China breaks its silence

Asia Times

[This interview was first published in the Italian daily La Stampa on November 24. Subsequently, the president of the European Commision, Romano Prodi, told La Stampa that Minister of Foreign Affairs Tang Jiaxuan is right: the United States should not decide the future of Afghanistan all by itself. Noted historian and political scientist Edward Luttwack commented that Tang spoke like a Western diplomat, and that constituted a "geopolitical revolution".]

BEIJING - After the US and Russia's week-long honeymoon, full of hugs and warm handshakes between presidents George W Bush and Vladimir Putin, China has made its own voice heard through the following exclusive interview given by its Minister of Foreign Affairs, Tang Jiaxuan.

As the critical phase of the US-led war in Afghanistan nears an end, Tang expresses for the first time China's demands regarding the future of Afghanistan. The issue, he asserts, constitutes a turning point in the creation of a new world order: thus, the United Nations and its Security Council cannot be ignored, and Beijing is seeking strong support from the European Union for this position. Further, Tang avails himself of the opportunity to attempt a definition of terrorism, and for the first time officially gives a name to the insurgency in China's western Xinjiang province. Tang defines the Muslim Uighur insurgents as terrorists agitating for the independence of "Eastern Turkestan", and asserts that fighting them is absolutely in line with an international war against terrorism, partly because of the backing they have received from Afghanistan's Taliban.

On a settlement of the Afghanistan issue, Beijing sides with Pakistan in opposing great external interference and the stance maintained by Russia, India and Iran in favor of the Northern Alliance. Tang says Afghanistan must be placed within the context of regional stability, in which Beijing has an essential role to play.

In the broader international context, the China emerging from Tang's interview thinks and acts like a big political and economic power - the only one, besides the US, able to exert both economic leverage (unavailable to Russia) and political and military leverage (unavailable to the EU or Japan). From this perspective, Tang declares that his sole political worry is reunification with Taiwan, and he uses strongly conciliatory tones in speaking of the island. He sees an irreversible trend toward reunification.

Tang is less positive regarding relations with the Vatican: he notes the Pope's conciliatory speech containing apologies for the mistakes made by missionaries during the colonial period, but he sees no room for immediate further progress. He identifies last year's canonization of 120 Chinese martyrs as the major obstacle.

The interview

Question: The situation in Afghanistan is rapidly evolving, as well as the international situation, marked by this new rapprochement between the US and Russia. What is China's stance on international terrorism and on the Afghan question?

Tang: September 11 proves that terrorism is a severe threat to peace and international security. It is a scourge to economic development as well as a threat to human civilization. China supports the war against all forms of terrorism and upholds the resolutions approved by the UN Security Council. We strongly believe that such actions must avoid harming innocents and shall be consistent with the principles of the UN Charter and other universally recognized norms of international law. This serves the interests of peace and long-term stability in the world and in the region. The war against terrorism is a delicate issue having long-term impact. In agreement with the European Union, China also thinks that the war against terrorism requires the strengthening of international cooperation and the full development of the role of the UN and of its Security Council. The adoption of comprehensive measures against terrorism, facing the issue from multiple perspectives and simultaneously addressing the root causes and their ramifications, is to be envisaged. Each country shall endeavor to avoid the linkage between terrorism and religious or national issues. This is the agreement in place among all countries, including China and the EU. No double standard should be adopted in connection with anti-terrorism. No matter where and when terrorist acts occur or which form they take, what the target is, or who is involved or supports them, the international community should condemn them with equal severity and firmly counterstrike.

It is worth noting that China is also a victim of terrorism. The terrorist forces of Eastern Turkestan have been trained by international terrorist organizations, which have supported and financed them. Such forces have staged many attacks both in China and abroad, causing innocent victims. The Eastern Turkestan group is certainly a terrorist organization and fighting against it is part of the international war against terrorism.

Afghanistan is a particularly unfortunate country. In the last 10 years the people have suffered greatly from the horrors of the ceaseless civil war [author's note: out of respect for the new, good Sino-Russian relations, Tang does not mention the mujahideen war against the Soviet Union]. The persistent instability of Afghanistan has made this country the cradle of terrorism, religious extremism and nationalist separatism, which has influenced the peace and stability of the region [this is a way of saying that the Eastern Turkestan terrorists have found support and encouragement in Afghanistan]. Afghanistan is one of China's neighbors. We have long been worried about its predicament and we hope that it can soon find peace and that its people can lead a peaceful and tranquil life. China, in accord with the international community, has for many years endeavored to urge an agreement among the various Afghan factions [this implicitly replies to the accusations that China in the past would have promoted more relaxed relations with the Taliban; Tang says that China was indeed active, but only in attempts to reconcile the country, and that China could predict the risk of furthering instability in the region].

