had a successful trip, and so we didn't have that hanging over us.
And I left just one week into the Tiananmen demonstrations. Hu Yaobang's funeral, first major demonstration, 100,000 people. Of course, our relationship took a nosedive after that, so I was there during a golden period. And I think most people would agree, no thanks to me, if you are going to thank anybody thank my wife who did a terrific job. But we really had very positive relations. We had human rights problems, we had Tibet; Taiwan was always in the background, technology issues. But on the whole, it was a very positive period, and not only in our bilateral relationship, but in the atmosphere in China. No, it wasn't moving toward a Jeffersonian democracy but I think it's fair to say that there's never been since then, as we speak here today, a period when there was more open discussion of political reform and loosening up the system, which we now know Zhao Ziyang and Hu Yaobang were in favor of, that's why they was sacked by Deng.
And so, we could have reformers, even dissidents at our embassy together with government and party officials sitting around the same table talking about political reform. And my wife did an extraordinary job. Obviously, with the embassies, we needed help talking and interacting, because she's an author herself, in the cultural and other areas. We even produced The Caine Mutiny she did with Charlton Heston as the director. And that was sort of subversive because it's talking about a crazy leader.
So, my point is that both in the discussions, and we go back and forth in the late '80s, but there was real genuine talk of separating the Party from the state and other reforms, as well as improving about our bilateral relations, so I was very fortunate in my time.
James Green: I want to get to the run up to Tiananmen. You were there when the protesters were starting to gather. Could you talk a little bit about how you were handicapped or what would happen or what you all thought was going to happen?
Winston Lord: Yeah. Maybe a couple of comments just before that. In reporting from the embassy, nobody predicted whether in the embassy or outside, that you were going to have the Tiananmen demonstrations. And even some of your listeners might forget this is not a bunch of students in Beijing; this is 250 cities. This was a million people a day sometimes in Beijing of all walks of life including Party members, journalists, army members, as well as peasants, workers, dissidents, students. So, no one predicted that magnitude. We did, and I've gone back and looked at some of that, we did clearly document growing unease about inflation, about corruption, and in case of the students, their conditions on campuses. I'm not here to say we should have done better, maybe we should have, but the point is we saw some signs. And the biggest sign I saw was a year before Tiananmen in 1988, it has since been called a democracy salon run by the Beijing students, many of whom had prominent dissidents in the Tiananmen Square demonstrations a year later.
My wife and I were invited to come out and speak. Again, my wife's from Shanghai and Chinese and so on. And somewhat naively, I didn't realize yet the combustible nature of democracy salon for the Chinese leadership. So, of course, we went out, we always wanted to meet with Chinese students. We traveled all over China and we meet with young people as well as think tanks and so on. I was very careful with my wife to stay away from really sensitive areas. I knew there'd be security people, I didn't want the students to get in trouble. But I was struck-
James Green: And sensitive areas would be what?
Winston Lord: Would be political reform, dissidents cracking down, human rights.
James Green: Abolishing the Communist Party, these sorts of things.
Winston Lord: Yeah, the Party versus the state, Western ideals, all these things. Most of their questions actually were in safe areas, including student conditions but also what it was like to have a Chinese-American marriage. A lot of questions to my wife about her perspectives on China from America. So, it was very pleasant, but I was careful, even though I had some reservations, to say the least, about Deng's political views. I did praise him sincerely as a great reformer and for U.S.-Chinese relations. In fact, the Hong Kong press, in the next couple of days mentioned how I had been positive on Deng. Thus to my surprise, a few days later, at a banquet, a man named Han Shu, who was then the Chinese ambassador to America came up to me on behalf of Deng Xiaoping and said, "The Chairman wants you to know that before you start meeting with groups like this, you really ought to get his permission." It was politely worded, but a real threat.
I went back and said, "Get lost." No, I didn't put it that way, I had a little more elegant way of saying, but I basically said, "We wouldn't tell you, Mr. Han Shu, who you could see in America, and I'm trying to engage with all the Chinese people including young people and I have a right to do that. And so, I plan to continue to do it." So, this showed me just how sensitive the situation was becoming there. I must say, again, I didn't-
James Green: This a year before?
