A delegation from the prestigious Shanghai Institute of International Studies told UCLA scholars October 28 that North Korea's nuclear program is a greater danger to world stability than the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq, but they advocated peaceful means to defuse the threat.
Just as Shanghai is China’s most vibrant and dynamic city – indeed, at the moment it is perhaps the world’s most dynamic city — the Shanghai Institute of International Studies (SIIS) is perhaps China’s most forward-thinking and energetic policy-oriented think tank.
This was amply demonstrated in a seminar on world affairs, sponsored by the UCLA International Institute’s Center for Chinese Studies, held on October 28 with a delegation from SIIS. The seminar, which was “off the record” to the extent that it was agreed direct quotations would not be cited, delved into two current international crises – the ones involving Iraq and North Korea. The SIIS researchers also took up more general questions such as the role of academics in foreign policy making in China and China’s changing sense of where it belongs in the world. Led by Yang Jiemian, Vice President of SIIS and an expert in U.S. foreign policy, the delegation included Xiao Ren (Director or the Department of American Studies), Li Weijian (Director of the Department of Middle East Studies), Chen Hongbin (Deputy Director of the Department of Japanese Studies), Pan Zhongqi (Research Fellow in the Department of American Studies), and Xue Chen (Research Fellow in the Department of Asia-Pacific Studies).
Iraq, North Korea, and Weapons of Mass Destruction
The delegation’s interpretation of the crisis created by North Korea’s admission it has a nuclear weapons program – and how this relates to the issue of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq -- was eye-opening.
First, China views the North Korean crisis as quite different from that concerning Iraq. In a word, the crisis on the Korean peninsula is more threatening and urgent. This is because North Korea is more dangerous: it already has (or very nearly has) nuclear weapons. In addition, North Korea stands cheek by jowl with the great powers of China, Japan, the United States. Thus, what happens in North Korea will quickly reverberate not only in the region, but around the world.
Second, while China has long proclaimed its desire for peace and stability on the Korean peninsula, the North Korean admission has put China on the spot. In his just-completed visit to the U.S., Chinese President Jiang Zemin responded unequivocally: China opposes the nuclearization of the Korean peninsula. The question now becomes, What can be done?
The delegation pointed out that China is in a position to exert influence on North Korea by dint of economic and political ties. And because China is opposed to nuclear proliferation and to political destabilization, one can expect it will use its influence. However, China will act cautiously and patiently. What China wants to avoid – as does South Korea, Japan, and the United States – is an implosion of the North Korean state. Such a development would likely produce a massive movement of people from North Korea not only to South Korea but also to China. A “soft landing” is much preferable.
Did China know all along that North Korea is attempting to produce nuclear weapons? The SIIS delegates answered “No.” It is natural that North Korea would have hidden its nuclear program.
Why did North Korea admit it has such a program? According to the delegates, the admission is North Korea’s way of opening the door for dialogue with the United States. From the North Korean perspective, to develop relations with the United States it is necessary first to get the attention of the United States. North Korea’s admission has certainly assured that it (along with Iraq) has moved front-and-center on the foreign policy agenda in Washington. Moreover, North Korea has few cards to play in its relationship with the U.S. North Korea has chosen to play the nuclear card because it wants to reach an understanding – a compromise, in other words – with the United States.
Concerning Iraq, Professor Li Weijian argued that the governments of the Arab states are mostly pragmatic and are generally unhappy with the regime in Iraq. If the United States attacks Iraq, most of the middle East governments will not oppose it. The people of the Arab world, on the other hand, believe the core problem of the region is not Iraq, but the Palestinian issue. The popular reaction to a U.S. attack will be an explosion of anger and terrorism.
Although relations between China and U.S. continue to be plagued by differences and disagreements, from the Chinese vantage point the delegates felt that the trend appears to be generally positive. Moreover, in the wake of September 11, there have been changes in both the United States and China in thinking about international issues and in dealing with bilateral problems. The position of the Chinese government is that positive aspects of the U.S.-China relationship should be emphasized. In this way the negative aspects may be gradually reduced.
The Making of Chinese Foreign Policy
The members of the delegation declared that the making of foreign policy in China is becoming increasingly sophisticated. In a sense, this is a reflection in the change in the background of China’s top leaders. Mao Zedong’s only experience outside of China was two brief trips to the Soviet Union. Deng Xiaoping lived briefly in France in the early 1920s in a work-study program, but he actually spent his time in manual labor and Communist Party organizing. The present generation of top leaders (who are expected to retire at the 16th Communist Party congress scheduled for later this month) includes several who received advanced education in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Younger generations of leaders have still more experience abroad, including some who were educated in the United States.
In addition, as China has come to occupy an increasingly prominent place in world affairs, it has become necessary for Chinese policy makers to deal with a wide variety of complex issues. Simple answers and broad, sweeping approaches to international affairs, such as those offered by Mao Zedong, are no longer suitable.
The SIIS researchers, while very knowledgeable about the Chinese political scene, have little direct input in the top level political process. Unlike in the United States, where government policy makers often seek the expertise of academics – indeed, where academics regularly and easily enter government and become policy makers themselves – in the People’s Republic of China there has been a sharp and sometimes rigid divide between government and academia. In the U.S. policy think tanks have been influential, but in China they have traditionally exercised much less influence. In recent years, this situation in China has begun to change. A number of academics have been recruited into the diplomatic corps and policy think tanks are growing in respect and influence.
Professor David O. Wilkinson (Department of Political Science) raised the question of freedom of the press in China. The international group Reporters Without Borders recently released a list of 139 countries ranked according to their respect for press freedom. China came in 138th on the list, just ahead of last-place finisher North Korea, and behind such countries as Iraq, Cuba, and Burma.
Professor Yang commented that perhaps those who drew up the list had looked principally at the domestic print edition of the People’s Daily, the official organ of the Chinese Communist Party, which carefully follows the official line. Yang said that there is a much greater diversity of opinion in the on-line version of People’s Daily. And if one looks at independent newspapers, the diversity is still greater.
The Shanghai Institute of International Studies was established in 1960. It is an independent think tank funded by the Shanghai Municipal Government. Now with a staff of almost one hundred, SIIS is the largest and most prestigious institution of its kind outside Beijing. It conducts research on international issues, mainly covering the United States, the European Union, Japan, Russia, ASEAN, and the Middle East. Priority is given to China's foreign relations, especially relations between big powers and the areas surrounding China. The Institute also supports research on the political and economic aspects of Shanghai's foreign relations.
A major UCLA forum examined Northeast Asian security. Click here to see a transcript and links to other resources.
Published: Friday, November 01, 2002
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