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Q: How great a role do you think the desire for American help in deterring the Soviets played in the Chinese decision to normalize relations with the U.S.?
Thomas P. Bernstein '59, visiting associate professor of Government: It clearly played a significant role. I think the Chinese--and this was partly precipitated on our side--are asking for American military help. They do want us to deter what they see as the rising Soviet threat. In that sense, they expect us to do our part as the other superpower. China really is not in the same league militarily as either the Soviet Union or the U.S., and their latching on to us is really a reflection of that.
Q: Then what do you feel was the major Chinese motive for normalization?
Bernstein: I'm not saying that a hoped-for relationship in which the U.S. will at least indirectly balance off the Soviet Union and help China is not a part of normalization. I won't disagree with that. On the other hand, normalization itself was brought about by a configuration of circumstances involving Taiwan. Both sides seemed to be ready to make concessions on the Taiwanese issue, and that made normalization a distinct possibility. The foundations of the overall relationships between the Soviet Union, United States and China were laid in 1971, and there have not been that many changes since then, at least as far as I am concerned.
Paul F. Walker, research fellow in the Center for Science and International Affairs: I would agree with Professor Bernstein on that. But there was really a three-pronged reason for normalization. Number one was the inherent Chinese fear of Soviet military forces massed along the Sino-Soviet border, and Chinese desire to play the "American card" in a sort of balance of power game. I think the second reason was clearly Taiwan, to entice the United States away from the Taiwanese--certainly to the detriment of Taiwan, from the Taiwanese viewpoint. The third reason is that the standard of living in China is still very, very low in comparison to the United States and even to the West and the Soviet Union. I think the Chinese were quite clear in pointing out in their recent visit that they want American technology--particularly in the agricultural sphere--to try to wean away the 80 per cent of the Chinese population which is now engaged in agricultural production to feed the one billion Chinese.
Q: How much do the Soviets really fear a friendly Sino-American relationship? Is this fear strong enough to act as a deterrent to Soviet ambitions worldwide?
Walker: The Soviets have mixed feelings on the Chinese-American rapprochement, and I think it is hard for us in the present to really know what the final outcome will be. On the one hand they do fear that the Americans are very adept at handling balance-of-power politics and could very well play off the Chinese against the Soviets; they also feel that Chinese are very adept at balance-of-power politics and could play off the Americans against the Soviets. As we have seen from [Chinese Vice-Premier] Teng's visit this past week, he called the Soviets everything from 'warmongers' to the 'chief threat to our society.' On the other hand I think they do realize that it is long time that the greater superpower, the United States, recognized the most populous nation in the world, and they can see some positive aspects to that. So it's a mixed bag, both positive and negative.
Q: In the event of a Sino-Soviet conflict, could the United States avoid getting involved? Or should we allow ourselves to get involved?
Joseph S. Nye, professor of Government and former Undersecretary of State: I don't necessarily think the United States has to get involved in any military sense in the case of a Sino-Soviet conflict. I think politically the American role has to be at least a background factor in any conflict. The uncertainty about how the Americans will react--since they are the background factor in any three-party game--will be felt. But I don't think it follows that we have to get involved directly in any military sense.
Q: Do you see a conflict between the Soviet Union and China as something that is inevitable, or as something that can be avoided?
Nye: I think a large scale nuclear exchange is certainly not inevitable. I think the deterrent effect in that direction will certainly remain present. The difficulties along the border, and rivalry for leadership in the Communist movement will probably continue for some time.
Q: What effect will China's normalization of relations have on Chinese Relations with the Third World, and with Communist countries or movements?
Bernstein: To an extent, I think this is something of an embarrassment. It undermines the old identification of China with the anti-imperialist movement; this is something the Soviets make a great deal of. In fact, the Chinese have until fairly recently carefully avoided the appearance of being too close to the United States. As far as Communist 'movements,' there really isn't much of that left. There are various liberation movements supported by the Chinese or the Soviets--in South Africa, for example--but these are insignificant in terms of a solid movement.