Winston Lord: Yeah. Yeah, we weren't predicting what was going to happen, but I reported this which was quite extraordinary. And, of course, for a couple of weeks, some of my appearances at universities and think tanks mysteriously got canceled.
James Green: Not convenient to host, yeah.
Winston Lord: But finally got back on track.
So, that's sort of the sense we had. Then as Tiananmen unfolded on a scale that none of us would have predicted, I think all of us were somewhat puzzled why the Chinese let this be televised all this time. Now, I should add as a footnote here, my wife had been lined up a few months before by CBS to be an observer of the Gorbachev visit, which was coming in May. No one knew there was going to be Tiananmen demonstrations. And she clearly was going to go back as an author and a Chinese and an expert, not as the wife of the former ambassador and so that was never mentioned. So, she's lined up by 60 Minutes' Don Hewitt to go back. So, coincidentally, after we left China in April just as the demonstrations were occurring, a couple days later she went back as an observer for CBS and stayed there until just before the end.
So, she and I and all of us were somewhat puzzled. They finally cut off the TV and there's a famous picture of her and Dan Rather dragging this out as long as possible with the Chinese. And she was called by the Washington Post, I got to get a few advertisements in here, as the best observer on television of what was happening. But I don't think she—and she was very close to many of the demonstrators—or I or anybody else could predict what was going to happen. If you forced me to predict what would happen, I probably felt that it would wind down and that the Chinese, particularly when it got so big, they would make a few gestures to give them an excuse to demonstrators to call it off. So, agreed to talk on ongoing channel of communication. Look into academic conditions and housing conditions on campuses. Make some pledges on inflation and corruption of a rhetorical nature.
But enough so the students and the demonstrators felt they gained something. But they are very tough on that and, of course, we ended up with a massacre that none of us predicted. And, in my view, was totally unnecessary because by the time they moved in with their troops, it was only a few thousand left and clearly the situation could have been resolved peacefully. So, I thought it was surprising they televised it for so long in a way but also very depressing at the massacre that finally occurred. So, I certainly would not have predicted how it came out; I thought it would have slowly dwindled down to a peaceful resolution.
James Green: I wanted to move your time as Assistant Secretary of the East Asia Pacific Bureau at the State Department in the '90s. You had worked on normalization and then it was twenty years later. I guess, before asking about the specifics of your time as the Assistant Secretary, were U.S.-China relations about where you thought they would be in the early 1970s, mid 1970s, twenty years later? Or were they much more developed than you could have possibly imagined or was it less robust than you might have hoped?
Winston Lord: Well, there's two ways of answering that question. One way is to say they obviously progressed more and faster than we thought because in the '70s, we all know China's economic condition, etc. And so, as a result of Deng's reforms and their opening and their growing economic power, and even some beginnings, minor compared to today, but of influence and interaction on the Asian front as well as the global front. If you sat in the '70s, it was beyond what would we have thought would happen, primarily because of the opening and their going power. And, therefore, more interaction with us on a whole range of issues. On the other hand, in the early '90s, we were still recovering from Tiananmen Square and we had the double problem of the Soviet glue, or the anti-Soviet glue, has disappeared from our relationship, and on the human rights part, the agenda had greatly increased.
Human rights began to be important and was obviously sensitive. The Fang Lizhi banquet thing showed just how sensitive the situation was. And a few months later, we had Tiananmen square. But it wasn't as prominent as it was after Tiananmen and the massacre. So, in the early '90s, there was still tensions with the Chinese, even the residue. They were denied, for example, what was then called most favored nation treatment is now normal trade relations, which became a major issue. So, we had other problems with the Chinese. So, yes, the relationship was much more expansive and interactive, twenty years after the opening than we would have predicted. But in the other hand we were sort of in a holding pattern or even a downturn and a recovery period from Tiananmen when I became Assistant Secretary.
James Green: So, in that role as Assistant Secretary, how did you balance human rights, security, nonproliferation, trade? There are a bunch of different baskets that were important, how did you conceive of that, those different baskets?
