Conference Call with Former U.S. Ambassador to China Winston Lord

Chinese soldiers guard Mao's portrait in Tiananmen Square, June 1989.
Chinese soldiers guard Mao's portrait in Tiananmen Square, June 1989. (STR New / Courtesy Reuters)

In the run-up to the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown, former U.S. Ambassador to China Winston Lord (who served during the protests) joined Gideon Rose, editor of Foreign Affairs, to discuss of the the standoff, its long-term impact, China’s ascension as a global power, and more.

Foreign Affairs also released an ebook timed to the anniversary, Tiananmen and After, which follows key developments in the 25 year period since the protests. The collection includes the landmark “Tiananmen Papers,” originally published in 2001 in Foreign Affairs, which exposed for the first time leaked Chinese Communist Party documents of the secret debate inside the party over whether to use violence against its own citizens.

Listen to a recording of the call here. A transcript is available below:

ROSE: Hi, everybody, Gideon Rose here, editor of Foreign Affairs. We have a great opportunity to discuss some really important events with one of the world's experts on the subject.

Win Lord, former U.S. Ambassador to the People's Republic of China, former assistant secretary of State, former president of the Council on Foreign Relations, and all around good guy is here with us to discuss what happened that fateful June and the events leading up to it. And what's happened since then.

He's given testimony on this recently, and is a noted authority. So let's just jump right in.

So, Win, let's set the stage. You were ambassador. And then during the spring of 1989 protests start to take place in Beijing. So bring us there. You know set the stage of the protests starting in the spring before we get to that fateful June.

How did you first hear about it? What was your reaction to it? And what was your take on what was going on during the spring when the protest demonstrations began to erupt?

LORD: Well, it's good to be with everyone. I sat as ambassador from late 1985 -- and I actually left Beijing, this was long planned, by coincidence on -- after one week of demonstrations. And it was the day that there was a funeral for Hu Yaobang, the rather liberal in Chinese context party secretary who had died a week before.

And the protest -- the first big one of 100,000 people came out just as my car was going to the airport. However, my wife doubled back a few days later as a CBS correspondent with Dan Rather and covered the events right up until close to the end. And indeed lost many of her friends, at least they were swept up in the aftermath.

So that's -- you know it erupted in a large scale in that first -- on that first week. We had foreshadowing, which I can go into if you're interested...

ROSE: Yes.

LORD: ... including some personal experiences.

ROSE: Why did the events -- why did the protests occur?

LORD: Well, it was a combination of issues: corruption, inflation, greater political freedom, even conditions in schools and universities as far as the students were concerned. But there was not a call for regime change.

There were moderate requests. It wasn't monolithic. Different people had different requests. But on the whole they just wanted a dialogue with a government and some chance of reform.

And what people have to remember, that this didn't take place in Beijing. It took place 250, 300 cities across the country. In Beijing you had up to a million people a day from all walks of life, not just students, supporting the students: party officials, journalists, academics, laborers, peasants all supporting the student-led movement.

But it was entirely peaceful. There was not a window broken for about six weeks. And that's why the ultimate crackdown was both unnecessary and so tragic.

ROSE: What was the U.S. position on the protests? Did we have an official position? Did the embassy take any stand? Or was (inaudible)...

LORD: Well, again, remember I left. I left just as this was beginning. We certainly supported peaceful demonstration (inaudible). And that was the government position after I left. And I commented in a personal capacity when I got back home over the coming -- over the coming weeks.

But let me just make a couple points about foreshadowing because this thing built up over time. Really in 1986 there were demonstrations, peaceful, not on this scale and mostly in Shanghai. And Hu Yaobang, who was then party secretary, was ousted by Deng Xiaoping as his scapegoat for those demonstrations. So that was the first sort of clear signal of what was coming.

Then in 1988 my wife and I went out to Beijing University to meet with students. They were having a series of speakers. We didn't think it was subversive.