Now, in Afghanistan the war proceeds at a brisk pace and the problem of an authority vacuum has already arisen, as well as the risk of great social disorder. I believe that now two major issues will have to be dealt with. In the first place is the issue of the organization of the future political authority in Afghanistan. We must encourage any faction, any current, to undertake urgent political talks [this is a pro-Pakistan stance, and against Russia, Iran and India, which favor the Northern Alliance] and reach an agreement for a transitional political solution at the earliest, so as to avoid a real political vacuum - or at least reach an agreement in principle for the organization of the future political set-up of the country. In the second place, the conditions in Afghanistan from a humanitarian point of view are desperate. The international community must pay more attention to such issues, enhance its assistance, and ensure that the Afghan refugees recover from their present circumstances. I share the positive and constructive proposals put forth by the special envoy of the UN secretary general on Afghanistan's political, security and humanitarian issues: such proposals fundamentally reflect the needs for development in Afghanistan. The UN Security Council has recently passed a resolution to promote an idea of temporary power in Afghanistan, which we support. I wish to stress on this occasion that the resolution of the Afghanistan issue shall be consistent with some principles:

1. Afghanistan's political independence and territorial integrity shall be guaranteed;
2. The Afghan people shall finally decide by themselves how to solve the problems of Afghanistan;
3. Afghanistan's future government shall have a broad base and represent the interests of each ethnic group, it shall pursue a peaceful foreign policy and abandon extremism, it shall entertain friendly relationships with all countries and specifically with neighboring ones;
4. The UN shall intervene in a more intensive and active fashion;
5. The solution of the Afghan issue shall serve the interests of peace and stability in the region.

Question: China is an old friend of Pakistan; the situation, however, appears to be pretty tense after the war in Afghanistan. What is your assessment of the situation in Pakistan and in South Asia?

Tang: Pakistan is a neighbor and a friend of China. At present its stability is under great strain. After September 11 the government of Pakistan has clearly expressed its opposition to terrorism and has decided to cooperate with the international community against it, thus gaining the support of the great part of political parties and of the people of Pakistan at large. After US military actions commenced in Afghanistan, some unfavorable opinions have been raised in Pakistan. As a friend of Pakistan, China perfectly understands Pakistan's present stance and approves and supports the decisions taken in the highest interest of the country and of its people. We hope and believe that the Pakistani government has the ability to preserve the political stability, not only in the fundamental interest of Pakistani people but also in the interest of South Asian development and peace, and simultaneously also in the interest of all countries in the world.

Question: In the last months many changes have occurred in Sino-American relations. Minister Tang, can you make a long-term assessment? As an expert on Japanese issues, how do you view bilateral ties with Japan after Japan's apologies for the Invasion War, and Japan's recent economic difficulties?

Tang: Through the US's and China's common efforts lately, Sino-American relations have sensibly improved. There are many exchanges between the leaders of the two countries. On October 19, President Jiang Zemin and President George Bush met for the first time and exchanged views on bilateral relations, anti-terrorism, peace-keeping, maintaining world stability and other issues. They agreed to work for the development of constructive, cooperative relationships between China and America, attaching great significance to this. Sino-American relationships have never been confined to bilateral issues. In the 21st century, China and the US share many important interests: peace-keeping and security preservation in Asia and in the world, promotion of development and prosperity in the regional and global economy, war against terrorism and against other forms of supra-national threats. Such issues not only affect our two countries but also affect the basic interests of the entire world. Nowadays Sino-American relations face new opportunities and challenges. China and the US, as big countries characterized by different conditions, can hardly avoid different stances on such issues. Reciprocal respect is therefore necessary; seeking common ground and putting aside differences is the only way to remove obstacles to bilateral cooperation. In the long term I am considerably optimistic about the bilateral ties. I believe the two parties should hold on to the common interests and I think that the three-principle declaration [this led to the normalization of diplomatic relations; by way of it the US acknowledged Beijing and diplomatically turned its back on Taiwan] and the principles of international relationships should properly inform their relations, especially with respect to Taiwan, so as to continuously improve Sino-American ties.