Winston Lord: Yeah, well, let me do generally and then we get to the MFN question because that really does crystallize the issue. Generally, my approach, and I'd say the administration's approach, because I was a key factor in China policy obviously, was as it always had been for me, namely, that human rights should be an agenda but it shouldn't dominate the agenda when you're dealing with a big country like China. That it's in our self-interest to promote it, not just to maintain domestic Congressional support for the relationship, not just to exhibit our values, but also...and not just to encourage reformers in China and so on, but in our concrete self-interest. My view that more transparent, more democratic societies are easier partners. They don't fight each other in wars, they don't willingly harbor terrorists, they don't export refugees. They're easy to deal with, not necessarily in trade, but things like, pandemics and so on where they don't hide things.
So, it's in our interest to have a more democratic liberal world. However, when you're dealing with China, this gets back to my approach then, you keep this on the agenda for those reasons. But it can't dominate the agenda. You're dealing with big nuclear questions, security questions, Third World conflict questions, major trade, economic interests, cultural and scientific issues. And therefore, you had to assign human rights its proper place on the agenda. So that was the overall approach. There was a major emphasis on, again, economics and so on. But again, with respect to China, there was a specific issue, namely, whether China should get normal trade relations like other countries. It says “most favored nation” but it's sort of a misnomer; really, it meant normal relations, not any special favors.
James Green: Rebranded, yes, as normal trade relations later.
Winston Lord: That's right. So, this had been an issue ever since the Tiananmen Square Massacre and the question was: to what extent do you use whatever leverage we had in economics because China had a trade surplus…well, compared to today. The trade surplus in a year then is about one day today, literally. Nevertheless, it was a significant trade there, so we figured then that many people figured there would be some leverage for us that they need us more than we need them in terms of balance of exports and investment and so on. And many of us, including myself, were disappointed in Bush's reaction to Tiananmen, particularly sending Scowcroft over there. Found out lately he went a week after Tiananmen, but he also had gone a few months later which I criticized.
And so, I personally wrestled with the MFN question. I did not want to see China lose MFN status because we had huge economic interests, American jobs, trade and investment. I did feel, not naively, but that the more we interacted economically, the more that might open up China, even its political system over time. So, we had concrete interests. On the other hand, I felt we had to try to do what we could on the human rights front. So, I resisted conditioning or revoking MFN for a couple years, but finally before Clinton became president, I said, "Well, look, I think maybe what we should do is very modest conditions. But use our leverage to get some improvement and treatment of prisoners or Red Cross visits, Tibet, prison labor, some issues like that which presumably shouldn't threaten the Chinese regime.” And they had a stake in the good relationship, typically economics, so that maybe we could use this if we had modest conditions.
And so, I was a proponent of that, Clinton brought on to it, I briefed him during the campaign, and he became President. And I was assigned to negotiate a deal with the Congress, and I worked with a woman named Nancy Pelosi, and George Mitchell who was head of the Senate. And they were under great pressure from many in the Democratic Party, particularly, but also Republicans to either revoke MFN, or to have really big conditions including on nonproliferation and abortion policy and all kinds of things and not just strictly human rights. Although abortion you could argue is human rights. So, anyway, I negotiated a deal. I made the mistake; we didn't include the economic agency sufficiently because of their huge stake in it. We kept them informed but they should have been part of the team; it's just me and the NSC guy, essentially. But what we negotiated were very modest conditions; it was an executive order, not legislation, giving the president more flexibility.
There were two conditions which had carried over, on prison labor and on travel restrictions, or something like that, I forget the exact details, which we continued. And then we hit five others, I won't go into detail. But, basically, it said we had to make overall significant progress leaving us the flexibility to find what's significant and what's overall. We didn't say all five had to have progress, they didn't have to say breakthroughs. So, we felt that we had threaded the needle of using our leverage in MFN but in a way that the Chinese could meet in their own self-interest. And at the time, I was a hero. I was considered a genius to pull this off and resist much heavier conditions of revocation of MFN.
James Green: And sorry, do you think you were brought in in some ways to a...you were a Republican, working for Republican administrations before and you were brought into this democratic administration. Do you think one of the reasons was to do just these sorts of issues?
Winston Lord: You know, I never thought of that, I don't think so. No, I think it was because I was Assistant Secretary and that I'd been at the opening with China, with Nixon and Kissinger, been Ambassador. I think with my background credentials and my specific position. I was hired because of my China background in many ways.