We're very careful not to say anything critical of the government. But we met with the students who we could feel the passion about some of these issues a year before Tiananmen Square actually happened. So that was another indication.

And indeed, a couple days after being out at this -- what became known as Democracy Salon at Beijing University. I got a personal message from Deng Xiaoping himself, conveyed through their ambassador to Washington, who was in Beijing at the time, saying I shouldn't have gone out there.

In very polite language I said he can't veto my trips. This was something we've been doing and we had to meet with all young people and academics whenever we could. And we certainly wouldn't tell the Chinese ambassador in Washington he couldn't go to Yale or Harvard. Well, maybe not Harvard. I'm a Yale man.

So that was indicating how nervous they were. I might also add that in February 1969 the newly elected president George Bush came to China. We had a big banquet in return in which there were a few dissidents. And the Chinese blocked the most well-known dissident, Fang Lizhi, of going on the trip. And that showed again how paranoid they were.

So you could see these signals, but no one could've foreseen or did foresee the scale, the immensity of the demonstrations.

And keep in mind it was in 250 cities. But in those days you didn't have Twitter and Facebook. You had bullhorns and an occasional fax machine. So it was all the more remarkable.

ROSE: So as the events moved forward during the spring, as the protests go on, as tension builds up, did you expect the government to -- I mean what did you -- how did you see this playing out during the spring? How did you think it would end? Were you surprised when the government moved to crack down?

LORD: Well, to get to your last question, I was surprised. Although I knew that Deng Xiaoping was very tough on political freedom and throughout his career. He, after all, was Mao's right-hand man during the Anti-Rightist campaign in the 1950s.

He got into power in 1977, 1978 partly through the influence of Democracy Wall led by a dissident named Wei Jingsheng. And as soon as he got into power he then jailed Wei Jingsheng. He dumped Hu Yaobang as I said, and then in the middle of the demonstrations in the spring of 1989 he dumped Zhao Ziyang.

So this is a man who has always been very strict on politics, positive as he was on economic reforms and opening to the world. He will always have a mixed-verdict history because of his political repression. So you had that general background.

Of course the Chinese were embarrassed, particularly to have their center of their whole country in the middle kingdom being occupied, including when Gorbachev was there from a visit for the Russian-Chinese Summit.

However, the actual crackdown did surprise me because by late May the number of people in the square were down to a few thousand as opposed to hundreds of thousands. It was clearly petering out. There was no need to crackdown at that point.

My wife, who was covering this for CBS Television as I said, actually left Beijing. And CBS said she could leave in the end of May because they thought the whole thing was over.

So Deng Xiaoping clearly wanted to make a point. And he didn't have to resort to force and he did so.

ROSE: Now, one of the reasons -- well, in honor of this anniversary we're putting out a wonderful e-book, Tiananmen and After, and one of the centerpieces of it was -- is a nice selection from what's called the Tiananmen Papers, which were documents released about a decade ago and change that purport to describe the inner workings of the deliberations of the Chinese officials as they planned the crackdown. And we have a new introduction by Andy Nathan on that and what's happened since.

So what do we know now about the thinking of the Chinese leadership that we didn't know back in the day? And how is our interpretation of the Tiananmen Square crisis changed over the years? Or has it? Do you think about it the same way now that you did 25 years ago?

LORD: Well, there are some significant changes, although the basic verdict I think has at least been steady in my mind. We know from the basis of his own memoirs, which Andy and other helped to publish, Zhao Ziyang, who was ousted as prime minister, that he opposed the use of force.

He was outmaneuvered in a Politburo meeting that was actually called without his being present. And he said it was illegal because he was head of the party. But he didn't have enough allies in the Politburo. A couple of others, however, who were also against force, there were seven retired Chinese generals who wrote a letter saying they shouldn't use force.

We've seen in the New York Times in the past couple days -- I believe it was the New York Times, maybe the Post. I'm sorry if I'm getting the media outlets confused here.

But details on how there was a key army commander of the Beijing area that was opposed to this. So I think we have a much better feel now than we did in the first couple years of the resistance, not only among political leaders, but some of the military leaders.