Walker: I think the Soviets have always looked at the Chinese as competitors in the Third World, particularly since the Soviets have converged towards a less idealistic Communist society, and Maoist China has converged to less radical positions. You recall that in Teng's visit to Washington last week he was condemned by the idealistic Maoists for opening up relations with the capitalistic empire of the West. I think competition between the two will go on in the Third World. I think in order to maintain credible leadership and compete for leadership in the Communist world both the Soviets and China have to maintain that they are heading towards the ideal Communist society. But I think it's quite clear that both the Soviet regime and the Chinese regime, are a far cry from ideal Communism.
In opening up their relations with the West, in allowing, of all things, the entry of Coca-Cola and Levis into Peking, they are deviating quite a bit from the ideal Communist model, and I think that will disturb the purists in the revolutionary movements in the Third World.
Q: Taiwan has been quite resentful of normalization. Do you see in the future a possibility of Taiwan opening up ties with the Soviet Union?
Walker: No, I really don't. This would be a very dangerous step for the Taiwanese, particularly given their heavy reliance on the U.S. for aid. I think we will see a gradual rapprochement--very long-term, much longer term than Teng has pronounced--between the Chinese and Taiwan, plus continued American support of Taiwan, if not in troops at least in military defensive supplies. We will also see pressure from the American government on the People's Republic of China, to take a gradual approach to Taiwanese relations, and not to aggravate the situation.
Bernstein: It seems to me that one has to point out that the Chinese did make--from their point of view--a concession, essentially saying they will tolerate the continued sale of defensive weapons on the part of the U.S. to Taiwan. The fact that that will continue--the Chinese say that they do not like it but that they will live with it--is absolutely essential as a guarantee of Taiwan's security in the future. This does suggest that the PRC is reconciled to de facto autonomy for Taiwan for the foreseeable future.
Walker: It's interesting, too, that Teng has pointed out that they will not forego the option of military incursions against Taiwan.
Bernstein: That's a question of fundamental national sovereignty, and if the premise is that Taiwan is a part of China, and I think that is an underlying premise, then I think it can be argued that it's unreasonable to expect them to renounce the use of force against what is part of their own country.
Walker: True. Looking at the People's Republic of China, it is highly unlikely that they could cross the several hundred miles separating them from Taiwan. They just don't have the amphibious landing capability in navy or air forces to do that.
Q: Is the Soviet-backed invasion of Cambodia a policy they should pursue to increase their influence in Asia, relative to China?
Walker: I really hoped we had gotten away from the domino theory in the last decade since Vietnam. What we are witnessing in southeast Asia is a series of very nationalistic movements, the most recent one being the Vietnamese reunited since the American pull-out in 1973. Granted the present situation has some Soviet support, and is a very exacerbating one for the Chinese; I think the American-chinese rapprochement may very well serve to slow down Chinese reaction to it, although the Chinese are massing troops along the Soviet border. I think it's hard to predict what will happen in southeast Asia; it's a group of very insecure governments, some supported by the Soviets and some by China.
Bernstein: From the Chinese point of view, the Soviets are engaged in an effort to establish a ring of non-friendly states around China. Some time ago they proposed an Asian security system; they have now signed treaties with a military component with Afghanistan, India, and now with Vietnam. The Chinese see this a very threatening development, and I think it is worth nothing that the invasion of Cambodia showed the Chinese up with clay feet: they weren't able to help their Cambodian ally. This put the Chinese in a very difficult position, and they may feel they need to assert themselves.
Walker: On the other hand we see a continued Soviet fear which is not new--ever since the 12th or 13th century Mongol invasion--of encirclement of themselves. We see the Soviets feeling an American-Japanese-West European encirclement. It's worth point out that if we were in the same position, we would seek to gain the respect and support of Afghanistan and surrounding regimes.