So that was the reason; I hadn't thought of that other angle. Even Henry Kissinger said, "That's not a bad agreement." But I forget his exact wording. Henry and I of course were always close, but we disagreed on this issue. And even the economic agencies correctly grumbled, and they went in on the take off, and therefore there had to be at the landing, without any say about it. But most people felt, including them I think, even though they didn't want any conditions which I understood, that it was the best possible deal given the political climate. And I almost became Deputy Secretary of State, that's another issue, because of this success and some other things like lifting APEC to a summit and regional conferences in Asia and so on.
A year later when MFN collapsed, I was rumored to be fired. So, this is the roller coaster of a career that I've had.
James Green: Being in the political stratosphere.
Winston Lord: So, anyway, to make a long story a little shorter, over the coming months, we tried hard to get some gestures in human rights. And the dirty little secret is for a few months, I'm not saying breakthroughs, but we had some prisoners released, we had some Red Cross visit agreements, prison labor was tightened up. We were making modest progress so that if it had continued, we probably would have had enough the following June to say, "There is enough progress here, we'll continue MFN." However, the economic agencies were weighing in on the President because they didn't like any conditions. They wouldn't follow talking points, or they would water them down about terms of trying to pressure the Chinese and say, "We don't want to lose MFN, but you got to help us with human rights." People like Kissinger and others were weighing in too, saying this was a mistake.
And the President, to his discredit, rather than reining in his Cabinet agencies who were sabotaging us on background, with a key exception: a guy named Jeff Garten who was Undersecretary of Commerce, who defended me. He was terrific. He had to be close friend on my policy planning setup. But still, he was the exception. But everyone else was sort of sabotaging these policies, showing the Chinese the divisions in our government and the President not disciplining showing that he was wavering, plus the genuine interest of the President because it was domestic economics being his number one priority, that he didn't want to screw up the economy with it. So, the Chinese impact would be much than it is today. So, the Chinese saw the disarray, didn't make any further gestures, began to roll them back, and then we had a very unpleasant Secretary of State Christopher’s trip in March of 1994, a couple months before the MFN issue was going to be revisited by Congress.
And that sank any chances for any human rights results. Part of it was the Chinese were rounding up dissidents before we got there. And then our Assistant Secretary of Human Rights met, which is fine, with a key Chinese dissident, Wei Jingsheng. But the problem is they didn't check with Washington. They did check with our ambassador, then Stape Roy, and then Wei went out and made a press conference. The Chinese might have swallowed it, but he got to the question of face, so the Chinese started rounding people up. And many in Congress and others said he should cancel his forthcoming trip to China and Australia. I said, "No, we shouldn't do that, but you got to protect your flank and also send a message to the Chinese. It's much easier to criticize what they're doing when you're not on Chinese soil."
So, issue some statements of unpleasant reaction by us to what they were doing. After all, they were the ones who are provoking us, but you should go ahead with the trip. Otherwise, the cancel would really destroy the relationship, not to mention the MFN question. So, we went ahead with the trip, but it was very unpleasant, and I even had a press conference. I was proud of my phrasing at the time, but it probably didn't help. The Chinese had really been nasty and so I got a question about, Chinese saying that, it's your fault the relations have deteriorated. You have all this friction on this trip, and I said that took a great leap forward of chutzpah I said for them to say that. So, anyway, it was very unpleasant, we therefore faced the issue when we came back in the next couple of months. Since they clearly weren’t going to meet the MFN conditions, what the hell do we do?
So, we had several options. One that I pushed, and we all tried, was can we find a way to separate out trade issues that will not affect Taiwan and Hong Kong? We didn't want to hit innocent bystanders and they were very important. Where can we find a distinction between state enterprises and private companies to try to selectively revoke MFN but without dumping the whole thing? We ran continual computer runs; we couldn't come up with a good solution. The only one we finally came up was selling arms, the one thing that we could, without any prejudice or any fallout, stop. So, that was one option and just the middle option that just didn't work out. It would have been nice; it might have worked. Second option was to say, "Oh, yeah, they've made some significant progress here. Let's go ahead." Which would have been not only dishonest but no credibility with our domestic audience and the Chinese would have thought we were pathetic.