And indeed, although we knew this pretty soon, they didn't dare use troops that were near the station near Beijing because these troops would know the people. They'd know what was going on. So they brought in ignorant peasant troops from far-flung provinces to come in, and told them there were a bunch of criminals in the square and go after them.

So, I think the basic -- we knew that Zhao had opposed us because he went to the square, as people may remember, two days before the crackdown or the martial law, and said I've come too late and cried and was ousted from office and of course was locked up and never seen again. He was under house arrest.

But the basic motives of Deng in the wake of other problems that he had seen and his nervousness about stability, that was all pretty clear from the beginning.

ROSE: So in his piece that I cite in the e-book, Andy says that the Tiananmen Square crackdown was an absolutely crucial turning point in the history of modern China because it was this crucial point which you could've chosen either liberalization or oppression. And the decision to choose oppression has been doubled down on in the decade since.

And it's really the state that emerged from Tiananmen Square's crackdown is the same state you have today essentially with the same oppressive apparatus and zero tolerance for sort of political dissent and so forth. Is that your take as well?

LORD: I would agree with...

(CROSSTALK)

ROSE: That this is a crucially important...

(CROSSTALK)

LORD: ... every part of that sentence. We'll never know.

But I do think, and Zhao Ziyang in his memoirs himself said that not necessarily nationwide elections overnight. We always equate that with democracy. But a more flourishing civil society, some independent judiciary and press and the rule of law would not have been inconsistent with the reforms that were launched so successfully and for which Deng and the Chinese deserve credit.

Andy is also right that it hasn't got any better. In some areas it has gotten better in terms of travel, choosing your job. You can complain about certain areas safely, certainly among your friends and even in selective areas on social media.

In other areas they not only haven't improved since 1989, they've gone backwards. My wife and I used to host weekly salons with government officials and reformers and even semi-dissidents all in the same room discussing political reform. That would be impossible today.

And under Xi, the new president, who by the way is beginning the ... in foreign policy as well as domestic policy, they've really tightened up. And it's getting much worse in recent years.

Now you not only lock up the Nobel Prize winner, but you lock up his sick wife, which I said in my testimony to Congress. You not only harass a blind dissident, but you punish his family. You not only lock up troublemakers, but you also lock up those who are defending them.

And now those who are being swept up because of the anniversary -- and let's hope they're all released in a week or so -- they're not only being put under house arrest or detained, they're being charged with crimes. So it's very, very bleak.

ROSE: What would you say to the argument that you hear made by some people that look, OK this is very upsetting. There was a crackdown and people were thrown in jail and political rights are still repressed.

But if you look at what has happened in China over the last two-and-a-half decades, if you look at the extraordinary economic progress the people, hundreds of millions of people coming out of poverty, the rise in the general per capita GDP, the overwhelming development of China which will eventually bring positive things in its wake, that however regrettable this was, it can be justified retrospectively by the regime's success in promoting development in later years.

What's your response to that argument?

LORD: Well, first of all, they have made many good economic and other advances and they should get credit for that. I also want to remind your listeners that even though I'm tough and candid on the Chinese, specifically the domestic political system, I do believe it's in our interest to improve relations with China.

I've been working on it for 40 years since the first Kissinger and Nixon trips. And I don't think this issue of human rights, as important as it is, and it has to be presented to the Chinese, can dominate our agenda. We've got too many other issues, economic and security and regional and global challenges.

But having said that, as I've already mentioned, I honestly believe not only could they have pulled off a lot of what they've done the last 20 or 30 years, but they could've done it more humanely.

And now their system is beginning to run into state contradictions. How -- you know people have said there's a new Chinese model. Well, so far they have defied expectations.

I must admit I was more optimistic about political liberalization after Tiananmen than I should've been. I was naive. And I wasn't the only one.

But the fact is that now the system is running out of steam economic. It's going to have to restructure their economic system.