In October this year, Japanese Premier Junichiro Koizumi came to China and during a visit to the Museum Against War [in the past this was called Memorial Hall of the War of Resistance against Japan, because it was from here that the Japanese began the invasion of China in 1937] at the Marco Polo Bridge, expressed his remorse and publicly apologized for the historical issue. During the APEC summit in Shanghai, President Jiang met Premier Koizumi. The visit and the meeting had a very positive outcome, creating the atmosphere and the necessary conditions for enhancement of bilateral ties. We hope that Japan realistically implements the bilateral agreements and that a sound and steady development of such ties follows. The Japanese economy has for a long time now experienced some difficulties and this year conditions have worsened. At present the government is attempting to overcome such difficulties by launching structural reforms. Whether such reforms are successful or not will impinge on Japan's future economic development. We follow closely Japan's economic reforms and development; we expect that these reforms will be successful and that the economy will recover at the earliest.

Question: Taiwan is an issue of global interest. Can you express your opinion on the current state of affairs and on future prospects?

Tang: In March last year the situation in Taiwan underwent a major change [the victory in presidential elections of Chen Shuibian, candidate of the party favoring the unilateral declaration of independence of the island]. Such changes however cannot alter the fact that Taiwan is a part of China, that the majority of our Taiwanese compatriots are against the separatist ideas of "Taiwan independence" [Tang here considers the votes for the two defeated candidates who were against independence, which total more than those collected by Chen Shuibian], and that the international community acknowledges the existence of a sole China. For over a year now the Chinese government, which upholds the One China principle, has been struggling against the separatist forces in Taiwan and has stabilized some relations between the people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait. At the same time we actively maintain that talks with Taiwan are to be held under the One China principle and consistent with the principles of peaceful reunification, of "one country, two systems", and in accordance with Jiang Zemin's eight proposals for reunification.

We are in favor of economic and cultural exchange, we urge direct and complete links in telephone, air and shipping services [at the time of writing, such links were made through Hong Kong], we oppose Taiwan independence, and we strive for dialogue and talks with any official, party or association acknowledging the One China principle. Through our efforts, the compatriots on both sides of the strait and the overseas Chinese [these constitute an influential political and economic force in Southeast Asia] oppose the separatist tendencies of Taiwan independence, promote the conditions for the realization of homeland reunification, and develop the ties between the two sides of the strait. In such a way, increased economic cooperation and exchanges have become the main and widespread will of Taiwanese society [Taiwan cannot at present renounce social and economic ties with Beijing: its economy would be left destitute].

Taiwan's authorities still refuse to accept the One China principle. They deny the agreement reached in 1992, which verbally declared that both sides of the strait uphold the One China principle, and they even go as far as to deny that they are Chinese. At the same time they neglect the strong requests from Taiwanese compatriots and hamper cultural and trade exchanges. They stage separatist demonstrations at international level, they purchase advanced weapons from foreign countries, they boast about foreign support, and in such a way they greatly strain relations across the strait to the point of harming stability and peace in the Asian region. The position of the Chinese government in solving the Taiwan question is clear and reasonable. We hope that Taiwan authorities will soon go back to the One China principle. Subject to the acceptance of that principle, dialogue and negotiations can be resumed and any other matters can thus be discussed. Solving the issue and reuniting the motherland is the common hope of all Chinese, including Taiwanese compatriots. We believe that also thanks to the efforts of these Taiwanese compatriots and of the overseas compatriots, no one will succeed in impeding the current trend toward reunification.

Question: Italy and the world are very keen to know about the evolution of the Vatican issue; could you illustrate its prospects?

Tang: China cannot be blamed for the failure as yet to normalize relations with the Vatican. China wants to improve its ties with the Vatican but there are two conditions to fulfil: 1) The Vatican shall suspend its so-called diplomatic relations with Taiwan and acknowledge that the People's Republic of China is the only legitimate Chinese government and that Taiwan is an inseparable part of China; 2) The Vatican shall not interfere in Chinese internal affairs, not even under the pretext of religious issues. We will not renounce such conditions. We regret that the Vatican verbally agrees to such conditions while in fact it has more than once rejected such a stance. Last year, the Vatican's canonizations, despite strong Chinese opposition, created a new obstacle to the normalization of relations.

Not long ago, the Pope expressed his grief and regret for the mistakes made by foreign missionaries in China and sought the benevolence and forgiveness of the Chinese people hurt by these historical events. This is a positive statement. We regret however that in this admission the Pope did not offer an apology in connection with the canonizations that hurt Chinese feelings so much. China's position is extremely clear. If the Vatican genuinely intends to improve bilateral ties, it shall adopt concrete measures, eliminate the obstacles, and create the conditions for the resumption of dialogue. (2001-11-28 Asia Times)


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