Third option was, and we settled on it, was to change our policy with considerable embarrassment and say we're going to pursue human rights through Radio Free Asia, through conditions for business, maybe principles of doing business in China and human rights, to keeping after them in international organizations to promote the Tibet issue. But then we were going to stop the effort to condition MFN, which just wasn't working. And it was the least bad option and we chose it, but that's when people were calling for my resignation as opposed to enshrining me with halos.
James Green: That discussion about MFN and human rights brings me to a broader question. You've had so much experience over twenty plus years interacting with China, negotiating communiques and agreements. Stepping back, what do you think works in negotiating with Chinese officials? There's a public element of it, there's a private one, there's building trust, there's a range of different ways to negotiate. What do you think kind of works?
Winston Lord: Well, there's several principles, some of which sound like fairly easy principles to come up with, but they're particularly important with China. Look, every country basically negotiates on behalf of its national interest. Despite what some people think, personalities will not win the day. So, the main thing is to build a Chinese interest. Now this was Kissinger's approach and Nixon's with every interlocutor, particularly the Chinese. So, what you first do with the Chinese is: what do they have to have and what do they really need? What are their red lines? What are their bottom positions? And see how you can at least persuade them that we were meeting their basic objectives while maintaining of course our own principles and interest. So, taking the longer view strategic approach, it certainly worked in the '70s. Now, it's much harder today when we're co-equals, essentially, in many respects in power if not essentially. China is much stronger.
Plus, you don't have Henry Kissinger's and Zhou Enlai's around anymore. So, I'm not saying that's possible but certainly in those days. I still say it would still apply to appeal to Chinese long view and interest and self-interest and so on. Secondly, of course, I'm not putting this in order of importance, but personal relations can be of help around the edges. You can build up a certain trust. I don't want to denigrate that; it's better than having testy relations. And over time, I'm not talking about necessarily today, but still as a principle with Chinese, if you could build up some record of mutual respect and achievement, that can help you at least navigate crises, if nothing else. So, that's of some interest but much less important, obviously, than self-interest. Thirdly, with the Chinese in particular, you got the question of face, and so therefore, you always want to give them a chance to protect their face.
And, of course, the classic example was the Chinese agreeing to liaison offices, but nobody called them embassies back in the '70s. So, those are important. Like any negotiation, with the Chinese, you've got to mix sticks and carrots. So, there's got to be incentives for them, whether it's economic or security or whatever it is, things that they think serve their interest, but a little bit of pressure and firmness to suggest that we're not going to roll over. So, I've always believed, even as we speak today, that part of a good relationship with China is being willing to be firm with them, while respectful and pushing back when necessary. So, having said all that, there are some genuine generic principles over several decades, but a lot of that has changed with the current leadership or even recent administrations on both sides.
James Green: On that, you started your career in the Cold War. There's talk today of a new Cold War, a cool war between the U.S. and China. I wonder how you see that as someone who grew up and spent your career a large portion in the Cold War. Are we entering that sort of new period between United States and China? How do you see that kind of phrasing?
Winston Lord: I don't know how much I'll leave this to the editor and you whether you want to get into current affairs because that's a big issue. There's no question in my mind today that we're at the most serious inflection point in U.S.-China relations since the opening. We've had past crises, but they’ve generally been over one issue when China was much weaker. So, it'd be Taiwan, it would be planes colliding, bombing the wrong embassy, or bomb any embassy I guess, but bombing the Chinese embassy. And of course, Tiananmen being the most serious, but even Tiananmen was at a time when China was much weaker and therefore, they were much less interactions for good and for ill. Whereas today it's systemic across many spheres of interests and values. And secondly, of course, you have the historic phenomenon of a rising power and an established power in how they adjust to each other.
We've had examples where it's worked out pretty well. Other examples where we've had world wars. The so-called Thucydides trap. I don't believe we're destined for outright conflict, or even a terrible Thucydides trap. As we speak here today, there's a tendency with current issues, but I think we have to take the longer view. I think there's enough interest on both sides to prevent this relationship from totally deteriorating. That's not a very positive prospect, I'll get back to that. But neither side obviously wants war. Both sides have a tremendous economic interest. Both sides can help and need each other on war problems to solve them. And both sides have an emphasis, particularly the Chinese, on their own domestic stability and economics and real conflict would be a real challenge to that. So that's the floor of the relationship and we're not going to get below that floor.