I don't have time to go into detail. But corruption is such a huge problem and pollution is such a huge problem you can't really get at these unless you have a free press to go into them, or an independent judiciary.

If people have a gripe, and many do because you have income disparities and land grabs and other problems there, they can't go to the (inaudible), they're control. They can't go to the media, it's controlled. So all they can do is go to the streets.

So in terms of political stability I would argue that they got to loosen up. And in terms of economics whether they want to get at some of these problems, if you keep censoring the free flow of information, at some point you're going to hurt your economic interests.

So I would argue what has been accomplished could've been done with a more humane system. And now they're beginning to pay the price for repressive political system.

It is the big question about the future of China, mainly how long can they have this economic advance, which they deserve credit for, coupled with this lousy political system? But they need now more energy, more innovation, more entrepreneurship.

They've got to, as I said to Congress, they've got to invent iPhones, not just assemble them. And this is all going to require the kinds of things that are more flourishing in liberal political system promote.

ROSE: As you've said, you've worked China issues now, U.S.-China issues for more than 40 years. You started that process under Mao. If we could work with you know one of the world's most bloodthirsty dictators with millions of lives, the blood of millions of people on his hands, why was it so upsetting to work with people who hurt a few hundred thousand -- a few thousand demonstrators?

LORD: Well, first of all, the fact is that I haven't said we shouldn't be working with these people. I just said that this cannot dominate our agenda.

We have from economics to North Korea to terrorism to climate change to air and sea safety and so on. We have too many issues we have to deal with the Chinese on, on our own interests. And it's a mixed bag. Sometimes they cooperate, sometimes they don't.

So, much as I think in our own self-interest and the Chinese interests we should be pressing them on human rights and freedom, but not in an arrogant way. And by the way, we ought to fix up our own lousy political system, the way it's working now. The system's not bad. It's just the way it's been gridlocked and polarized.

So first you continue to deal with a country with an unpleasant regime because you have other interests. And in fact these other interests are more important collectively than just as human rights, as important as that is.

When we went to see China in the early 1970s of course it was a brutal system. It was probably even more brutal than we realized, to be honest. But the fact is that then we were in a nuclear standoff with the Russians.

We wanted to improve Russians' relations with us and we managed to do that very quickly. We had huge geopolitical interests, and in terms of peace and stability and also try to end the Vietnam War to do this. So these issues overrode their human rights at that point.

ROSE: You know, Win, I could discuss this with you forever. We've got a great crowd of people on the line though, and so I'm going to kick this over to them. Let's open it up for their questions. Win Lord.

OPERATOR: Thank you. At this time we will open the floor for questions. If you would like to ask a question, please press the star key followed by the one key on your touchtone phone now. Questions will be taken in the order in which they are received.

If at any time you would like to remove yourself from the questioning queue, press star, two. Again, if you would like to ask a question, press star, one now.

Our first question comes from Jim Suto with CNN.

QUESTION: Hello, Ambassador Lord. Thank you so much for doing this.

LORD: My pleasure. Thank you.

QUESTION: It's great to hear your perspective. Listen, I wonder -- you talked about the U.S. response at the time. Looking today as China you know even just in the last couple weeks, rounds up every dissident, but their treatment of dissidents in the last several years.

Do you think the U.S. has gotten its response right? Or do you think the U.S. has been too weak? Should the U.S. be speaking more loudly and boldly in terms of pressuring China and using other tools?

Because you know as you remember it, going back to the 1990s of course there was -- you would hear all the time that as the trade relationship grew you know this would open the Chinese system. Class (ph) system would advance when in reality it's going the opposite direction.

Do you think there is more that the U.S. can do? Have you been disappointed at all?

LORD: Look, with you and anybody else who questions me, if you think I haven't fully answered your question, follow up if that's OK with Gideon. But...

ROSE: Sure.

LORD: ... because there are many pieces to your question.

On the whole I think U.S. governments have done about as much as they could given our other interests that I cited with China. The fact is we get no help.