Nye: I think it's worth noting that if we had used the games metaphor of checkers instead of dominoes we would have come out in a much more correct position, saving 50,000 American lives and untold Vietnamese lives. There's an old adage in international politics that the enemy of my enemy is my friend: that has been known for centuries and it is rather sad that we got our games wrong.
Q: Does America still have a role to play in southeast Asia?
Nye: I think it definitely does and, in fact, is. The President just reaffirmed our commitment to the security of Thailand during the visit of the Thai prime minister. The United States had taken an interest in the local regional organization--the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)--and has made efforts to be supportive there while at the same time seeing it primarily as a local, regional endeavor. We continue to have a military presence and base in the Philippines. I think there is definitely a feeling that an American presence in Southeast Asia will continue and is important but the extent of the involvement and the detail that we saw in the 1960s is unlikely to reoccur.
Q: Can American promises become empty? Senator Goldwater seems to feel that since we have "abandoned Taiwan" that American assurances of security and military assistance are no longer valid. How do you feel about that?
Nye: I'm not sure that I accept Senator Goldwater's premise that we've abandoned Taiwan." It seems to me that in the difficult game of balancing power, and enhancing American security balancing power, we've managed to do that without abandoning Taiwan.
Bernstein: One of the questions that I have here is whether what has happened in Indochina recently--the conclusion of the friendship and military treaty between Vietnam and the Soviet Union--might not have been avoidable if the United States had taken a somewhat more positive attitude toward Vietnam. One has the sense the Vietnamese have now pushed themselves or rather thrown themselves, into the arms of the Soviets.
Nye: Let's go back to the beginning of the Carter administration when Assistant Secretary of State Holbrook made a number of initiatives toward recognition of Vietnam and the difficulty then was that the Vietnamese were holding back; they wanted to be paid a price for it. Subsequently, events changed. We were less willing to pay a price and we also saw some costs to recognition of Vietnam, one of which was the effects that it might have had on the developing relationship between us and China. But I think to read history of the last two years fairly, we did take certain steps and the Vietnamese essentially were trying to have their cake and eat it, too; and I think they missed the boat.
Walker: I also think we would have to be much less than optimistic on any future U.S.-Vietnamese relations. I'm very doubtful as to how good a so-called revolutionary regime in Hanoi could see itself in the future with American relations. Whether we could have actually supplanted Chinese relations, I have my doubts.
Q: How high is the United States' stature in Asia at the present? The United States has had problems with the Philippine government. It just seems as if, in recent times, the American influence in Asia has declined.
Nye: Well, I guess the question of stature depends on what country and what perspective you're looking at. I would believe the loss of American presence which was predicted at the end of Vietnam has not come about. The feeling that the Americans will control events in fine detail has certainly changed. But if you start with our interests in East Asia, I would argue the most important interest is our relationship with Japan--the third largest economy in the world. I would say the American-Japanese between the Soviets and the Japanese is something worth noticing here. I think our relationship with Japan, in fact, has not been weakened in the post-Vietnam period but is probably somewhat enhanced. In that sense, we're not doing that badly. Now, in particular countries--for example, how critical American guarantees are in the Philippines and Thailand--I think that may be somewhat less in the post-Vietnam period but I don't think it's eroded to that extent that there's nothing of residual value there. I think in particular, some of the criticism that's been going on in the Philippines is shadow-boxing over what rent will be paid for the American military base.
This is an unedited transcript from an interview conducted by Clinton C. Collins '81 and Joseph Z. Cortes '81. The remainder of the discussion will be aired on Tuesday, February 20, at 5:30 p.m. on WHRB, 93.5 FM.
The Academic Forum is a new feature of The Crimson's Opinion Page which will present the viewpoints of members of the Harvard community on major issues of the day. Submissions shoud be sent c/o Robert Boorstin. The Harvard Crimson.
The Opinion Page is a regular feature of The Harvard Crimson that presents articles by members of the Harvard community and others. These opinions do not necessarily represent the views of the Crimson staff.
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