Having said that, we have a real problem now with a very high ceiling. We're always going to have problems with different interests and certainly different domestic political systems. There's always going to be a ceiling in our relationship because of different value systems, domestic political systems and concrete geopolitical interests. But, of course, that ceiling looks even lower today as we speak, and I would put the bulk of the blame without getting into great detail on the Chinese. Under Xi, they've been much more aggressive in their repression at home including the terrible Uighur situation, but all kinds of other issues. They're promoting sometimes interference as opposed to just influence in other countries around the world, exporting their human rights issues overseas, and crossing lines of sovereignty. in economics, they've become more mercantilist and protectionist. They've been more aggressive in security terms including the South and East China Seas. So, this in my respect, in my view, is obviously poisoning relationship.
The response to be firmer by the administration makes sense in terms of strategic competition but it's going about it in a ham handed way in the sense of what we need is above all to get our act together at home both economically and politically and not have polarization and not discourage immigration, etc. Invest in our future so we can compete with China. But we have tremendous relative assets compared to China; we should be self-confident. Work with our allies, particularly on economic issues. You are much more effective instead of having trade wars with your allies. To collect your allies in constant pressure because they're unhappy with Beijing's policies as well as us. And participate in multilateral institutions to expand our influence and to seek to cooperate with China, which is another part of our policy should be including on issues like climate change, Iran, North Korea and we never should have pulled out of the TPP, which is a geopolitical as well as an economic disaster.
So, identifying the problem is correct under the current administration but the response has been terrible and it's making China great again and leaving the field to China. So, having said that, to get back to your question, I think it's going to be a tense period for a while. I think what you need, and I would put in an advertisement for recent taskforce in U.S.-China relations published in February 2019, in which we do say we got to be firmer in response. But that we shouldn't throw the baby out with the bathwater, that we all want stable U.S.-Chinese relations and the authors of this collection of some of the top China watchers, all of whom work for relations including myself for half a century. But you needed firmness in certain areas including the ones I mentioned.
You need guardrails to make sure we don't stumble into a mismanaged and miscalculated conflict, but you should continue to seek areas where we can cooperate including the multilateral agreements which we pulled out of. As well as other areas like antiterrorism, pandemics, anti-piracy areas where the Chinese have actually been constructive, on the world stage. A lot depends on what happens in China, of course, and whether they moderate some of their policies or whether they continue to create tension. So, we're going to stay between a ceiling and a floor, the ceiling being close partnerships and cooperation, I think those days are gone. The floor being outright conflict, if you excuse the expression, our relationship will continue to be sweet and sour.
One last comment, there's sort of revisionist history now saying that all this push by administrations of both parties for “engagement,” which by the way is a process, not a policy, was naïve. We expected them to become a democracy overnight and we thought China was going to change its spots once it got in the world system and that their political system would evolve. Many of us, including me, were hopeful that China would have gone further in terms of becoming a responsible world citizen and a looser political system than they have by now particularly after Tiananmen with a massive outpouring of desire for these goals. But those who pressed for engagement, I'm using shorthand here, were not naïve on the whole, and we always hedged with alliances, military buildup, firmness where necessary. And furthermore, what was the alternative? Were we supposed to try containment from the beginning? Which is impossible, you couldn't get the rest of the world to go along with us because of China's economic leverage.
So, those who call for decoupling or containment, I think are the wrong response. Those who do not identify the fact that China has become a more unpleasant partner and a more dangerous one are naïve and wrong. So, you got to get a more centrist position of firmness plus still seeking to stabilize the relationship and believing that firmness helps you stabilize the relationship.
James Green: Ambassador Winston Lord, thank you so much. It's been really a great pleasure, a walk down memory lane. Thanks for sharing.
Winston Lord: Well, my pleasure and the questions are only as good as the answers, so.
James Green: Appreciate it.
Ambassador Winston Lord speaking with me from New York City. You’ve been listening to the U.S.-China Dialogue Podcast from Georgetown University. I’m your host, James Green.