Businessmen are worried about contracts. They don't raise this issue. Academics are worried about visas. Former government officials want to make money or have access. So-called China experts don't like to raise this in conferences. I'm usually the only one who does.

So it's pretty hard for official government to make progress when nobody else is helping them. And then other governments, with rare exceptions, never raise this issue either. They don't want to lose business contracts and alienate the Chinese poor.

Norway, for example, host of the Nobel Prize, Liu Xiaobo, who's locked up by the Chinese, they just disinvited the Dali Lama because of economic interests. So -- hello? Can you hear me?

LORD: Yes. So you have the impact of their economic leverage. And you see self-censorship in the media field from Bloomberg over to Hollywood in the cultural field.

So it's a tough nut to crack. The Chinese party is so intent on maintaining party rule and their definition of stability that they're just not going to make many concessions on this. We've had a few times when we've had political prisoners released in the past. But even that now they won't even accept prisoners' lists.

So I don't think there's much more we could've done that would've changed things. I think nevertheless, difficult as the process is we have an obligation to continue to raise it.

But we should raise it not arrogantly, particularly given the fact that we're not working too well in Washington these days, although it's a much better system. But we should appeal to Chinese self-interests.

And over time I'm more hopeful that their own self-interest will bring them to loosen things up for the reasons I mentioned earlier, getting at corruption and pollution and political stability, closer relations with Taiwan. It doesn't want to get close to it as long as they have this political system. Better relations with us. I'm hopeful they'll move in that direction.

But we should raise it because it reflects our values. It maintains congressional and public support. It heartens reformers in China. And it serves our national interests. Not just a matter of values, more democratic countries don't go to war with each other or harbor terrorists or produce refugees. They're easier to deal with.

So we have every reason to keep raising this. But we should have no illusions. Until the Chinese leaders decide it's in their self-interest we're not going to make much progress.

QUESTION: Do you mind if I follow up?

LORD: Sure. Fine with me. Talk to Gideon. He's the boss here.

QUESTION: No, I just ask with raising -- and I spent some time in China working for Ambassador Locke, and you know the U.S. is often raising issues. And there was sometimes a debate about taking -- bringing more severe penalties.

For instance, in the case of China's treatment of American journalists there when they were you know squeezing and still continue to squeeze visas. There was talk of reciprocity. Obviously there were downsides to reciprocity.

But what more can the U.S. do other than raise -- to raise the costs of China's crackdown on the dissidents? Or is that just not on the table? It is not possible in light of the trade relationship, et cetera?

LORD: Well, I'm glad you raised the journalist question because I have been outspoken on this. And I'm at a distinct minority, even among journalists I find. I believe we should retaliate against the Chinese specifically. And this is a good example where we could get tougher and we should in my opinion.

They're harassing our journalists, as you well know, and everybody on this phone call knows, in terms of delaying visas and pressing them not to publish. You've seen the impact in Bloomberg and it's happening now in Hong Kong, the self-censorship.

So my view is that we shouldn't probably deny visas to Chinese journalists. I'd like them here to report on America. They shouldn't be penalized.

But we could hit the head of their media companies if they want visas. I see no reason why the China Daily should get free inserts into all our newspapers that are essentially propaganda, when they don't even allow Voice of America Radio Free Asia, which by the way I think we should spend more money on those efforts, they're very important. As well as efforts to crack the Chinese firewall.

There are things we can do without necessarily getting much mileage out of representations to the Chinese that would be tougher. And as I say, a greater use of social media, the free radios and retaliation against the Chinese harassment of journalists, in my view, would make sense.

QUESTION: Great. Thanks so much.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from Donald Kirk. He's an independent journalist.

QUESTION: Win, I met your wife in Beijing in May of 1989.

LORD: Oh, really?

QUESTION: Right. I was then with USA Today.

But my question is how aggressive or how tough should the U.S. be when it comes to China's activities in the East China Sea regarding the Senkakus, or -- I'm not going to pronounce the Chinese name correctly -- Diaoyu or something like that...

LORD: Right.

QUESTION: ... and the South China Sea. And should we -- what's going to happen if shots are fired or if anything really goes wrong, particularly over the Senkakus?

LORD: You put your finger on what is potentially the single most dangerous area in the world, I mean right now. Because given the aggressive Chinese patrolling in the air and on sea around the Senkakus and other pressure in the South China Sea and the oil rig in Vietnamese-claimed waters, pressure on the Philippines and so on.

All it takes is one macho captain or one pilot who screws up his navigation and you could have an accident. And in the case of Japan and the Philippines, because of our treaty obligations, we would be drawn into this.

So nobody wants war, including the Chinese. But they're pressing the envelope. They're testing us. They're trying to drive a wedge between us and our allies. They're trying to establish facts on the ground, but being just short of so provocative that there'd be a military response. And it does reflect the new projection capabilities to do some of this maritime probing.

So far I haven't answered your question. I do think we've toughened up on this the last couple of months.

There've been several people, most recently Secretary of Defense Hagel, but others who have made clear for the administration that we side with those who want to follow codes of conduct, rules of law, peaceful settlement disputes. And we've been very clear that what the Chines and what Hagel has said has been using coercion and intimidation, which we oppose.

So the verbal warnings are important. The military reinforcements, access to bases, greater deployments that also sends a signal. But we should also try to work with the Chinese.

And we have in military-to-military talks improved certain things in recent months. And so we ought to try honestly with them to point out that this is a dangerous situation and try to have rules of the road out there.

Now we're on a little bit shaky ground because we don't even adhere to the law of sea ourselves, which is crucial to a lot of these disputes. But we abide by its rules. And we ought to ratify that. The Senate will never do it, I'm afraid.

So I don't see what we can do beyond what we've done so far of strong statements, of -- and I'm sure in private we've made this even clearer to the Chinese, of reassurance to allies and interested countries that aren't allies like Vietnam. And I think we've got to keep pressing for international negotiations and rule of law.

Now, if the Chinese keep this up it is going to be dangerous. I think they'll be smart enough not to press too far. And the disconnect between they're doing tactically now and their strategic oaths because what they're doing is scaring the region after a couple of decades of following Deng Xioaping's dictum in which you lie low and you have a peaceful rise, you don't alarm your neighbors.

Now they're flexing their muscles ever since the financial crisis. And they're driving countries closer to us. They've resulted in an increase of American military deployments and all kinds of countries talking to each other out there. And so they're practicing self-containment almost.

They complain that we're containing them and starting up trouble. It's a chicken and egg situation. We're saying we're deploying and others are rallying to us because of their behavior.

So it's a dangerous situation. I don't have any quarrel with what the administration's done so far, with one glaring exception. I was shocked when President Obama in his big West Point speech on foreign policy barely mentioned Asia or China at all.

I'm a strong proponent of the strategically balanced Asia and focusing on the world's most dynamic and important region for this century. And I think he's put a lot of meat on those bones he doesn't get credit for. But to give his major foreign policy speech of the second term and not talk about these things really undercuts the whole effort.

Now Hagel tried to do damage limitation a day or two later, but I just couldn't believe that Obama left this out of his speech. So that does send the wrong signal to the Chinese. And they're also watching what we do in the Ukraine.

ROSE: Win, this is Gideon here. You've been on the NSC. You've been around government in many capacities. How could such a thing happen?

I mean if, as you said, the pivot is one of their signature foreign policy priorities, and if they've actually got some good ideas about how to make it work and so forth, why would they not actually raise Asia at all in such a prominent speech?

LORD: You know, I have absolutely no idea. You know I have some contact to the administration. But I've been at a Yale reunion. So I haven't had a chance to follow up.

But I've talked to a few colleagues who talk to Washington and they're as puzzled as I am. I honestly don't understand it, period. And it's -- because I know that Obama cares about this and thinks it is his strategic legacy.

It is true that some of the strongest proponents, Secretary Clinton, NSC Adviser Tom Donilon, Assistant Secretary Kurt Campbell, of the rebalance to Asia are no longer there. But it's the president who sets policy. And I believe Hagel and Kerry are committed to it.

So it's stupefying. I don't have an answer for you. I'm not even going to pretend I have an answer.

QUESTION: Is there room for a tiny follow-up?

ROSE: No, we got to move on. Sorry.

QUESTION: OK.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from Michael Mosettig with PBS Online Newshour.

QUESTION: Thank you for doing this, ambassador. How do you see in your own mind the balance between the Chinese being scared and being agrestic?

On the one hand they have the corruption, the pollution, worried about their control of the party, the age gap and all of that other stuff. But on the other hand, they're soon going to be the number one economy. They seem to be riding high militarily and strategically in the region.

So where do you see the overall balance here between the plusses and the minuses for them?

LORD: That's an excellent question. As you well know, the decision making and even the psychology in China is still very opaque. And those who know most about China are most humble about what they don't know.

I always like to say that a China expert is an oxymoron or just a plain moron because we really have trouble figuring out. Now, that doesn't mean I'm going to avoid your question.

I think the Chinese leaders are pretty realistic. They know that we're way ahead of them in almost every category.

They know when everyone -- we're going to have all these scary stories coming up about China is the number one economy because of GDP. Well, they've got 1.4 billion people. Their per capita is one quarter of ours. They rank in world rankings per capita somewhere between Bosnia and the Maldives.

They've got the problems you cited of corruption, pollution and income disparities, et cetera. They have over 500 demonstrations, by their own count, a day, protesting various things like these issues that we've been talking about.

So I think they're very concerned about the domestic situation. There's no other explanation for this paranoid crackdown and incredible censorship that we've seen, not just around Tiananmen but the last three years. That shows to me that they're concerned.

Now having said that, it is a complex psychological move because they do feel after 150 years of historic humiliation, which they like to keep citing, they had grievances that they have stood up. And they deserve credit for the tremendous advances they made, particularly in the economicsphere.

They see us screwing up in the West in general in the financial crisis. They think they did pretty well. They put on the Olympics. And starting around 2008 or 2009 they began to say well we ought to stand up more.

There's a debate in China, to get to your question further, between those who say look we did very well in diplomacy recovering from Tiananmen Square and hiding our intentions and focusing on our domestic challenges, as I said what Deng suggested that they do.

So why screw it up now by scaring all our neighbors and having them band together against us and having America deploy more troops and ships and antimissile capabilities in the region? We're messing things up.

Against that you have the PLA and some think tanks and nationalist bloggers saying we ought to be a great nation again. You have Xi himself saying the renaissance of the Chinese nation.

So in addition to being realistic about their comparative strength versus us where they're behind, and their own domestic problems, they do feel they have a right and the capabilities to stand up more on the world stage. And we're seeing that in their maritime probes.

And part of the reason for this, not the main reason, these maritime probes are for national sovereignty. They're for pride. They're for resources, energy resources, fish and so on.

But they're also a distraction from the domestic scene. People are unhappy, well we'll focus them on the Chinese pride in standing up abroad to Western hegemony and humiliation at history.

So as you suggested in your question, and I'm giving you a nuanced answer, I think there's a mix of realism about taking us on directly, at least for a few decades, and the need to work with us in certain areas like the economy, like safe-shipping lanes, like climate change. And they have some interest in antiterrorism because of Xinjiang and the Muslim problem there.

So they still want a mixed relationship with us. But they do want a greater voice on the world stage. And where it's legitimate they should be given that voice, whether it's greater representation in international economic bodies or whatever it is.

So there's a mix of pride, a sense of grievance, a sense of growing strength, a sense that maybe America's in decline, but also a realization that they better not push too far, at least for the time being.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from Genie Giao with Voice of Vietnamese Americans.

QUESTION: Thank you. This is Genie. Thank you, Ambassador Lord. I'm from Vietnam and there is very much concern for what China have done to Vietnam over long and today and recently, especially in May with the oil rig right inside of Vietnamese EEZ.

We consider that an invasion not only in the island but also by air. They have airplanes flying all around up in our space and also now in the sea. They attacked many Vietnamese fishing vessels, and they have sank two, and at least injured up to nine or 10 people.

Now that action, if we let it go, then where is the United States leadership of the global rule of law? And...

LORD: With respect to what's happening with China and Vietnam, we've been very clear as a government that we don't take a position on the actual legal territorial claims. But we're very strong, and this is in support of Vietnam and the Philippines and Japan for that matter, that these issues should not be solved by unilateral provocative moves such as the Chinese have been taking.

So there's a difference between who's right on a dispute and how you go about settling it. We've been very clear on the Vietnam side on that.

Now frankly, on that -- in your particular case, and we have sympathy for what's happened to Vietnam there. It's up to ASEAN in the first instance to back up one of its members. And because of China's economic clout, ASEAN couldn't summon a united statement against what China was doing, despite Philippines and Vietnamese entreaties -- desires for this.

There was a statement referring to coercion or unilateral moves and you could read between the lines that it was China. So it's a little stronger than in the past. But the most effective way to counter China, at least for Vietnam's sake, would be a unity among all the ASEAN nations because China can't afford to alienate all of them.

They have tremendous economic stakes. And there the emphasis should be on a code of conduct, which would again say settle these things through a negotiation, not unilaterally, and do it peacefully and don't try to overturn things and where principle's agreed to, including by China many years ago. But these have not been made concrete. And that's where the emphasis should be.

By the way, on the Vietnamese oil rig, my understanding is that the Chinese are going to pull that back in August. They've said that from the beginning. I don't know whether or not that's still going to be the case. So hopefully that particular issue will die down.

But there is a pattern here not only against Vietnam, but against the Philippines and the Japanese.

ROSE: Win, while we're waiting let me take one.

LORD: Yes?

ROSE: How did you feel about your administration's reactions to Tiananmen when it happened 25 years ago, the crackdown?

LORD: Well, again remember I left the government -- Hu Yaobang died April 15, which most people say was the beginning of the demonstrations because he was seen as a more moderate person for political reform. And I left a week later, as I said earlier. So -- and then I left the government.

So it wasn't my government. And while it was going on I didn't have a problem. Our government, I think, was making clear that there was sympathy for the demonstrators and hoped things could be worked out peacefully.

But I did feel that the government was too weak once the crackdown occurred. And I though Scowcroft going over there first secretly then publicly was way premature. Bush did take some sanctions. But I didn't feel it was a strong enough response.

Now having said that, even I felt, much as I was outraged by what happened that we shouldn't throw away the whole bilateral relationship. So Bush would say he's trying to preserve that despite the pressures, and reasonable people can disagree on how strong the actions would've had of other sanctions.

But having said that, even I wrote an article in a magazine called Foreign Affairs, you may have heard about, in the fall of 1989 called Beyond the Big Chill. And I beat up on the Chinese for what they had done. But I did point to a future where hopefully we could get beyond this.

So I felt the initial response was weak. It was presaged by this trip before Tiananmen when Bush came in a new president. We arranged his banquet. We invited some dissidents but not bomb-throwers, just to symbolize human rights, much less provocative than Reagan meeting separately with dissidents.

So we wanted to show in a non-provocative way his support. And when the Chinese barred the dissident from the banquet and ruined the trip, Bush blamed me and my embassy rather than blaming the Chinese for their outrageous behavior. So you got a little taste of what I considered a too soft approach by Bush and Scowcroft.

ROSE: Got it. Let me just say we have a wonderful e-book on this, Tiananmen and After. We have continuing coverage on these issues. And I want to thank Win not just for his service, but also for enlightening us today. And we look forward to talking with all of you in the future in future calls and on the website and in the magazine. Thank you all.

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